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(fl. Baghdad, 762–ca. 815)


The son of Atharī (his father’s name is sometimes written Abrī or Sāriya), Māshaā’allāh was a Jew from Başra (sometimes wrongly written Mişr [Egypt]). His name in Hebrew was Manasse (Mīshā, according to Ibn al-Qifţī); in Persian, Yazdān Khwāst (British Museum, MS Add. 23,400). This last form is of particular interest, since Māshāallāh was one of those early ‘Abbāsid astrologers who introduced the Sassanian version of the predictive art to the Arabs; he was particualary indebted to the Pahlavī translation of Dorotheus of Sidon and to the Zik i Shahriyārān, or Royal Astronomical Tables, issued under the patronage of Khusrau Anūshirwān in 556. He was also acquainted with some Greek material (perhaps through Arabic versions of Syriac texts) and would have acquired some knowledge of Indian science, both through the Pahlavī texts that he read and through such Indian scientists as the teacher of al-Fazārī and Kanaka, who visited the courts of al-Manşūr and Hārūn al-Rashīd.

It is during al-Mansūr’s reign that Māshā’allāh’s name first appears: he participated in the astrological deliberations that led to the decision to found Baghdad on 30 July 762 (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 29 [1970], 104). Several of his works contain horoscopes that can be dated between 762 and 809 and were cast during his lifetime. Ibn al-Nadīm states that Māshā allāh lived into the reign of al-Ma’mūn, which began in 813; but the absence of any information about his activities after 809 indicates that he probably did not live long after 813.

Māshā’allāh wrote on virtually every aspect of astrology, as the bibliography below demonstrates. His most interesting works for the historian of astronomy are his astrological history, from which we derive almost all that we know of Anūshirwān’s Royal Tables. His brief and rather primitive De scientia motus orbis combines Peripatetic physics, Ptolemaic planetary theory, and astrology in such a way that, in conjunction with its use of the Syrian names of the months, one strongly suspects that it is based on the peculiar doctrines of Harrān, to which al-Kindī and Abū Ma’shar were also attracted. In fact, Māshā’ allāh’s works are often echoed in Abū Ma’shar’s; and in the list below references have been made to the corresponding items in the list of works given in the article on Abū Ma’shar in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (I, 32–39).

The basis of this list of Māshā’ allāh’s works is that given by Ibn al-Nadīm in his Fihrist (G. Flügel, ed. [Leipzig 1871], 273–274); this was copied by Ibn al-Qiftī in his Ta’rikh al-hukamā’ (J. Lippert, ed. [Leipzig, 1903], 327), although the published text stop at book V of item 9. This bibliography is supplemented from various sources, the most important of which are F. J. Carmody, Arabic Astronomical and Astrological Sciences in Latin Translation (Berkeley-Los Angels, 1956), 23–38, and L. Thorndike, “The Latin Translations of Astrological Works by Messahala,” in Osiris, 12 (1956), 49–72.

1. Ibn al-Nadīm (hereafter N)1. Kitā al-mawālid al-kabir (“Great Book of Nativities”), in fourteen books. See Abū Ma’shar 4. This apparently exists in a Latin translation made by Hugo Sanctallensis and dedicated to Michael, bishop of Tarazona from 1119 to 1151; see C. H. Haskins, Studies in the History of Mediaeval Science, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1927), 76, and Carmody, item 13.

2. N 2. Fi al-qirānāt wa ’l-adyān wa ’l-milal (“On Conjunctions and Peoples and Religions”), in twenty-one chapters. See Abū Ma’shar 8. This work, written shortly before 813, survives in an epitome by Ibn Hibintā that is published in E. S. Kennedy and D. Pingree, The Astrological History of Māshā allāh (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), 1–38. For a different interpretation of the astronomy upon which the casting of the horoscopes in this work is based, see J. J. Burckhardt and B. L. van der Waerden, “Das astronomische System der persischen Tafeln I,” in Centaurus, 13 (1968),1–28.

3. N 3. Kitāb matrah al-shu’ā’ (“Book of the Projection of Ray[s]”]. This lost work is referred to by Abū Ma’shar, as quoted by his pupil Abū Sa’īd Shādhān in his Mudhākarāt (Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum, XI, pt. 1 [Brussels, 1932], 171–172); see also al-Bīrūnī, Rasā’il (Hyderabad Deccan, 1948), pt. 3, 80.

4. N 4. kitāb al-ma’ānī (“Book of Definitions”). Māshā’allāh refers to this nonextant work in 16, below (Kennedy and Pingree, The Astrological History, p. 130).

