History of Science and Technology in Islam


Part Three

Berthelot’s Motives in Choosing the Wrong Arabic Alchemical Treatises And The Extant Arabic Works of Jabir on Theoretical and Practical Alchemy and Chemistry



In this part of our study we shall deal with two of Berthelot’s assumptions. These are:

1- That in Jabir’s extant Arabic treatises, the language is vague and allegoric

2- There are no Arabic originals for the Latin works.

We shall discuss also Berthelot’s motives in choosing the wrong Arabic treatises.


The Arabic treatises chosen by Berthelot

In volume III of La chimie au Moyen Age. (Paris, 1893) , Marcellin.Berthelot based his evaluation of Arabic alchemy in general and of Jabir ibn Hayyan’s alchemy in particular on the wrong selection of Arabic treatises which are not representative of Arabic works on the theory and practice of alchemy.  As was the case in all fields of science such as mathematics, astronomy and medicine that formed the basis for Western science, Arabic works on the theory and practice of alchemy were the basis upon which the Alchemy of the West was established.

The following are the Arabic treatises that were chosen by Berthelot as representative of Arabic alchemy and of Jabir’s alchemy, and were translated into French by Houdas;

1- Kitab Qratis (Krates) al-Hakim.

2- Kitab al-Habib

3- Selections from Kitab Ostanes al-Hakim.

4- Extract from an anonymous MS about Marqush king of Egypt.


Jabir’s treatises

5- Kitab al-Mulk (one of the 500 Books; Kraus no. 454).

6- Ktab al-Rahma al-Saghir (Kraus no. 969)

7- Kitab al-Mawazin al-Saghir (Kraus no. 980).

8- Kitab al-Rahma al-Kabir (Kraus no. 5).

9- Selections from Kitab al-Tajmi’ (Kraus no. 398)

10- Kitab al-Zi’baq al- Sharqi, (one of the 500 Books; Kraus no. 470)

11- Kitab al-Zi’baq al-Gharbi, (one of the 500 Books; Kraus no.471).

12- Kitab Nar al-Hajar, (one of the 500 Books; Kraus no.472).

13- Kitab Ard al-Hajar, (one of the 500 Books; Kraus no.. 473).

Let us discuss briefly why these treatises are not representative of Arabic practical alchemy and why they are the wrong choices for comparison with Geber’s Latin works.

We can divide all alchemical literature whether Arabic or Latin into two distinct types, one is the theoretical and practical and the other is the philosophical and allegorical. Jabir’s extensive treatises on alchemy can be divided also into these same categories, and if we have to investigate whether the Geber’s Latin works were written by Jabir or not, we have to choose only from Jabir’s works on the theory and practice of alchemy.  But Berthelot did not follow this simple rule. He did exactly the opposite. All the thirteen items listed above are from the philosophical allegorical category and none of them is on the theory and practice of alchemy. The first four were chosen to represent pre-Islamic alchemy which, as we shall presently show, are in the words of Kraus, mostly “unintelligible nonsense”. Out of the nine manuscripts ascribed to Jabir five are from the collection of The 500 Books. According to Kraus, several of the treatises of this collection are devoted to philosophic topics. Further he says about this collection that “the parenetic passages occupy a significant place and the alchemical processes are often reduced to abtruse or incomprehensible allegories.” The other four treatises are of the same quality.


Berthelot ‘s motives in selecting the wrong Arabic works of Jabir

Any one who reads Berthelot’s volume III on Arabic Alchemy will have the impression that Berthelot had published all the Arabic works of Jabir that were available in the B. N. of Paris and in Leiden University and that he had no other choices. But with a little investigation a researcher will discover the truth. There were other Arabic works of Jabir in both Paris and Leiden on the theory and practice of alchemy. Additionally, Arabic alchemical manuscripts are not to be found only in Paris and Leiden. There were important collections in London, Berlin, the Vatican, Cairo, Istanbul, Tehran, Hyderabad and several others in Europe and elsewhere. A truly academic treatment of Arabic alchemy, especially of Jabir should have prompted Berthelot to do an exhaustive search and not limit himself to two locations, which were also not properly utilized. Berthelot had selected those works that best served his purpose.

The motives of Berthelot are outlined in his introduction to volume III. He says:

« Mais, en raison de l'importance historique des questions soulevées, lesquelles ne vont pas à moins qu'à changer profondément les idées courantes sur les connaissances chimiques des Arabes, et sur l'influence exercée par ces connaissances à l'égard de la civilisation et des sciences de l'Occident, j'ai cru préférable de reproduire in extenso les plus intéressants de ces ouvrages arabes, texte et traduction : ceux de Djâber spécialement, à cause de la réputation de leur auteur et de la dissemblance profonde qui existe entre ces ouvrages arabes et les oeuvres fabriquées en Occident et mises sous le même nom.»

