From: Thomas Hockey et al. (eds.). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer Reference. New York: Springer, 2007, pp. 740-741

Courtesy of

Māshāʾallāh ibn Atharī (Sāriya)

Ari Belenkiy

Alternate name


Diedcirca 815

Māshāʾallāh (from mā shāʾ Allāh, i. e., “that which God intends”) was a Jewish astrologer from Basra. Ibn al‐Nadīm says in his Fihrist that his name was Mīshā, meaning Yithro (Jethro). Māshāʾallāh was one of the leading astrologers in 8th‐ and early 9th‐century Baghdad under the caliphates from the time of al‐Manūr to Maʾmūn, and together with al‐Nawbakht worked on the horoscope for the foundation of Baghdad in 762.

Ibn al‐Nadīm lists some 21 titles of works attributed to Māshāʾallāh; these are mostly astrological, but some deal with astronomical topics and provide us information (directly or indirectly) about sources (i. e., Persian, Syriac, and Greek) used during this period. This valuable information also comes from the Latin translations of some of Māshāʾallāh's works, some of which are no longer extant in Arabic.

A selection of the works by Māshāʾallāh includes De scientia motus orbis (On Science of the Movement of Spheres), preserved in Latin translation, containing an introduction to astronomy as well as a study of Aristotle's Physics, both based on Syriac sources. Ptolemy and Theon of Alexandria are mentioned, but the planetary models are pre‐Ptolemaic Greek and similar to those found in 5th‐century Sanskrit texts, Kitāb fī al‐qirānāt wa‐ʾl‐adyān wa‐ʾl‐milal (A book on conjunctions, Religions, and communities), an astrological history of mankind, attempts to explain major changes based on conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn; a discussion of eclipses is preserved in a Latin translation by John of Seville and a Hebrew translation by Abraham ibn ʿEzra, and a commentary on the armillary sphere. (For other works, see Sezgin.)

Misattributions have sometimes occurred because of confusion between the works of Māshāʾallāh, Abū Maʿshar, and Sahl ibn Bishr. Indeed, the authenticity of two treatises on the astrolabe attributed to Māshāʾallāh and translated into Latin has been questioned by P. Kunitzsch.

Finally, according to E. Kennedy, Māshāʾallāh's son was an astronomer who composed a manuscript unifying the theories of Khwārizmī and abash.

Selected References

Carmody, Francis J. (1956). Arabic Astronomical and Astrological Sciences in Latin Translation: A Critical Bibliography. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 23 ff.

Goldstein, Bernard R. (1964). “The Book on Eclipses by Mashaʾallah.” Physis 6: 205–213. (English translation of Abrahim ibn ʿEzra's Hebrew translation of Māshāʾallāh's work.)

Ibn al‐Nadīm (1970). The Fihrist of al‐Nadīm: A Tenth‐Century Survey of Muslim Culture, edited and translated by Bayard Dodge. 2 Vols. Vol. 2, pp. 650–651. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kennedy, E. S. (1956). “A Survey of Islamic Astronomical Tables.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 46, pt. 2: 121–177. Reprint: Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1989.

Kennedy, E. S. and David Pingree (1971). The Astrological History of Māshāʾallāh. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Kunitzsch, Paul (1981). “On the Authenticity of the Treatise on the Composition and Use of the Astrolabe Ascribed to Messahallah.” Archives internationale d'histoire des sciences 31: 42–62.

Pingree, David (1974). “Māshāʾ allāh.” In Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie, Vol. 9, pp.159–162. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Rosenfeld, B. A. and Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu (2003). Mathematicians, Astronomers, and Other Scholars of Islamic Civilization and Their Works (7th–19thc.). Istanbul: IRCICA, p. 17.

Samsó, Julio (1991). “Māshāʾ allāh.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 6, pp. 710–712. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Sezgin, Fuat (1978). Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums. Vol. 6, Astronomie: pp. 127–129; Vol. 7, Astrologie – Meteorologie und Verwandtes (1979): 102–108. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Thorndike, Lynn (1956). “The Latin Translations of Astrological Works of Messahala.” Osiris 12: 49–72.