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A Judaeo-Arabic astronomical manuscript at the British Library



Add MS 7701





A fragment of an Arabic-Persian versified vocabulary, with a commentary. Incomplete.

Fols 1r-37v.

Title: Niṣāb al-ṣibyān.

Title: נצאב אלצביאן.

Author: Farāhī, Abū Naṣr Muḥammad Badr al-Dīn (אבו נצר, פראהי).

Fols 38r-81v.

Title: Risalah dar haiyat.

Title: רסאלה דר היאת.

Author: ῾Ali Ḳushi (עלי קושי).

Note: A treatise on astrononmy, with a commentary. The first part begins on folio 41v, the second on folio 64r.

Fols 82r-134v.

Author: Ṭūsī, Naṣīr al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad, 1201-1274 (נאצר אלדין טוסי).

Title: Mikhtatsar.

Title: מכתצר.

Note: A manual on the computation of the almanack, with an anonymous commentary. Incomplete.

Colophon: קד תם עלא יד יהודא בן כמה"ר אלעזר בתאריך הפתם מאה טבת סנה' התכו מואפק [...] אז הגרת אמיד כה מבארך באד בר כאתב וברקארי אויר. Fol 134v.

Avraham Shelomoh Yitsḥaḳ: inscribed, folio 134v




Sonja Brentjes


The re-surfacing of a splendid specimen of a celestial globe made for the Safavid gvernor Manuchihr Khan (d. 1636) is a marvellous gift to all who are seriously interested in intellectual history of post-Mongol Islamicate societies and in particular of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736). It illustrates that education, politics, art patronage, artisanal and artistic excellence had formed a strong bond. This unification of a broad range of cultural activities in the courtly spheres of the Ilkhanids (1256-1335), Timurids (1370-1507), Mughals (1526-1707), Ottomans (about 1300-1922), Safavids and other Muslim dynasties provided the context for the creation of a scholarly tradition of the mathematical sciences, astrology, philosophy, medicine and the so-called occult sciences that thrived as a program of elite education, luxurious display of power and wealth and as a culture of gift-giving and political rivalry. Claims to scientific excellence in this cultural function of the sciences serve for binding the sciences to the other mentioned expressions of excellence, but do not necessarily literally reflect a culture of scientific research practice as stated in the preface of Hasan b. Sa'd Qa'ini's (fl. 1630) Persian translation of 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi's (903-986) work on star constellations.


Both the globe and the two preciously illustrated manuscript copies of Qa'ini's translation encourage us, however, to spend more time with them and investigate their claims, mastership and affiliations to earlier Ilkhanid and Timurid works of the same genre. They also invite us to rethink the history of the sciences in the Safavid period and to dedicate the same kind of careful study to such specimens of scholarly knowledge and cultural practice as we have done so successfully in the last decades with regard to prime specimens of scientific innovation and excellence created in Islamicate societies of the classical period between India and the Iberian Peninsula. It would be wonderful if the private owners of such impressive pieces reflecting the rich cultural past of the sciences in Islamicate societies would support us in this task and share their collections generously with the academic world and the public.


Gemini. Safavid copy from about 1630-33 made for the Georgian governor of Mashhad Manuchihr Khan (d. 1636) as part of the Persian translation of 'And al-Rahman al-Sufi's (903-986) Book of Star Constellations by Hasan al-Qaini (fl. 1630).Gemini. Safavid copy from about 1630-33 made for the Georgian governor of Mashhad Manuchihr Khan (d. 1636) as part of the Persian translation of 'And al-Rahman al-Sufi's (903-986) Book of Star Constellations by Hasan al-Qaini (fl. 1630).


A female collector of Sufi's Book on Star Constellations


Emilie Savage-Smith translated in her paper on the copy of al-Sufi's book on star constellations from 1125 different parts of the colophon. They contain important information about how the copyist worked, that al-Sufi taught his book to at least one student whom he gave apparently some kind of testimony that the student's copy was correct, that the copyist had also access to the alleged autograph of al-Sufi produced for the treasury of the Buyid ruler 'Adud al-Dawla which had since then moved into the possession of the 'Abbasid caliph. This last mentioned part of the colophon contains the only reference to a high-raking female official in the caliphal household as a collector and owner of scientific books - the head mistress of the women's part of the palace.


Due to the extreme rarity of such information about the interest of women in scientific books I copy here Emilie's translation of this part of the colophon:


        "I compared this book from its beginning to end, during the month of Safar of the year mentioned earlier [March 1125], with the copy that was made for the treasury of al-Malik 'Adud al-Dawla Abu Shuja' Fana-Khusraw ibn Rukn al-Dawla, may God be pleased with him, and it was a copy in an upright? (mujallas) script derived from Kufic, and all of the corrections and additions which were in it were in the handwriting of Abu’l-Husayn al-Sufi, the author of this book, and all the drawings (suwar) were the work of (san'a) Abu’l-Husayn al-Sufi in his own hand. 

And this copy moved about amongst the treasuries of the rulers of the Banu Buway [the Buyids] until it reached al-Sahliya, head housekeeper (qahramana) of the Prince of Believers [the caliph] al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah (d.1075), and he [the caliph] bequeathed it as a waqf." Emilie-Savage Smith, The Most Authoritative Copy of 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi's Tenth-century Guide to the Constellations, p. 137 (paper is uploaded on academia.edu).

Copy of 'bd al-Rahman al-Sufi's Star Catalogue made in Baghdad in 1125Copy of 'bd al-Rahman al-Sufi's Star Catalogue made in Baghdad in 1125