This translates:

“But, because of the historical importance of the raised questions, which will not disappear unless we radically change the current ideas about the chemical knowledge of the Arabs, and on the influence exerted by this knowledge with regard to the civilization and of sciences of the West, I believed it is preferable to reproduce in extensor (at full length) the most interesting of these Arab works, text and translation: especially those of Djâber, because of the reputation of their author and the major dissimilarity which exists between these Arabic works and the works written in the West and which carry the same name.”

This declaration is very grave indeed. Berthelot, is speaking here not as a neutral man of science. His mission is to change the established history of science of the 12th to 14th centuries. He is saying that his precise purpose in writing his books is to “radically change the current ideas about the chemical knowledge of the Arabs, and on the influence exerted by this knowledge with regard to the civilization and of sciences of the West”

He says also that by publishing and translating the selected works of Jabir he will show the great dissimilarity between Geber’s Latin works that were written in the West, as he believed, and between Jabir’s Arabic works.

To achieve his purpose, Berthelot had chosen Arabic mystical allegorical alchemical works and avoided works on the theory and practice of alchemy and chemistry.

Berthelot had enjoyed a great influence in France and in Europe and he employed his immense authority to achieve his purpose. Unfortunately his mission had attracted many followers and as a result of this, history of science was being conjured in the name of scholarship.

Holmyard perceived that Berthelot had “made up his mind” and that he “appears deliberately to underrate” Jabir “on insufficient grounds”.  In an article on Jabir he says:

“Fortunately for chemistry, this man of genius and unbounded energy was drawn towards natural science, and, encouraged by the Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq, turned his attention to the study of the composition of substances obtained from minerals, plants and animals. His writings prove that this study meant to him not merely the reading of books but the close investigation of Nature and a stern discipline in the laboratory. It has to be said that Berthelot, having made up his mind—on what seem to be insufficient grounds—that the Latin Geber is not to be identified with the Arab Jābir ibn Hayyān, appears deliberately to underrate the latter ; he certainly gives an entirely false idea of Jābir's scientific ability. “ [1]

The spirit of Berthelot persisted, and a century later Newman found that the Summa of Geber had relied on Jabir’s Book of Seventy in several occurrences.  Newman deemed it necessary to apologise for his reader. He says:

“The reader should not be surprised, therefore, when we suggest that the Summa also contains material derived from the 70 Books. He may be excused a moment of discomfort, however, when we proceed to say that the influence of the 70 Books upon the Summa was nothing short of considerable.”    [2]

Newman is assuming here that his reader will feel uncomfortable because the Book of Seventy has such a considerable influence on the Summa.

Why should the reader have discomfort? Can it be that Newman is expressing here his own feelings? 


The alchemy of Jabir is not allegoric - Kraus’s evaluation

Paul Kraus was an exceptional scholar who devoted all his academic life to study Jabir’s works. In volume I of his work he left us an invaluable comprehensive list of nearly all the works that were attributed to Jabir whether extant or not.[3] In volume II, he analyzed the works of Jabir. Kraus examined all the extant works and we can say that he is much more qualified to judge the quality of Jabir’s alchemy than Berthelot or any other historian of chemistry.

In discussing Greek alchemy and comparing it to that of Jabir, Kraus says:

“To form an idea of the historical place of Jabir’s alchemy and to tackle the problem of its sources, it is advisable to compare it with what remains to us of the alchemical literature in the Greek language.  One knows in which miserable state this literature reached us.  Collected by Byzantine scientists from the tenth century, the corpus of the Greek alchemists is a cluster of incoherent fragments, going back to all the times since the third century until the end of the Middle Ages.”

Then he continues:  

“The efforts of Berthelot and Ruelle to put a little order in this mass of literature led only to poor results, and the later researchers, among them in particular Mrs. Hammer-Jensen,  Tannery, Lagercrantz , von Lippmann, Reitzenstein, Ruska, Bidez, Festugiere and others, could make clear only few points of detail….

The study of the Greek alchemists is not very encouraging.  An even surface examination of the Greek texts shows that a very small part only was organized according to true experiments of laboratory:  even the supposedly technical writings, in the state where we find them today, are unintelligible nonsense which refuses any interpretation.  

It is different with Jabir’s alchemy.  The relatively clear description of the processes and the alchemical apparatuses, the methodical classification of the substances, mark an experimental spirit which is extremely far away from the weird and odd esotericism of the Greek texts.  The theory on which Jabir supports his operations is one of clearness and of an impressive unity. More than with the other Arab authors, one notes with him a balance between theoretical teaching and practical teaching, between the ` ilm and the ` amal.  In vain one would seek in the Greek texts a work as systematic as that which is presented for example in the Book of Seventy. [4]

Finally Kraus says that “Jabir seldom has recourse to allegories such as one finds in the Greek texts.”    


