Given that the language of the treatise is literary Arabic, it is likely that it was originally composed by a Muslim scholar and then transcribed into Hebrew characters for the use of Jewish physicians and pharmacists who could not easily read Arabic (though a number of terms have been left in their original Arabic script; see, e.g., ff. 176v, 179v, 189r, 197r, 270v, 340v). (The phenomenon of Jewish scribes converting Arabic works, particularly those related to the medical profession, into Hebrew text was quite common in the medieval period.) Based on the available evidence, the as-yet unidentified author, who demonstrates familiarity with species, varieties, and modes of manufacture from all over the Islamic world, appears to have been writing in the region of Iran-Iraq in the eleventh or twelfth century.
This volume was obviously a handy pharmacopoeia used by several generations of Jewish physicians – including the prominent doctor Moses ben Isaac ha-Levi Kholeif – as evidenced by the various owners’ marks and signed marginalia containing additional pharmacological lemmata, mainly deriving from the writings of Da’ūd al-Antākī (1543-1599) and Ṣāliḥ bin Naṣrulla bin Sellum (d. 1670), who discussed substances unknown to the ancients. It can be dated to the sixteenth or seventeenth century based on the paper’s watermark (anchor within a circle, surmounted by a five-pointed star) and localized to the Middle East based on its script. This provenance should not surprise us, given the numerous fragments from the Cairo Genizah testifying to the prominence of Middle Eastern Jews in the field of pharmacy already in the medieval period. While the work is now incomplete, it nevertheless holds a wealth of information about Middle Eastern Jewish medical knowledge, practice, and tradition at the dawn of the modern period.
Sotheby’s is grateful to Y. Tzvi Langermann for providing information that aided in the cataloging of this manuscript.
Moses Kholeif (ff. 175r, 185r, 248r-v, 260r, 275v)
Moses ibn Habib (ff. 183v, 275v)
Samuel (f. 254v)
Raphael Isaac (f. 340v)
Leigh N. Chipman, “Pharmacopoeias for the Hospital and the Shop: Al-Dustur al-bimaristani and Minhaj al-dukkan,” in Michael M. Laskier and Yaacov Lev (eds.), The Convergence of Judaism and Islam: Religious, Scientific, and Cultural Dimensions (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011).
Y. Tzvi Langermann, “Transcriptions of Arabic Treatises into the Hebrew Alphabet: An Underappreciated Mode of Transmission,” in F. Jamil Ragep, Sally P. Ragep, and Steven John Livesey (eds.), Tradition, Transmission, Transformation: Proceedings of Two Conferences on Pre-Modern Science Held at the University of Oklahoma (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1996), 247-260.
Y. Tzvi Langermann, “Arabic Writings in Hebrew Manuscripts: A Preliminary Relisting,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 6 (1996): 137-160.
Efraim Lev, “Drugs Held and Sold by Pharmacists of the Jewish Community of Medieval (11–14th Centuries) Cairo According to Lists of Materia Medica Found at the Taylor–Schechter Genizah Collection, Cambridge,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 110 (2007): 275-293.
Moritz Steinschneider, “Manoscritti arabici in caratteri ebraici,” Bollettino italiano degli studii orientali 1-19 (n.s.) (1879): 65-69, 82-87, 128-134, 333-338, 361-369.
Moritz Steinschneider, “Schriften der Araber in hebräischen Handschriften, ein Beitrag zur arabischen Bibliographie,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 47 (1893): 335-384.
Moritz Steinschneider, “An Introduction to the Arabic Literature of the Jews II,” trans. Adeline Goldberg, Jewish Quarterly Review 12,3 (April 1900) (o.s.): 481-501, at pp. 499-501.
Moritz Steinschneider, Die arabische Literatur der Juden: Ein Beitrag zur Literaturgeschichte der Araber, grossenteils aus handschriftlichen Quellen (Frankfurt am Main: J. Kauffmann, 1902).
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