The Rediscovery of the Heavens (Renaissance)
The Rediscovery of the Heavens (Renaissance)
During the Renaissance, knowledge about the heavens increased in Europe as a result of the "re-discovery" of Greek manuscripts through translations into the romance languages widespread in Europe at the time. But how this knowledge was "re-discovered" is rather obscure or understated by historians in my opinion. What did we discover about the heavens? Was it perverted? Do we have any vestige of this knowledge? I'll briefly explore some of my findings regarding these questions.
Not the smallest letter will disappear
Throughout history, the Jewish people have been pivotal to our understanding of history, particularly during and after the middle ages. Through some conversations with an aspiring historian, I found that there are a couple of reasons for the former claim. First, the Jews write down all their history, second, they have basically written in the same language forever, and lastly, their feasts and spirituality insist on them remembering historical literature. This is particularly true through the middle ages in what's called "The Jewish Golden Era in Spain", during this period the Jewish people were accepted and allowed to flourish in Christian and Muslim territories. As a result, many remarkable Jews emerged in the Iberian peninsula who contributed to many of the empires at the time, but more importantly for us, to astronomy and its history.
The remarkable contribution of the Sephardic Jews has been noted by history, but dully underappreciated. For example Ibn-Ezra who proposed the elliptical orbits of the planets centuries before Kepler is briefly mentioned in universities. Another great example is Abraham Zacuto, who acted as an advisor to a great explorer, Vasco de Gama (he discovered a new trade route to India from Portugal). Concomitant to his service to the Portuguese empire, Zacuto also improved the astrolabe by using copper instead of wood, probably inspired by a great book. There are other countless examples of Jews who quite literally advanced history during this period and the most fascinating thing for me was that almost all of the Jews who studied astronomy had an interpretation of the Mazzaroth within a spectrum. Not only did these Jewish thinkers advance science but their fascination with the heavens attached to Yah spread to Western Europe, where most famous astronomers desired to understand Yah better through their astronomy, as we discussed in our "Eternal Chase of the Heavens" post.
As mentioned, most Jewish astronomers, at the time, had their own interpretations of the Mazzaroth. Although I have not looked at or read all of them myself. My intuition, from skimming through some astronomical texts of the aforementioned Jews, is that they include Jewish tradition separated from the Torah such as the book of creation (Sefer Yetzirah) which leavens the whole lump for me. Meaning that those interpretations could be completely void of truth or that going through the texts to decipher the bits of truth they might have would be foolish. Like Koheleth mentions: "My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." (Ecc 12:12). Therefore it appears that to continue discovering the Mazzaroth we'll have to look at how this plethora of knowledge, whether true or not, was passed down to the European astronomers.
The True Renaissance
Like I wrote before, there was a "re-discovery" and I called it such because the knowledge was already there, it had to be distributed to the masses but more importantly, it had to be translated. There in lies the true finding of this post. Although we do not have enough data to prove the following, it appears that Jews were the primary translators of the documents that sparked the Renaissance. They were extremely literate and often knew Arabic as a result of their contact and forced proximity with other empires. Thus it appears that much of the knowledge related to the Mazzaroth specifically such as the constellations were translated from Greek to Arabic after the fall of Rome and during the Ottoman Empire and then from Arabic to Hebrew. Now, the final translations from Hebrew to Latin or any other romantic languages for the Christian and pagan worlds were performed mostly by Christians. So for example Ibn Ezra wrote a book called the Book of Reasons (Sefer ha-Te'amim) and a Jew and a Christian together translated it to Latin. Another example is the Jew Petros Alphonsus, who sole handily translated the Arabic text "Disciplina Claricalis" into Latin (that's the Latin name of the book I don't know Arab). This mass translation of knowledge is the true Renaissance which gives us a hint as to what happened to knowledge about the Mazzaroth during this period.
Now, during this period an immense amount of astronomical texts began to appear, many of which were perverted by traditions but more interestingly, many works were building upon ancient Greek or Babylonian knowledge to either pass it down as a simple translation or for no apparent reason but exploration and the latter reason puzzled me as this historical period is often thought of as a boom in knowledge but from the astronomical point of view it looks more like a clean hand-down of ancient knowledge to people who stained it with Western traditions, but there was no need for that. Without any further research, my conclusion for the former is that many thinkers during this time relied economically on patrons who would probably not be very pleased with no new papers being produced or discoveries proclaimed, and thus were in a manner forced to produce "original" work. Having said that with ignorance, I am inclined to believe that "The Renaissance" for our purposes of discovering the Mazzaroth served as "The Meddling" of the relatively pure knowledge we had of the Mazzaroth and its meaning. I'll conclude by exploring how our understanding of knowledge could've produced this "meddling"
Hakma = Wisdom
During the Renaissance and the "re-discovery" of some ancient truths, a shift in thinking regarding knowledge emerged. During this period, knowledge began to be perceived as something that not just one man could bear, meaning that it was not possible for one man to be wise in astronomy and also in history for example, and thus, specializations began to take over the intellectual and scientific worlds. The former is fascinating because it brought forward a forgotten art, rhetoric. Rhetoric started to be taught again during the Renaissance due to the need for all the new thinkers to argue against each other's claims and produce an abundance of literary works, regardless of their utility for truth. Now, what does rhetoric have to do with wisdom? Well, you see in the scriptures wisdom is never equated to knowledge or scientific inquiry but to a skill or state that is given by Yah (speaking of hebrew Hakma), like Shalom.
If this is true, then in the Renaissance we started to think that such skill could be attained by men arguing with each other until wisdom came out, and also that it would be given to humans as a collective endeavor, as opposed to an individual revelation. And although there is some merit and utility to this, as it is obviously proven by the scientific method. This idea removed the onus to know Yah's creation, and furthermore the heavens, at an individual level. It shaped humanity to abdicate this responsibility to astronomers, or biologists, or whoever has pursued knowledge in order to receive his wisdom. And I mention all of this because wisdom is something that has to be searched for, but the searching does not necessarily translate to wisdom, as wisdom is given by him.
In conclusion, there were some discoveries regarding the heavens, which are commonly known to history, such as the elliptical orbits of the planets or astronomical tables for navigation. But most of the knowledge regarding the Mazzaroth was clouded by Renaissance ways of thinking and although apparently tragic, the knowledge passed down from the ancients through Arabia remained faithful as translations from the Jewish people who shined in astronomy during this period.