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The Epistle of the Number by Ibn al-Aḥdab


The transmission of Arabic mathematics to Hebrew circles in medieval Sicily


The first edition of The Epistle of the Number, composed in Syracuse, Sicily, at the end of the 14th century. It is the first known Hebrew treatise to include extensive algebraic theories and procedures, exposing novel mathematical vocabulary, and enhancing our understanding of the linguistic mechanisms which helped create scientific vocabulary in medieval Hebrew.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0417-4
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Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Sep 11,2015
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 7 x 10
Page Count: 488
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0417-4
$95.00
$57.00

This book aims to show how Ibn al-Bannāʾ’s famous Arabic text on arithmetic and algebra Talkhīṣ Aḥmāl al-Ḥisāb (A Summary of the operations of Calculation) was transmitted into Hebrew by the polymath Isaac Ibn al-Aḥdab, resulting in the extensive text The Epistle of the Number. This book presents the first edition of The Epistle of the Number, which was composed in Syracuse, Sicily, at the end of the 14th century. It also depicts the fascinating figure of Isaac Ibn al-Aḥdab: astronomer, mathematician, poet, exegete and ‘calendar-man’ – shedding new light on his persona and intellectual activity.

The Hebrew Epistle plays a pivotal role in the history of medieval Hebrew mathematics because it is the first known Hebrew treatise which includes extensive algebraic theories and procedures. It is also the first (and last) known Hebrew version of Talkhīṣ Aḥmāl al-Ḥisāb. The Hebrew Epistle exposes novel mathematical vocabulary and enhances our understanding of the linguistic mechanisms which helped create scientific vocabulary in medieval Hebrew. The Epistle of the Number is a palpable witness to the transmission of Arabic science to Jewish circles in Christian Syracuse at the end of the 14th century, reflecting the scientific activity of the Jews there, of which still relatively little is known. This book will be of interest to scholars in the fields of Jewish Studies, Hebrew philology, medieval studies, mathematics, history of science, and, in particular, history of medieval Hebrew and Arabic mathematics.

Ilana Wartenberg studied mathematics, linguistics, and history and philosophy of science at Tel Aviv University and at Université de Paris VII. She is currently a research fellow in the department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London.

Cover: Detail from Cambridge University Library MS Heb. Add. 492.1, fol. 26v.

This book aims to show how Ibn al-Bannāʾ’s famous Arabic text on arithmetic and algebra Talkhīṣ Aḥmāl al-Ḥisāb (A Summary of the operations of Calculation) was transmitted into Hebrew by the polymath Isaac Ibn al-Aḥdab, resulting in the extensive text The Epistle of the Number. This book presents the first edition of The Epistle of the Number, which was composed in Syracuse, Sicily, at the end of the 14th century. It also depicts the fascinating figure of Isaac Ibn al-Aḥdab: astronomer, mathematician, poet, exegete and ‘calendar-man’ – shedding new light on his persona and intellectual activity.

The Hebrew Epistle plays a pivotal role in the history of medieval Hebrew mathematics because it is the first known Hebrew treatise which includes extensive algebraic theories and procedures. It is also the first (and last) known Hebrew version of Talkhīṣ Aḥmāl al-Ḥisāb. The Hebrew Epistle exposes novel mathematical vocabulary and enhances our understanding of the linguistic mechanisms which helped create scientific vocabulary in medieval Hebrew. The Epistle of the Number is a palpable witness to the transmission of Arabic science to Jewish circles in Christian Syracuse at the end of the 14th century, reflecting the scientific activity of the Jews there, of which still relatively little is known. This book will be of interest to scholars in the fields of Jewish Studies, Hebrew philology, medieval studies, mathematics, history of science, and, in particular, history of medieval Hebrew and Arabic mathematics.

Ilana Wartenberg studied mathematics, linguistics, and history and philosophy of science at Tel Aviv University and at Université de Paris VII. She is currently a research fellow in the department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London.

Cover: Detail from Cambridge University Library MS Heb. Add. 492.1, fol. 26v.

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Contributor Biography

Ilana Wartenberg

Ilana Wartenberg studied mathematics, linguistics, and history and philosophy of science at Tel Aviv University and at Université de Paris VII. She is currently a research fellow in the department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London.

  • Table of Contents (page 5)
  • Acknowledgments (page 9)
  • Foreword (page 11)
  • Hebrew Abbreviations (page 15)
  • Hebrew and Arabic Transliteration (page 17)
  • Chapter 1: Ibn Al-Ahdab (page 19)
    • Introduction (page 19)
    • Isaac's life and times (page 19)
    • The historical circumstances (page 21)
    • People in direct contact with Isaac (page 25)
    • Where was Isaac in 1391? (page 28)
    • Isaac's works (page 31)
    • Isaac's linguistic skills as manifest in the Epistle (page 38)
    • The echoes of Isaac's work (page 38)
    • Summary (page 40)
  • Chapter 2: The Hebrew and Arabic Epistles (page 43)
    • The Arabic source (page 43)
    • Table of Contents of The Epistle of the Number (page 46)
  • Chapter 3: A Mathematical Commentary of The Epistle of the Number (page 51)
    • The mathematical contents of The Epistle of the Number (page 51)
    • A detailed analysis of Book II (page 59)
    • Part I: Proportions and scales (page 62)
    • Part II: Restoration and opposition (page 67)
    • Part III: Problems of practical nature (page 92)
    • Appendix I: The role of zero in The Epistle of the Number (page 105)
    • Appendix II: Traces of algebra in Hebrew before The Epistle of the Number (page 106)
  • Chapter 4: The Unicum (page 113)
    • Cambridge University Library MS Heb. Add. 492: codicological and palaeographical notes (page 113)
  • Chapter 5: An Edition of The Epistle of the Number (page 117)
    • Notes to the edition (page 117)
    • The Hebrew in the edition (page 117)
    • The edition (page 118)
  • Chapter 6: An English Translation of The Epistle of the Number (page 275)
    • Notes to the translation (page 275)
    • The translation (page 275)
  • Chapter 7: A Lexicon of the Mathematical Terms in Book II (page 443)
    • Notes to the lexicon (page 443)
  • Bibliography (page 477)
  • Index (page 485)
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