Isaac Israeli ben Solomon

Isaac Israeli ben Solomon

Isaac Israeli Ben Solomon (in Hebrew Yitzhaq ben Sh'lomo ha-Yisra'eli; in Arabic Abu Ya'qub Ishaq ibn Suleiman al-Isra'ili; also known as Isaac Israeli the Elder was an Egyptian-Jewish physician and philosopher.

He was born in Egypt before 832; died at Kairouan, Tunisia, in 932. These dates are given by most of the Arabic authorities; but Abraham ben Hasdai, quoting the biographer Sanah ibn Sa'id al-Kurtubi ("Orient, Lit." iv., col. 230), says that Isaac Israeli died in 942. Heinrich Grätz ("Geschichte" v. 236), while stating that Isaac Israeli lived more than one hundred years, gives the dates 845-940; and Steinschneider ("Hebr. Uebers." pp. 388, 755) places his death in 950. Israeli studied natural history, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and other scientific topics; he was reputed to be one who knew all the "seven sciences".

He was a contemporary of Saadia Gaon, whose works probably inspired Israeli with a love for the study of the Bible. Israeli first gained a reputation as a skilful oculist; but after he went to Kairwan he studied general medicine under Ishak ibn Amran al-Baghdadi, with whom he is sometimes confounded ("Sefer ha-Yashar," p. 10a). At Kairouan his fame became widely extended, the works which he wrote in Arabic being considered by the Muslim physicians as "more valuable than gems." His lectures attracted a large number of pupils, of whom the two most prominent were Abu Ya'far ibn al-Yazzar, a Muslim, and Dunash ibn Tamim. He also wrote a treatise on definitions and commentaries on the biblical Book of Genesis and Sefer Yetzirah.

The Christian monk Constantine of Carthage translated several of Israeli's medical treatises into Latin in 1087, using them as textbooks at the University of Salerno, the earliest university in Western Europe, but omitted the real author's name, which remained unknown to the public until 1515 when "Opera Omnia Isaci" was put into print at Lyon, France.

As court physician

About 904 Israeli was nominated court physician to the last Aghlabid prince, Ziyadat Allah III. Five years later, when the Fatimid caliph 'Ubaid Allah al-Mahdi became master of northern Africa, of which Kairouan was the capital, Israeli entered his service. The caliph enjoyed the company of his Jewish physician on account of the latter's wit and of the repartees in which he succeeded in confounding the Greek al-Hubaish when pitted against him. At the request of al-Mahdi, Israeli composed in Arabic several medical works, which were translated in 1087 into Latin by the monk Constantine of Carthage, who claimed their authorship for himself. It was only after more than four centuries (Lyon, 1515) that the editor of those works discovered the plagiarism and published them under the title "Opera Omnia Isaci," though in that collection works of other physicians were erroneously attributed to Israeli. His works were also translated into Hebrew, and a part of his medical works into Spanish.


Eliakim Carmoly ("Ẓiyyon," i. 46) concludes that the Isaac who was so violently attacked by Abraham ibn Ezra in the introduction to his commentary on the Pentateuch, and whom he calls in other places "Isaac the Prattler", and "Ha-Yiẓḥaḳ," was no other than Isaac Israeli. But if Israeli was attacked by Ibn Ezra he was praised by other Biblical commentators, such as Jacob b. Ruben, a contemporary of Maimonides, and by Ḥasdai.

Another work which has been ascribed to Israeli, and which more than any other has given rise to controversy among later scholars, is a commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah." Steinschneider (in his "Al-Farabi," p. 248) and Carmoly (in Jost's "Annalon," ii. 321) attribute the authorship to Israeli, because Abraham ibn Ḥasdai (see above), and Jedaiah Bedersi in his apologetical letter to Solomon ben Adret ("Orient, Lit." xi. cols. 166-169) speak of a commentary by Israeli on the "Sefer Yeẓirah," though by some scholars the words "Sefer Yeẓirah" are believed to denote simply the "Book of Genesis." But David Kaufmann ("R. E. J." viii. 126), Sachs ("Orient, Lit." l.c.), and especially Grätz ("Geschichte" v. 237, note 2) are inclined to attribute its authorship to Israeli's pupil Dunash ibn Tamim.