Holmyard on Berthelot’s choice of material

We quote here what Holmyard had said about Berthelot’s choice of Jabir’s Arabic works:   

“It is, perhaps, in his treatment of Jabir Ibn Hayyan that Berthelot most signally failed. A proper appreciation of the work of a man who wrote some 500 books cannot be gained by a study of only nine, and these not the most important. I do not propose in this place to offer any comment on the vexed question of the possible identify of Jabir with Geber, but will confine myself to pointing out that some 80 works attributed to JABIR are still extant,[5] whole or frag­mentary, and that a study of them enables one to see clearly the reasons which led later chemists to regard their author with an extraordinary reverence. The choice of Jabir's works made by Berτhεloτ is entirely misleading and inadequate. The extent of his knowledge (i.e. of Jabir) was amaz­ing, and to regard him as a bombastic obscurantist, as Berthelot does, is to do him a grave injustice. I hope to show later the remarkable scientific knowledge he possessed, but meanwhile I may perhaps refer to a bibliography I have made of his extant works where those who are interested may gain some idea of the negligible relation which exists between the works published by Berthelot and those which were available for his study if he had cared to make a search.” [6]


Surviving Arabic MSS of Jabir ibn Hayyan – The vanishing of most treatises

To investigate why there are no Arabic originals for the Latin works we have undertaken a survey of all the dated extant Arabic manuscripts ascribed to Jabir ibn Hayyan. We based our study on the exhaustive list given by Fuat Sezgin in volume IV of Geschichte des Arabischen Schrifftums [7], which included the findings of Paul Kraus, and the Arabic translation of this volume which incorporated some new additions. We took notice of all the copying dates of the dated manuscripts. The results were as follows:


Number  of dated MSS

% of extant MSS































This survey revealed the following facts:

The oldest extant MSS of Jabir (only 2 %) do not go earlier than the 6/12 century. If we consider that Jabir lived in the 2/8 - 3/9 period then the oldest extant MSS are between 3 to 4 centuries later than Jabir.

Most of the extant MSS (63 % of them) were copied in the 10/16 and 11/17 centuries or about 8-9 centuries after the time of Jabir.

We conclude

a-That all of Jabir’s MSS that preceded the 6/12 century had perished.

b-Among the perished MSS were naturally unique copies that have not been copied again and were lost for ever.

c-The extant MSS that were copied in later centuries represent a fraction only of Jabir’s works.

d-The translations of the Arabic alchemical treatises into Latin took place in the 12th and 13th centuries. Our survey denotes that 97 % of Jabir’s Arabic MSS dating from that period had perished. In other words this entails that the Arabic originals that were used by the translators had perished and there are not other copies of the lost ones.

e-We conclude also that the contention opposed to an Arabic origin of Geber’s Latin works because the Arabic originals are not available is flawed and is a feeble line of reasoning that should be discounted.

It is pertinent to mention here that not only the Arabic originals of the Latin Geber works are still missing, also the originals of many other Arabic works in Latin are still missing and their translators are unknown. These Arabic works are known to us from their Latin texts only. This includes several works in alchemy, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, physics, medicine, materia medica and other subjects. For al-Razi alone there are nine Latin works on alchemy attributed to him of which there are no Arabic originals. [8]

Even with the great loss of Arabic manuscripts many works that were thought to be missing were found in the past decades. It is not inconceivable that some of the Arabic originals of Geber Latin works may appear. But we need not wait until this happens. The content of the Latin works are to be found in the available Arabic alchemical works as will be made clear in the present research.


What caused the disappearance of most ofJabir manuscripts

There were various reasons why Jabir’s Arabic MSS preceding the 12th century had perished. Wars and invasions are cited as main causes. The devastation and sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 resulted in the destruction of many libraries containing innumerable priceless manuscripts.

Following the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492 many thousands of valuable Arabic manuscripts were burnt.

We must enquire also into the other factors that caused the vanishing of huge numbers of Arabic MSS. These MSS were written on paper after paper was introduced in Arabic lands in the 8th century. Paper is not durable over centuries. Latin MSS in Europe continued to be written on the more durable vellum or parchment several centuries after printing was invented.  Paper was used with the introduction of printing.  And even with vellum we find that the surviving scientific MSS dating before the 13th century are rare.

Other factors causing the vanishing of MSS include the aging and uncontrollable decay of paper, and the wear and tear from repeated use and poor handling and carelessness. The main adversary of paper is bad storage conditions with exposure to heat, humidity, sunlight and pollutants in the atmosphere. Storage conditions of Arabic MSS throughout the centuries were mostly unacceptable.

A report about one surviving monastery library in Egypt noted that “conditions fluctuate wildly, with inside temperatures ranging from 5 to 35 degrees Celsius and relative humidity from 30% to 80%. Paper has become brittle and is suffering from discoloration and mechanical damage. Iron and copper based inks used in writing have degraded, and there are many instances of ink suffering from flaking and lifting. Exposure to moisture has resulted in corrosion and caused very serious perforations to paper. Mice and other pests have caused further damage." [9]

An important factor is ignorance of the value of MSS especially during the last centuries of decline. This is especially true for private family libraries. With the passage of time a family that inherited a collection of valuable MSS did not appreciate its significance through lack of knowledge on the part of the descendents. They were sold every so often to bookbinders who used their paper extensively in bookbinding without giving attention to the value of the written paper that they were using.

