Jewish Astrolabes in Museum of History of Science

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The Website has just learnt of the presence of this enchanting Jewish astrolabe in the Museum of the History of Science, Broad Street, Oxford.

There are about twenty astrolabes with Hebrew script written on them, a clear sign that Jews used them at some point. These instruments are all western astrolabes, i.e. they were made in Europe and northern Africa. Some of them are European (Latin script with additions in Hebrew), some are Islamic astrolabes from Islamic Spain and Sicily (Arabic script with Hebrew additions), and just a few are completely Jewish (Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic scripts). They are multicultural and, often, bilingual, or even trilingual, as medieval Jews frequently were. None of these instruments has a clear history (they are mostly unsigned and undated). It seems that a few of them were made by Jews, but all of them were in the hands of Jews at some moment and their Jewish owners or users wanted to leave in the object a clear indication of its Jewish relation. Frequently, the Jewish input is confined to the names of the months and the signs of the zodiac engraved on the back of the astrolabe and on the rete, or the names of some city and the number of latitude inscribed in Hebrew on some of the plates. The oldest astrolabe in our research is a western Islamic astrolabe from the twelfth century that was made in al-Andalus. However, the Hebrew script was engraved later, we do not know when or where. The same applies to most of the Jewish extant astrolabes.Extract from the Museum of History of Science Blog 2013

Astrolabes are multi-functional and multi-purpose astronomical devices. They can be used for observation, calculation and teaching, for amusement, decoration, and representation. To to put it short: The astrolabe is a two-dimensional model of the three-dimensional world that you can hold in your hand and put into your pocket.

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