Source: Introduction to Maimondies' A Guide for the Perplexed, translated from the original Arabic text by M. Friedlaender, 4th revised ed. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904).
“Before the sun of Eli had set the sun of Samuel had risen.” Before the voice of the prophets had ceased to guide the people, the Interpreters of the Law, the Doctors of the Talmud, had commenced their labours, and before the Academies of Sura and of Pumbadita were closed, centres of Jewish thought and learning were already flourishing in the far West. The circumstances which led to the transference of the head-quarters of Jewish learning from the East to the West in the tenth century are thus narrated in the Sefer ha-kabbalah of Rabbi Abraham ben David:
“After the death of Hezekiah, the head of the Academy and Prince of the Exile, the academies were closed and no new Geonim were appointed. But long before that time Heaven had willed that there should be a discontinuance of the pecuniary gifts which used to be sent from Palestine, North Africa and Europe. Heaven had also decreed that a ship sailing from Bari should be captured by Ibn Romahis, commander of the naval forces of Abd-er-rahman al-nasr. Four distinguished Rabbis were thus made prisoners—Rabbi Ḥushiel, father of Rabbi Ḥananel, Rabbi Moses, father of Rabbi Ḥanok, Rabbi Shemarjahu, son of Rabbi Elḥanan, and a fourth whose name has not been recorded. They were engaged in a mission to collect subsidies in aid of the Academy in Sura. The captor sold them as slaves; Rabbi Ḥushiel was carried to Kairuan, R. Shemarjahu was left in Alexandria, and R. Moses was brought to Cordova. These slaves were ransomed by their brethren and were soon placed in important positions. When Rabbi Moses was brought to Cordova, it was supposed that he was uneducated. In that city there was a synagogue known at that time by the name of Keneset ha-midrash, and Rabbi Nathan, renowned for his great piety, was the head of the congregation. The members of the community used to hold meetings at which the Talmud was read and discussed. One day when Rabbi Nathan was expounding the Talmud and was unable to give a satisfactory explanation of the passage under discussion, Rabbi Moses promptly removed the difficulty and at the same time answered several questions whch were submitted to him. Thereupon R. Nathan thus addressed the assembly:—‘I am no longer your leader; that stranger in sackcloth shall henceforth be my teacher, and you shall appoint him to be your chief.’ The admiral, on hearing of the high attainments of his prisoner, desired to revoke the sale, but the king would not permit this retraction, being pleased to learn that his Jewish subjects were no longer dependent for their religious instruction on the schools in the East.”
Henceforth the schools in the West asserted their independence, and even surpassed the parent institutions. The Caliphs, mostly opulent, gave every encouragement to philosophy and poetry; and, being generally liberal in sentiment, they entertained kindly feelings towards their Jewish subjects. These were allowed to compete for the acquisition of wealth and honour on equal terms with their Mohammedan fellow-citizens. Philosophy and poetry were consequently cultivated by the Jews with the same zest as by the Arabs. Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ḥasdai, Judah ha-levi, Ḥananel, Alfasi, the Ibn Ezras, and others who flourished in that period were the ornament of their age, and the pride of the Jews at all times. The same favourable condition was maintained during the reign of the Omeyades; but when the Moravides and the Almohades came into power, the horizon darkened once more, and misfortunes threatened to destroy the fruit of several centuries. Amidst this gloom there appeared a brilliant luminary which sent forth rays of light and comfort: this was Moses Maimonides.
Moses, the son of Maimon, was born at Cordova, on the 14th of Nisan, 4895 (March 30, 1135). Although the date of his birth has been recorded with the utmost accuracy, no trustworthy notice has been preserved concerning the early period of his life. But his entire career is a proof that he did not pass his youth in idleness; his education must have been in harmony with the hope of his parents, that one day he would, like his father and forefathers, hold the honourable office of Dayyan or Rabbi, and distinguish himself in theological learning. It is probable that the Bible and the Talmud formed the chief subjects of his study; but he unquestionably made the best use of the opportunities which Mohammedan Spain, and especially Cordova, afforded him for the acquisition of general knowledge. It is not mentioned in any of his writings who were his teachers; his father, as it seems, was his principal guide and instructor in many branches of knowledge. David Conforte, in his historical work, Ḳore ha-dorot, states that Maimonides was the pupil of two eminent men, namely, Rabbi Joseph Ibn Migash and Ibn Roshd (Averroes); that by the former he was instructed in the Talmud, and by the latter in philosophy. This statement seems to be erroneous, as Maimonides was only a child at the time when Rabbi Joseph died, and already far advanced in years when he became acquainted with the writings of Ibn Roshd. The origin of this mistake, as regards Rabbi Joseph, can easily be traced. Maimonides in his Mishneh Tora, employs, in reference to R. Isaac Alfasi and R. Joseph, the expression “my teachers” (rabbotai), and this expression, by which he merely describes his indebtedness to their writings, has been taken in its literal meaning.
Whoever his teachers may have been, it is evident that he was well prepared by them for his future mission. At the age of twenty-three he entered upon his literary career with a treatise on the Jewish Calendar. It is unknown where this work was composed, whether in Spain or in Africa. The author merely states that he wrote it at the request of a friend, whom he, however, leaves unnamed. The subject was generally considered to be very abstruse, and to involve a thorough knowledge of mathematics. Maimonides must, therefore, even at this early period, have been regarded as a profound scholar by those who knew him. The treatise is of an elementary character.—It was probably about the same time that he wrote, in Arabic, an explanation of Logical terms, Millot higgayon, which Moses Ibn Tibbon translated into Hebrew.
The earlier period of his life does not seem to have been marked by any incident worth noticing. It may, however, be easily conceived that the later period of his life, which was replete with interesting incidents, engaged the exclusive attention of his biographers. So much is certain, that his youth was beset with trouble and anxiety; the peaceful development of science and philosophy was disturbed by wars raging between Mohammedans and Christians, and also between the several Mohammedan sects. The Moravides, who had succeeded the Omeyades, were opposed to liberality and toleration; but they were surpassed in cruelty and fanaticism by their successors. Cordova was taken by the Almohades in the year 1148, when Maimonides was about thirteen years old. The victories of the Almohades, first under the leadership of the Mahadi Ibn Tamurt, and then under Abd-al-mumen, were, according to all testimonies, attended by acts of excessive intolerance. Abd-al-mumen would not suffer in his dominions any other faith but the one which he himself confessed. Jews and Christians had the choice between Islam and emigration or a martyr’s death. The Sefer haḳbhalah contains the following description of one of the persecutions which then occurred:
“After the death of R. Joseph ha-levi the study of the Torah was interrupted, although he left a son and a nephew, both of whom had under his tuition become profound scholars. ‘The righteous man (R. Joseph) was taken away on account of the approaching evils.’ After the death of R. Joseph there came for the Jews a time of oppression and distress. They quitted their homes, ‘Such as were for death, to death, and such as were for the sword, to the sword; and such as were for the famine, to the famine, and such as were for the captivity, to the captivity’; and—it might be added to the words of Jeremiah (xv. 2)—‘such as were for apostasy, to apostasy.’ All this happened through the sword of Ibn Tamurt, who, in 4902 (1142), determined to blot out the name of Israel, and actually left no trace of the Jews in any part of his empire.”
Ibn Verga in his work on Jewish martyrdom, in Shebeṭ Jehudah, gives the following account of events then happening:—“In the year 4902 the armies of Ibn Tamurt made their appearance. A proclamation was issued that any one who refused to adopt Islam would be put to death, and his property would be confiscated. Thereupon the Jews assembled at the gate of the royal palace and implored the king for mercy. He answered—‘It is because I have compassion on you, that I command you to become Muslemim; for I desire to save you from eternal punishment.’ The Jews replied—‘Our salvation depends on our observance of the Divine Law; you are the master of our bodies and of our property, but our souls will be judged by the King who gave them to us, and to whom they will return; whatever be our future fate, you, O king, will not be held responsible for it.’ ‘I do not desire to argue with you,’ said the king; ‘for I know you will argue according to your own religion. It is my absolute will that you either adopt my religion or be put to death.’ The Jews then proposed to emigrate, but the king would not allow his subjects to serve another king. In vain did the Jews implore the nobles to intercede in their behalf; the king remained inexorable. Thus many congregations forsook their religion; but within a month the king came to a sudden death; the son, believing that his father had met with an untimely end as a punishment for his cruelty to the Jews, assured the involuntary converts that it would be indifferent to him what religion they professed. Hence many Jews returned at once to the religion of their fathers, while others hesitated for some time, from fear that the king meant to entrap the apparent converts.”
From such records it appears that during these calamities some of the Jews fled to foreign countries, some died as martyrs, and many others submitted for a time to outward conversion. Which course was followed by the family of Maimon? Did they sacrifice personal comfort and safety to their religious conviction, or did they, on the contrary, for the sake of mere worldly considerations dissemble their faith and pretend that they completely submitted to the dictates of the tyrant? An answer to this question presents itself in the following note which Maimonides has appended to his commentary on the Mishnah: “I have now finished this work in accordance with my promise, and I fervently beseech the Almighty to save us from error. If there be one who shall discover an inaccuracy in this Commentary or shall have a better explanation to offer, let my attention be directed unto it; and let me be exonerated by the fact that I have worked with far greater application than any one who writes for the sake of pay and profit, and that I have worked under the most trying circumstances. For Heaven had ordained that we be exiled, and we were therefore driven about from place to place; I was thus compelled to work at the Commentary while travelling by land, or crossing the sea. It might have sufficed to mention that during that time I, in addition, was engaged in other studies, but I preferred to give the above explanation in order to encourage those who wish to criticise or annotate the Commentary, and at the same time to account for the slow progress of this work. I, Moses, the son of Maimon, commenced it when I was twenty-three years old, and finished it in Egypt, at the age of thirty[-three] years, in the year 1479 Sel. (1168).”
