Avraham Ben Meir Ibn Ezra (1092-1167 C.E.) was a renowned Jewish scholar and a prolific writer on numerous topics. He was born in Spain but spent his life wandering around Europe and the Middle East, gathering knowledge about all of the sciences, writing, and teaching. His astrological works were popular, and numerous translations and copies exist in European libraries.

His best known book, Beginning of Wisdom, is an astrology textbook – basic but of high quality and unusually comprehensive. The text instructs the reader about the twelve signs, fixed stars, the twelve houses, and basic information about the planets. This book gives good coverage about aspects and planetary relationships that aren’t commonly found in modern astrology books (collection of light, conferring nature, distortion, cancellation, recompense, etc.) that demonstrate Ibn Ezra’s familiarity with Persian sources. There’s a very good description of how to work with triplicity rulers, along with an unusually detailed account of planetary phases in relation to the Sun. Chapter Nine covers the lots (aka Arabic Parts) of the planets and the houses. Some of the more unusual contents include discussions of the images associated with the decan or faces, and bright, dark, and smokey degrees. (The degrees obviously have to be recalculated for current star locations.) Chapter Ten gives a brief summary of rules for doing directions, with a few (too few) tidbits on mundane and historical astrology.

The Book of Reasons is a supplemental commentary to Beginning of Wisdom. The information is more in-depth, and offers intermediate level material for readers. The topics generally follow the same order as Beginning of Wisdom. Ibn Ezra apparently wrote two versions of this book, so there’s a long and a short version. Epstein includes necessary sections from the long version where’s it’s needed and appropriate.

Ibn Ezra was well-read in astrology, and obviously had access to a number of different sources. He quotes Aristotle, Hindu and Persian astrologers, and Ptolemy’s “Tetrabiblos.” He didn’t always agree with his sources, and explains why his experience in working with charts led him to different conclusions or variations on methods.

The content of the “The Book of Reasons” delves more deeply into the specifics of tropical (cardinal), fixed, and mutable signs, the meanings of houses, the meaning of the elements, planetary rulerships and exaltations, terms and faces, techniques for judging aspects, and joys. Each planet gets an overview, including remarks about the Nodes. Ibn Ezra also discusses the five hylegs, lots, and forecasting methods. Fuzzy information about the calculation of lots is clarified in the footnotes.

Ibn Ezra’s books are special for a number of reasons. He occupies a place between Persian House of Wisdom-era astrologers like Abu’mashar and medieval European astrologers like Bonatti. His books give modern astrologers an idea of what mainstream astrology was like in the 11th century, written from the vantage point of an extremely well-traveled, well-read individual who absorbed streams of thought from both European and Middle Eastern sources. Ibn Ezra was obviously a practicing astrologer with a great deal of experience. He doesn’t merely repeat things for the sake of slavish repetition – if he found things that didn’t work or methods that failed for him, he says so and explains his point of view. Ibn Ezra’s writing also benefits from the lively didactic Talmudic style of literary discourse. Compared to some other ancient astrology texts, Ibn Ezra seems like a blazing personality. A reader can feel his presence in the text, whereas many ancient texts can seem rather dry and de-personalized, a mere delivery of facts rather than an effort at a personalized method of instruction delivered in book form.

Both texts are recommended as an excellent set of medieval astrology manuals from an amusing and brilliant instructor, but also as a bridge between the writings and methods of Persian and medieval European astrologers.

The Beginning of Wisdom, translated and annotated by Meira B. Epstein, edited with additional annotations by Robert Hand. ARHAT, 1998, 158 pages, paperback $25.00

The Book of Reasons, translated and annotated by Meira B. Epstein, edited by Robert Hand. Project Hindsight Hebrew Track, Volume 1, 1991, 48 pages on 8.5x11” comb-bound, $25.00

These books are available at: http://www.astroamerica.com

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

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