Donnolo, Shabbetai

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DONNOLO, SHABBETAI (913–c. 982), Italian physician and writer on medicine. He was born in Oria, Italy. The name Donnolo is Greek in origin but is common among Jews in its Arabic form "Dunash." Such details of his life as are known have come from an autobiographical sketch in the preface to his book Sefer Ḥakhmoni, a commentary on the Sefer *Yeẓirah. At the age of 12 he was captured by Saracen raiders, but was ransomed by relatives in Taranto and remained in southern Italy. Donnolo studied medicine under teachers who were acquainted with pharmacy, medicine, astronomy, and astrology. He was well versed in the Talmud, and some geonic literature, knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and colloquial Italian, and acquired, copied and studied Greek and Latin medical manuscripts. He traveled a great deal, presumably visiting Salerno, but it appears that he never left Italy, for no mention of other countries is made in his autobiographical writings. There are erroneous references to Donnolo's having visited Modena in Lombardy, as he practiced as a physician and teacher of medicine in southern Italy only. *Rashi's reference to Donnolo residing in Lombardy is due to the fact that southern Italy was at that time also called Lombardy. In Sefer ha-Mirkaḥot ("Book of Remedies") Donnolo mentions the village of Martis near Russano, in Calabria.

In keeping with the practice of medieval Europe, Donnolo was both a pharmacist and a physician. He appears to have been an independent thinker and his works are neither translations nor copies, but the collected experience of 40 years of medical practice. Throughout his commentaries he stressed the importance of Hebrew writings and spread the knowledge of them. Donnolo was acquainted with the writings of *Asaph ha-Rofe. Many common features and identical Hebrew expressions are to be found in the works of the latter and Donnolo's "Book of Remedies." It is uncertain if Donnolo knew Arabic, even though the Saracens were then in Sicily. What is evident is that he was not acquainted with Arab medicine, as there is no reference to it in any of his writings. Donnolo's Hebrew is difficult. His terminology is Greek, Latin, and colloquial Italian. His use of Hebrew terms from the Bible and Talmud is rare and of Arabic rarer still, except when these terms already appear in the Talmud, the geonic writings, or the books of Asaph or else designate commodities imported from Arabia. Donnolo's statement in his commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah that "you can foretell the future of the person from the lines and appearance of his face" indicates that he drew material from the same sources as *Hai Gaon. The parallelism of physiognomies and astrology is based on Donnolo's idea that the human body is an image of the macrocosm. As far as is known, Donnolo was the first person in Christian Europe to write on medicine in Hebrew. Apart from Asaph's book on medicine – which was not written in Europe – the "Book of Remedies" is probably the first Hebrew medical work. It has added importance in that it was probably the first serious medical book written in Italy after the fall of Rome. Donnolo wrote at the crossroads of the Greco-Latin and Arab cultures, and his works show that the Greek medicine of his time had not yet been affected by its Arab counterpart, despite the fact that the Salerno School (founded probably in Donnolo's time) is said to have taught in Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic. Donnolo was not a prolific writer, but the works he left helped to spread the Hebrew language and promote science. His works include the following: Sefer ha-Mirkaḥot ("Book of Remedies") – published by Steinschneider in Virchow's Archive in 1867 and republished in a more complete edition by Muntner in Jerusalem in 1950; Sefer Ḥakhmoni (1880); Pizmon – a ritual poem in primitive verse; Sefer ha-Mazzalot ("Book of Constellations") of which only a few sentences have survived; Antidotarium (in Ms.). Although his name does not appear on this work, Donnolo himself refers to it in the "Book of Remedies." In his commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah he mentions another book on anatomy and physiology. Although the inscription Sefer ha-Yakar ("The Precious Book") appears on the title page of the "Book of Remedies" it would appear that this name was generic and included both the Antidotarium and a work on fevers. In any case it is followed by another more practical inscription: "The Book of Drugs, Liquids, Powders, Bandages, Applications and Ointments to rub on the Skin." It includes more than 100 simple remedies and the method of compounding them. The book deals with medical preparations, pharmacy, scents, and the use of honey and wax as auxiliaries and of balsams (resins) as preservative substances. All Donnolo's remedies derive from the vegetable world. The "Book of Remedies" is not, as Steinschneider believed, a fragment, but is both an independent book and at the same time an integral part of his work. The Donnolo Hospital in Jaffa bears his name.

[Suessmann Muntner]

Donnolo's Theology

Though there is no direct evidence that Donnolo knew *Saadiah Gaon's works, there are some close parallels between the theology of Donnolo and that of Saadiah who was his contemporary. Donnolo's theology is expressed in two of the three parts of his Sefer Ḥakhmoni, in his treatise on the verse "God created man in His image," and in his interpretation of the Sefer Yeḥirah. Donnolo's aim was to remove anthropomorphic elements in the concept of God by reinterpretation of the biblical verses which may give rise to such concepts; the same aim guided Saadiah in his Emunot ve-De'ot, though Donnolo's treatment of the subject is less systematic and conclusive. Donnolo, however, made use of his scientific knowledge while interpreting the anthropomorphic elements in the Bible and offering his own conclusions. Donnolo's thesis was that a verse which stresses, or appears to stress, the similarity between God Himself and man in fact refers to the relationship between man and the created world. Thus he introduced into Jewish thought the idea of man's being the microcosm in contrast to the created world, which is the macrocosm. Using all his scientific knowledge, Donnolo tried to prove that everything in man corresponds to some phenomenon in the world. Man's two eyes, for instance, correspond to the sun and the moon, and man's hair to the grass and forests which cover the earth. He gives a detailed study of the functions of the various parts of man's body, and then equates them with the function of the various powers and elements in the world. Man, therefore, was not created in the image of God, but in the image of God's creation.

God, according to Donnolo, cannot be seen, because He has no form. Therefore, some explanation has to be given to the phenomenon of prophecy and the various biblical passages describing the appearance of God to man. Though probably unaware of Saadiah's theology, Donnolo offered the same answer to this question as Saadiah had: God did not appear to the prophets, but His glory (kavod) did. Moreover, the kavod, according to Donnolo, appeared in various forms to various people, so as to prevent them from believing that God Himself has a human form. Donnolo attempted to give a scientific explanation of the creation of the world in the course of his interpretation of Sefer Yeẓirah, one of the earliest interpretations of this work. Subsequent interpreters, mainly the *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, but to some extent the kabbalists as well, used Donnolo's views while constructing their own concept of the process of creation.

[Joseph Dan]


D. Castelli (ed.), Il commento di Sabbetai Donnolo sul Libro della creazione (1880); H. Friedenwald, Jews and Medicine (1944), 148–52, 171–2, 223–4; Roth, Dark Ages, index; A. Geiger, Melo Chofnajim (1840), 29–33, 95–99; Muntner, in: Atti del xiv Congresso internazionale di Storia della Medicina. Roma-Salerno 1954, 2 (1956), 1100; idem, in: Actes du viième Congrès International d'Histoire des Sciences. Jerusalem 1953 (1953); idem, in: rhmh, 32 (1956), 155–62; idem, in Harofé Haivri, 13 (1946), 86–97; idem, Rabbi Shabbetai Donnolo (Heb., 1949); G. Nebbia, Donnolo, Medico e Sapiente Ebreo di Oria (1963); Steinschneider, in: Virchows Archive… praktische Medizin, 38 (1867), 65–91; 40 (1867), 80–124; 42 (1868), 51–112.

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Donnolo, Shabbetai

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