Al-Tamimi, the physician
|Born||early 10th century CE|
|Influences||Aristotle, Dioscorides, Galen, Paul of Aegina, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, Ibn al-Jazzar|
|Era||Islamic Golden Age|
|Main interests||Islamic medicine|
|Notable works||Al-Murshid ilā Jawāhir-il-Aghdhiyah|
|Influenced||Maimonides, `Ali ibn `Abd al-`Azim al-Ansari, Ibn al-Baitar, Al-Nuwayri, Daniel Le Clerc|
Muhammad ibn Sa’id al-Tamimi (Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد بن سعيد التميمي), (d. 990), known by his kunya, “Abu Abdullah,” but more commonly as Al-Tamimi, the physician, was a tenth-century Arab physician, who came to renown on account of his medical works. Born in Jerusalem, Al-Tamimi spent his early years in and around Jerusalem where he studied medicine under the tutelage of two local physicians, Al-Hasan ibn Abi Nu’aym, and a Christian monk, Anba Zecharia ben Thawabah. Al-Tamimi possessed an uncommon knowledge of plants and their properties, such that his service in this field was highly coveted and brought him to serve as the personal physician of the Ikhshidid Governor of Ramla, al-Hassan bin Abdullah bin Tughj al-Mastouli, before being asked to render his services in Old Cairo, Egypt. Around 970, Al-Tamimi had settled in Old Cairo, Egypt, and there prospered in his medical field, writing a medical work for the vizier, Ya’qub ibn Killis (930–991), a Baghdadi Jew who came to work in Egypt under the auspices of the Fatimids. He specialized in compounding simple drugs and medicines, but is especially known for his having concocted a theriac reputed as a proven antidote in snakebite and other poisons, which he named tiryaq al-fārūq (the antidote of salvation) because of its exceptional qualities.
Little is known of al-Tamimi’s personal life. Among al-Tamimi’s contemporaries was the famed Arab geographer, Al-Muqaddasi, also from Jerusalem. Like Al-Muqaddasi, he brings down in his writings curious anecdotes about the geography of the land of Israel (Palestine) and the agronomic practices of its inhabitants, as well as its mineral resources.
Al-Tamimi’s most-prized medical work is The Guidebook to Basics in Food Nutrition and the Properties of non-compounded Medicines (Arabic: كتاب المرشد الى جواهر الأغذيه وقوت المفردات من الأدويه), known also under its abbreviated name, Al-Murshid, of which only portions have survived. This work which treats on the properties of certain plants (antidotes) and minerals has laid the foundation for subsequent works written on medicine by other authors, particularly that composed by Ibn al-Baytar in Cairo (d. 1248/646 H), in which he treats on various antidotes used to remedy poisons inflicted by snakebite and scorpion stings, and an important Arabic treatise on antidotes for poisons written by `Ali ibn `Abd al-`Aẓim al-Anṣāri in Syria in 1270 (669 H), entitled Dhikr al-tiryaq al-faruq (Memoir on Antidotes for Poisons), where he quotes from al-Tamimi’s works, some of which are no longer extant. Maimonides (1138–1204), the Jewish rabbi and physician, also made use of his works, and is quoted as saying of him: “This man who was in Jerusalem, and whose name was al-Tamimi, composed a book, calling it ‘al-Murshid,’ that is to say, ‘that which leads aright.’ They say that he was [a man] of a great learning experience. Now although most of his words were accounts drawn from others, and occasionally he would err by bringing down the words of others, nevertheless he has generally mentioned many peculiar remedies in the nature of foods, what are seen as affecting many cures [for ailments]. I have therefore deemed it fitting to speak of them, what seemed to me of them to be right in foods and in medicines.”
Although only portions of al-Tamimi’s seminal work have survived, a section of the book (chapters 12, 13 and 14) which treats on rocks and minerals, including asphalt, is today held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, in manuscript form, consisting of 172 pages. Other sections of al-Tamimi’s original work were copied by `Ali ibn `Abd al-`Aẓim al-Anṣāri in 1270, now preserved at the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. Spanish-born pharmacologist, Ibn al-Baytar, cites al-Tamimi some seventy times. Abstracts of these manuscripts have been published in Hebrew by Yaron Serri and Zohar Amar of Bar-Ilan University, in the book, “The Land of Israel and Syria as Described by al-Tamimi.”
Al-Tamimi’s works on materia medica are an invaluable source for understanding the curative remedies that were in use in Syria and Palestine during the early Muslim period (until 1099). They often relate to the daily life and beliefs of the local residents, as well as the practical usages of plants, particularly in the region of greater Jerusalem and the Dead Sea basin. He also sheds light on the process of Islamization of Jerusalem and its environs during that period. Al-Tamimi’s theriac recension is of particular importance to botanists, as he describes in great detail the recognizable features of the plants used as electuaries, as also the proper season for gathering such plants. His other important medical works include:
- Māddat-ul-Baqā’ fi Iṣlāḥ Fasad il-Ḥawā w-al-taḥarruz min Ḍarar-il-Awbā` (The Extension of Life by Purifying the Air of Corruption and Guarding against the Evil Effects of Pestilences), a book written for his friend, the Fatimid vizier, Ya’qub ibn Killis.
