Abraham Bary Hiyya’s Sphaera mundi (Basel, Henricus Petri, August 1546).
First edition of the first astronomical work printed in Hebrew, indeed the first work on astronomy to be written in the Hebrew language. The 12th century treatise, Surat ha-‘Ares or “The Shape of the Earth” by Abraham Bar Hiyya (ca. 1065 - ca. 1140) describes the configuration of the planets and stars, their distances from the one another and the earth, and finally the mathematical proofs Bar Hiyya has based his calculations upon. Within its 12th century Hebraic context, “Bar Hiyya was the true pioneer in the creation of a new Hebrew scientific terminology”, based partially from the Bible and the Mishnah, but largely upon the transliteration of Arabic words . “The transition from Arabic to Hebrew was actually the passage from a language which had already proved able to successfully accommodate itself to the reception of Greek science, to a language previously used almost exclusively for religious and liturgical purposes” (Scholomo SelaAbraham Ibn Ezra and the Rise of Medieval Hebrew Sciencepp 94-8).
Abraham Bar Hiyya “was one of the leaders of the movement which caused the Jews of Provence, Spain, and Italy to become the transmitters of Muslim science to the Christian West” (Sarton Introduction to the History of Sciencevol II p. 206). In translating the writings of great Arabic scientists however, Bar Hiyya and his followers also played an important role rediscovering lost elements Ancient Greek learning. Four centuries later, this particular edition was still part of the scientific zeitgeist. Erasmus Oswald Schreckenfuchs (1511-1579), humanist, astronomer, and Hebraist, translated the work with his teacher, Sebastian Munster (1489 - 1552), who provided the commentary. It was published a few years after Munster’s illustrated Latin edition of Ptolemy’s Geography, and in 1544 his watershed Cosmography, which set new standards in measuring and mapmaking. While Munster’s fame in geography often overshadows his passion for Hebraic studies, as a cornerstone of his own education the work is therefore also part of the foundations of modern cosmography and cartography.