The Sefer Ḥaredim of R. Eleazar Askari of Safed contains the following statement of Maimonides:—“On Sabbath evening, the 4th of Iyyar, 4925 (1165), I went on board; on the following Sabbath the waves threatened to destroy our lives. . . . On the 3rd of Sivan, I arrived safely at Acco, and was thus rescued from apostasy. . . . On Tuesday, the 4th of Marḥeshvan, 4926, I left Acco, arrived at Jerusalem after a journey beset with difficulties and with dangers, and prayed on the spot of the great and holy house on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of Marḥeshvan. On Sunday, the 9th of that month, I left Jerusalem and visited the cave of Machpelah, in Hebron.”
From these two statements it may be inferred that in times of persecution Maimonides and his family did not seek to protect their lives and property by dissimulation. They submitted to the troubles of exile in order that they might remain faithful to their religion. Carmoly, Geiger, Munk, and others are of opinion that the treatise of Maimonides on involuntary apostasy, as well as the accounts of some Mohammedan authors, contain strong evidence to show that there was a time when the family of Maimon publicly professed their belief in Mohammed. A critical examination of these documents compels us to reject their evidence as inadmissible.—After a long period of trouble and anxiety, the family of Maimon arrived at Fostat, in Egypt, and settled there. David, the brother of Moses Maimonides, carried on a trade in precious stones, while Moses occupied himself with his studies and interested himself in the communal affairs of the Jews.
It appears that for some time Moses was supported by his brother, and when this brother died, he earned a living by practising as a physician; but he never sought or derived any benefit from his services to his community, or from his correspondence or from the works he wrote for the instruction of his brethren; the satisfaction of being of service to his fellow-creatures was for him a sufficient reward.
The first public act in which Maimonides appears to have taken a leading part was a decree promulgated by the Rabbinical authorities in Cairo in the year 1167. The decree begins as follows:—“In times gone by, when storms and tempests threatened us, we used to wander about from place to place; but by the mercy of the Almighty we have now been enabled to find here a resting-place. On our arrival, we noticed to our great dismay that the learned were disunited; that none of them turned his attention to the needs of the congregation. We therefore felt it our duty to undertake the task of guiding the holy flock, of inquiring into the condition of the community, of “reconciling the hearts of the fathers to their children,” and of correcting their corrupt ways. The injuries are great, but we may succeed in effecting a cure, and—in accordance with the words of the prophet—‘I will seek the lost one, and that which has been cast out I will bring back, and the broken one I will cure’ (Micah iv. 6). When we therefore resolved to take the management of the communal affairs into our hands, we discovered the existence of a serious evil in the midst of the community,” etc.
It was probably about that time that Maimon died. Letters of condolence were sent to his son Moses from all sides, both from Mohammedan and from Christian countries; in some instances the letters were several months on their way before they reached their destination.
The interest which Maimonides now took in communal affairs did not prevent him from completing the great and arduous work, the Commentary on the Mishnah, which he had begun in Spain and continued during his wanderings in Africa. In this Commentary he proposed to give the quintessence of the Gemara, to expound the meaning of each dictum in the Mishnah, and to state which of the several opinions had received the sanction of the Talmudical authorities. His object in writing this work was to enable those who are not disposed to study the Gemara, to understand the Mishnah, and to facilitate the study of the Gemara for those who are willing to engage in it. The commentator generally adheres to the explanations given in the Gemara, and it is only in cases where the halakah, or practical law, is not affected, that he ventures to dissent. He acknowledges the benefit he derived from such works of his predecessors as the Halakot of Alfasi, and the writings of the Geonim, but afterwards he asserted that errors which were discovered in his works arose from his implicit reliance on those authorities. His originality is conspicuous in the Introduction and in the treatment of general principles, which in some instances precedes the exposition of an entire section or chapter, in others that of a single rule. The commentator is generally concise, except when occasion is afforded to treat of ethical and theological principles, or of a scientific subject, such as weights and measures, or mathematical and astronomical problems. Although exhortations to virtue and warnings against vice are found in all parts of his work, they are especially abundant in the Commentary on Abot, which is prefaced by a separate psychological treatise, called The Eight Chapters. The dictum “He who speaketh much commits a sin,” elicited a lesson on the economy of speech; the explanation of ‘olam ha-ba in the treatise Sanhedrin (xi. 1) led him to discuss the principles of faith, and to lay down the thirteen articles of the Jewish creed. The Commentary was written in Arabic, and was subsequently translated into Hebrew and into other languages. The estimation in which the Commentary was held may be inferred from the following fact: When the Jews in Italy became acquainted with its method and spirit, through a Hebrew translation of one of its parts, they sent to Spain in search of a complete Hebrew version of the Commentary. R. Simḥah, who had been entrusted with the mission, found no copy extant, but he succeeded. through the influence of Rabbi Shelomoh ben Aderet, in causing a Hebrew translation of this important work to be prepared.—In the Introduction, the author states that he has written a Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud treatise Ḥullin and on nearly three entire sections, viz., Moëd, Nashim, and Nezikin. Of all these Commentaries only the one on Rosh ha-shanah is known
In the year 1172 Maimonides wrote the Iggeret Teman, or Petaḥ-tiḳvah (“Letter to the Jews in Yemen,” or “Opening of hope”) in response to a letter addressed to him by Rabbi Jacob al-Fayumi on the critical condition of the Jews in Yemen. Some of these Jews had been forced into apostasy; others were made to believe that certain passages in the Bible alluded to the mission of Mohammed; others again had been misled by an impostor who pretended to be the Messiah. The character and style of Maimonides’ reply appear to have been adapted to the intellectual condition of the Jews in Yemen, for whom it was written. These probably read the Bible with Midrashic commentaries, and preferred the easy and attractive Agadah to the more earnest study of the Halakah. It is therefore not surprising that the letter contains remarks and interpretations which cannot be reconciled with the philosophical and logical method by which all the other works of Maimonides are distinguished. After a few complimentary words, in which the author modestly disputes the justice of the praises lavished upon him, he attempts to prove that the present sufferings of the Jews, together with the numerous instances of apostasy, were foretold by the prophets, especially by Daniel, and must not perplex the faithful. It must be borne in mind, he continues, that the attempts made in past times to do away with the Jewish religion, had invariably failed; the same would be the fate of the present attempts; for “religious persecutions are of but short duration.” The arguments which profess to demonstrate that in certain Biblical passages allusion is made to Mohammed, are based on interpretations which are totally opposed to common sense. He urges that the Jews, faithfully adhering to their religion, should impress their children with the greatness of the Revelation on Mount Sinai, and of the miracles wrought through Moses; they also should remain firm in the belief that God will send the Messiah to deliver their nation, but they must abandon futile calculations of the Messianic period, and beware of impostors. Although there be signs which indicate the approach of the promised deliverance, and the times seem to be the period of the last and most cruel persecution mentioned in the visions of Daniel (xi. and xii.), the person in Yemen who pretends to be the Messiah is an impostor, and if care be not taken, he is sure to do mischief. Similar impostors in Cordova, France, and Africa, have deceived the multitude and brought great troubles upon the Jews.—Yet, inconsistently with this sound advice the author gives a positive date of the Messianic time, on the basis of an old tradition; the inconsistency is so obvious that it is impossible to attribute this passage to Maimonides himself. It is probably spurious, and has, perhaps, been added by the translator. With the exception of the rhymed introduction, the letter was written in Arabic, “in order that all should be able to read and understand it”; for that purpose the author desires that copies should be made of it, and circulated among the Jews. Rabbi Naḥum, of the Maghreb, translated the letter into Hebrew.
The success in the first great undertaking of explaining the Mishnah encouraged Maimonides to propose to himself another task of a still more ambitious character. In the Commentary on the Mishnah, it was his object that those who were unable to read the Gemara should be made acquainted with the results obtained by the Amoraim in the course of their discussions on the Mishnah. But the Mishnah, with the Commentary, was not such a code of laws as might easily be consulted in cases of emergency; only the initiated would be able to find the section, the chapter, and the paragraph in which the desired information could be found. The halakah had, besides, been further developed since the time when the Talmud was compiled. The changed state of things had suggested new questions; these were discussed and settled by the Geonim, whose decisions, being contained in special letters or treatises, were not generally accessible. Maimonides therefore undertook to compile a complete code, which would contain, in the language and style of the Mishnah, and without discussion, the whole of the Written and the Oral Law, all the precepts recorded in the Talmud, Sifra, Sifre and Tosefta, and the decisions of the Geonim. According to the plan of the author, this work was to present a solution of every question touching the religious, moral, or social duties of the Jews. It was not in any way his object to discourage the study of the Talmud and the Midrash; he only sought to diffuse a knowledge of the Law amongst those who, through incapacity or other circumstances, were precluded from that study. In order to ensure the completeness of the code, the author drew up a list of the six hundred and thirteen precepts of the Pentateuch, divided them into fourteen groups, these again he subdivided, and thus showed how many positive and negative precepts were contained in each section of the Mishneh torah. The principles by which he was guided in this arrangement were laid down in a separate treatise, called Sefer ha-miẓvot. Works of a similar kind, written by his predecessors, as the Halakot gedolot of R. Shimon Kahira, and the several Azharot were, according to Maimonides, full of errors, because their authors had not adopted any proper method. But an examination of the rules laid down by Maimonides and of their application leads to the conclusion that his results were not less arbitrary; as has, in fact, been shown by the criticisms of Naḥmanides. The Sefer ha-miẓvot was written in Arabic, and thrice translated into Hebrew, namely, by Rabbi Abraham ben Ḥisdai, Rabbi Shelomoh ben Joseph ben Job, and Rabbi Moses Ibn Tibbon. Maimonides himself desired to translate the book into Hebrew, but to his disappointment he found no time.
