The Jewish Alchemists: A History And Source Book by Raphael Patai
The contrary definitions of alchemy bring to mind the old Indian story about the group of blind men who were trying to identify an elephant. Their guide took them to the courtyard where the maharaja's elephants were kept, and let them touch one of the big beasts. One blind man happened to get hold of the elephant's trunk, and exclaimed, "The elephant is a big fat snake! The elephant is like the hawser of a ship!
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The fact is that alchemy was everything its practitioners claimed it was, and its aims comprised everything its historians attributed to it. They included the transmutation of base metals into silver and gold, the doubling or otherwise increasing the weight of gold, the manufacturing of pearls and precious stones, the production of all kinds of tinctures and other substances, the concoction of dyes, and the making of all kinds of remedies for healing every disease of which humankind suffered, and the creation of the quintessence, the fabulous elixir, which healed, rejuvenated, and prolonged life for centuries.
Because health, youth, and long life were always at least as important desiderata as riches, most alchemists were also physicians, and used their alchemical expertise for manufacturing remedies, searching for the elixir, and ministering to the sick and the old in any manner they could. All this was part of the practical aspect of alchemy. Another of its aspects was the theoretical. Everything the alchemists did was based on theories in which they believed, and which were the guarantee that their quest would ultimately be crowned with success.
The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book
The most important of the alchemical theories was that of the unity of all nature. Wherever alchemy developed—in China, India, the Ancient Near East, the Arab world, Christian Europe—it was built on the theory that all the visible forms of matter, whether mineral, vegetable, animal, or human, were manifold forms of one basic, essential substance. A rock, a piece of iron or gold, a tree, a human body—however different they appeared to be, they were but variant physical manifestations of the one and only essence contained in all of them. This is why a malfunction of a human body i.
And this is why a base metal could be transmuted into a precious one, again by applying to it a minuscule amount of that precious essence.
This was the area in which alchemy and medicine functioned not merely as sister sciences, but as identical activities: the healing of a sick person was understood to be the transmutation of a sick body into a healthy one, and the transmutation of copper into gold was understood to be the healing of a sick metal and imparting health to it.
Among Jews throughout the centuries, most of the alchemists were physicians as well, and it is not easy to decide whether the outstanding role they played as physicians facilitated their entrance into the field of alchemy, or whether they became outstanding physicians because they were led from alchemy into medicine.
Connected with the theory of the unity of nature was the theory of the analogy between the growth of individual plants and animals on the one hand and the development of inanimate forms of matter in the bosom of the earth on the other. Just as a seed germinates and with time becomes a full-grown tree, and just as the human embryo grows in its mother's womb into a fully formed child, so in the earth ores and metals were believed to develop from lower into higher grades, until at the end they became gold.
This theory served as the basis for the alchemist's practice of trying to transmute base metal into precious ones, by reproducing in his laboratory the developmental processes of the metals, at a very accelerated speed, always keeping in mind that transmutation was healing. A related theory was the one that postulated an analogy between body and soul in a human being and bodies and souls in metals.
The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book
Maria the Jewess said, "Just as man is composed of four elements, likewise is copper; and just as a man results [from the association of] liquids, of solids, and of the spirit, so does copper. The belief in the alchemist's ability to influence the mineral spirits led back to the human spirit, which too came to be considered subject to alchemical manipulation, and primarily to alchemical ennoblement.
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The references to a historical figures and texts with translations, presents a clean and concise approach to alchemy. Now there are more books that I want for my library due to this book.
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Much better then "The Arab Mind" in case you were wondering.
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For most of us, the assertion that "alchemy is the mother of modern chemistry" involves a recognition that earlier generations of men and, at times, women have engaged in chemical experimentation employing procedures not unlike those used by their modern successors--despite their ultimate goal of transmuting base metals into gold and silver or discovering the almost universal remedy or "fifth essence. Still, his study does not revolve around these issues. In writing the first book-length survey of Jews' involvement in the discipline, Patai has chosen to apply a simple, chronological framework.
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