From the thirteenth century onwards, Jews were industrious translators of all the important masterpieces of scientific and philosophical literature. Their zeal included the works of the Greek astronomers and mathematicians, Ptolemy, Euclid, Archimedes, and many others. Alfonso X commissioned several Jews to co-operate with the royal secretaries in making new renderings of older Arabic works on astronomy. Long before this, in 959, the monk Nicholas joined the Jew Chasdai in translating Dioscorides. Most of the Jewish translators were, however, not Spaniards, but Provencals and Italians. It is to them that we owe the Hebrew translations of Galen and Hippocrates, on which Latin versions were based.
The preceding details, mere drops from an ocean of similar facts, show that the Jews were the mediators between Mohammedan and Christian learning in the Middle Ages. According to Lecky, “the Jews were the chief interpreters to Western Europe of Arabian learning.” When it is remembered that Arabian learning for a long time included the Greek, it will be seen that Lecky ascribes to Jewish translators a role of the first importance in the history of science. Roger Bacon (1214-1294) had long before said a similar thing: “Michael Scot claimed the merit of numerous translations. But it is certain that a Jew labored at them more than he did. And so with the rest.”
In what precedes, nothing has been said of the original contributions made by Jewish authors to scientific literature. Jews were active in original research especially in astronomy, medicine, and mathematics. Many Jewish writers famous as philosophers, Talmudists, or poets, were also men of science. There are numerous Jewish works on the calendar, on astronomical instruments and tables, on mathematics, on medicine, and natural history. Some of their writers share the medieval belief in astrology and magic. But it is noteworthy that Abraham Ibn Ezra doubted the common belief in demons, while Maimonides described astrology as “that error called a science.” These subjects, however, are too technical for fuller treatment in the present book. More will be found in the works cited below.
IBN TIBBON FAMILY.
Graetz.—III, p. 397 .
Graetz.—III, p. 566 .
Karpeles.—Sketch of Jewish History
(Jewish Publication Society
of America, 1897), pp. 49, 57.
Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, p. 62 seq.
SCIENCE AND MEDICINE.
Steinschneider.—Ibid., pp. 179 seq., 260 seq.
Also, A. Friedenwald.—Jewish Physicians
and the Contributions of
the Jews to the Science of Medicine (Publications of the
Gratz College, Vol. I).