ABSTRACT: Astrology and Other Sciences among the Jews in the Land of Israel During the Hellenistic-Roman and Byzantine Periods

Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2010  Meir Bar-Ilan


This work is an investigation of the links between the Jews of Palestine and the sciences, especially astrology, in the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods. It is treated in four different chapters:
A) The doctor-astrologer in the ancient world, the knowledge about him, and the description of the patriarch Abraham as such an astrologer. This view is augmented with astrological sermons (derashot) in the talmudic period and later Piyyutim.
B) The author of Sefer Yezirah (Book of Creation) is revealed as a multitalented scientist: mathematician, linguist, astronomer and astrologer, that is, doctor-astrologer, numerologist, philosopher, astrophysicist and mystic. The author of Sefer Yezirah was probably a Pythagorean and obviously familiar with Aristotelian, Stoic and other philosophies. He dealt with questions of the structure of the universe, of time and atoms; in short, a scientist influenced by Greek science (apparently in Alexandria);
C) Baraita de-Mazalot is a compilation of signs of the Zodiac assembled by a scientist: a Palestinian Byzantine astronomer, astrologer and Darshan. A new way is proposed for determining the dating of these two books: approximately the fifth to sixth century. Tiberias is suggested as the location of the composition of these, as well as other books.
D) Based on the background of astrological investigations, an explanation is proposed for the Zodiac wheels from the Byzantine period discovered in a number of synagogues in Eretz-Israel.

The investigation clarifies a chapter in the history of science: what is fraud-science, and to what extent science and scientific thinking – and not only mystical thought – are a relative concept. The investigation of Sefer Yezira and the scientific activity of other astrologers clarify subjects in magic, mysticism, medicine, astrology, beliefs and opinions, language, linguistics, mathematics and other sciences in ancient times. The image of Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, the astrologer, is illuminated in bright light, helping explain the Maimonides opposition to his spiritual world.

This work is based on an analysis that is literary, linguistic, religious and cultural. In reading it, you will encounter over 300 “culture heroes”, many of whom you were not previously aware of. In addition, you will learn to distinguish between more than 130 aspects of language from personal language to the language of prayer, registers for which you will find definitions and examples throughout the book. These diagnoses will help you read diverse literature anew, starting with Ecclesiastes, through books of astrology and ending with a telephone book. If you are lucky – the astrologers will come to life from the pages of this book.

Key Words: Abraham the patriarch, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, Byzantine period, astrology, astronomy, Book of Creation, God, Judaism, linguistics, Middle Ages, mysticism, Maimonides, mathematics, numerology, ancient times, philosophy, mosaic, medicine, synagogue, Zodiac.