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Book Reviews 169 healthy scent. We are happy to have read and to have spoken about it. The scent of reason is precious. Too often it has been denied us. William K1uback Kingsborough Community College Brooklyn, New York The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book, by R., PataL Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994. 617 pp. $35.00. This is truly a groundbreaking work of panoramic scope. It is the first comprehensive study ofJewish alchemy ever undertaken. By documenting the widespread involvement in alchemy ofJewish savants throughout the ages, Patai offers an important contribution to the history of science. His extensive research also brings to light a fascinating aspect of Jewish intellectual history that has been hitherto ignored. 1beJewishAlchemists is arranged chronologically and divided into ten parts, consisting offorty chapters. Each section is informatively introduced and annotated. The book presents legendary. and historical accounts of Jews engaged in alchemy, together with substantial selections from alchemical manuals that were either composed by Jews or translated into Hebrew. In addition to Hebrew texts, Patai also offers examples from Judea-Arabic and Ladino. He was unable to uncover any alchemical texts written in Yiddish, nor did he systematically study works composed by Jews in non-Jewish European languages. After surveying mostly Christian medieval and renaissance accounts of various biblical figures who were credited with practicing alchemy, followed by a brief discussion of metallurgy in the Talmud, Patai discusses the role ofJews in Hellenistic alchemy. The focal point of this exposition is Maria the Jewess, who lived in Egypt in the early third century C.E. She is generally considered to be the founder ofHellenistic alchemy. Extensive information about her activities was recorded by Zosimus the Panopolitan, circa 300 C.E. Maria is credited with constructing numerous stills including "Maria's bath," known as bain Marie in French and Marienbad in German. All of these apparati are diagrammed and explained. In the early Middle Ages several important Arabic alchemical treatises were translated into Hebrew. Patai offers selections from the following: Abulafia's Mother of the King, the Book of Alums and Salts, as well as Pseudo-Khalid ibn Yazid. He also records the interesting testimony from the great Islamic philosopher Avicenna concerning "Jacob the Jew," who 170 SHOFAR Summer 1996 Vol. 14, No.4 taught him alchemy. Patai demonstrates that seminal]ewish philosophers, such as Bahya ibn Pakuda,Judah Halevi, and Abraham ibn Ezra, incorporated informed discussions of alchemical theories into their respective writings. He also considers at some length Moses de Leon's familiarity with basic alchemy, as exhibited in both the Zohar and de Leon's Hebrew writings. Chapter 13 is devoted to a fourteenth-century Latin text, On the Secrets of Nature or the Fifth Essence. This was a very popular work, especially during the sixteenth century when it was printed a dozen times and translated into Italian and English. Although this book was attributed to the famous Majorcan polymath Raymond Lull, Patai marshals considerable evidence to establish that it was actually composed by Raymund de Tarrega. De Tarrega was an itinerant Marrano intellectual, who was incarcerated by the Inquisition and investigated at length for heresy. Ultimately he died while in prison. Chapter 21 focuses on one of the most popular books of the occult, Abraham ben Simeon's Cabala Mystica, also known as the Book ofSacred Magic. This work has been preserved in Hebrew, German, and French manuscripts. Since the eighteenth century scholars have debated its origins and legitimacy. Patai traces Gershom Scholem's vacillation from his youthful affirmation of the book's Jewish authorship to his subsequent doubts and final repudiation. Through a comparison of the three manuscripts, Patai plausibly concludes that the book was originally composed in Hebrew by a German Jew around the year 1400. In his introductory comments to Cabala Mystica, Patai offers an insightful differentiation between the alchemical enterprise, which seeks to exploit the natural properties of materials to achieve extraordinary results, and magic, which attempts to harness supernatural (even demonic) powers and forces. Although in general alchemy and magic are quite distinct, books like Cabala Mystica synthesize the two. Another text that crosses boundaries is one of the most significant in this anthology...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 169-171
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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