Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Chapter 17 of Ḥešbon Mahalakhot ha-Kokhavim by Abraham Bar Ḥiyya—The First Hebrew Catalog of Constellations, Fixed Stars and Lunar Mansions: Critical Edition, English Translation and Commentary

Shlomo Sela


The present study focuses on chapter 17 of Abraham Bar Ḥiyya’s (ca. 1065– ca. 1136) Calculation of the stellar motions, the canons of his astronomical tables. This chapter, the densest and most comprehensive account of the fixed stars written during the first phase of the reception of the Arabic astronomical tradition by Jewish scholars, includes the first ever Hebrew catalogue of the 48 Ptolemaic constellations, two lists of stars of the first and second magnitudes, and a list of the 28 lunar mansions. This study shows that for the design and contents of this chapter, Bar Ḥiyya was inspired by Farghānī’s (d. Egypt, after 861) Elements, the first compendium of the Almagest that diffused the Ptolemaic astronomical tradition to the Arabic world. But the redaction of Farghānī’s Elements on which Bar Ḥiyya drew is different from that known to modern scholarship today. The Arabic original of this text is now lost, but survives in the Hebrew translation of al- Farghānī’s Elements by Jacob Anatoli (ca. 1230s). This paper also shows that Bar Ḥiyya’s standard way of designating stars, constellations, and lunar mansions is a Hebrew translation of the common Arabic names, followed by a transliteration in Hebrew letters of the Arabic names. This was his tacit acknowledgement of the linguistic supremacy of Arabic, which had already proved its ability to absorb Greek science. In some cases, however, Bar Ḥiyya uses Hebrew biblical star- or asterism names to designate constellations, fixed stars and lunar mansions. This is how he sought to highlight his national identity.

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