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"Abraham, Planter of Mathematics"

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Author Topic: "Abraham, Planter of Mathematics"  (Read 381 times)
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« Reply #15 on: October 14, 2008, 10:44:30 pm »

This history of histories illuminates contemporary understandings of mathematics, astrology, and astronomy from the late fifteenth to seventeenthcenturies. Consistent in all of the authors is the understanding that mathematics had a long history. Some virtue always obtained in learning Euclid or Ptolemy; nobody questioned the utility of these arts in agriculture, husbandry, navigation, and chronology. But though none of these scholars condemned all forms of sky-gazing, all agreed that they could be corrupted. The question was where and when corruptions were introduced. For individual [End Page 105] authors real differences existed between astrology and astronomy, even if there was no consensus regarding their boundaries. The issue was whether astrology properly belonged with the constellation of orthodox studies, or with the idolatrous divinatory arts of the Chaldeans.

Further, the debate was conducted entirely within ecclesiastical history. The history of mathematics was inseparable from the history of the church and the history of worship. The orthodoxy of various arts was proven neither by showing that they did not abrogate divine authority, nor by simply showing their venerable antiquity. The reputation of the communities that produced these specialized arts licensed or condemned their adoption, and their genealogies argued for or against their orthodoxy. Chamber was not being hysterical when he depicted London as a second Babylon; to him, the city swarmed with an idolatrous lay priest caste performing rites and offending the divine will, exactly as Babylon had under the sway of the erring Chaldeans. A practicing community of Hebraic astrologers in the ancient world, as described by Josephus, served the antithetical purpose. Theological and historical debate provided the terrain for justifying mathematical and astronomical activities.
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