This Sefer ha-miẓvot was executed as a preparation for his principal work, the Mishneh Torah, or Yad ha-ḥazakah, which consists of an Introduction and fourteen Books. In the Introduction the author first describes the chain of tradition from Moses to the close of the Talmud, and then he explains his method in compiling the work. He distinguishes between the dicta found in the Talmud, Sifre, Sifra, or Tosefta, on the one hand, and the dicta of the Geonim on the other; the former were binding on all Jews, the latter only as far as their necessity and their utility or the authority of their propounders was recognized. Having once for all stated the sources from which he compiled his work, he did not deem it necessary to name in each case the authority for his opinion or the particular passage from which he derived his dictum. Any addition of references to each paragraph he probably considered useless to the uninformed and superfluous to the learned. At a later time he discovered his error, he being himself unable to find again the sources of some of his decisions. Rabbi Joseph Caro, in his commentary on the Mishneh Torah, termed Keseph Mishneh, remedied this deficiency. The Introduction is followed by the enumeration of the six hundred and thirteen precepts and a description of the plan of the work, its division into fourteen books, and the division of the latter into sections, chapters, and paragraphs.
According to the author, the Mishneh Torah is a mere compendium of the Talmud; but he found sufficient opportunities to display his real genius, his philosophical mind, and his ethical doctrines. For in stating what the traditional Law enjoined he had to exercise his own judgment, and to decide whether a certain dictum was meant to be taken literally or figuratively; whether it was the final decision of a majority or the rejected opinion of a minority; whether it was part of the Oral Law or a precept founded on the scientific views of a particular author; and whether it was of universal application or was only intended for a special period or a special locality. The first Book, Sefer ha-madda‘, is the embodiment of his own ethical and theological theories, although he frequently refers to the Sayings of our Sages, and employs the phraseology of the Talmud. Similarly, the section on the Jewish Calendar, Hilkot ha-’ibur, may be considered as his original work. In each group of the halakot, its source, a certain passage of the Pentateuch, is first quoted, with its traditional interpretation, and then the detailed rules follow in systematic order. The Mishneh Torah was written by the author in pure Hebrew; when subsequently a friend asked him to translate it into Arabic, he said he would prefer to have his Arabic writings translated into Hebrew instead of the reverse. The style is an imitation of the Mishnah; he did not choose, the author says, the philosophical style, because that would be unintelligible to the common reader; nor did he select the prophetic style, because that would not harmonize with the subject.
Ten years of hard work by day and by night were spent in the compilation of this code, which had originally been undertaken for “his own benefit, to save him in his advanced age the trouble and the necessity of consulting the Talmud on every occasion.” Maimonides knew very well that his work would meet with the opposition of those whose ignorance it would expose, also of those who were incapable of comprehending it, and of those who were inclined to condemn every deviation from their own preconceived notions. But he had the satisfaction to learn that it was well received in most of the congregations of Israel, and that there was a general desire to possess and study it. This success confirmed him in his hope that at a later time, when all cause for jealousy would have disappeared, the Mishneh Torah would be received by all Jews as an authoritative code. This hope has not been realized. The genius, earnestness, and zeal of Maimonides are generally recognized; but there is no absolute acceptance of his dicta. The more he insisted on his infallibility, the more did the Rabbinical authorities examine his words and point out errors wherever they believed that they could discover any. It was not always from base motives, as contended by Maimonides and his followers, that his opinions were criticised and rejected. The language used by Rabbi Abraham ben David in his notes (hasagot) on the Mishneh Torah appears hars hand disrespectful, if read together with the text of the criticised passage, but it seems tame and mild if compared with expressions used now and then by Maimonides about men who happened to hold opinions differing from his own.
Maimonides received many complimentary letters, congratulating him upon his success; but likewise letters with criticisms and questions respecting individual halakot. In most cases he had no difficulty in defending his position. From the replies it must, however, be inferred that Maimonides made some corrections and additions, which were subsequently embodied in his work. The letters addressed to him on the Mishneh Torah and on other subjects were so numerous that he frequently complained of the time he had to spend in their perusal, and of the annoyance they caused him; but “he bore all this patiently, as he had learned in his youth to bear the yoke.” He was not surprised that many misunderstood his words, for even the simple words of the Pentateuch, “the Lord is one,” had met with the same fate. Some inferred from the fact that he treated fully of ‘Olam ha-ba, “the future state of the soul,” and neglected to expatiate on the resurrection of the dead, that he altogether rejected that principle of faith. They therefore asked Rabbi Samuel ha-levi of Bagdad to state his opinion; the Rabbi accordingly discussed the subject; but, according to Maimonides, he attempted to solve the problem in a very unsatisfactory manner. The latter thereupon likewise wrote a treatise “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” in which he protested his adherence to this article of faith. He repeated the opinion he had stated in the Commentary on the Mishnah and in the Mishneh Torah, but “in more words; the same idea being reiterated in various forms, as the treatise was only intended for women and for the common multitude.”
These theological studies engrossed his attention to a great extent, but it did not occupy him exclusively. In a letter addressed to R. Jonathan, of Lunel, he says: “Although from my birth the Torah was betrothed to me, and continues to be loved by me as the wife of my youth, in whose love I find a constant delight, strange women whom I at first took into my house as her handmaids have become her rivals and absorb a portion of my time.” He devoted himself especially to the study of medicine, in which he distinguished himself to such a degree, according to Alkifti, that “the King of the Franks in Ascalon wanted to appoint him as his physician.” Maimonides declined the honour. Alfadhel, the Vizier of Saladin king of Egypt, admired the genius of Maimonides, and bestowed upon him many distinctions. The name of Maimonides was entered on the roll of physicians, he received a pension, and was introduced to the court of Saladin. The method adopted in his professional practice he describes in a letter to his pupil, Ibn Aknin, as follows: “You know how difficult this profession is for a conscientious and exact person who only states what he can support by argument or authority.” This method is more fully described in a treatise on hygiene, composed for Alfadhel, son of Saladin, who was suffering from a severe illness and had applied to Maimonides for advice. In a letter to Rabbi Samuel Ibn Tibbon he alludes to the amount of time spent in his medical practice, and says: “I reside in Egypt (or Fostat); the king resides in Cairo, which lies about two Sabbath-day journeys from the first-named place. My duties to the king are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning; and when he or any of his children or the inmates of his harem are indisposed, I dare not quit Cairo, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one or two of the royal officers fall sick, and then I have to attend them. As a rule, I go to Cairo very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens I do not return before the afternoon, when I am almost dying with hunger; but I find the antechambers filled with Jews and Gentiles, with nobles and common people, awaiting my return,” etc.
Notwithstanding these heavy professional duties of court physician, Maimonides continued his theological studies. After having compiled a religious guide—Mishneh Torah—based on Revelation and Tradition, he found it necessary to prove that the principles there set forth were confirmed by philosophy. This task he accomplished in his Dalalāt al-ḥaïrin, “The Guide for the Perplexed,” of which an analysis will be given below. It was composed in Arabic, and written in Hebrew characters. Subsequently it was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Samuel Ibn Tibbon, in the lifetime of Maimonides, who was consulted by the translator on all difficult passages. The congregation in Lunel, ignorant of Ibn Tibbon’s undertaking, or desirous to possess the most correct translation of the Guide, addressed a very flattering letter to Maimonides, requesting him to translate the work into Hebrew. Maimonides replied that he could not do so, as he had not sufficient leisure for even more pressing work, and that a translation was being prepared by the ablest and fittest man, Rabbi Samuel Ibn Tibbon. A second translation was made later on by Jehudah Alḥarizi. The Guide delighted many, but it also met with much adverse criticism on account of the peculiar views held by Maimonides concerning angels, prophecy, and miracles, especially on account of his assertion that if the Aristotelian proof for the Eternity of the Universe had satisfied him, he would have found no difficulty in reconciling the Biblical account of the Creation with that doctrine. The controversy on the Guide continued long after the death of Maimonides to divide the community, and it is difficult to say how far the author’s hope to effect a reconciliation between reason and revelation was realized. His disciple, Joseph Ibn Aknin, to whom the work was dedicated, and who was expected to derive from it the greatest benefit, appears to have been disappointed. His inability to reconcile the two antagonistsic elements of faith and science, he describes allegorically in the form of a letter addressed to Maimonides, in which the following passage occurs: “Speak, for I desire that you be justified; if you can, answer me. Some time ago your beloved daughter, the beautiful and charming Kimah, obtained grace and favour in my sight, and I betrothed her unto me in faithfulness, and married her in accordance with the Law, in the presence of two trustworthy witnesses, viz., our master, Abd-allah and Ibn Roshd. But she soon became faithless to me; she could not have found fault with me, yet she left me and departed from my tent. She does no longer let me behold her pleasant countenance or hear her melodious voice. You have not rebuked or punished her, and perhaps you are the cause of this misconduct. Now, ‘send the wife back to the man, for he is’—or might become—‘a prophet; he will pray for you that you may live,’ and also for her that she may be firm and steadfast. If, however, you do not send her back, the Lord will punish you. Therefore seek peace and pursue it; listen to what our Sages said: ‘Blessed be he who restores to the owner his lost property’; for this blessing applies in a higher degree to him who restores to a man his virtuous wife, the crown of her husband.” Maimonides replied in the same strain, and reproached his “son-in-law” that he falsely accused his wife of faithlessness after he had neglected her; but he restored him his wife with the advice to be more cautious in future. In another letter Maimonides exhorts Ibn Aknin to study his works, adding, “apply yourself to the study of the Law of Moses; do not neglect it, but, on the contrary, devote to it the best and the most of your time, and if you tell me that you do so, I am satisfied that you are on the right way to eternal bliss.”
