Planets, Potions, and Parchments: Scientific Hebraica from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Eighteenth Century


152 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0793-0
DDC 016.509




Dianne Taylor-Harding is a librarian in St. John’s, Newfoundland.


This attractive work, published in conjunction with an exhibition
celebrating the 75th anniversary of Montreal’s Jewish Public Library,
details the scientific studies of Hebrew scholars through to the end of
the 18th century. The exhibition comprised 200 rare scientific
manuscripts, books, maps, amulets, and magical texts from collections in
Europe, Israel, the United States, and Canada.

Levy describes each artifact, giving bibliographic details followed by
annotations that provide the biographical and historical context. Clear
photographs of the exhibits enhance the fascinating information. A
glossary is also included.

The catalogue clearly shows the integration of religious and scientific
concerns: mathematicians, astronomers, geographers, and medical scholars
whose work was featured were also known for their rabbinic works.
Mastering religious law required extensive scientific knowledge.
However, the volume also shows that pre-modern Hebraic science was not
necessarily pragmatic. Much of this early research may have been
conducted as science solely for its own sake—and to understand Nature.
In response to God’s intimidation of Job, early Hebraic scholars may
have been tempted to learn that which only God seemed to know.

Planets, Potions, and Parchments offers readers an intriguing
introduction to scientific research prior to the 19th century.


Levy, B. Barry., “Planets, Potions, and Parchments: Scientific Hebraica from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Eighteenth Century,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,