In many cases manuscripts were sold to grocers to be used for packaging and wrapping. They were used also as fuel or for starting fires, and for many other deprived commercial and domestic uses.


Disappearance of Arabic manuscripts from private and public libraries – The mystery of Kitab al-khalis

Besides the natural deterioration of paper manuscripts due to the passage of time and because of various other reasons as explained above, some Arabic manuscripts continue to disappear from private and national libraries. In the private libraries of Muslim countries important collections are usually sold and find their way to public or private libraries in the West. This phenomenon is repeated also in the private libraries of the West. We have reported in part one of this study the case of Jacobus Golius  who is said to have translated one of Jabir’s works into Latin, and whose private library was sold subsequently in auction after his death.

Rare manuscripts disappear also from international libraries. The following story demonstrates how one reported Arabic original of Geber’s Summa could not be found at an international library.

In 1876 Lucien Leclerc published his classic work Histoire de la Médecine Arabe. In volume I, p. 74 he wrote:

« le kitab el khalis, inscrit sous le no 1083, nous parait étre l'original du summa perfectionis, dont nous parlerons tout à l'heure »[10]

“the kitab el khalis, registered under No 1083, appears to us to be the original of the summa perfectionis, about which we will speak presently”

Seventeen years later, in 1893, Marcellin Berthelot (1827-1907) published volume III of his work La Chimie au Moyen Age. He selected certain Arabic works on alchemy from the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris and from the University of Leiden as we have noted above. Either Berthelot ignored Leclerc’s very important remark cited above or he was unaware of it.

 In 1905 (while Berthelot was still alive) Stapleton gave the following remark in one of his papers::

 “It should be added that M. Berthelot's disbelief in Jabir being the author of the Summa is mainly based on a considera­tion of the mystical Kitabu-r-Rahmah (Βοοk of Pity). So far as we can ascertain he has never replied to Leclerc's suggestion that the original of the Summa is the Kitabu-l-Khalis (Book of the Essence), of which a copy exists in Arabic MS. No. 1083 of the Bibliotheque Nationale (cf. Histoire de la Médecine Arabe, I, p. 74 ; Haji Khalfa's Kashfu-.dh-h Dunun, V, p. 79).”[11]

 This writer’s attempt to obtain a copy of Kitab al-Khalis from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France was futile. The manuscript does not exist. It must have been lost sometime after Leclerc had published his book in the last decades of the 19th century.                


Jabir’s works available for this study

For the reason of the disappearance of most of Jabir’s works as we have mentioned above, we must rely on those extant works that deal with the theory and practice of alchemy. From investigating some of Jabir’s extant works available to us we have found that the alchemy of Geber in the Latin texts occurs in all its details in Arabic. These results will be reported in the forthcoming parts of this study.

 If we read some of Jabir’s works we find that he more often refers the reader to his other works. By looking into such references we have made up a list of the more important works on the theory and practice of alchemy and chemistry. We have secured microfilm copies from the various international libraries and stored them in the hard drives of the computer for simplicity of use.

It is inconceivable with the limited resources of one researcher to be able to secure copies of all of Jabir’s extant works that are scattered worldwide. But no effort was spared in obtaining copies of those manuscripts that seemed promising for this study.

If one have the means and the time to visit the various important libraries and to browse into the existing manuscripts he will, no doubt, find other interesting treatises.

Furthermore, it is possible that sometime in the future one or more Arabic texts may be found that match exactly one or more of the Latin texts. But this possible discovery is not essential for our study because Jabir repeats himself in more than one work.

The appendix to this article gives a list of the manuscripts that were made available for this study. [12] Some titles like Al-kutub al-Sab’un carry seventy titles. Each one was given a number by Kraus. Sezgin also listed them individually. However, we counted these books as one title only for the sake of brevity. The same applies fot the Books of Seven Metals. They were listed as seven books by Kraus and Sezgin. Here also we have counted them as one. Some works like Kitab al-Khawass al-Kabir are extensive, while some are very short. Overall our list of available works exceeds sixty and this number is by no means a slight one. They are adequate to fulfil the purpose of this study.

We did not include in our chosen list those treatises that are of a philosophic or allegoric nature. We have examined the most important works in our collection till now and found that they deal mainly with the theory and practice of alchemy and chemistry.

However, there are titles, especially from Kutub al-Mawazin, which we did not yet investigate. Those not dealing with the theory and practise of alchemy will be removed from our list. There are also some treatises on the theory and practice of alchemy and chemistry which we hope to find and acquire, and these will be added to our list. The list, therefore, will be updated constantly as we proceed.



Jabir’s Arabic Works on Alchemy that are

Used in this Study

 1-Al- Kutub al-Sab’un (The Seventy Books): This is an extremely important work. It is composed of seventy articles. Articles 31-70 deal mostly with mineral materials, whereas the first thirty deal with animal (20 articles), and vegetable (10 articles)..                               