Medical works

*"Kitab al-Ḥummayat," in Hebrew, "Sefer ha-Ḳadaḥot," a complete treatise, in five books, on the kinds of fever, according to the ancient physicians, especially Hippocrates.
*"Kitab al-Adwiyah al-Mufradah wa'l-Aghdhiyah," a work in four sections on remedies and aliments. The first section, consisting of twenty chapters, was translated into Latin by Constantine under the title "Diætæ Universales," and into Hebrew by an anonymous translator under the title "Ṭib'e ha-Mezonot." The other three parts of the work are entitled in the Latin translation "Diætæ Particulares"; and it seems that a Hebrew translation, entitled "Sefer ha-Mis'adim" or "Sefer ha-Ma'akalim," was made from the Latin.
*"Kitab al-Baul," or in Hebrew, "Sefer ha-Shetan," a treatise on urine, of which the author himself made an abridgment."Kitab al-Istiḳat," in Hebrew, "Sefer ha-Yesodot," a medical and philosophical work on the elements, which the author treats according to the ideas of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen. The Hebrew translation was made by Abraham ben Hasdai at the request of the grammarian David Kimhi.
*"Manhig ha-Rofe'im," or "Musar ha-Rofe'im," a treatise, in fifty paragraphs, for physicians, translated into Hebrew (the Arabic original is not extant), and into German by David Kaufmann under the title "Propädeutik für Aerzte" (Berliner's "Magazin," xi. 97-112).
*"Kitab fi al-Tiryaḳ," a work on antidotes. Some writers attribute to Isaac Israeli two other works which figure among Constantine's translations, namely, the "Liber Pantegni" and the "Viaticum," of which there are three Hebrew translations. But the former belongs to Mohammed al-Razi and the latter to 'Ali ibn 'Abbas or, according to other authorities, to Israeli's pupil Abu Jaf'ar ibn al-Jazzar.

Philosophical works

*"Kitab al-Ḥudud wal-Rusum," translated into Hebrew by Nissim b. Solomon (14th cent.) under the title "Sefer ha-Gebulim weha-Reshumim," a philosophical work of which a Latin translation is quoted in the beginning of the "Opera Omnia." This work and the "Kitab al-Istiḳat" were severely, criticized by Maimonides in a letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon ("Iggerot ha-Rambam," p. 28, Leipsic, 1859), in which he declared that they had no value, inasmuch as Isaac Israeli ben Solomon was nothing more than a physician.
*"Kitab Bustan al-Ḥikimah," on metaphysics.
*"Kitab al-Ḥikmah," a treatise on philosophy.
*"Kitab al-Madkhal fi al-Mantiḳ," on logic. The last three works are mentioned by Ibn Abi Uṣaibi'a, but no Hebrew translations of them are known.
*"Sefer ha-Ruaḥ weha-Nefesh," a philosophical treatise, in a Hebrew translation, on the difference between the spirit and the soul, published by Steinschneider in "Ha-Karmel" (1871, pp. 400-405). The editor is of opinion that this little work is a fragment of a larger one.
*A philosophical commentary on Genesis, in two books, one of which deals with Gen. i. 20.


*Ibn Abi Usaibia, 'Uyun al-Anba', ii. 36, 37, Bulak, 1882;
*'Abd al-Laṭif, Relation de l'Egypte (translated by De Sacy), pp. 43, 44, Paris, 1810;
*Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, Literaturgesch. der Araber, iv. 376 (attributing to Israeli the authorship of a treatise on the pulse);
*Wüstenfeld, "Geschichte der Arabischen Aerzte", p. 51;
*Sprenger, "Geschichte der Arzneikunde", ii. 270;
*Leclerc, Histoire de la Médecine Arabe, i. 412;
*Eliakim Carmoly, in Revue Orientale, i. 350-352;
*Heinrich Grätz, "Geschichte" 3d ed., v. 257;
*Haji Khalfa, ii. 51, v. 41, et passim;
*Moritz Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 1113-1124;
*idem, Hebr. Bibl. viii. 98. xii. 58;
*Dukes, in Orient, Lit. x. 657;
*Gross, in Monatsschrift, xxviii. 326;
*Jost's Annalen, i. 408.

External links

* [ Biography from the "Jewish Encyclopedia"]

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