Manuscript Number: ljs204

Version: Mar/02/2001

Bonfils, Immanuel Ben Isaac, Shesh Kanafaim (Six Wings, a Mathematical Treatise), in Hebrew. Manuscript on Vellum.

(Italy?), 3 Av [20 july] 1509

27 folios, collation: i6-1, ii16, iii6, lacking initial blank, 1 column, 24 lines of text, text ruled in plummet, tables ruled in brown ink, written in brown ink in an Italian square and cursive Hebrew script by 2(?) scribes, red table headings, 42 pages of astronomical tables in red and brown, modern half calf binding over marbled boards, 174 x 126 (149 x 93 (tables); 111 x 81 (text)) mm.

Colophon: records the scribe’s name as Joesph ben Isaac Gallico, with the date 3 Av 1509 (20 July).

PROVENANCE:

  1. Swann Galleries, 19 December 1991, catalogue 1580.
  2. Martayan Lan, catalogue 11 (1994), number 60.
  3. John Stanitz Ms. 35.

TEXT:

Ff. 1-5v: text; f. 6: blank.

ff. 6v-27v: tables.

Immanuel ben Jacob Bonfils (Tarascon c. 1300-c. 1377) was a mathematician, astronomer and astrologer and a translator from Latin to Hebrew. It is by this work, Six Wings, that the author was chiefly known up to the present century.The text was translated into Latin and Byzantine Greek. The title relates to the prophets’ Vision of the Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2); each "wing" contains astronomical tables calculating the conjunctions and appositions of the planets, lunar and solar eclipses, dates of the new moon, etc., all of which had great application for the fixing of the calendar in Jewish life during the Renaissance. Immanuel Bonfils’ calculations were consulted by European scholars as late as the seventeenth century.

"It is probable," writes Sarton, "that very few people, even in Tarascon itself, are aware of the fact that the town gave birth to one of the greatest mathematicians of the middle Ages. Immanuel Bonfils compiled various astronomical tables and ephemerides, one of which, called Wings of Eagles [the text of the present manuscript], enjoyed considerable popularity not only in its original Hebrew form, but also in Latin, and even Greek. His astronomy was derived mainly from al-Batt?n? (Albategnius) and Levi ben Gerson; that is, it was Greek-Arabic astronomy, as it had been gradually corrected in the Christian and Jewish circles of Western Europe. It is truly remarkable that that Western knowledge was transmitted to the Byzantine world via a Hebrew channel, and that that transmission was completed before the middle of the [fifteenth] century…" (Introduction to the History of Science III: ii: 1116).

Bonfils "…made astronomical observations and taught mathematics in 1377. Whatever fame he enjoyed had been due thus far to his astronomical tables, Kanfe nesharim (wings of eagles), divided into six parts and hence also called Shesh kenafayim (six wings) and better known under that title. On account of those tables, Immanuel was often nicknamed ‘Ba’al kenafayim’ (master of the wings)" Sarton, Isis 35 (1936), pp. 16-18.

Joesph ben Isaac Gallico (of the venerable Jewish-Italian family), scribe of this copy, relates in the colophon that he compiled this version of the Shesh kenafayim comparing two other – differing – copies of the work, correcting mistakes and so ostensibly creating a more accurate document.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

The Union Catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts (A. Freimann, 1973) records 3 copies of this text in American libraries: 2 at the Jewish Theological Seminary Library (of which one is incomplete) and 1 at Columbia University; Swann Galleries, 19 Dec. 1991, cat. 1580; Martayan Lan, cat. 11, no. 60; Sarton; Smith, History of Mathematics, vol 1, p. 241.



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