Of the letters written after the completion of the “Guide,” the one addressed to the wise men of Marseilles (1194) is especially noteworthy. Maimonides was asked to give his opinion on astrology. He regretted in his reply that they were not yet in the possession of his Mishneh Torah; they would have found in it the answer to their question. According to his opinion, man should only believe what he can grasp with his intellectual faculties, or perceive by his senses, or what he can accept on trustworthy authority. Beyond this nothing should be believed. Astrological statements, not being founded on any of these three sources of knowledge, must be rejected. He had himself studied astrology, and was convinced that it was no science at all. If some dicta be found in the Talmud which appear to represent astrology as a true source of knowledge, these may either be referred to the rejected opinion of a small minority, or may have an allegorical meaning, but they are by no means forcible enough to set aside principles based on logical proof.
The debility of which Maimonides so frequently complained in his correspondence, gradually increased, and he died, in his seventieth year, on the 20th Tebeth, 4965 (1204). His death was the cause of great mourning to all Jews. In Fostat a mourning of three days was kept; in Jerusalem a fast was appointed; a portion of the tochaḥah (Lev. xxvi. or Deut. xxix.) was read, and also the history of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines (1 Sam. iv.). His remains were brought to Tiberias. The general regard in which Maimonides was held, both by his contemporaries and by succeeding generations, has been expressed in the popular saying: “From Moses to Moses there was none like Moses.”
I. The Arabic Text.—The editio princeps, the only edition of the original text of the Guide (in Arabic, Dĕlil, or Dalalat al-ḥaïrin), was undertaken and executed by the late S. Munk. Its title is: Le Guide des Égarés, traité de Théologie et de Philosophie par Moïse ben Maimon, publié pour la première fois dans l’original Arabe, et accompagné d’une traduction Française et de notes critiques, littéraires et explicatives, par S. Munk (Paris, 1850-1866). The plan was published, 1833, in Reflexions sur le culte des anciens Hébreux (La Bible, par S. Cahen, vol. iv.), with a specimen of two chapters of the Third Part. The text adopted has been selected from the several MSS. at his disposal with great care and judgment. Two Leyden MSS. (cod. 18 and 221), various MSS. of the Bibliothèque Nationale (No. 760, very old; 761 and 758, written by R. Saadia Ibn Danan), and some MSS. of the Bodleian Library were consulted. In the notes which accompany the French translation, the various readings of the different MSS. are fully discussed. At the end of the third volume a list is added of “Variantes des Manuscrits Arabes et des deux Versions Hébraïques.”
The library of the British Museum possesses two copies of the Arabic text; the one Or. 1423 is complete, beautifully written, with explanatory notes in the margin and between the lines. The name of the copyist is not mentioned, nor the date when it has been written. The volume has in the beginning an incomplete index to the Scriptural passages referred to in the Guide, and at the end fragments of Psalm cxli. in Arabic and of astronomical tables.
The second copy of the Dalalat al-ḥaïrin is contained in the MS. Or. 2423, written in large Yemen Rabbinic characters. It is very fragmentary. The first fragment begins with the last paragraph of the introduction; there are a few marginal notes in Hebrew.
In the Bodleian Library there are the following copies of the Dalalat al-ḥaïrin according to the Catal. of Hebr. MSS. by Dr. A. Neubauer:—
No. 1236. The text is preceded by Jehudah al-Charizi’s index of the contents of the chapters, and by an index of Biblical quotations. In the margin there are notes, containing omissions, by different hands, two in Arabic characters. The volume was written 1473.
No. 1237. The Arabic text, with a few marginal notes containing various readings; the text is preceded by three Hebrew poems, beginning, De’i holek, Bi-sedeh tebunot; and Binu be-dat Mosheh. Fol. 212 contains a fragment of the book (III., xxix.).
No. 1238. Text with a few marginal notes.
No. 1239. The end of the work is wanting in this copy. The second part has forty-nine chapters, as the introduction to Part II. is counted as chapter i.; Part III. has fifty-six chapters, the introduction being counted as chapter 1., and chapter xxiv. being divided into two chapters. The index of passages from the Pentateuch follows the ordinary mode of counting the chapters of the Guide.
No. 1240. Arabic text transcribed in Arabic characters by Saadiah b. Levi Azankot for Prof. Golius in 1645.
No. 1241. First part of the Dalalat al-ḥaïrin, written by Saadiah b. Mordecai b. Mosheh in the year 1431.
No. 1242 contains the same Part, but incomplete.
Nos. 1243, 1244, 1245, and 1246 contain Part II. of the Arabic text, incomplete in Nos. 1245 and 1246.
Nos. 1247, 1248, and 1249 have Part III.; it is incomplete in Nos. 1248 and 1249. No. 1249 was written 1291, and begins with III., viii.
A fragment of the Arabic text, the end of Part III., is contained in No. 407, 2.
No. 2508 includes a fragment of the original (I. ii.-xxxii.), with a Hebrew interlineary translation of some words and a few marginal notes. It is written in Yemen square characters, and is marked as “holy property of the Synagogue of Alsrani.”
A fragment (I. i.) of a different recension from the printed is contained in 2422, 16. On the margin the Commentaries of Shem-ṭob and Ephodi are added in Arabic.
A copy of the Dalalat is also contained in the Berlin Royal Library MS. Or. Qu., 579 (105 Cat. Steinschneider); it is defective in the beginning and at the end.
The Cairo Genizah at Cambridge contains two fragments: (a) I. lxiv. and beginning of lxv; (b) II. end of xxxii. and xxxiii. According to Dr. H. Hirschfeld, Jewish Quarterly Review (vol. xv. p. 677, they are in the handwriting of Maimonides.
The valuable collection of MSS. in the possession of Dr. M. Gaster includes a fragment of the Dalalat-al-ḥaïrin(Codex 605). II. xiii-xv., beginning and end defective.
II. Translations. a. Hebrew.—As soon as European Jews heard of the existence of this work, they procured its translation into Hebrew. Two scholars, independently of each other, undertook the task: Samuel Ibn Tibbon and Jehudah al-Harizi. There is, besides, in the Moreh ha-moreh of Shemṭob Palquera an original translation of some portions of the Moreh. In the Sifte yeshenim (No. 112) a rhymed translation of the Dalalat by Rabbi Mattityahu Kartin is mentioned. Ibn Tibbon’s version is very accurate; he sacrificed elegance of style to the desire of conscientiously reproducing the author’s work, and did not even neglect a particle, however unimportant it may appear Ibn Tibbon went in his anxiety to retain peculiarities of the original so far as to imitate its ambiguities, e.g., meẓiut (I. lviii.) is treated as a masculine noun, only in order to leave it doubtful whether a pronoun which follows agrees with meẓiut, “existence,” or with nimẓa, “existing being,” both occurring in the same sentence (Br. Mus. MS. Harl. 7586, marg. note by Ibn Tibbon). When he met with passages that offered any difficulty he consulted Maimonides. Harizi, on the other hand, was less conscientious about words and particles, but wrote in a superior style. Vox populi, however, decided in favour of the version of Ibn Tibbon, the rival of which became almost forgotten. Also Abraham, the son of Moses Maimonides, in Milḥamoth ha-shem, describes Ḥarizi’s version as being inaccurate. Most of the modern translations were made from Ibn Tibbon’s version. There are, therefore, MSS. of this version almost in every library containing collections of Hebrew books and MSS. It has the title Moreh-nebuchim. The British Museum has the following eight copies of Ibn Tibbon’s version:—
Harl. 7586 A. This codex was written in the year 1284, for Rabbi Shabbatai ben Rabbi Mattityahu. In the year 1340 it came into the possession of Jacob b. Shelomoh; his son Menaḥem sold it in the year 1378 to R. Mattityahu, son of R. Shabbatai, for fifty gold florins. It was again sold in the year 1461 by Yeḥiel ben Joab. There is this peculiarity in the writing, that long words at the end of a line are divided, and written half on the one line, half on the next; in words which are vocalized, pataḥ is frequently found for ḳamez. There are numerous various readings in the margin. The text is preceded by a poem, written by Joseph Ibn Aknin, pupil of Maimonides, in praise of his master, and beginning Adon yizro. This poem is attributed to R. Yehudah ha-Levi (Luzzatto, in his Divan, Betulat-bat-Yehudah, p. 104). At the end the copyist adds an epigram, the translation of which is as follows:—
“The Moreh is finished—Praise to Him who formed and created everything—written for the instruction and benefit of the few whom the Lord calleth. Those who oppose the Moreh ought to be put to death; but those who study and understand it deserve that Divine Glory rest upon them, and inspire them with a spirit from above.”
Harl. 7586 B. This codex, much damaged in the beginning and at the end, contains the version of Ibn Tibbon, with marginal notes, consisting of words omitted in the text, and other corrections. The version is followed by the poems Ḳarob meod, etc., and De’i holek, etc.
