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Catalogue: Alchemy

Blue arrow pointing to the rightTafsīr al-malāghim   (MS A 91.1, item 10)
(Explication of Amalgams)
تفسير الملاغم
attributed to Jābir ibn ayyān (8th-9th century)
جابر ابن حيان

A number of treatises attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan are concerned with amalgams (Arabic al-malaghim) of metals and other substances, and in particular their combining with mercury. Amongst the collection known as The 112 Books, composed at the end of the 9th century, the 21st and 22nd books were said to be titled Kitāb al-Malāghim al-jawwaniyah and al-Malāghim al-barraniyah (The Book of Interior Amalgams and The Book of Exterior Amalgams), though no manuscripts known to be preserved today can be definitely aligned with these titles (see Kraus, Jabir, p. 21 nos. 27 and 28). Later Arabic alchemical writers sometimes present extracts from various Jābirian treatises on amalgams, but very few complete treatises are preserved today.

The National Library of Medicine has copies of four distinct treatises concerned with amalgams, and, of these four treatises, three are represented by two copies now at NLM (a copy in MS A 33 and a copy in MS A 91.1).

One of the three treatises on amalgams preserved in two copies at NLM is: Tafsīr al-malāghim, (Explication of Amalgams).

In addition to the two copies now at NLM, only one other copy is recorded: Tehran, Khaniqah-i Ni'matallah, MS 145, copied in 1834/1250 (see Sezgin, GAS IV, p. 269 no. 24; and Kraus, Jabir, p. 21 no. 28).

Physical Description

Arabic. 13 pages (p. 226-p. 238, line 5). Dimensions 19.5 x 12.2 (text area 14.5 x 8) cm; 18-19 lines per page. The author is given at the end of the treatise. At the start of the text it is stated that this is a explication of the first chapter of the 'Book of Amalgams' (tafsīr maqalah al-awwali min Kitāb al-Malāghim). The text corresponds to that in MS A 33, fols. 37a-47a

This particular item is undated and unsigned. Another item in the volume transcribed by a similar hand (item 11) was copied in 1304 (= 1886-7), and there is an owner's stamp dated 1886 embossed in the volume. It is likely that all the items in the volume were copied about this time, probably in India.

The text is written in a small, cramped nasta‘liq script using black ink. The text area is frame-ruled. There are catchwords.

There are some marginalia. The pages in this item of the volume are numbered at the center top with Arabic numerals

A mix of papers makes up the volume. Pages 1-96 are a light-gray, stiff paper with vertical laid lines, single chain lines, and very large watermarks (crown at top of an oval within which there is a woman wearing a crown and holding a sceptre; the letters 'WKing'). Pages 97-116 are a light-brown paper with no laid or chain lines. Pages 119-134 and 149-166 are composed of very thin transparent paper having prominent horizontal laid lines, every eighth of which is a darker, more prominent line. Pages 117-8, 135-147, 167-246, 261-276 are a thin biscuit paper with no laid or chain lines. Pages 247-260 are a light-brown paper with vertical laid lines and single chain lines (no watermarks observed). The edges of the paper have been trimmed so that some labels and numbering at the top have been cut off. There are ink smudges, and the paper is yellowed and damp-stained near the edges.

The volume consists of 276 pages. Pages 1,4, 115-117, 144-148, 255-260, 273-275 are blank. Pages 118 and 276 are blank except for later casual notes and recipes. Between 148 and 149 there is a small slip of paper with just the beginning phrases of an unidentified treatise. The first item is written in a larger script than the other items and on slightly different paper. The remaining items appear to have been copied by several different but closely related hands.

Pages 2-114 (item 1) contain an untitled Urdu treatise on alchemy and astrology, anonymous (MS A 91.1, item 1); pp. 119-143 (item 2) Kitāb al-Uūl by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 91.1, item 2); pp. 149-156 (item 3) Kitāb al-Tadābīr by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 91.1, item 3); pp. 157-158 (item 4) an untitled Persian alchemical essay, anonymous (MS A 91.1, item 4); pp. 159-184 (item 5) al-Jami‘ al-mas’ūl wa-al-bulūgh al-ma’mūl fī izhār mā khafiya min al-sirr al-majhūl, attributed to Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 91.1, item 5); pp. 184-185 (item 6) Mas'alah min Kitāb al-ukamā', anonymous (MS A 91.1, item 6); pp. 186-197 (item 7) Fī bayān al-khamā’ir attributed to Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 91.1, item 7); pp. 197-215 (item 8) Kitāb al-Malāghim al-aghar [al-thānī] by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 91.1, item 8); pp. 215-225 (item 9) Kitāb al-Malāghim al-thālith by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 91.1, item 9); pp. 226-238 (item 10) Tafsīr al-malāghim here catalogued; pp. 238-254 (item 11) al-ajar al-mubārak, anonymous (MS A 91.1, item 11); pp. 261-264 (item 12) an untitled Persian alchemical tract, anonymous (MS A 91.1, item 12); and pp. 265-272 (item 13) an untitled essay on magical medicine and talismanic designs (MS A 91.1, item 13).


The volume is bound in a modern library binding of pasteboards covered by green cloth with red leather spine. The are modern endpapers and pasteboards.


Pages 118, 246, and 247 have been embossed with an oval stamp having a border of flowers and the date '1886' in the center.

No information is available on provenance or when it came into the collection of NLM. It was in the Armed Forces Medical Library by 1955.



NLM Microfilm Reel: FILM 56-40 no. 3

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