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A book review: The Book of Reasons by Abraham Ibn Ezra

 
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Philip Graves



Joined: 07 Jan 2005
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Posted: Sun Oct 14, 2007 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the very interesting review, Steven!

I bought a copy of this one a month or two ago and had noticed the ambitious plan of the editor and translator to issue the entire series, but hadn't appreciated that his count of twelve treatises included variant versions of the same one. Still, this should make Dr. Sela's overall publication schedule more manageable than it at first sounded.

Does anyone know what became of Meira Epstein's translation of 'The Book of Nativities', by the way? It was promised as a future ARHAT release several years ago but does not seem to have materialised yet, I presume because of Rob Hand being too busy with his studies, but I hope that it is eventually released even though Dr. Sela's separate edition and translation will be on its way, since it is always valuable for understanding of older texts originally written in other languages to have multiple independent translations of the same source text made available. I have her translations of 'The Book of Reasons' and 'The Beginning of Wisdom' to which you refer, as well as an original 1939 copy of the Lévy and Cantera edition and translation of 'The Beginning of Wisdom' that you mention, which took a long waiting time to obtain at any price, with no copies generally listed used in the last few years, although partial reprints containing just the translation and none of the Hebrew text or French commentary have been freely available!

All credit to Dr. Sela for undertaking this ambitious programme of translations and editions. The more of us in the broader astrological community who support these serious scholarly critical editions and translations of earlier astrological texts in hard sales, the greater the likelihood that others will go to print in the future.

Best wishes,

Philip
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Deb
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Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2007 3:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Steven

In addition to the curious statement about Ptolemy associating the mother with the 4th house, it is also strange that Ezra refers to Ptolemy describing the Moon as cold and moist. It was later authors that did this, not Ptolemy. In Tet. I.4 Ptolemy clearly describes the Moon as humidifying and says “but it shares moderately also in heating power because of the light which it receives from the Sun”. He does the same for Venus, which later authors also reduced to cold and wet in order to create a neat little scheme of planets and signs being hot and dry, hot and wet, cold and dry or cold or wet. This doesn’t do justice to Ptolemy’s views, and the idea that the Moon and Venus are gently warming makes much more sense in his philosophy because warmth (but not excessive heat) is temperate and a creative quality.

It’s possibly also worth pointing out that the argument that Ezra uses against ‘the terms mentioned by Ptolemy’, was also used by Ptolemy, who stated that the Egyptian terms were the most credible because they had been proven by experience. It is convenience that makes us refer to these as ‘Ptolemy’s terms’, but Ptolemy doesn’t actually reveal any preference towards them.

Just to let others’ know, with your permission I will be reproducing this review in the usual ‘review’ section. It is very informative so I don’t want it to become lost as it slips down the forum pages.

Thanks for all the details.
Deb
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Andrew



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Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2007 7:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
In addition to the curious statement about Ptolemy associating the mother with the 4th house, it is also strange that Ezra refers to Ptolemy describing the Moon as cold and moist. It was later authors that did this, not Ptolemy.


See:

http://www.astrologiamedieval.com/tabelas/Qualidades_dos_Planetas.pdf

The second footnote to this table suggests that Abu Ma'shar might have been the first astrologer to propose a symmetrical distribution of the intrinsic qualities of the planets.

The Ashmand translation of Ptolemy states:

Quote:
The Moon principally generates moisture; her proximity to the earth renders her highly capable of exciting damp vapours, and of thus operating sensibly upon animal bodies by relaxation and putrefaction. She has, however, also a moderate share in the production of heat, in consequence of the illumination she receives from the Sun.


The lunar generation of moisture ("principally") might have suggested to some astrologers a predominant (temperamental) affinity with cold ("damp vapours") rather than heat. Note that the lunar generation of moisture seems contingent upon "her proximity to the earth." The (Chaldean) order of the planets determines their intrinsic qualities in the Ptolemaic system, which is why I've argued elsewhere that (from a Ptolemaic perspective) the planet Uranus cannot be accounted hot and dry; it is even further from the Sun than Saturn. If we agree with Robson that "the generally accepted method of expressing the kind of influence exerted by any star is in terms of the planets of our Solar System," then we might argue that Uranus (as a fixed star) may be "of the nature of Mars." But we cannot argue that Uranus itself is qualitatively hot, due to its remoteness from the Sun's heat.