Berthelot painted a distorted picture of this book portraying it to be vague and intelligible. Newman recently repeated the same picture. He describes it thus:                                                                   

 “Unlike the Summa, the 70 Books (Liber septuaginta) -of which only about half seem to have survived in Latin-are a loosely related collection of opuscula, rich in mythopoeia [13]and analogy. Ostensibly translated by Gerard of Cremona,  they are all but incomprehensible in their Latin form, and many of their doctrines would have seemed quite alien to any but the Ismā'ϊli sect which coined them under the "trademark," as it were, of "Jābir ibn Hayyān."[14]

Newman ascribed his idea of the influence of the Ismā'ϊli sect to Paul Kraus. But Kraus did not deal with the Isma’ili question in relation to the contents of the Book of Seventy.  His hypothesis about Jabir and the Isma’ili sect was raised so that he can prove his the theory in determining the period of Jabir’s writings, a question that is unrelated to the scientific content of Jabir’s works. In fact Kraus says: «Les LΧX Livres représentent un exposé systématique de l'alchimie jàbirienne » [15] i.e. “the Seventy Books represents a systematic exposition of Jabirian alchemy.”  And we shall repeat here Kraus’s high opinion of this work which is quoted above: ” In vain one would seek in the Greek texts a work as systematic as that which is presented for example in the Book of Seventy.”

Therefore, contrary to the distorted picture given by Berthelot and Newman, the Book of Seventy is a scientific book on the theory and practice of alchemy rich in content and devoid of any kind of narration that is unrelated to the science of alchemy.

We have mentioned earlier that Newman himself acknowledged the great influence of the Book of Seventy on the Summa. In fact all the theories of alchemy of the Summa are the same as in the Book of Seventy as we shall see in this study. In the same way, a good deal of the recipes of the Summa occurs also in the Book of Seventy.

The manuscript of the Book of Seventy that we used in this study is Bursa, MS Huseyin Celebi 743 which was reproduced by Fuat Sezgin by the offset method.[16]

2-Kitab al-Khawass al-Kabir (The Great Book of Properties)

This book is composed of 71 articles. It deals with a multitude of topics including the theory and practice of alchemy.  Ten articles (32 – 41) are supplements to the Book of Seventy giving a multitude of recipes. About seventeen other articles contain also alchemical recipes.[17] Twenty articles deal with the theory of alchemy. Others deal with the properties of the different elixirs. The book has several articles on useful preparations related to industrial chemical technology.[18]

The manuscript used in this study is British Library, MS 4041.

3 -Kutub al-Ajsad al-Sab’a (The Books of Seven Metals)

This is a collection of seven books dealing with the seven metals and three supplementary related books. The texts contain an array of topics on each metal including passages on the theory and practice of alchemy. A useful commentary and elaboration of these books was undertaken by al-Jildaki in his book Al-Burhan fi Asrar ‘Ilm al-Mizan

The manuscript used in this study is B.N. Paris, MS arabe 2606. Al-Jildaki’s manuscript of al-Burhan is NLM MS A7, and also Chester Beatty MS Arabic 4121.

4-Kitab al-Riyad al-Akbar (The Larger Book of Gardens) (Kraus no. 960)

This book on the theory and practice of alchemy is divided into seven categories (abwab) with an introduction and twenty articles. A study by Ruska and Garbers has shown that this book resembles al-Razi’s Book of Secrets (Kitab al-Asrar). We shall deal with Jabir and al-Razi in a later part of this study.[19]

Our main copy of this manuscript is Oxford University, Bodleian MS Marsh 70. Available also are two abridged versions one is British Library, MS 7722/16 and the other is in Al-Tughra’i’s Mafatih al-Rahma where we find a good summary.  Our copy of Al-Tughra’i is Wellcome MS. OR 21, 

Treatises from the CXII Collection (The 112  Books)

Kraus described the books of this collection as follows: “The collection of the CXII Books is entirely devoted to the study of alchemy.  They are works rather independent from each other, each one treating of a particular question of practical alchemy…... The theory of the Balance itself on the other hand misses entirely…. On the other hand the references to ancient authors are relatively rare” 

Also, according to Kraus twenty-eight only of the CXII Books are preserved, Fragments of many others, were given as quotations by posterior alchemists, particularly al-Tughra'i.  However, Sezgin gave the titles of 40 extant treatises, some of which are really inaccessible. We were able to obtain copies of 21 of the extant manuscripts from this collection.

5- Kitab Ustuquss al-Uss al-Awwal

Available copies for this study: Bursa, MS Huseyin Celebi 743//4; Paris, MS BN arabe 5099. Holmyard published it in 1928. [20]

6- Kitab Ustuquss al-Uss al-thani

Available copies for this study: Bursa, MS Huseyin Celebi 743//2; Holmyard published it in 1928.

7- Kitab Ustuquss al-Uss al-Thalith

Available copies for this study: Paris, MS BN arabe 5099. Holmyard published it in 1928.