Harl. 5507 contains the Hebrew version of Ibn Tibbon, with the translator’s preface and marginal notes, consisting of various readings and omissions from the text. The work of Maimonides is followed by Ibn Tibbon’s Vocabulary (millot-zarot), Mesharet-mosheh, ‘Arugot ha-mezimmah, Millot higgayon, Ruaḥ-ḥen, Alfarabi’s Hatḥalot, a Hebrew-Italian vocabulary of logical terms, and an explanation of koṭeb. The passage in Part I., chap. lxxi., which refers to Christianity, has been erased.
Harl. 5525 was the property of Shimshon Kohen Modon. The MS. begins with Harizi’s Kavvanat ha-peraḳim; then follows the text, with a few marginal notes of a later hand, mostly adverse criticisms and references to ‘Arama’s ‘Akedah and the Biblical commentaries of Abarbanel. There is also a note in Latin. The text is followed by Ibn Tibbon’s Vocabulary (Millot-zarot) and Masoret ha-pesukim (Index to the Biblical quotations in the Moreh). In a poem, beginning Moreh asher mennu derakav gabehu, the Moreh is compared to a musical instrument, which delights when played by one that understands music, but is spoiled when touched by an ignorant person.
Add. 27068 (Almanzi coll.). At the end the following remark is added: I, Samuel Ibn Tibbon, finished the translation of this work in the month of Tebet 4965 (1205). The text is preceded by the well-known epigrams, De’ï holek and Moreh-nebuchim sa shelomi; the last page contains the epigram Ḳarob meod. There are some notes in the margin, mostly referring to various readings.
Add. 14763. This codex, written 1273 at Viterbo, contains the preface of Ḥarizi to his translation of the Moreh and his index of contents, Ibn Tibbon’s version with a few marginal notes of different hands, including some remarks of the translator, and the contents of the chapters. The codex contains besides the following treatises: Commentary of Maimonides on Abot; Comm. of Maim. on Mishnah Sanhedrin x. 1; Letter of Maimonides on the Resurrection of the Dead; Vocabulary of difficult words by Samuel Ibn Tibbon; Maimonides’ Letter to the wise men of Marseilles; his Letter to Rabbi Jonathan; Keter-malkut, Mesharet-mosheh, Ruaḥ-ḥen, Otot ha-shamayim, translated from the Arabic by Samuel Ibn Tibbon; Hatḥalot ha-nimẓaot, of Alfarabi; Sefer ha-ḥappuaḥ, Mishle ḥamishim ha-talmidim; on the seven zones of the earth; a fragment of a chronicle from the exile of Babylon down to the fourth year of the Emperor Nicepheros of Constantinople, and a poem, which begins asher yishal, and has the following sense:—“If one asks the old and experienced for advice, you may expect his success in all he undertakes; but if one consults the young, remember the fate of Rehoboam, son of Solomon.”
Add. 14764. In addition to the Hebrew version of Ibn Tibbon (from end of I. xxvii.) with a few marginal notes and index, the codex contains at the end of Part I. an Index of references made by the author to explanations given in preceding or succeeding chapters. At the end of the text the statement is added, that the translation was finished in the month of Tebet 968 (1208). The Moreh is followed by Ruaḥ-ḥen, and Ibn Tibbon’s Vocabulary of millot-zarot (incomplete), and is preceded by four poems in praise of the Moreh, beginning Shim’u nebone leb, Moreh nebuchim sa shelomi, De’i holek and Nofet maḥkim.
Bibl. Reg. 16 A, xi. This codex, written in Prov. curs. characters in the year 1308, has in front a fragment of III. i., then follows the poem of Meshullam, beginning Yehgu mezimmotai (Grätz Leket-shoshannim, p. 151), and other poems.
The following MS. copies of Ibn Tibbon’s version are included in the Oxford Bodleian Library; the numbers refer to Dr. Neubauer’s catalogue of the MSS.:—
1250. An index of the passages from the Bible referred to in the work, and an index of the contents precede the version. The marginal notes contain chiefly omissions.
1251. This codex was written in 1675. The marginal notes contain omissions and explanations.
1252. The marginal notes contain the translator’s remarks on I. lxxiv. 4, and III. xlvii. The version is followed by Ibn Tibbon’s vocabulary, and his additional remarks on the reason for the commandments. The MS. was bought by Samuel ben Moses from a Christian after the pillage of Padua, where it had belonged to a Synagogue of foreigners (lo’azim); he gave it to a Synagogue of the same character at Mantua.
1253. The marginal notes include that of the translator on III. xlvii.
1254, 1. Text with marginal notes containing omissions.
1255. The marginal notes include those of the translator on I. xlvi. and lxxiv. 5.
1256. The marginal notes contain various readings, notes relating to Harizi’s translation and the Arabic text; on fol. 80 there is a note in Latin. There are in this codex six epigrams concerning the Moreh.
1257. Text incomplete; with marginal notes.
Fragments of the Version are contained in the following codices: 2047, 3, p. 65; 2283, 8; 2309, 2, and 2336.
Among the MS. copies of the Moreh in the Bibl. Nat. in Paris, there is one that has been the property of R. Eliah Mizraḥi, and another that had been in the hands of Azariah de Rossi (No. 685 and No. 691); the Günzburg Library (Paris) possesses a copy (No. 771), that was written 1452 by Samuel son of Isaac for Rabbi Moses de Leon, and Eliah del Medigo’s copy of the Moreh is in the possession of Dr. Ginsburg (London); it contains six poems, beginning Moreh nebuchim sa; Emet moreh emet; Bi-leshon esh; Mahba‘aru; Kamu more shav.
The editio princeps of this version has no statement as to where and when it was printed, and is without pagination. According to Fürst (Bibliogr.) it is printed before 1480. The copy in the British Museum has some MS. notes. Subsequent editions contain besides the Hebrew text the Commentaries of Shem-ṭob and Efodi, and the index of contents by Ḥarizi (Venice, 1551, fol.); also the Comm. of Crescas and Vocabulary of Ibn Tibbon (Sabionetta, 1553, fol.; Jessnitz, 1742, fol. etc.); the Commentaries of Narboni and S. Maimon (Berlin, 1791); the commentaries of Efodi, Shem-ṭob, Crescas and Abarbanel (Warsaw, 1872, 4to); German translation and Hebrew Commentary (Biur) Part I. (Krotoschin, 1839, 8vo); German translation and notes, Part II. (Wien. 1864), Part III. (Frankforta-M., 1838).
The Hebrew version of Ibn Tibbon (Part I. to ch. lxxii.) has been translated into Mishnaic Hebrew by M. Levin (Zolkiew, 1829, 4to).
There is only one MS. known of Ḥarizi’s version, viz., No. 682 of the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. It has been edited by L. Schlosberg, with notes. London, 1851 (Part I.), 1876 (II.), and 1879 (III.). The notes on Part I. were supplied by S. Scheyer.
The first Latin translation of the Moreh has been discovered by Dr. J Perles among the Latin MSS. of the Munic Library, Catal. Cod. latinorum bibl. regiae Monacensis, tom. 1, pars iii. pag. 208 (Kaish. 36 b), 1700 (7936 b). This version is almost identical with that edited by Augustinus Justinianus, Paris, 1520, and is based on Harizi’s Hebrew version of the Moreh. The name of the translator is not mentioned. In the Commentary of Moses, son of Solomon, of Salerno, on the Moreh, a Latin translation is quoted, and the quotations agree with this version. It is called by this commentator ha ‘ataḳat ha-noẓrit (“the Christian translation”), and its author, ha-ma ‘atiḳ ha-noẓer (lit. “the Christian translator”). Dr. Perles is, however, of opinion that these terms do not necessarily imply that a Christian has made this translation, as the word noẓer may have been used here for “Latin.” He thinks that it is the result of the combined efforts of Jewish and Christian scholars connected with the court of the German Emperor Frederic II., especially as in the thirteenth century several Jewish scholars distinguished themselves by translating Oriental works into Latin. See Grätz Monatschrift, 1875, Jan.-June, “Die in einer Münchener Handschrift aufgefundene erste lateinische Uebersetzung,” etc., von Dr. J. Perles. The title has been variously rendered into Latin: Director neutrorum, directorium dubitantium, director neutrorum, nutantium or dubitantium; doctor perplexorum.
Gedaliah ibn Yahyah, in Shalshelet ha-ḳabbalah, mentions a Latin translation of the Moreh by Jacob Monteno; but nothing is known of it, unless it be the anonymous translation of the Munich MS., mentioned above. Augustinus Justinianus edited this version (Paris, 1520), with slight alterations and a great number of mistakes. Joseph Scaliger’s opinion of this version is expressed in a letter to Casaubonus, as follows: Qui latine vertit, Hebraica, non Arabica, convertit, et quidem sæpe hallucinatur, neque mentem Authoris assequitur. Magna seges mendorum est in Latino. Præter illa quæ ab inertia Interpretis peccata sunt accessit et inertia Librariorum aut Typographorum, e.g., prophetiæ pro philosophiæ; altitudo pro aptitudo; bonitatem pro brevitatem. (Buxtorf, Doctor Perplexorum, Præf.)
Johannes Buxtorfius, Fil., translated the Hebrew version of Ibn Tibbon into Latin (Basileæ, 1629, 4to). In the Præfatio ad Lectorem, the translator discusses the life and the works of Maimonides, and dwells especially on the merits and the fate of the Moreh-nebuchim. The preface is followed by a Hebrew poem of Rabbi Raphael Joseph of Trèves, in praise of an edition of the Moreh containing the Commentaries of Efodi, Shem-tob, and Crescas.
