|Vol. II, No. 12
Adar 5605, March 1845
History of the Jewish Physicians, From the French of E. Carmoly, by John R. W. Dunbar, M. D. &c. Baltimore, 8vo. pp. 94.
But all the above great names, were at length doomed to be excelled by one who not alone impressed his genius upon the age in which he lived, but also left the evidence of his acts upon the generations which have succeeded him, up to our own days. We speak of Moshe ben Maimon; not that Aben Ezra and Joseph Kimchi, the latter especially, through his noble sone David and Moses, have not had their influence on the Jewish mind to our own times; not that the great Yitzhaki, commonly called Rashi, or Solomon ben Yitzhak (Isaac), has not been the great cause of a correct biblical and talmudical exegesis—but that the subject of our present remarks was great in all branches of science then known, as a physician, grammarian, philosopher, and profound theologian, and that he succeeded by the greatness of the mind with which he had been endowed, to have an important bearing upon the thoughts of future ages, which the others, eminent as they were, have failed of attaining. We are not one of the blind admirers of Maimonides; we would gladly know more than has hitherto been accessible to us, before we join in the unqualified eulogiums of some which would place him by the side of the blessed Moshe ben Amram, like whom no prophet ever arose in Israel, but no one can say with truth, that Moshe ben Maimon was not a brilliant star, whose lustre has never yet been dimmed, and the truthfulness of whose light has shone more resplendent by the, trials to which it was exposed. How gladly would we say this of the later Moses, Moshe ben Menachem, commonly known as Mendelssohn; but his children have not walked in his way, and they have cast a shadow on the memory of their parent, which nothing we fear can wipe out, especially as destroyers of our peace march now in close columns to attack our ancient usages bearing a banner inscribed with the name of Mendelssohn. Yet even he has been a guide to many, he rose in the midst of persecution to lead his brothers to an appreciation of sciences and noble pursuits; and if since his time the impulse he imparted has led some to sin, others to apostacy, he cannot be blamed for what he did not intend, could not foresee; he was an instrument to effect a great revolution, all the consequences of which we have not yet experienced; no doubt they will ultimately be for the benefit of many, however at present evil may occasionally result; God rules our destiny; so we say, “blessed be his memory likewise.”—We quote from Mr. Carrnoly’s work:
“Finally, we have to speak of a physician who brought to the study of the Hippocratic art all the elevation of a great genius, and who has been called by an Arabian author, by the just title of Phoenix of his age, in the art of medicine. We mean Mousa ben Maimoun. Moses, son of Maimoun, or rather as he is called by the Arabians, Abou Amran Mousa ben Maimoun, Abou Amran ben Abdallah,—better known by the name of Maimonides, was born at Cordova, the 14th Nisan, 4895th year of the creation, which corresponds with 31st March, 1135, of the common era. His education was carefully directed by his father Maimoun, celebrated for his knowledge, and who took care to instruct him at an early age. He was judge of Cordova, and this office, which he discharged with great credit, was almost hereditary in his family.
“The young Maimoun did not confine himself to the study of the Mosaic law, he desired also to unite with it the study of philosophy and medicine, which were then taught in other Jewish schools of Spain. If we can credit Leo Africanus, he also frequented the Arabic schools, and attached himself especially to Abou-Djafar Ebn Thofaïl, who perceiving his decided taste for the sciences, and his happy qualities for their cultivation, advised him to put himself under the care of the celebrated Ebn Rochd, to whom he recommended him. But no Jewish biographers mention this particular; on the contrary, they say that it was Maimoun that taught the Arabs.
“However that may be, Maimonides at a very early age, composed many commentaries upon the Talmuds of Babylon and Jerusalem, a work on the calendar, and an apologetical discourse in favour of those coreligionists, who were forced in 1160 to embrace Islamism.
“Having been himself compelled publicly to acknowledge the religion of Mohammed, he determined to leave his country. He took refuge in Egypt, and there passed the remainder of his days, from whence he obtained the surname of the Egyptian. He in this country first engaged in commerce, but his talents were soon discovered and appreciated; and he was appointed physician to Alfadl-al-Rahim. More recently in 1179, he was invited to the court of Sallah-Eddin, who appointed him his first physician. Maimonides had great influence with this prince and his successor, on account of his profound knowledge of the healing art. Ebn-Abi-Osaiba, (who dedicates to him an article in his history of physicians,) says, that he held the first rank among the physicians of his tune for theory, as well as the practice of his art. He was also, he asserts, very learned in the sciences, and had a profound knowledge of philosophy. The Sultan Melik al Naser Sallah-Eddin made it a great point to have his services as a physician—he was also physician of Melik-Alaf Ahal, son of this prince.