Dorian Greenbaum's recent book on temperament posits that Mercury may be either cold and dry or hot and wet, and that Venus may be either hot and wet or cold and wet, depending on whether they are oriental or occidental to the Sun. She does not extend this scheme to include the intrinsic quality of the Moon, which she categorizes as cold and wet, as does Abu Ma'shar and those who follow him.

Abu Ma'shar's scheme is nothing if not neat and symmetrical, which may have been enough to recommend it to others. In fact, Richard Saunders describes the South Node in language similar to that he uses to describe Mars, just as he describes the North Node in language similar to that he uses to describe Venus; for Saunders (unlike Lilly et al.) the South Node is definitely masculine, while the North Node is both masculine and feminine.

Many have repeated the suggestion that Ptolemy wasn't an astrologer, even that he (in the words of Courtney Roberts) "demonstrates a lack of comprehension of the material." In my opinion, Ptolemy was clearly conversant with his material, to a far greater degree than most modern astrologers are conversant with theirs. There isn't a shred of doubt in my mind that Ptolemy was a practicing astrologer of acute insight and trenchant observation.

On another note, I saw the film "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" yesterday. It has had mixed reviews, but I thought it was brilliant: I loved it. The role of Dr. John Dee (whom Elizabeth calls a "wise man") is admirably played by David Threlfall, and the subject of astrology is treated respectfully, rather than as an object of derision or superstition. I believe that, by situating astrology within the worldview of the Elizabethans, this film will do a great deal to elevate its reputation and influence.
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Deb
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Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2007 11:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
The (Chaldean) order of the planets determines their intrinsic qualities in the Ptolemaic system, which is why I've argued elsewhere that (from a Ptolemaic perspective) the planet Uranus cannot be accounted hot and dry; it is even further from the Sun than Saturn. If we agree with Robson that "the generally accepted method of expressing the kind of influence exerted by any star is in terms of the planets of our Solar System," then we might argue that Uranus (as a fixed star) may be "of the nature of Mars." But we cannot argue that Uranus itself is qualitatively hot, due to its remoteness from the Sun's heat.


The Raphael of The Manual of Astrology, (1828) would certainly agree with that. He states that from his own experience and that of others, Uranus is noticeable in its ‘unfortunate’ effects. He describes its nature as extremely frigid, cold, dry and devoid of any cheering influence. I’ve always thought that is a good description of its nature.

The other thing about the Moon is that its humoral quality changes according to its phase, so its waxing phase is warming and generative, and its waning phase is cooling and destructive. 'Cold and wet' is just far too simplistic - but it's the same with descriptions of Jupiter as 'hot and wet'; it's not, it is temperately warming and moistening, and therefore supportative of healthy growth. There is a big difference between being warm or hot, and between being moist or wet.

Quote:
Many have repeated the suggestion that Ptolemy wasn't an astrologer, even that he (in the words of Courtney Roberts) "demonstrates a lack of comprehension of the material." In my opinion, Ptolemy was clearly conversant with his material, to a far greater degree than most modern astrologers are conversant with theirs. There isn't a shred of doubt in my mind that Ptolemy was a practicing astrologer of acute insight and trenchant observation.


