Name: Chris Mitchell
The Beginning of Wisdom: how medieval astrology opened the door to modern science
There is a perception today that astrology is condemned on two fronts: modern scientists consider it an irrelevant and misguided pseudo-science not worthy of study, while many authorities of monotheistic religions condemn it because of its perceived pagan roots and consider it blasphemous. In the medieval period, though, astrology was enthusiastically studied and promoted by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars, taught in universities, and considered a very important natural science.
The relationship between medieval astrologers and religious authorities was not a universally comfortable one. Authors of medieval astrological texts had to tread carefully and justify their studies to avoid any charges of blasphemy. The medieval Jewish rabbi and scholar Abraham ibn Ezra, who wrote numerous astrological texts in addition to devout exigeses of biblical texts, began one of his best known astrological texts, The Book of the Beginning of Wisdom, with the sentence "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", a direct quote from Psalms. The biblical text exhorts its readers to follow God rather than earthly desires, but ibn Ezra uses this quote in a rather different manner - his argument is that the astrologer, by employing a rational and scientific methodology, can remedy physical harm that could otherwise be inflicted by the stars.
This talk will examine the approach taken by medieval astrologers working within Muslim and Christian milieus, and demonstrate how the study of astrology led to the development of other disciplines, opening the door to modern science in the process.