5. N 5. Kitāb sana‘at al-asturlāb wa ’l-‘amal bihā (“Book of the Construction of an Astrolabe and Its Use”). This survives only in a Latin translation (see Carmody, item 1). It was first published by G. Reisch, Margarita philosophica nova (Strasbourg 1512; repr. Strasbourg, 1515; O. Finé, ed., Basel, 1535; repr. Basel, 1583; and trans. into Italian by G.P. Gallucci [Venice, 1599]). The third part of the treatise, on the use of the astrolabe, was edited by W. W. Skeat, A Treatise on the Astrolabe; Addressed to His Son Lowys by Geoffrey Chaucer A.D. 1391 (London, 1872; repr. London, 1905), 88–104. The best edition now is by R. T. Gunther, Early Science in Oxford, V (Oxford, 1929), 195–231; for the catalog of stars see P. Kunitzsch, Typen von Sternverzeichnissen in astronomischen Handschriften des zehnten bis vierzehnten Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden, 1966), 47–50. Not from Māshā’allāh’s treatise are the fragment published by J. M. Millás Vallicrosa,Las traducciones orientales en los manuscritos de la Biblioteca catedral de Toledo (Madrid, 1942), 313–321(see Kunitzsch, pp.23–30), and the first table in Gunther (see Kunitzsch, pp. 51–58, who argues that this catalog is a product of the school of al-Majrītī).

6. N 6. Kitāb dhāt al-halaq (“Book of the Armillary Sphere”). Nothing more is known of this treatise.

7. N 7. Kitā al-amtār wa ’l-riyāh (Book of Rains and Winds”). See Abū Ma’shar 34. The Arabic text has been published by G. Levi della Vida, “Un opuscolo astrologico di Mâšâ’allâh,” in Rivista degli studi orientali, 14 (1933–1934), 270–281. The Latin translation by Drogon [?] was edited by M.A. Šangin, Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum, XII (Brussels, 1936), 210–216; see Carmody, item 15, and Thorndike, pp. 67–68.

8. N 8. Kitaāb alsahmayn (“Book of the Two Lots [of Fortune and of the Demon]”). See Abū Ma’shar 14.

9. N 9. Kitāb al-ma’rūf bi’ wa’ l-’shrīn (“The Book Known as the Twenty-seventy”), in six books: I, “On the Beginnings of Works”; II, “On the Overthrow of the Government”; III,“On Interrogations”; IV, “On Aspects” V, “On Occurrences”; VI, “On the tasyīrāt (‘astrological cycles’)of the Luminaries and What They Indicate,” This work is probably the source of many excerpts from Māshā’allāh found in the Arabic compendiums of al-̣Saymarī,al-Qasrdfānī, and others, as well as in the manuscript Laleli 2122 at the Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul. It may also be the source of the following translations:

a. De cogitationibus(De interrogationibus). Published by Bonetus Locatellus (Venice, 1493; repr. Venice, 1519) and by 1. Heller (Nuremberg, 1549); Carmody, item 5 (who mentions a French translation of the Latin), and Thorndike, pp. 53–54 and 56–62. There is also a Hebrew translation of a work on interrogations (M. Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher [Berlin, 1893], 600–602), and a Kitāb al-Masā’il (“Book of Interrogations”) was known to Hājjī Khalīfa (Lexicon bibliographicum et encyclopaedicum, G. Flü, ed., VII [Leipzig, 1858], 386).

b.De occultis, which survives in two versions; see Carmody, items 9 and 10, and Thorndike, pp. 54–56.

c. Liber iudiciorum; see Carmody, item 14.

d. De interpretationibus, edited by I. Heller (Nuremberg, 1549). To it may also belong the De testimoniis lune, De stationibus planetarum, and De electionibus horarum (see Carmody, items 16, 17, and 18), if they are truly by Māshā’allāh.

10. N 10. Kitāb al-̣hurūf(“Book of Letters”).

11. N 11. Kitāb al-suḷtān(“Book of Government”).

12. N 12. Kitāb al-safar(“Book of Travel”).

13. N 13. Kitāb al-as’ār(“Book of Prices”). This short treatise, which contains a horoscope dated 24 June 773 (Kennedy and Pingree, The Astrological History,p. 185), is extant in Bodleian MS Marsh 618 and Escorial Ms Ar. 938. The Liber super annona or De mercibus may be the Latin version; see Carmody, item 11, and Thorndike, pp. 68–l69.

14. N 14. Kitāb al-mawālid (“Book of Nativities”). This work, based largely on Dorotheus of Sidon with some additions from a Byzantine source of the sixth century, and itself the basis of the main work of Māshā’allāh’s pupil al-Khayyāt, survives only in Latin; see Carmody, item 12. It has been edited by Kennedy and Pingree, The Astrological History, pp. 145–174.

15. N 15. Kitāb tạhwīl sinī al-mawālīd(“Book of the Revolution[s] of the Years of Nativities”). See Abū Ma’shar 19. This work is lost, but many fragments of it can be recovered from the Majmū’ aqāwīl al-̣hukamā of al-Dāmaghānī.

16. N 16. Kitāb al-duwal wa ’l-milal (“Book of Dynasties and Religions”). This is probably identical with the Fi qiyām al-khulafāwa ma’rifat qiyā kull malik(“On the Installation of the Caliphs and the Knowledge of the Installation of Every King”), which was written during the reign of Hārūn alRashīd and is translated in Kennedy and Pingree, The Astrological History, pp. 129–143.