Agreed. And I think these criticisms are easily made against Ptolemy by astrologers who may not have the best understanding of his work. It shouldn’t be a case of Ptolemy or Valens, Lilly or Ramesey, Schmidt or Greene … each has a unique and valued contribution. This suggestion (that Ptolemy wasn’t an astrologer) really wants picking up and shooting down whenever it is made. He wrote a treatise that defended astrology, offered a philosophical justification for its use, and set out many of its principles. In addition, his work on harmonics offered a philosophical depth to astrological principles far deeper than anything he wrote in the Tetrabiblos, and his astronomical text provided the technical information that most astrologers depended upon for centuries afterwards. I can relate to a critical review of some of his techniques but the suggestion that he was not an astrologer or lacked comprehension is absurd. Such is the nature of fame I suppose – for centuries you are known as the most significant astrologer of all time, and then the next minute … nothing. Confused

I will have to go and see that film.
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Deb
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Posted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 10:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On the question of Ptolemy being an astrologer (which arose in another thread), I've made an update on where the suggestion that he may not have been came from in the other thread. It's the first post at the top of this page.

http://skyscript.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?p=22177#22177

(Unfortunately this question is off-topic for both of these threads, but it came up as one of those 'hard to ignore' side-issues).
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Theo



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Posted: Sat Oct 20, 2007 9:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deb wrote:
Hi Steven

In addition to the curious statement about Ptolemy associating the mother with the 4th house, it is also strange that Ezra refers to Ptolemy describing the Moon as cold and moist. It was later authors that did this, not Ptolemy. In Tet. I.4 Ptolemy clearly describes the Moon as humidifying and says “but it shares moderately also in heating power because of the light which it receives from the Sun”. He does the same for Venus, which later authors also reduced to cold and wet in order to create a neat little scheme of planets and signs being hot and dry, hot and wet, cold and dry or cold or wet. This doesn’t do justice to Ptolemy’s views, and the idea that the Moon and Venus are gently warming makes much more sense in his philosophy because warmth (but not excessive heat) is temperate and a creative quality.

It’s possibly also worth pointing out that the argument that Ezra uses against ‘the terms mentioned by Ptolemy’, was also used by Ptolemy, who stated that the Egyptian terms were the most credible because they had been proven by experience. It is convenience that makes us refer to these as ‘Ptolemy’s terms’, but Ptolemy doesn’t actually reveal any preference towards them.

Just to let others’ know, with your permission I will be reproducing this review in the usual ‘review’ section. It is very informative so I don’t want it to become lost as it slips down the forum pages.

Thanks for all the details.
Deb


A good read, for sure. I always took Ptolemy literally Deb. When he wrote about the Moon's "cold and moist" quality he was talking about the Moon's effect in the real world of weather (among its other influences). My first study of classical scientific astrology was forecasting climate and weather, and Ptolemy was known as a excellent astrological weather forecaster.

Ptolemy's works on climate & weather forecasting based on the elements of the planets, and their influences laid a strong basis for weather forecasting among the Greeks, Romans, and into western astrology where it flourished up until the early 20th century.
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meirabe



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Posted: Sat Oct 27, 2007 5:09 pm    Post subject: Ibn Ezra - "The Book of Reasons" is Available Reply with quote

Hi all,

Just wanted to let everyone know that Ibn Ezra's "THE BOOK OF REASONS" IS available - directly from me (Meira Epstein, translator).
You need to contact me directly - email, Skype, etc.

The introduction in this book, as well as my article on The Life and Work of Ibn Ezra" (posted on my website and also published in The Astrological Encyclopedia by James Lewis) is very comprehensive and covers all his other astrolgical texts.

This 'book review' posting here is very interesting, but for lack of time I will have to read it later.
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Deb
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Posted: Mon Oct 29, 2007 1:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Meira,

Thank you for clarifying that! People also need to realise that besides the excellent reputation your translations have, there is a considerable difference in price between yours (at $25 plus p&p) and this new edition (at $161).

I have amended the review page of this book to correct the comment that yours is out of print, and to give a clear link to your information (at the top and bottom of the page). I am also putting working links to your pages below. I think it is pretty obvious that your site ought to be the first point of call for any astrologer interested in Ibn Ezra and his works. Please let us know when your translation of the Book of Nativities is available!

Best wishes
Deb

Meira’s article on Ibn Ezra and his works (very informative, and highly recommended)


Books by Meira (with link to order form)

Meira's home page: http://bear-star.com
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meirabe



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Posted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 12:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Steven, Deb and All

In the context of ‘availability’ I would like to add that Amazon wrongly lists my translation of Ibn Ezra’s The Beginning of Wisdom as 1 book available, for $49.
The Beginning of Wisdom IS available from A.R.H.A.T and from Astroamerica.com (for half that price).

