Abu Ali al-Hussein ibn ‘Abdallah ibn Sīnā, known in the West as Avicenna (980-1037), was a physician, scientist, statesman, and one of the greatest Islamic philosophers, whose Aristotelian and Neoplatonic thought influenced many medieval Jewish authors, most prominently Maimonides. Relatively few of Avicenna’s philosophical works were translated into Hebrew; his ideas were transmitted instead through other channels. By contrast, Avicenna’s medical writings, particularly his Qānūn fī al-Ṭibb (Canon of Medicine), achieved tremendous traction among medieval Jews.
Basing himself on Hippocrates and Galen and drawing on his own extensive experience, Avicenna divided the Canon into five books that collectively systematized all the medical knowledge of his age, dealing with the causes and complications of common ailments, the treatment of diseases (both those that affect only parts of the body and those that affect the body as a whole), and pharmacology. At least thirty Hebrew commentaries on various parts of this medical magnum opus have come down to us. The present work, entitled Ein kol, comprises one such commentary: that of Rabbi Shem Tov ben Isaac ibn Shaprut on Book I of the Canon, which discusses basic physiological principles, human anatomy, pulse, digestion, and general therapeutic procedures.
Ibn Shaprut, a Spanish Jewish philosopher and physician born in the mid-fourteenth century, aimed in his written oeuvre to compose popular, encyclopedic anthologies of previous scholarship on a wide range of topics including logic, science, medicine, chiromancy, homiletics, polemics, and philosophy. In the preface to Ein kol (f. 1r), he explains that he intended the work as a summation of, and expansion upon, studies of the Canon that had already been published by Don Suleiman ben Abraham ibn Yaish (d. 1345), Rabbi Joseph ben Joshua ibn Vives ha-Lorki (late fourteenth-early fifteenth centuries), and the famous Muslim theologian and philosopher Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149-1209). In fact, it is for this reason that he called the treatise Ein kol (The Eye of All), since it was meant to enlighten the eyes of all, especially those who could not understand the original commentaries due to their depth and complexity. The book’s value, however, lies not only in its condensing and explanatory functions, but also in its reflection of the state of medical knowledge, particularly among rabbinically- and philosophically-trained Jews, in fourteenth-century Spain.
While a short extract of the commentary dealing with the music and rhythm of the human pulse has been published and translated in various forums, the work as a whole has never seen the light of print. Moreover, only three other manuscripts of Ein kol are known to reside in the world’s major research libraries: Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III F 11 (dated 1452; 169ff.); New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Ms. 2754 (dated 1488; 139ff.); and Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. hebr. 8 (sixteenth century; 182ff.). The present manuscript thus appears to be the earliest extant complete exemplar of this treatise.
Another unique feature of the present lot is its distinguished provenance. The owners’ marks on f. 1r and the inscriptions in Turkish on ff. 155v and 179r make it clear that this codex was, at some point, brought over from Spain to the Middle East. Later, however, it seems to have traveled westward again, this time to England. As evidenced by the various notations on the pastedowns of the upper and lower boards, the manuscript passed from the famous British bookseller Thomas Thorpe (1791-1851) to Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), the self-described “vello-maniac” who amassed what was at the time the largest library of printed books and manuscripts a single individual had ever collected. This ownership history, coupled with the early date, beautiful penmanship, and overall condition of the text, make our manuscript a very desirable copy of an important medieval scientific treatise.
Thomas Thorpe (catalogue no. 16596 on pastedowns of upper and lower boards)
Thomas Phillipps (shelf mark no. 13544 on spine; Middle Hill stamp and shelf mark on pastedown of lower board)
Gad Freudenthal, “Avicenna among Medieval Jews: The Reception of Avicenna’s Philosophical, Scientific and Medical Writings in Jewish Cultures, East and West,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 22,2 (2012): 217-287.
Norman E. Frimer and Dov Schwartz, Hagut be-tsel ha-eimah: demuto, ketavav va-haguto shel r. shem tov ibn shaprut (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1992), 19-22.
Y. Tzvi Langermann, “Arabic Writings in Hebrew Manuscripts: A Preliminary Relisting,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 6 (1996): 137-160, at pp. 156-157.
Thomas Phillipps, Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum in bibliotheca D. Thomæ Phillipps, Bart. (Middle Hill: Middle Hill Press, 1837), 244 (no. 13544).
Binyamin Richler, “Manuscripts of Avicenna’s Kanon in Hebrew Translation: A Revised and Up-to-Date List,” Koroth 8,3-4 (August 1982): *145-*168.
Dov Schwartz, Yashan be-kankan hadash: mishnato ha-iyyunit shel ha-hug ha-ne’oplatonit ba-filosofyah ha-yehudit ba-me’ah ha-14 (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik; Ben-Zvi Institute, 1996), 57-59.
Amnon Shiloah, “‘‘Ȇn-Kol’ – commentaire hébraïque de Šem Tov ibn Šaprȗt sur le Canon d’Avicenne,” Yuval 3 (1974): 267-287.
Moritz Steinschneider, in Hebræische Bibliographie: Blätter für neuere und ältere Literatur des Judenthums 19,43 (1879): 45.
Moritz Steinschneider, Die hebraeischen Uebersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher (Berlin: Kommissionsverlag des Bibliographischen Bureaus, 1893), 689-690 (no. 9).
Eric Werner and Isaiah Sonne, “The Philosophy and Theory of Music in Judaeo-Arabic Literature,” Hebrew Union College Annual 17 (1942-1943): 511-572, at pp. 553-555.
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