8-Tafsir Kitab Ustuquss

Available copies for this study: Paris, MS BN arabe 5099. Holmyard published it in 1928.

9- Kitab al-Kamal
The MSS available for this study are Bursa MS Husayin Celebi 743/2; Paris, MS BN arabe 5099, a fragment in MS Hallaq, Aleppo, (pages 37-44). and a fragment in Holmyard’s The Arabic Works,  pp. 123-124..

10-Kitab al-Wahid al-Kabir.or Al-Wahid al-Awwal

Available manuscript: MS BN arabe 2606; NLM MS A 33.

11- Kitab al-Wahid al-Saghir or Al-Wahid al-Thani.

Available copies: MS BN arabe 2606 ; NLM MS A 33.

12 - Kitab al-Wahid al-Thalith

Available copy : NLM MS A 33.

Note: In NLM MS A33 the three come under: Al-Wahid al-awwal, wa-al-thani wa-al-thalith . Another copy is available in the collection (majmu’ ) of  Hallaq,  Aleppo.[21]

13- Kitab al-Nur.

Available copies: Paris, MS BN arabe 5099. Holmyard published it in 1928

14 -Kitab al-Khama’ir

Available copy : NLM A 33

15- Al-Khama'ir Al-Thalith Min Kitab Al-A'rad

Available copy : NLM A33

16-Tafsir Kitab al-Khama’ir al-Al-Thalith

Available copy : NLM A 33.

17-Kitab al-Tadbir al-Saghir.

Available copy :NLM A 33.

18- Kitab al-Malaghim al-Barraniyyah

See the four treatises on al-Malaghim later in this list. Under Kitab al-Malaghim al-Barraniyyah we have a long citation in al-Majriti’s Rutbat al-Hakim. MS BN arabe 2612.

19- Kitab al-Sha’r.

Available is BL MS Add 7722/5 (folios 72 b-75 b). Also a fragment in NLM MS A 33.

20- Kitab al-Tabwib.

Available copy: MS BN arabe 2606

21- Kitab al-Hajar.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099.

22- Kitab al-Bahir.

Available copy: NLM MS A 33.

23- Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna.

This is a treatise dealing with industrial chemistry such as the manufacture of pharaonic glass, artificial diamonds, pearls and other kinds of jewellery.

Available copy: BN arabe 6915 (not listed by Kraus and Sezgin). This MS was edited and copied by Muhammad ibn Maymun ibn Umran al- Murrakishi al-Himyari in Baghdad in the year 1252.  A portion of this treatise which does not deal with industrial chemistry is available in BL MS Add 7722.

24- Al-Kitab al-Kabir.

Available copy: MS BN arabe 2606.

25- Kitab al-Khalis al-Mubarak.[22]

A fragment is available at the end of NLM A33. See the story of this treatise above.

26- Kitab al-Tarkib.or al-Tarakib al-Awwal al-A’zam

Available copy: MS  BN arabe 2606

27- Kitab al-Tarkib al-A’zam al-Thani.

Available copy: MS BN arabe 2606

Treatises on practical alchemy not listed by Kraus and not differentiated clearly by Sezgin and are found in NLM, MS A 33 (Majmu’ Nafis)

28- Al-Malaghim al-awwal

29- Al-Malaghim al-thani

30- Al-Malaghim al-thalith

31- Tafsir al-malaghim.

Treatises from Kutub al-Mawazin (Books of the Balances)

The collection of Kutub Al-Mawazin (KM) contains 144 treaties of average length, and is devoted to the theory of the Balance. Kraus was able to restore the titles of 79 treatises of the collection. Sezgin gave the location of the manuscripts of 23   We have obtained copies of 16 treatises.

Each treatise has a certain independence and clarifies a particular aspect of the theory of the Balance. The contents of KM are very varied, and to do research on alchemy, one meets often passages treating other disciplines. Some treatises have a very good content of practical alchemy, and are useful for our research, and some are not yet evaluated.

32- Kitab al-Jumal al-‘Ishrun (The Book of Twenty Articles)

In Kitab al-Khwass al-Kabir, Chap. 33 ,  Jabir says of K. al-Jumal al-‘Ishrun: “ Nobody, who is erudite or ignorant, who deals with Art or not, can do without them, and he has to study them and to have them always with him, because they include the theory and the practice of the Art in the clearest and most lucid way.” [23]

This description is justified. This book of 20 articles is rich on its coverage of practical alchemy. It is rather complete and detailed in its treatment, and the alchemical theory is based on the doctrine of the Balance. One chapter gives a detailed description of the apparatuses used in the alchemical processes; a chapter deals with the classification of minerals. Another chapter deals with the choice of drugs.  Some articles deal with the preparation of spirits, metallic, and non-metallic bodies, Some give alchemical recipes, including ones for the preparation of the elixir.

Available copy:  Bursa, Husayin Celebi 743/5.

33- - Kitab al-usul (Book of Principles)

This treatise  contains quite useful material on the theory and practice of alchemy.