- Maqālah fī Māhīyat-ul-Ramad wa Anwā’uhū wa Asbābuhū wa ‘Ilājuh (Treatise on the Nature of Ophthalmology and its Types, Causes and Treatment)
- Ḥabīb al-‘arrūs, wa-rayḥān al-nufūs (Dear is the Bride, but the Souls are [fragrant] Basil)
- Miftāḥ al-Surrūr fī kul al-Hummūm (The Key to Pleasure in all Worries)
- Several works on how to compound Theriac
- Zohar Amar and Yaron Serri, The Land of Israel and Syria as Described by al-Tamimi – Jerusalem Physician of the 10th Century, Ramat-Gan 2004, p. 13 ISBN 965-226-252-8 (Hebrew); Philip K. Hitti, History of The Arabs, New-York 2002, p. 627 ISBN 978-0-333-63141-6
- Zohar Amar, Traditions and Realia in the Writings of a Tenth-Century Physician in Jerusalem, pub. in: Cathedra: For the History of Eretz Israel and Its Yishuv (Ben-Zvi Institute), vol. 81, Jerusalem 1996, p. 24 (Hebrew)
- According to Al-Biruni (973–1048), “Faruq means a thing that relieves, or something that acts as a vanguard against poison” [See: H.M. Said & R.E. Elahie (eds.), Al-Biruni’s Book on Pharmacy and Materia Medica (vol. 1), Karachi 1973, p. 88]. Others explain this word to mean, “the one who distinguishes between the right and the wrong,” in this case, between life and death, or disease and health (See: Ibn Sa’ad, The Book of the Major Classes [Tabaqat al-Kubra], 3/ p. 281; E.W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, 1–8, Beirut 1968 [reprint], VI, 2386).
- Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, ʿUyūn ul-Anbāʾ fī Ṭabaqāt ul-Aṭibbāʾ (Arabic: عيون الأنباء في طبقات الأطباء), Beirut 1965, p. 546 (Arabic)
- See p. 23 in: Amar, Z. (1996). “Traditions and Realia in the Writings of a Tenth-Century Physician in Jerusalem”. Cathedra: For the History of Eretz Israel and Its Yishuv. 81: 23–34. JSTOR 23403696. (Registration required (help)). (Hebrew)
- Shortened name for: “Al-Murshid ilā Jawāhir-il-Aghdhiyah”.
- Chipman, Leigh (Spring 2006). “Syrups from the Apothecary’s Shop: A Geniza Fragment Containing One of the Earliest Manuscripts of Minhāj al-Dukkān”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 November 2016. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.), p. 156
- On Anṣāri’s works, see: S.J. Greenberg, A Shelflist of Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine, Maryland 1996, p. 14 (item # 16).
- Zohar Amar, Traditions and Realia in the Writings of a Tenth-Century Physician in Jerusalem, pub. in: Cathedra: For the History of Eretz Israel and Its Yishuv (Ben-Zvi Institute), vol. 81, Jerusalem 1996, p. 24, citing Suessmann Muntner, Moshe ben Maimon (Medical) Aphorisms of Moses – [In Twenty Five Treatises], Jerusalem 1961, p. 240.
- See: M. de Slane, Catalogue des manuscrits arabes de la Bibliothèque nationale, vol. 2, Paris 1883; G. Vajda, Index général des manuscrits arabes musulmans de La bibliothèque nationale de Paris, Paris 1953.
- Dhikr al-tiryāq al-fārūq, Maryland MS. A-64 (see: S.J. Greenberg, A Shelflist of Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine, Maryland 1996, p. 14 [item # 16]).
- The book can be accessed online. See “The Land of Israel and Syria as Described by al-Tamimi” (Hebrew).
- Priscilla Fishman and Yohai Goell, Book Review, published in: Cathedra: For the History of Eretz Israel and Its Yishuv (Ben-Zvi Institute), vol. 81, Jerusalem 1996, p. 183
- Zohar Amar, Traditions and Realia in the Writings of a Tenth-Century Physician in Jerusalem, pub. in: Cathedra: For the History of Eretz Israel and Its Yishuv (Ben-Zvi Institute), vol. 81, Jerusalem 1996, p. 23 (Hebrew)
- Lawrence I. Conrad, Tāʿūn and Wabāʾ Conceptions of Plague and Pestilence in Early Islam, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 25, issue 3, Brill: Leiden 1982, p. 281
- Abdul Ali, Islamic Dynasties of the Arab East: State and Civilization During the Later Medieval Times, New Delhi 1996, p. 20 ISBN 81-7533-008-2, citing Al-A’lām, vol. V, p. 313
- Zohar Amar and Yaron Serri, The Land of Israel and Syria as Described by al-Tamimi – Jerusalem Physician of the 10th Century, Ramat-Gan 2004, p. 14 ISBN 965-226-252-8 (Hebrew)
- Zohar Amar and Yaron Serri, The Land of Israel and Syria as Described by al-Tamimi – Jerusalem Physician of the 10th Century, Ramat-Gan 2004, p. 15 ISBN 965-226-252-8 (Hebrew)
- Lucien Leclerc, Histoire de la médicine arabe, vol. 1, Paris 1876, pp. 388–391 (Al-Tamimi) (French)
- Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, vol. iii: Medizin, Pharmazie, Zoologie, Tierheilkunde, Leiden: E.J. Brill 1970, pp. 317–318 (German)