Italian was the first living language into which the Moreh has been translated. This translation was made by Yedidyah ben Moses (Amadeo de Moïse di Recanati), and dedicated by him to “divotissimo e divinissimo Signor mio il Signor Immanuel da Fano” (i.e., the Kabbalist Menahem Azarriah). The translator dictated it to his brother Eliah, who wrote it in Hebrew characters; it was finished the 8th of February, 1583. The MS. copy is contained in the Royal Library at Berlin, MS. Or. Qu. 487 (M. Steinschneider Catal., etc.)—The Moreh has been translated into Italian a second time, and annotated by D. J. Maroni: Guida degli Smarriti, Firenze, 1870, fol.
The Moreh has been translated into German by R. Fürstenthal (Part I,, Krotoschin, 1839), M. Stern (Part II., Wien, 1864), and S. Scheyer (Part III., Frankfort-a.-M., 1838). The translation is based on Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew version. The chapters on the Divine Attributes have been translated into German, and fully discussed, by Dr. Kaufmann in his Geschichte der Attributenlehre (Gotha, 1877). An excellent French translation, based on the Arabic original, has been supplied by the regenerator of the Guide, S. Munk. It was published together with the Arabic text (Paris, 1850-1866).
The Moreh has also been translated into the Hungarian language by Dr. Klein. The translation is accompanied by notes (Budapest, 1878-80).
The portion containing the reasons of the Commandments (Part III. ch. xxvi.-xlix.) has been translated into English by James Townley (London, 1827). The translation is preceded by an account on the life and works of Maimonides, and dissertations on various subjects; among others, Talmudical and Rabbinical writings, the Originality of the Institutions of Moses, and Judicial astrology.
III. Commentaries.—It is but natural that in a philosophical work like the Moreh, the reader will meet with passages that at first thought seem unintelligible, and require further explanation, and this want has been supplied by the numerous commentators that devoted their attention to the study of the Moreh. Joseph Solomon del Medigo (1591) saw eighteen Commentaries. The four principal ones he characterizes thus (in imitation of the Hagadah for Passover): Moses Narboni is rasha‘, has no piety, and reveals all the secrets of the Moreh. Shem-ṭob is ḥakam, “wise,” expounds and criticises; Crescas is tam, “simple,” explains the book in the style of the Rabbis; Epodi is she-eno yode‘a lishol, “does not understand to ask,” he simply explains in short notes without criticism (Miktabaḥuz; ed. A. Geiger, Berlin, 1840, p. 18). The earliest annotations were made by the author himself on those passages, which the first translator of the Moreh was unable to comprehend. They are contained in a letter addressed to Samuel Ibn Tibbon, beginning, lefi siklo yehullal ish (Bodl Library, No. 2218, s.; comp. The Guide, etc., I. 21, 343; II. 8, 99). Ibn Tibbon, the translator, likewise added a few notes, which are found in the margin of MSS. of the Hebrew version of the Moreh (on I. xlv. lxxiv.; II. xxiv.; and III. xlvii.—MSS. Bodl. 1252, 1; 1253, 1255, 1257; Brit. Mus. Add. 14,763 and 27,068).
Both translators wrote explanations of the philosophical terms employed in the versions. Ḥarizi wrote his vocabulary first, and Ibn Tibbon, in the introductory remarks, to Perush millot zarot (“Explanation of difficult words”), describes his rival’s vocabulary as full of blunders. Ibn Tibbon’s Perush is found almost in every copy of his version, both MS. and print; so also Ḥarizi’s index of the contents of the chapters of the Moreh (Kavvanat ha-peraḳim).
The following is an alphabetical list of Commentaries on the Moreh:—
Abarbanel (Don Isaak) wrote a Commentary on I. i.-lv.; II. xxxi.-xlv., and a separate book Shamayim-hadashim, “New Heavens,” on II. xix., in which he fully discusses the question concerning Creatio ex nihilo. The opinion of Maimonides is not always accepted. Thus twenty-seven objections are raised against his interpretation of the first chapter of Ezekiel. These objections he wrote at Molin, in the house of R. Abraham Treves Ẓarfati. The Commentary is followed by a short essay (maamar) on the plan of the Moreh. The method adopted by Abarbanel in all his Commentaries, is also employed in this essay. A series of questions is put forth on the subject, and then the author sets about to answer them. M. J. Landau edited the Commentary without text, with a Preface, and with explanatory notes, called Moreh li-ẓeddakah (Prag. 1831; MS. Bodl. 2385). In addition to these the same author wrote Teshubot “Answers” to several questions asked by Rabbi Shaul ha-Cohen on topics discussed in the Moreh (Venice, 1754).
Abraham Abulafia wrote “Sodot ha-moreh,” or Sitre-torah, a kabbalistic Commentary on the Moreh. He gives the expression, ןרע ןנ (Paradise), for the number (177) of the chapters of the Moreh. MS. Nat. Bibl. 226, 3. Leipsic Libr. 232, 4. MS. Bodl. 2360, 5, contains a portion of Part III.
Buchner A. Ha-moreh li-zedaḳah (Warsaw, 1838). Commentary on “The Reasons of the Laws,” Moreh III. xxix.-xlix. The Commentary is preceded by an account of the life of Maimonides.
Comtino, Mordecai b. Eliezer, wrote a short commentary on the Moreh (Dr. Ginsburg’s collection of MSS. No. 10). Narboni, who “spread light on dark passages in the Guide,” is frequently quoted. Reference is also made to his own commentary on Ibn Ezra’s Yesod-mora.
Crescas (Asher b. Abraham), expresses in the Preface to his Commentary the conviction that he could not always comprehend the right sense of the words of Maimonides, for “there is no searching to his understanding.” He nevertheless thinks that his explanations will help “the young” to study the Moreh with profit. A long poem in praise of Maimonides and his work precedes the Preface. His notes are short and clear, and in spite of his great respect of Maimonides, he now and then criticises and corrects him.
David Yaḥya is named by Joseph Del Medigo (Miktab-aḥuz ed. A. Geiger, Berlin, 1840; p. 18, and note 76), as having written a Commentary on the Moreh.
David ben Yehudah Leon Rabbino wrote ‘En ha-ḳore, MS. Bodl. 1263. He quotes in his Commentary among others ‘Arama’s ‘Akedat yizḥaḳ. The Preface is written by Immanuel ben Raphael Ibn Meir, after the death of the author.
Efodi is the name of the Commentary written by Isaac ben Moses, who during the persecution of 1391 had passed as Christian under the name of Profiat Duran. He returned to Judaism, and wrote against Christianity the famous satire “Al tehee kaaboteka” (“Be not like your Fathers”), which misled Christians to cite it as written in favour of Christianity. It is addressed to the apostate En Bonet Bon Giorno. The same author also wrote a grammatical work, Ma‘aseh-efod. The name Efod (רפא), is explained as composed of the initials Amar Profiat Duran. His Commentary consists of short notes, explanatory of the text. The beginning of this Commentary is contained in an Arabic translation in MS. Bodl. 2422, 16.
Ephraim Al-Naqavah in Sha‘ar Kebod ha-shem (MS. Bodl. 939, 2 and 1258, 2), answers some questions addressed to him concerning the Moreh. He quotes Ḥisdai’s Or adonai.
Fürstenthal R., translator and commentator of the Maḥzor, added a Biur, short explanatory notes, to his German translation of Part I. of the Moreh (Krotoschin, 1839).
Gershon, Moreh-derek, Commentary on Part I. of the Moreh (MS. Bodl. 1265).
Hillel b. Samuel b. Elazar of Verona explained the Introduction to Part II. (the 25 Propos.). S. H. Halberstam edited this Commentary together with Tagmule ha-nefesh of the same author, for the Society Meḳiẓe-nirdamim (Lyck, 1874).
Joseph ben Aba-mari b. Joseph, of Caspi (Argentiere), wrote three Commentaries on the Moreh. The first is contained in a Munich MS. (No. 263); and seems to have been recast by the author, and divided into two separate Commentaries: ‘Ammude Kesef, and Maskiyot Kesef. The former was to contain plain and ordinary explanation, whilst profound and mysterious matter was reserved for the second (Steinschn. Cat.). In II., chap. xlviii., Caspi finds fault with Maimonides that he does not place the book of Job among the highest class of inspired writings, “its author being undoubtedly Moses.” These Commentaries have been edited by T. Werblumer (Frankfort-a.-M., 1848). R. Kirchheim added a Hebrew introduction discussing the character of these commentaries, and describing the manuscripts from which these were copied; a Biography of the author is added in German.
Joseph Giqatilia wrote notes on the Moreh, printed with “Questions of Shaul ha-kohen” (Venice, 1574. MS. Bodl. 1911, 3).
Joseph b. Isaac ha-Levi’s Gib’at ha-Moreh is a short Commentary on portions of the Moreh, with notes by R. Yom-ṭob Heller, the author of Tosafot Yom-tob (Prag., 1612).
Isaac Satanov wrote a commentary on Parts II. and III. of the Moreh (see Maimon Solomon p. xxi.).
Isaac hen Shem-tob ibn Shem-tob wrote a lengthy Commentary on the Moreh, Part I. (MS. Brit. Mus. Or. 1388). The object of the Commentary is to show that there is no contradiction between Maimonides and the Divine Law. He praises Maimonides as a true believer in Creatio ex nihilo, whilst Ibn Ezra and Gersonides assumed a prima materia (Yoẓer, ḳadosh). Nachmanides is called ha-ḥasid ha-gadol, but is nevertheless blamed, together with Narboni and Zeraḥyah ha-Levi, for criticising Maimonides, instead of trying to explain startling utterances even in “a forced way” (bederek raḥok); and Narboni, “in spite of his wisdom, frequently misunderstood the Moreh.” At the end of each chapter a rêsumé (derush) of the contents of the chapter is given, and the lesson to be derived from it. The MS. is incomplete, chaps. xlvi.-xlviii. are missing.
