Exploring Eurasian transmissions of medical knowledge: cues from the Hebrew Book of Asaf

Yoeli-Tlalim, Ronit. 2021. Exploring Eurasian transmissions of medical knowledge: cues from the Hebrew Book of Asaf. In: Lennart Lehmhaus, ed. Defining Jewish Medicine: Transfer of Medical Knowledge in Jewish Cultures and Traditions. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 295-311. ISBN 9783447108263 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

The Hebrew text referred to as Sefer refu’ot (“Book of Remedies”) or Sefer Asaf (“Book of Asaf”) is a very important text not only in the history of the Hebrew medical sciences, but also in the history of medicine as a whole. The text is an extensive medical compendium, containing a kind of ‘medical history’, sections on anatomy, embryology, pulse and urine diagnosis, seasonal regimen, a medical oath and a long materia medica section. This paper examines the narrative on the origins of medical knowledge as found in the Book of Asaf. This narrative presents the medical knowledge which follows it as deriving from Eurasian input.
Narratives on the origins of knowledge such as this one both reflect and construct views on medicine and hence are important in providing a more poly-vocal history of medicine, taking into account local cultures of historiographies. Narratives of this sort have not yet made the impact they deserve in the historiography of medicine. One main reason for this is the way they appear to intertwine what is conventionally termed “mythical” and “historical”. While we cannot read hagiographies and mythical accounts as straightforward historical narratives, we can – and should – take some cues from such texts as they often serve as pointers to strata otherwise forgotten or else rewritten by later historical accounts.
The compiler of Asaf is constructing a direct link between a divine antediluvian knowledge and the Book of Asaf: the medicine in this text is presented as a renewal of a lost universal knowledge. Within this universal knowledge, the introduction to the Book of Asaf provides an interesting example of the topos of travel to the orient as a means of acquiring knowledge.

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Peer-reviewed proceedings of a one-day panel-section at the X. Congress of the European Association of Jewish Studies (EAJS), 24.07.2014, at Sorbonne Université / École Normale Supérieure (ENS), Paris

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9 October 2017Accepted
9 June 2021Published

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17 Nov 2017 16:46

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24 Jun 2021 09:28



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