Available copies: NLM MS A33, (fols. 58b-89a), and British Library, MS ADD 23418 (fols. 135a-140b).

The following treatises from Kutub al-Mawazin are part of our collection, but they were not investigated until now to evaluate the quality of their alchemical content.

Kutub al- Ahjar (Books of Stones)

These books are in four parts. The four are available in MS BN arabe 5099. NLM MS A 70, contains an extract from the 2nd part (juz') and possibly also from the 3rd juz' .

Portions of the treatises have been edited and translated into English by Haq,[24] An earlier partial edition using the Paris copy was published by Kraus,[25]. The NLM copy was not used in either edition.

34- Part One of Kitab al-Ahjar ‘Ala Ra’y Balinas.

35- Part Two of Kitab al-Ahjar ‘Ala Ra’y Balinas.

36- Part Three of Kitab al-Ahjar ‘Ala Ra’y Balinas.

37- Part Four of Kitab al-Ahjar ‘Ala Ra’y Balinas.

38- Kitab al-‘Ayn

Available copy: Leiden MS Or 2842.

39- Kitab al-Hasil.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099. Published by Kraus,

40- Kitab Ikhraj Ma fi al-Quwwa Ila al-Fi’l.

Available copies : Published by Kraus in Mukhtarat [26].

41- Kitab Maydan al-‘Aql.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099. Also published by Kraus in Mukhtarat.

42- Kitab al-Mizan al-Saghir.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099. Also selections were published by Kraus in Mukhtarat.

 43- Kitab al-Safwa.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099

44- Kitab al-Sirr al-Maknun.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099. Selections are available in NLM MS A 33 under the title Al-Muntakhab Min Kitab al-Ittihad

45- Kitab al-Tabi’a al-Khamisa.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099

46- Kitab al-Tajrid.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099. A fragment is available in Aleppo, MS Hallaq. Published by  Holmyard. [27]

47- Kitab al-Tasrif.

Available copy: BN arabe 5099. Published by Kraus in Mukhtarat.

48- Kitab al-Tibb al-Nabawi

The extant part of this treatise deals with practical alchemy, contrary to what is implied by its title. According to Kraus this treatise is one of three books giving explanations (tafsir) to Kitab al-Sirr al-Maknun.

Available manuscript BN arabe 6915 which is not listed by Kraus or Sezgin.

Other works

49- Kitab Musahhahat Iflatun

This important treatise is full of material on practical alchemy. It is composed of 90 articles. Although Jabir is supposed to be commenting and correcting Iflatun, yet he is giving detailed information on alchemical laboratory equipment, alchemical processes and recipes.  The MS is edited by Muhammad ibn Maymun ibn ‘Umran al-Murrakishi al-Himyari. It was edited and copied in the year 650/1252 while al-Murrakishi was residing at Al-Madrasa al-Nizamiyyah in Baghdad.

Available manuscript: BN arabe 6915 which is not listed by Kraus or Sezgin.

50- Kitab Sunduq al-Hikma [28]

This treatise is attributed to Jabir, but it is part of a collection of treatises (majmu’) on practical alchemy. It was possible to secure a copy of the sole manuscript from Dar al-Kutub, Cairo,[29]  MS Tabi’iyyat 303. Kitab sunduq al-hikma proper is the first part of this collection (fols. 1b -24b.[30] The remaining parts are compilations of procedures in alchemy from various authors including al-Razi. The compiler of the remaining parts describes an experiment that he had completed in 620/1223. Holmyard was the first to direct attention to this manuscript, but Sezgin, who listed it like Kraus among Jabir’s works, expressed doubts about its attribution to Jabir.

51- Kitab al-Manfa’a

The available treatise was published by Pierre Lory from manuscript of the Parliament Library, Tehran, MS 4932/5.[31] Available also are a fragment in BN arabe 5099,  Al-Tughra’i in K. Mafatih al-Rahma gave a long quotation with commentary. Holmyard published also a fragment.    

52- Kitab al-sirr.

Available copy: NLM MS A33.

53- Al-Muntakhab (Selections) Min Kitab Al-Ittihad.

Available copy: NLM MS A33.

54- Kitab al-Safi

This a very short treatise on practical alchemy. It is listed among the Five Hundred Books.

Available copies,  BL MS 7722; and BN arabe 5099.

55- Kitab Hatk al-Astar

This is a short treatise on practical alchemy.

Available manuscript, BL 7722, Published by Robert Steele with English translation.[32]

56- Kitab al-Damir

According to Jabir this is a very large book composed of 600 chapters. [33] A fragment only has survived.

Available copy: BN MS arabe 2606.

57- Kitab al’Awalim

Available copy: BN MS arabe 2606

58- Kitab al-Usul al-Thalith

Available copy: Berlin, MS Oct 892.

59- Kitab al-Burhan

Available copy: Berlin, MS Oct 2250.

Major works on alchemy citing Jabir

The following works on alchemy give citations from Jabir’s works. They are invaluable especially when the citations are from non-extant works of Jabir.

