Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bibliography of Ma’aseh Tuviyah, 1708

Tobias’s book is an encyclopaedic work in two main parts—one devoted to theology and scientific knowledge in general, and the other to medicine. According to the text on the frontispiece, which bears a portrait of Tobias, the manuscript would appear to have been completed in 1700. The publication licence from the University of Padua however—issued by the Franciscans and appearing at the end of the book—is dated 7 June 1708. One of the letters in the book’s introduction would seem to suggest that the discrepancy between the two dates is related to the role played by Solomon Conegliano, who was, at Tobias’ behest, responsible for its publication in Venice.
According to Ruderman, the work was printed five times at Venice between 1708 and 1850, followed by seven further editions published elsewhere—most recently in Brooklyn, New York, in 1974, and in Jerusalem, in 1967 and 1978. Ruderman thus characterizes Ma’aseh Tuviyah as “the most influential early modern Hebrew textbook of the sciences, especially medicine”.
One of the book’s main characteristics is its attempt to associate the “new sciences” with the traditional Jewish view of science in general and medicine in particular. As we have noted, the book is organized in encyclopaedic fashion. The first part comprises five chapters: ‘The Upper World’ (corresponding more or less to metaphysics), ‘The World of the Spheres’ (astronomy), ‘The Lower World’ (geography), ‘The Little World’ or ‘Microcosm’ (ethnography), and ‘The Foundations of the World’ (alchemy). The second part comprises three main chapters: ‘A New Land’, ‘A New House’ and ‘The House Watch’ or ‘Guard’. This corresponds to the traditional division of medical texts into three parts: physiology, pathology and therapy (limited here to hygiene). A third part includes: ‘A Garden Enclosed’ (gynaecology and obstetrics), ‘Fruit of the Womb’ (paediatrics), and ‘A Fountain Sealed’ (on sterility). It should be noted that while the chapter titles in the first part of the book relate to the idea of the “world”, and those of the second part to the theme of novelty and the house, the headings in the third part all derive from the Bible, particularly the Song of Songs. The book also includes a section on medical botany and a list of remedies.

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