Kauffmann, D., in his Geschichte der Atributenlehre, translated Part I. chap. l.-lxiii. into German, and added critical and explanatory notes.
Kalonymos wrote a kind of introduction to the Moreh (Mesharet Mosheh), in which he especially discusses the theory of Maimonides on Providence.
Leibnitz made extracts from Buxtorf’s Latin version of the Moreh, and added his own remarks. Observationes ad R. Mosen Maimoniden (Foucher de Careil, C.A., La Philosophie Juive, 1861).
Levin, M., wrote Allon-moreh as a kind of introduction to his retranslation of Tibbon’s Hebrew version into the language of the Mishnah.
Maimon, Solomon, is the author of Gib’at ha-moreh, a lengthy commentary on Book I. (Berlin, 1791). The author is fond of expatiating on topics of modern philosophy. In the introduction he gives a short history of philosophy. The commentary on Books II. and III. was written by Isaac Satanov.
Meir ben Jonah ha-mekunneh Ben-shneor wrote a commentary on the Moreh in Fez 1560 (MS. Bodl. 1262).
Menaḥem Kara expounded the twenty-five propositions enumerated in the Introduction to Part II. of the Moreh (MS. Bodl. 1649, 13).
Mordecai Yaffe, in his Or Yeḳarot, or Pinnat Yiḳrat, one of his ten Lebushim, comments upon the theories contained in the Moreh.
Moses, son of Abraham Provençal, explains the passage in Part I. chap. lxxiii. Prop. 3, in which Maimonides refers to the difference between commensurable and incommensurable lines (MS. Bodl. 2033, 8).
Moses, son of Jehudah Nagari, made an index of the subjects treated in the Moreh, indicating in each case the chapters in which allusion is made to the subject. He did so, “in obedience to the advice of Maimonides, to consider the chapters in connected order” (Part I. p. 20). It has been printed together with the questions of Shaul ha-kohen (Venice, 1574).
Moses son of Solomon of Salerno, is one of the earliest expounders of the Moreh. He wrote his commentary on Parts I. and II., perhaps together with a Christian scholar. He quotes the opinion of “the Christian scholar with whom he worked together.” Thus he names Petrus de Bernia and Nicolo di Giovenazzo. R. Jacob Anatoli, author of the Malmed ha-talmidim, is quoted as offering an explanation for the passage from Pirḳe di-rabbi Eliezer, which Maimonides (II. chap. xxvi.) considers as strange and inexplicable (Part I., written 1439; MS. of Bet ha-midrash, London; Parts I.-II., MS. Bodl. 1261, written, 1547; MS. Petersburg, No. 82; Munich MS. 60 and 370).
Moses ha-ḳatan, son of Jehudah, son of Moses, wrote To’aliyot pirḳe ha-maamar (“Lessons taught in the chapters of this work”). It is an index to the Moreh (MS. Bodl. 1267).
Moses Leiden explained the 25 Prop. of the Introduction to Part II. (MS. Günzburg, Paris).
Moses Narboni wrote a short commentary at Soria, 1362. He freely criticizes Maimonides, and uses expressions like the following:—“He went too far, may God pardon him” (II. viii.). Is. Euchel ed. Part I. (Berlin, 1791); J. Goldenthal, I. to III. (Wien, 1852). The Bodl. Libr. possesses several MS. copies of this commentary (Nos. 1260, 1264, 2, and 1266).
Munk, S., added to his French translation of the Moreh numerous critical and explanatory notes.
S. Sachs (Ha-teḥiyah, Berlin, 1850, p. 8) explains various passages of the Moreh, with a view of discovering the names of those who are attacked by Maimonides without being named.
Scheyer, S., added critical and explanatory notes to his German translation of the Moreh, Part 3, and to the Hebrew version of Ḥarizi, Part 1. He also wrote Das Psychologische System des Maimonides, an Introduction to the Moreh (Frankf.-a-M., 1845).
Shem ṭob Ibn Palquera’s Moreh ha-moreh consists of 3 parts: (1) a philosophical explanation of the Moreh, (2) a description of the contents of the chapters of the Moreh, Part I, i.-lvii. (Presburg, 1827); (3) Corrections of Ibn Tibbon’s version. He wrote the book for himself, that in old age he might have a means of refreshing his memory. The study of science and philosophy is to be recommended, but only to those who have had a good training in “the fear of sin.” Ibn Roshd (Averroes) is frequently quoted, and referred to as he-ḥakam ha-nizkar (the philosopher mentioned above).
Shem-ṭob ben Joseph ben Shem-tob had the commentary of Efodi before him, which he seems to have quoted frequently verbatim without naming him. In the preface he dwells on the merits of the Moreh as the just mediator between religion and philosophy. The commentary of Shem-tobh is profuse, and includes almost a paraphrase of the text. He apologises in conclusion for having written many superfluous notes and added explanation where no explanation was required; his excuse is that he did not only intend to write a commentary (biur) but also a work complete in itself (ḥibbur). He often calls the reader’s attention to things which are plain and clear.
Shem-tob Ibn Shem-ṭoh, in Sefer ha-emunot (Ferrara, 1556), criticises some of the various theories discussed in the Moreh, and rejects them as heretic. His objections were examined by Moses Al-ashkar, and answered in Hasagot ‘al mah she-katab Rabbi Shem-tob neged ha-Rambam (Ferrara, 1556).
Solomon b. Jehudah ha-nasi wrote in Germany Sitre-torah, a kabbalistic commentary on the Moreh, and dedicated it to his pupil Jacob b. Samuel (MS. Bet-ha-midrash, London).
Tabrizi. The twenty-five Propositions forming the introduction to Part 2, have been fully explained by Mohammed Abu-becr ben Mohammed al-tabrizi. His Arabic explanations have been translated by Isaac b. Nathan of Majorca into Hebrew (Ferrara, 1556). At the end the following eulogy is added:—The author of these Propositions is the chief whose sceptre is “wisdom” and whose throne is “understanding,” the Israelite prince, that has benefited his nation and all those who love God, etc.: Moses b. Maimon b. Ebed-elohim, the Israelite. . . . May God lead us to the truth. Amen!
Tishbi. In MS. Bodl. 2279, 1, there are some marginal notes on Part III. which are signed Tishbi (Neub. Cat.).
Yaḥya Ibn Suleiman wrote in Arabic a Commentary on the Guide of the Perplexed. A fragment is contained in the Berlin MS. Or. Qu., 554, 2 (Steinschneider, Cat. No. 92).
Zeraḥyah b. Isaac ha-Levi. Commentary on the Moreh, I., i.-lxxi., and some other portions of the work. (See Maskir, 1861, p. 125).
MS. Bodl. 2360, 8, contains a letter of Jehudah b. Shelomoh on some passages of the Moreh, and Zeraḥyah’s reply.
Anonymous Commentaries.—The MS. Brit. Mus. 1423 contains marginal and interlineary notes in Arabic. No author or date is given, nor is any other commentary referred to in the notes. The explanations given are mostly preceded by a question, and introduced by the phrase, “the answer is,” in the same style as is employed in the Hebrew-Arabic Midrash, MS. Brit. Mus. Or. 2213. The Midrashic character is prominent in the notes. Thus the verse “Open, ye gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in,” is explained as meaning: Open, ye gates of wisdom, that human understanding that perceiveth truth may enter. The notes are numerous, especially in the first part, explaining almost every word; e.g., on “Rabbi”: Why does Maimonides employ this title before the name of his pupil? The answer is: either the word is not to be taken literally (“master”), but as a mere compliment, or it has been added by later copyists. Of a similar style seem to be the Arabic notes in the Berlin MS. Or. Oct. 258, 2, 8, 10. (Cat. Steinschneider, No. 108.)—Anonymous marginal notes are met with almost in every MS. of the Moreh; e.g., Brit. Mus. Harl. 5525; Add. 14,763, 14,764; Bodl. 1264, 1; 2282, 10; 2423, 3; Munich MS., 239, 6.
The explanation of passages from the Pentateuch contained in the Moreh have been collected by D. Ottensosser, and given as an appendix (Morehderek) to Derek-selulah (Pent. with Comm. etc., Furth, 1824).
IV. Controversies.—The seemingly new ideas put forth by Maimonides in the Moreh and in the first section of his Mishneh-torah (Sefer ha-madda‘) soon produced a lively controversy as regards the merits of Maimonides’ theories. It was most perplexing to pious Talmudists to learn how Maimonides explained the anthropomorphisms employed in the Bible, the Midrashim and the Talmud, what he thought about the future state of our soul, and that he considered the study of philosophy as the highest degree of Divine worship, surpassing even the study of the Law and the practice of its precepts. The objections and attacks of Daniel of Damascus were easily silenced by a ḥerem (excommunication) pronounced against him by the Rosh ha-golah Rabbi David. Stronger was the opposition that had its centre in Montpellier. Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham noticed with regret in his own community the fruit of the theories of Maimonides in the neglect of the study of the Law and of the practice of the Divine precepts. It happened to Moses Maimonides what in modern times happened to Moses Mendelssohn. Many so-called disciples and followers of the great master misunderstood or misinterpreted his teaching in support of their dereliction of Jewish law and Jewish practice, and thus brought disrepute on him in the eyes of their opponents. Thus it came that Rabbi Solomon and his disciples turned their wrath against the writings of Maimonides instead of combating the arguments of the pseudo-Maimonists. The latter even accused Solomon of having denounced the Moreh and the Sefer ha-madda‘ to the Dominicans, who condemned these writings to the flames; when subsequently copies of the Talmud were burnt, and some of the followers of the Rabbi of Montpellier were subjected to cruel tortures, the Maimonists saw in this event a just punishment for offending Maimonides. (Letters of Hillel of Verona, Ḥemdah Genuzah, ed. H. Edelmann, p. 18 sqq.).
