Exploring Persian Lore in the Hebrew Book of Asaf

Yoeli-Tlalim, Ronit. 2018. Exploring Persian Lore in the Hebrew Book of Asaf. Aleph, 18(1), pp. 123-146. ISSN 1565-1525 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The Hebrew medical text referred to as Sefer refu’ot or Sefer Asaf (“Book of Asaf”) has long been considered one of the greatest mysteries of the Hebrew sciences with regards to fundamental questions such as the date and place of its composition and the identity of its author or authors. It has been dated anytime between the third and the eleventh centuries, and its composition has been located anywhere between Persia and southern Italy.
This paper explores some of the Persian lore in Sefer Asaf: the figure of Asaf himself, the similarity with other Persian or Persian-influenced accounts of the origins of the sciences; the appearance of the Indo-Iranian motif of the trees of medicine; the central importance given to Indic medical knowledge and the form and usage of the Persian months as they appear in the text.
Key contributions to the study of Sefer Asaf to date have argued for a Syriac connection while a number of other important studies have linked the text to a Persian cultural milieu. The data I present here links those two together and argues for dependence on material deriving from the Church of the East in Persia.

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History of medicine; Hebrew medicine; Church of the East; Persian history; Book of Asaf

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13 October 2016Accepted
16 May 2018Published


Funding bodyFunder IDGrant Number
Wellcome TrustUNSPECIFIED088251

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Date Deposited:

19 Jan 2017 14:45

Last Modified:

10 Mar 2021 13:13

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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