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Isaac Israeli

Isaac Israeli

(b. Egypt, fl. ninth-tenth century)

medicine, philosophy.

Nothing is known of Isaac Israeli’s early life or his education. A Jewish physician and philosopher, he immigrated to Ifriqiya (now Tunisia) sometime after 900 and became the court physician to the last Aghlabid emir and, after he was ousted, to the Fatimid caliph who succeeded him. Although the date of Israeli’s death is uncertain, there is some ground for placing it about 955.

Of his medical works, the Book on Fevers and the Book on Urine were highly regarded textbooks. An edition of the Arabic original of the Book on Fevers is in preparation; a comparison of Constantine the African’s Latin version with the original has shown it to be more a condensed paraphrase than a literal translation. Constantine also prepared Latin versions of the Book on Urine and the Book on Foodstuffs and Drugs. There are also Hebrew translations of the medical works.

Israeli’s philosophy, purely Neoplatonic in character, is mainly based on a treatise in Arabic that, like other similar texts, was attributed to Aristotle, and on the writings of the Muslim philosopher al-Kindī.His themes were the process of emanation, the elements, and the soul and its return to the upper world. He wrote a number of short treatises on philosophy, of which the Book of Definitions and Descriptions, largely based on al-Kindi, was widely used by the Schoolmen in a Latin version by the twelfth-century translator Gerard of Cremona. Whereas the Book of Substances, of which only part is extant, is a kind of commentary on the pseudo-Aristotelian text, the Book on Spirit and Soul supports its doctrines with biblical quotations. In addition, there is a treatise called Chapter on the Elements, extant only in the Hebrew version, and a lengthier Book on the Elements, which exists in Latin and Hebrew editions, the former by Gerard of Cremona.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

There is a biographical note in A. Altmann and S. M. Stern, Isaac Israeli. A Neoplatonic Philosopher of the Early Tenth Century (Oxford, 1958), which also contains references to the editions of the philosophical treatises, the English translation, with commentary, of the philosophical treatises, and a systematic exposition of Israeli’s philosophy that supersedes J. Guttmann, Die philosophischen Lehren des Isaak b. Solomon Israeli (Münster, 1911). Constantine the African’s Latin versions were printed in Opera omnia Ysaac (Lyons, 1515). The relation between the Arabic original of the Book on Fevers and the Latin (as well as the Castilian) version in studied by J. D. Latham is Journal of Semitic Studies (1969).

Among the bibliographic references in Altmann and Stern, the most important are M. Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters (Berlin, 1893), sec. 479; and Die arabische Literatur der Juden (Frankfurt, 1902), sec. 28; and G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science (Baltimore, 1927), pp. 639 ff.

S. M. Stern

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Israeli, Isaac ben Solomon

Israeli, Isaac ben Solomon (c.855–955). Jewish philosopher. Israeli was court physician in Kairouan, the capital of the Maghreb. He was the author of Kitāb al-Hudūd (The Book of Definitions) which attempts to define such concepts as the soul, wisdom, the intellect, and nature.

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