About the two versions of The Book of Reasons:
Ibn Ezra wrote two versions – long and short (as he did with a few other books of his), both of which were available to me at the time. Comparing style and clarity of astrological information, I decided to use the short version, with supplements from the long one, where differences or additional material existed. All of these are documented and footnoted in the book. There are no contradictions between the two versions, but mostly style and clarity.

About the Zodiacal Signs, (Mishpetei ha-Mazzalot):
I am not aware of such a text, but I am wondering whether it might be a variant name of another known one. More info is welcome.

Was Ibn Ezra a practicing astrologer?

It is hard to say. Horoscope Analysis for a Newborn (Mishpatei Ha'Nolad) does specify an actual nativity with longitude and latitude, and comments on a few classical topics of analysis, such as longevity, health, the quality of the mind, and the affairs of the father. Incidentally, almost in the same sequence as Ptolemy’s in the Tetrabiblos.
Ibn Ezra may have written this at the request of one of his patrons, or as an example for chart analysis. It is all speculation, since the text is silent on this matter.

As in the case of other great scholars who were versed in and practices astrology along with their accomplishments in the rest of the physical sciences (see Kepler), the academic world dismisses that fact and presents it as a necessity to make a living. Ibn Ezra did live in poverty and depended on the kindness of patrons, yet his texts and his personal poetry does show how deeply and personally he was involved with astrology. In many cases, when a technical dispute existed, he would either take one of the sides, or come to his own conclusion, saying “and I tried it”, meaning experimented with it.

In the same vein, the main focus of the academia is to show the contribution of such scholars to the mainstream sciences, and their involvement with astrology is a necessary, or unfortunate weakness that must be excused. In Ibn Ezra’s case, astrological explanations are also embedded in his vast Biblical commentary, which is greatly admired and studied to this day. Full appreciation of such commentary requires knowledge of astrology as well, (which rabbinical writings, up until modern times indicate.)

best regards,
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Phone: +1 212-879-2186
Skype: meirabe
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Estebon_Duarte



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Posted: Sat May 22, 2010 8:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

*In an update relevant to this thread*

The second release of Dr. Sela's highly valuable translation series, Ibn Ezra's Book of the World was made widely available in March 2010 and I just finished reading through it for a second time.

http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=210&pid=32868

I had begun to write a short review of the book when I found this review done on the first release, Book of Reasons!
I haven't acquired the first volume, yet, though I found the current one through Barnes and Nobles. I had recently bought a couple of academic publications (translations) from them with a very good discount which is helpful with the high cost of these works. When I purchased the book in-store the clerk told me these books were "printed to order" and there were no returns. When I received the book it had pinch marks on both covers! it seemed a binding incident. The copy was sealed and I could have made a big deal about it, but it would've taken weeks and I suspect this copy will end up with a bit of wear-and-tear anyway Smile

Like most of Ezra's work he displays a defiant and opinionated view on Astrological practices of his day and before. Dr. Sela does indeed do an excellent job of conveying astrological concepts and mechanics from an academics standpoint. It is refreshing to see a dedicated scholar give respect to the Traditions and History of Astrology when translating and discussing our most precious practitioners. I must say personally I believe Ezra to have been a practicing astrologer. He confidently professed to test ideas and techniques and either agreed with confidence to their use or outright ridicule or dismiss the thoughts of reputed astrologers before him.
He also represents a divergence in practice among Medieval European astrologers. Many times Ezra will go through great lengths to explain the techniques of those that came before him just to say things like "I, Abraham Ezra, author of this work, do the exact opposite" (loosely interpreted by me Smile )

