SOR1: Moses Maimonides - Guide for the Perplexed

Table of Contents

What is it?

  • Guide for the Perplexed was an attempt to reconcile secular theology and Jewish moral law (Halachah)

Context

  • Maimonides was raised learning Jewish ethics, as well secular (non-religious) philosophy and theology
  • In the 12th century, secular theology was based on the teachings of Aristotle

    Some Greek guy, he’s not important

  • Naturally, since they are from two different backgrounds, Jewish ethics and Aristotlean ethics differ on several key issues (such as when life begins)

Purpose

  • Guide for the Perplexed was Maimonides' attempt to reconcile Jewish ethics with Aristolean philosophy.
  • In his own words:

“To explain certain obscure figures which occur in the Prophets, and are not distinctly characterized as being figures."

Actually, those are some guy named George’s words, but whatever, its cited at the bottom 1

  • The name of the text even comes from its purpose: to “relieve [bewildered persons] of their perplexity when we (Maimonides) explain the figures” 1

I know it’s the same source, I keep using it because it’s a primary source

Language: Hebrew

Audience

“A religious man who has been trained to believe in the truth of our holy Law, who conscientiously fulfills his moral and religious duties, and at the same time has been successful in his philosophical studies.” 1

Simple version: Any Jew who has studied both Jewish and Aristotlean theology, and is confused about which is “right”.

Contents

Book One (Moreh Nevukhim)

  • Explains that anthropomorphism is heresy for 20 chapters.

    Because G-d is too cool to need a physical form.

    • Much of this section is devoted “to the interpretation of Biblical anthropomorphisms, endeavouring to define the meaning of each, and to identify it with some transcendental metaphysical expression.” 2
    • He concludes that there is no way to describe G-d accurately using human languages

Book 2

  • Book 2 is where Maimonides specifically targets Aristotlean philosophy
    • He rephrases some of the statements in the Torah in order to reconcile them with both Jewish beliefs and Aristotlean philosophy

For example, the first line of the Torah is “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the Earth." (Genesis 1:1)

  • However, this conflicts with the Jewish principle that G-d has no physical form
  • As well as this, it conflicts with Aristotle’s idea of unchanging “Heavenly Spheres”, with the earth at the center of creation

As a result, Maimonides amended the line to:

“God created the universe by producing on the first day the reshit (Intelligence) from which the spheres derived their existence and motion and thus became the source of the existence of the entire universe."

This is quite a bit longer, but fits both Aristotle’s and Judaism’s models of G-d and the universe.

Which, in case you’ve been ignoring me, is kind of the entire point of this book 😕.

  • In this book, he also discusses the validity of prophecies (which is about half of the Tanakh)
    • Maimonides states that the prophecies were not meant literally, and that an “imaginative faculty” is required to understand them.
    • For example: “In the speech of Isaiah, … it very frequently occurs … that when he speaks of the fall of a dynasty or the destruction of a great religious community, he uses such expressions as: the stars have fallen, the heavens were rolled up, the sun was blackened, the earth was devastated and quaked, and many similar figurative expressions” 3
  • Maimonides categorises the entire Nevi’im (Book of Prophets) into 11 levels of prophecy, with lower numbered levels being considered less literal.
    • He also includes some of the Torah’s prophecies, such as the ones that Moses gave.
    • Most of these were considered the direct and absolute word of G-d.

Book III

  • Book 3 discusses the parts of the Torah which are controversial amongst Jewish scholars
  • Also discusses free will and whether humans are responsible for evil or not

    Just in case you were wondering, he doesn’t actually answer any of these questions, he just gives the reader an existential crisis.

Impact

Through Guide for the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides reconciled Jewish ethics with Aristotlean theology, enabling Judaism to maintain relevance in the 12th century.


Moses Maimonides Series


References


  1. Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Introduction, page 2 of M. Friedländer’s translation, 1919 ed.  ↩︎

  2. Jacobs, Joseph; Broydé, Isaac. “Moses ben Maimon”. Jewish Encyclopedia.  ↩︎

  3. Buck, Christopher (1990). The Anatomy of Figuration: Maimonides’ Exegesis of Natural Convulsions in Apocalyptic Texts (Guide II.29). University of Calgary. ↩︎

Pranav Sharma
Pranav Sharma
Site Owner

Year 12 Student, site owner and developer.

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