60- Al-Majriti, Kitab Rutbat al-Ha kim

Available manuscript:  BN arabe 2612.

61-- Al-Tughra’i, Kitab Mafatih al-Rahma wa Masabih al-Hikma.

Available manuscript:  Wellcome MS OR 21.

62- Al-Jildaki, Kitab al-Burhan fi Asrar ‘Ilm al-Mizan

Available manuscript:  NLM A 7

63- Al-Jildaki, Kitab Nihayat al-Talab fi Sharh al-Muktasab fi Zira’at al-Dhahab

Available manuscript:  Berlin MS 4184.

64- Teslimi, M – Ph.D Thesis, London University, 1954, a thesis on Nihayat al Talab.

This is a helpful companion to Nihayat al-Talab which translates into English the most important parts of the Arabic text, with a useful index.




[1] Holmyard, Ε. J.  Α critical examination of Berthelot's work Upon Arabic chemistry –ISIS, 1924

[2] Newman, William R., The Summa Perfectionis of Psudo-Geber- A Critical Edition, Translation & Study, Brill, 1991, p. 87.

[3]  Kraus, Paul, Jâbir ibn Hayyân. Contribution à l'histoire des idées scientifiques dans l'Islam. I. Le corpus des écrits jâbiriens. II. Jâbir et la science grecque,. Cairo 1942-43.  Repr. By Fuat Sezgin, (Natural Sciences in Islam. 67-68), Frankfurt.. 2002

[4] Kraus,  op. cit. II

[5] The number is much more. See Fuat Sezgin’s volume IV.

[6] Holmyard , op. cit.

[7] Sezgin, Fuat, Geschichte des Arabischen Schrifftums,  Vol. IV, Brill, 1971,  pp. 231-269, and the Arabic edition pp. 306-395

[8]  Sezgin, op. cit.  p.282

[9] Martin Bailey.  Ancient Manuscripts Found In Egyptian Monastery,    http://www.forbes.com/2002/05/29/0529conn_print.html

[10] Leclerc, Lucien,  Histoire de la médecine arabe , vol. 1, Ernest Ledoux, Paris, 1876

[11]   Stapleton; H.E. , and  R.F. Azo:,  Alchemical equipment in the eleventh century, A.D. (1905), , reproduced by Fuat Sezgin in Vol. VII,  Chemistry and Alchemy. Texts and Studies..(Natural Sciences in Islam. 61), Frankfurt, 2001.
[12]  For exhaustive lists of Jabir’s works see, Kraus and Sezgin. See also  Holmyard.in Jabir ibn Hayyan, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, , 16, 1922-23, pp. 46-57. , reproduced by Fuat Sezgin in Vol. I,Jabir ibn Hayyan, Texts and Studies..(Natural Sciences in Islam. 69), Frankfurt, 2002.

[13] Mythopoeia, composition of stories or myths, usually in a narrative form such as epic poetry.

[14] Newman, op. cit.,  p. 86

[15] Kraus, vol I, op. cit.,  p. 43

[16] Fuat Sezgin, Book of Seventy,  Frankfurt,

[17]  Other articles that contain recipes of practical alchemy include articles 3, 4, 10,11,16, 19, 21, 22, 34, 25, 29, 44, 52, 52, 66, 67, 68,

[18] Kraus, I,  pp. 148-152, Sezgin p. 264

[19] Ruska; K. Garbers: Vorschriften zur Herstellung von scharfen Wässern bei Gâbir und Râzî. (1939).; reproduced by Fuat Sezgin in Vol. II, ,Jabir ibn Hayyan, Texts and Studies..(Natural Sciences in Islam. 70), Frankfurt, 2002.

[20] Holmyard,  The Arabic Works of Jabir ibn Hayyan, Paris, 1928,

[21] A valuable majmu’ is available in the private library of the late Abdulla Yurki Hallaq in Aleppo, Syria.

[22]  See what we have said about the mystery of Kitab al- Khalis above..

[23] Kitab al- Khwass, article 33.

[24]  Syed Nomanul Haq; Names, Natures and Things: The Alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan and his Kitab al-Ahjar (Book of Stones) (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994), pp. 119-162 Arabic edition and English translation pp. 163-202. Selections only.

[25] Jabir ibn Hayyan (Essai sur l'histoire des idées scientifiques dans l'Islam). Vol. 1: Textes choisis (Cairo: Libraries El-Khandji.  Arabic title Mukhtarat Rasa’l Jabir  ibn Hayyan.

[26] Op. cit

[27] Holmyard,, The Arabic Works, 1928

[28] Kraus., I. .p.  136. No.1070

[29]  Courtesy of  Mahmud Amin al-‘Alim, Cairo..

[30] Kraus, I, . P. 136, . No.1070

[31] Lory, Pierre, Tadbir al-Iksir al-A’zam, Damascus.1988.

[32] Steele, English text can be found at http://www.levity.com/alchemy/geberdis.html

[33] Kraus, I, p. 69.

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