The Book of the World is Ezra's Mundane work and is made even more valuable by being one of very few English translations on Traditional Mundane Astrology. Sela's volumes contain the critical Hebrew editions with English translations and valuable notes. In the case of Sefer ha- 'Olam (The Book of the World) as with Sefer ha- Te'amim (The Book of Reasons), both known versions are included. In addition to this Sela has included all known instances of Ezra's writing on Mundane/Weather Forecasting. This includes the introduction to The Book of Nativities, A Fragment of the Long Commentary on Exodus 33:21, the Tenth Chapter of The Beginning of Wisdom and the Hebrew translation of Masha'allah's Book on Eclipses (with English) supposedly done by Ibn Ezra, though Dr.Sela introduces the idea that perhaps Ezra was not the translator, using differences in terminology choices to underpin his argument. The inclusion of these texts is to show other instances of Ezra's use and support of "Conjunctionalism", a term I have only seen in Sela's work, which is essentially the study of the Saturn-Jupiter Conjunction Cycles, though includes the conjunction-opposition cycles of the Luminaries as well as the 120 patterned conjunctions of the planets.
It is the unique interpretation and synthesis of different techniques that I find the most interesting in Ezra's work.
While the two versions of The Book of The World ('Olam I and 'Olam II) differ greatly in their organization, their content is essentially the same. As with the first volume, Sela points out these works were written at different times in different places by a wandering Ezra. Living out his declining years traveling Europe his manuscripts gained a wide popularity for transmitting Persian and Arabic material to Latin Europe.

In 'Olam I Ezra starts his treatise on "Conjunctionalism" by bashing Abu Mashar's own Mundane Astrological work!

Quote:
"If you come across Abu Mashar's Book on the Conjunctions of the Planets you would neither like it nor trust it, because he relies on the mean motion for the planetary conjunctions. No scholar concurs with him, because the truth is that the conjunctions should be reckoned with respect to the zodiac."


there are other instances of disapproval of Mashar's works, though he borrows heavily from those works, as well as a similar treatment of Mundane techniques. So while he wrote that mean motion conjunctions are not to be used, he then declared that exact conjunctions were impossible to compute. The answer to this (as it was for the astrologers before him) was the chart of the Aries Ingress calculated for the year the conjunction takes place. He then stated that it was impossible to compute the exact ascendant when the Sun enters Aries! Ezra's answer to this was the use of the full or new moon prior to the Aries Ingress. He quotes Ptolemy as the source of this, though it has been noted that he may have had his Ptolemies mixed up.

Quote:
"So now you know that no man can know the sign of the ascendant at the revolution of the year. This is why Ptolemy said, along with the scientists of India, Egypt and Persia, and Dorotheus, that we should always observe the moment of the luminaries conjunction or opposition, whichever occurs last before the Sun enters Aries, for we can be precise about this without approximation, in any place we wish, and from it we can know all the judgments of the world."
('Olam I pg.64-65)

There are numerous techniques for Meteorological Astrology (Lunar Mansions and other Indian methods) as well as lists of Ascending signs for various cities, some borrowed, some determined from personal observations made during his travels. He also is an advocate for the use of Foundation Charts for cities, though relies mostly on the Syzygies before various ingresses at different locations. He gives his account of the Saturn-Jupiter conjunctions responsible for the rise of the major religious prophets, and a discussion on Israel's astrological status.

Overall I find Ibn Ezra's treatment of Mundane Astrological Techniques easy to read (due to Sela's masterful translation) and filled with numerous sources and new information. Shlomo Sela's compiling and translation work gives new life and due respect to an extremely interesting character of the Medieval Astrological world. I consider his volumes of Ezra's translations a critical addition to the serious Predictive practitioner's collection. Support of these works is essential to continue this tradition of academic quality research and investment grade book binding.

Unless you take the cheap route from B&N-

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Mark
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Posted: Sat May 22, 2010 2:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
The Book of the World is Ezra's Mundane work and is made even more valuable by being one of very few English translations on Traditional Mundane Astrology. I had intended to include more of my review, but its late here...(will edit later-)


Thanks for letting us know. Great news. I would really appreciate you publicising this on the mundane forum too.

Thanks

Mark
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