“This employment occupied much of his time, as he testifies by a letter addressed to Samuel Aben Tybbon. It was his duty to go daily in the morning to visit the Sultan, and if this prince, or any one of his children, or females, was sick, he was not permitted to leave the palace. But the greatest inconvenience to him was caused by his delay at Fostan, which was three quarters of a league from Cairo where the Sultan resided. He generally did not return to his own house until in the evening. He found on his way home a great multitude of Mohammedans and Jews of all conditions, that awaited his return. He received them kindly, listened attentively to all the particulars of their diseases, and prescribed such remedies as he judged most suitable for a cure. These consultations detained him until night, and often he was so exhausted that he was scarcely able to articulate. It sometimes happened that he was overcome with sleep through excessive fatigue.
“After having fulfilled a career so active, and so beneficial, he died 20th Tebat, 4963, or the 13th of December, 1204, aged about seventy years, full of glory, honour and learning; for, if the practice of his profession occupied much of his time, he made up for it, by an energy and industry which triumphed over all difficulties.”
The same uncertainty as regards the year of the birth and death of Aben Ezra prevails with Maimonides, since from several authorities De Rossi places the latter in 1208, at an age of sixty-nine years nine months and nine days, consequently the former in 1138. We of course have not the means of verifying either author, but we regret this the less as these minutia in history are more for accuracy than of any actual use. Still it would be a source of satisfaction to us, as an Israelite, could, by any researches of the learned, the veil of uncertainty which now rests upon many of the transactions relating to our men and history, be ultimately removed. But we fear that the long neglect which we have suffered will render this impossible to mere human intellect.
Egypt boasted of other learned men besides Maimonides, who were skilled in the healing art. Our author speaks of them as follows:
“Egypt had still a Jewish Physician worthy to hold a place near to Maimonides; his name was Hebat-Allah-ben-Djami Israeli, or as the Hebrews translate it, Nathaniel Israeli. He was born at Fostan, and like Maimonides, was attached to the service of Selah-Eddin, and like him was held in high favour by that great prince.
“We have many of his works on medicine, among others a Medical Topography of the city of Alexandria, and a treatise entitled Directions of things which are useful for the mind and body. He also cultivated Arabic literature, and prided himself on speaking that language with great purity, and had always before his eyes the Sihah of Djenhari. Ebn-Abi-Osaiba, in his history of physicians, relates an adventure of his, which gained him great reputation. He saw one day a funeral; they were bearing the body of a man to the cemetery for interment; stop, cried he, that man is not dead, and in fact the man really was resuscitated and lived a long time afterwards.
“We must not confound this Hebat-Allah with Hebat-Allah EbnMelka, another Israelite physician of the same period. The latter flourished at Bagdad. He is styled by the Arabs AouhadelZeman, (the unique of his time,) and on account of his miraculous cures, Abou'l Berekiat, the father of blessings. He was a friend of a Christian physician of the same name as himself, but he was not like him in his firm adherence to the faith of his fathers, for influenced by mercenary motive, he apostatized from his religion and became a Mohammedan.
“Habat-Allah the Christian, could not suffer patiently the desertion of his friend, and he reproached him in the keenest manner in verses reported in the Abou’l faradj, in which he said, among other things, that he imitated his forefathers, who wandered in the desert, and who, in coming out, only deviated more and more widely from their route. Ebn-Melka died blind, deaf, and poor, which Zacuth does not hesitate to regard as a judgment from heaven, for having abandoned the faith of his fathers. Let that be as it may, Hebat-Allah has left behind many works which justify in part the encomiums which have been bestowed upon him. We note among them the work which is entitled Almot’ eber; this is a compend of Dialectics, which a prince of Seldjuckes made a subject of profound study. There is also in existence a medical work, which bears the name of Acrabadin, that is to say, of antidotes and compound medicaments, which is by Hebat-Allah, but we know not whether it is our doctor or his friend, the Christian physician.”