17. N 17. Kitaāb al-̣hukm ‘alā ’l-ijtimā’āt wa ’l-istiqbālāt(“Book of Judgment[s] According to the Conjunctions and Oppositions [of the Sun and Moon]”).

18. N 18. Al-Kitāb al-mu8rdī (“The Pleasing Book”).

19. N 19. Kitāb al-şuwar wa ’l-̣hukm ’alāyhā (“Book of Constellations and Judgemnt[s] According to Them”). See ū Ma’shar 17 and 18. This may be the Kitā al-amthāl (“Book of Image”) in Ayasofya Library, Istanbul, MS 2672.

20. De revolutionibus annorum mundi, in forty-six chapters. This Latin translation of a lost Arabic original was published by Bonetus Locatellus (Venice, 1493, 1519) and by I. Heller (Nuremberg,1549); see Carmody, item 2, and Thorndike, pp. 66–67.

21. Epistola de rebus eclipsium or De ratione circuli et stellarum, in twelve chapters. This Latin translation by John of Seville was published by Bonetus Locatellus (Venice, 1493, 1519), by 1. Heller (Nuremberg, 1549), and by N. Pruckner, lulii Firmici Materni … Astronomicŵn libri VIII (Basel, 1533; repr. Basel, 1551), pt. 2, 115–118; see Carmody, item 7 (who mentions a French translation of the Latin), and Thorndike, pp. 62–66. A Hebrew translation made by Ibn Ezra in 1148 was commented on by Abraham Yagel at the end of the sixteenth century (see M. Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen, pp. 602–603). Abraham’s Hebrew was translated into English by B. Goldstein,“The Book on Eclipses of Masha’allah,” inPhysis Florence, 6 (1964), 205–213.

22. Super significationibus planetarum in nativitate, in twenty-six chapters. This Latin translation by John of Seville [?] of a lost Arabic original based largely on Dorotheus of Sidon was published by I. Heller (Nuremberg, 1549); see Carmody, item 4.

23. De septem planetis, in nine chapters, is sometimes ascribed to Jirjis; see Carmody, item 6.

24. De receptione, in twelve chapters, is a Latin translation by John of Seville of a lost Arabic original that contained horoscopes dated between 13 February 791 and 30 November 794 (Kennedy and Pingree, The Astrological History, pp. 175–178; E. S. Kennedy, “A Horoscope of Messehalla in the Chaucer Equatorium Manuscript,” in Speculum, 34 , [1959], 629–630). It was published by Bonetus Locatellus(Venice, 1493, 1519) and by I. Heller (Nuremberg, 1549); see Carmody, item 3 (who mentions a French translation of the Latin), and Thorndike, pp. 50–53.

25. De scientia motus orbis or De elementis et orbibus coelestibus, in twenty-seven chapters. This important Latin translation by Gerard of Cremona of the lost Arabic original of this exposition of apparently Harranian doctines was published by 1. Stabius (Nuremberg, 1504) and by I. Heller (Nuremberg, 1549); see Carmody, item 8. There is an Irish adaptation edited by M. Power, An Irish Astronomical Tract (London, 1914).

26. De electionibus This text, which quotes Dorotheus, is ascribed to Māshā’allāh and Ptolemy but is probably by neither. It was published by P. Liechtenstein (Venice, 1509), and by T. Rees (Paris, 1513).

27. Mafātị̄h al-qadā’ (“The Keys of Judgments”). The Arabic orginal of this treatise is lost, but there is a manuscript of a Persian translation (see C. A. Storey, Persian Literature, II, Pt. 1 [London, 1958], 38–39, who doubts the attribution to Māshā’allāh) and a Latin epitome of a Septem claves of Māshā’allāh, edited by M. A. Šangin, “Latinskaya parafraza iz utrachennogo sochinenia Mashallaha ’Semi Kluchety’” (“A Latin Paraphrase From Māshaā’allāh’s Lost Work ’ The Keys of Judgement’”), in Zapiski kollegii vostokovedv, 5 (1930), 235–245.

28. Ạhkām al-qirānāt wa’l-mumāzajāt(“Judgements of Conjunctions and Mixtures”), This lost work is mentioned by Hājjī Khalīfa, I, 175.


Many further fragments of Māshā’allāh’s voluminous writings can be found in Arabic texts (such as those by Abū Ma’shar, al-Hāshimī, and al-Bīrūnī) and in Greek (particularly in Vaticanus Graecus 1056; see Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum, I [Brussels, 1898], 81–82, and Kennedy and Pingree, The Astrological History, pp. 178–184). Until this material has been examined, it cannot be said that any complete survey of Māshā’allāh’ work exists. A part from the present attempt to fill the gap, the only previous survey—besides the works cited in the body of this article—is H. Suter, Die Mathematiker und Astronomen der Araber und ihre Werke(Leipzig, 1900), 5–6.

David Pingree

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