Book review: The Beginning of Wisdom

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164 CE), born in Spain, was a Jewish astrologer also known as a poet, scientist and Bible commentator. In astrology the most appreciated books wrote by Ibn-Ezra are The Beginning of Wisdom (1148 CE), The Book of Reasons, The Book of Nativities & Revolutions.

The Beginning of Wisdom is an introduction to astrology, similar with Abu Ma’shar’s The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology, a book written with almost 300 years before. Presents in 10 chapters the basic notions of astrology, without to give many details. This edition is translated and annotated by Meira B. Epstein and edited with additional annotations by Robert Hand. It is an assurance that you read the original text, with an appropriate translation and useful annotations.

In Chapter 1 the author presents briefly the most important constellations and how the fixed stars are distributed.

In Chapter 2 are presented the 12 astrological signs and their characteristics like: short or long ascension, the influences on the weather, the countries and animals ruled, the letters attributed in the Hebrew alphabet, the planets dignities or degrees power (dark, medium, bright), the figures made by fixed stars which appear on the constellations, for example:

“In the first face [of Aries] ascends the figure of a radiant women [probably Andromeda] and the tail of the Sea-Fish that resembles a serpent [Cetus]”,

the characteristics of the people born under those signs (separated by faces), for example:

“One born in the first face [of Taurus] will be short, with large eyes and thick lips, and he has a mark on his neck and another on his genitals. He is generous and his friend are many and he enjoys all kind of pleasure”.

I observed that the author considers Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn signs changeable (cardinal) “because the time changes in it”. This classification is an argument for the use of the tropical zodiac, because it keeps the relation with seasons which is not happening for the sidereal zodiac.

The chapter ends with some considerations about the nature of the fixed stars.

In Chapter 3 are presented the significations of the houses. Interestingly, is presented the system in which for every triplicity ruler (day, night and co-ruler) are assigned different matters specific for the house. For example: 

“The tenth house […]. The first ruler of the triplicity indicates the mother; the second indicates one’s rank; and the third indicates one’s profession.

The annotations made by Robert Hand presents the same system used by Alchabitius, which assigned for each triplicity ruler different attributes of the house.

In Chapter 4 are presented the planets from a traditional point of view. You can find their nature, the metals, animals, places on earth, plants, occupations, body parts, diseases they rule, the physical characteristics they give when oriental or occidental, the Firdar years.

Chapter 5 presents the situations when a planet is considered in a position of strength or weakness. Also, eleven ways which harm the Moon. These considerations can be found in many traditional astrology texts like The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology.

Chapter 6 is similar with the former chapter but presents the powers of planets in respect with the Sun showing how the difference in degrees from the Sun’s position increases or decreases the planet’s force.

Chapter 7 presents 30 circumstances, based on aspects, in which a planet can be: application, conjunction, co-mixture, aspect, separation, solitary motion (void of course), feral, transfer of light, collection of light, return of light, conferring of influence, conferring of rulership, conferring of nature, conferring of two natures, directness, distortion, prevention, returning of good, returning of harmful, cancellation (refranation), the case of three planets in one sign, loss (frustration), deprivation of light, pleasantness, recompense, reception, generosity, similitude, besiegement, authority. 

Chapter 8 has 120 astrological aphorisms which are used mainly in horary. I give you two examples which are for general use: 

“27. Every planet, whether benefic or malefic, if it is in its domicile or domicile of exaltation, will always indicate good”

“108. When planets are in opposition aspect , they are like two people fiercely fighting with each other”.

In Chapter 9 are presented 97 lots of the planets and houses. Those of you interested can find the computation formulas and some explanations for the most important ones. Also you can find there the lots which will tell the things that will become more expensive or cheap (water, wheat, barley, peas, beams, honey, cotton etc.).

In Chapter 10 are some rules for directions, but not the one we use nowadays.



Conclusion. It is a very similar book with Abu Ma’shar’s The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology. It is a book which presents briefly many techniques used by the Arabs in that period.

I do not recommend the book for the people who just want to learn astrology because there are books written by modern astrologers which present and explain the same things. This book is for people who want to study astrology more profound.

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