Meir b. Todros ha-levi Abulafia wrote already during the lifetime of Maimonides to the wise men in Lunel about the heretic doctrines he discovered in the works of Maimonides. Ahron b. Meshullam and Shesheth Benvenisti defended Maimonides. About 1232 a correspondence opened between the Maimonists and the Anti-maimonists (Grätz, Gesch. d. J. vii. note I). The Grammarian David Kimḥi wrote in defence of Maimonides three letters to Jehudah Alfachar, who answered each of them in the sense of Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier. Abraham b. Ḥisdai and Samuel b. Abraham Saportas on the side of the Maimonists, took part in the controversy. Meshullam b. Kalonymos b. Todros of Narbonne begged Alfachar to treat Kimḥi with more consideration, whereupon Alfachar resolved to withdraw from the controversy. Naḥmanides, though more on the side of Rabbi Solomon, wrote two letters of a conciliatory character, advising moderation on both sides. Representatives of the congregations of Saragossa, Huesca, Monzon, Kalatajud, and Lerida signed declarations against R. Solomon. A ḥerem was proclaimed from Lunel and Narbonne against the Anti-Maimonists. The son of Maimonides, Abraham, wrote a pamphlet Milḥamot adonai, in defence of the writings of his father. The controversy raised about fifty years later by Abba Mari Don Astruc and R. Solomon ben-Aderet of Barcelona, concerned the Moreh less directly. The question was of a more general character: Is the study of philosophy dangerous to the religious belief of young students? The letters written in this controversy are contained in Minḥat-ḳenaot by Abba Mari Don Astruc (Presburg, 1838), and Kitab alrasail of Meir Abulafia ed. J. Brill (Paris, 1871). Yedaya Bedrasi took part in this controversy, and wrote Ketab hitnaẓlut in defence of the study of philosophy (Teshubot Rashba, Hanau, 1610, p. 111 b.). The whole controversy ended in the victory of the Moreh and the other writings of Maimonides. Stray remarks are found in various works, some in praise and some in condemnation of Maimonides. A few instances may suffice. Rabbi Jacob Emden in his Mitpaḥat-sefarim (Lemberg, 1870, p. 56) believes that parts of the Moreh are spurious; he even doubts whether any portion of it is the work of “Maimonides, the author of the Mishneh-torah, who was not capable of writing such heretic doctrines.” S. D. Luzzato regards Maimonides with great reverence, but this does not prevent him from severely criticising his philosophical theories (Letters to S. Rappoport, No. 79, 83, 266, Iggeroth Shedal ed. E. Graber, Przemys’l, 1882), and from expressing his conviction that the saying “From Moses to Moses none rose like Moses,” was as untrue as that suggested by Rappoport, “From Abraham to Abraham (Ibn-Ezra) none rose like Abraham.” Rabbi Hirsch Chayyuth in Darke-Mosheh (Zolkiew, 1840) examines the attacks made upon the writings of Maimonides, and tries to refute them, and to show that they can be reconciled with the teaching of the Talmud.
The Bodl. MS. 2240, 3a, contains a document signed by Josselman and other Rabbis, declaring that they accept the teaching of Maimonides as correct, with the exception of his theory about angels and sacrifices.
Numerous poems were written, both in admiration and in condemnation of the Moreh. Most of them precede or follow the Moreh in the printed editions and in the various MS. copies of the work. A few have been edited in Dibre-ḥakamim, pp. 75 and 86; in the Literaturblatt d. Or. I. 379, II. 26-27, IV. 748, and Leket-shoshannim by Dr. Grätz. In the Sammelband of the Mekize Nirdamim (1885) a collection of 69 of these poems is contained, edited and explained by Prof. Dr. A. Berliner. In imitation of the Moreh and with a view of displacing Maimonides’ work, the Karaite Ahron II. b. Eliah wrote a philosophical treatise, Eẓ-ḥayyim (Ed. F. Delitzsch. Leipzig, 1841).
Of the works that discuss the whole or part of the philosophical system of the Moreh the following are noteworthy:—
Bacher, W. Die Bibilexegese Moses Maimûni’s, in the Jahresbericht der Landes Rabbinerschule zu Buda-Pest. 1896.
Eisler, M. Vorlesungen über die jüdischen Philosophen des Mittelalters. Abtheil. II., Moses Maimonides (Wien, 1870).
Geiger, A. Das Judenthum u. seine Geschichte (Breslau, 1865), Zehnte Vorlesung: Aben Ezra u. Maimonides.
Grätz, H. Geschichte d. Juden, VI. p. 363 sqq.
Joel, M. Religionsphilosophie des Moses b. Maimon (Breslau, 1859).
Joel, M. Albertus Magnus u. sein Vorhältniss zu Maimonides (Breslau, 1863).
Kaufmann, D. Geschichte der Attributenlehre, VII. Gotha, 1874.
Philippsohn, L. Die Philosophie des Maimonides. Predigt und Schul-Magazin, I. xviii. (Magdeburg, 1834.)
Rosin, D. Die Ethik d. Maimonides (Breslau, 1876).
Rubin, S. Spinoza u. Maimonides, ein Psychologisch-Philosophisches Antitheton (Wien, 1868).
Scheyer, S. Das psychologische System des Maimonides. Frankfort-a.-M., 1845.
Weiss, T. H. Beth-Talmud, I. x. p. 289.
David Yellin and Israel Abrahams, Maimonides.
It is the object of this work “to afford a guide for the perplexed,” i.e. “to thinkers whose studies have brought them into collision with religion” (p. 9), “who have studied philosophy and have acquired sound knowledge, and who, while firm in religious matters, are perplexed and bewildered on account of the ambiguous and figurative expressions employed in the holy writings” (p. 5). Joseph, the son of Jehudah Ibn Aknin, a disciple of Maimonides, is addressed by his teacher as an example of this kind of students. It was “for him and for those like him” that the treatise was composed, and to him this work is inscribed in the dedicatory letter with which the Introduction begins. Maimonides, having discovered that his disciple was sufficiently advanced for an exposition of the esoteric ideas in the books of the Prophets, commenced to give him such expositions “by way of hints.” His disciple then begged him to give him further explanations, to treat of metaphysical themes, and to expound the system and the method of the Kalām, or Mohammedan Theology.1 In compliance with this request, Maimonides composed the Guide of the Perplexed. The reader has, therefore, to expect that the subjects mentioned in the disciple’s request indicate the design and arrangement of the present work, and that the Guide consists of the following parts:—1. An exposition of the esoteric ideas (sodot) in the books of the Prophets. 2. A treatment of certain metaphysical problems. 3. An examination of the system and method of the Kalām. This, in fact, is a correct account of the contents of the book; but in the second part of the Introduction, in which the theme of this work is defined, the author mentions only the first-named subject. He observes: “My primary object is to explain certain terms occurring in the prophetic book. Of these some are homonymous, some figurative, and some hybrid terms.” “This work has also a second object. It is designed to explain certain obscure figures which occur in the Prophets, and are not distinctly characterised as being figures” (p. 2). Yet from this observation it must not be inferred that Maimonides abandoned his original purpose; for he examines the Kalām in the last chapters of the First Part (ch. lxx.-lxxvi.), and treats of certain metaphysical themes in the beginning of the Second Part (Introd. and ch. i.-xxv.). But in the passage quoted above he confines himself to a delineation of the main object of this treatise, and advisedly leaves unmentioned the other two subjects, which, however important they may be, are here of subordinate interest. Nor did he consider it necessary to expatiate on these subjects; he only wrote for the student, for whom a mere reference to works on philosophy and science was sufficient. We therefore meet now and then with such phrases as the following: “This is fully discussed in works on metaphysics.” By references of this kind the author may have intended to create a taste for the study of philosophical works. But our observation only holds good with regard to the Aristotelian philosophy. The writings of the Mutakallemim are never commended by him; he states their opinions, and tells his disciple that he would not find any additional argument, even if he were to read all their voluminous works (p. 133). Maimonides was a zealous disciple of Aristotle, although the theory of the Kalām might seem to have been more congenial to Jewish thought and belief. The Kalām upheld the theory of God’s Existence, Incorporeality, and Unity, together with the creatio ex nihilo. Maimonides nevertheless opposed the Kalām, and, anticipating the question, why preference should be given to the system of Aristotle, which included the theory of the Eternity of the Universe, a theory contrary to the fundamental teaching of the Scriptures, he exposed the weakness of the Kalām and its fallacies.
The exposition of Scriptural texts is divided by the author into two parts; the first part treats of homonymous, figurative, and hybrid terms,1 employed in reference to God; the second part relates to Biblical figures and allegories. These two parts do not closely follow each other; they are separated by the examination of the Kalām, and the discussion of metaphysical problems. It seems that the author adopted this arrangement for the following reason: first of all, he intended to establish the fact that the Biblical anthropomorphisms do not imply corporeality, and that the Divine Being of whom the Bible speaks could therefore be regarded as identical with the Primal Cause of the philosophers. Having established this principle, he discusses from a purely metaphysical point of view the properties of the Primal Cause and its relation to the universe. A solid foundation is thus established for the esoteric exposition of Scriptural passages. Before discussing metaphysical problems, which he treats in accordance with Aristotelian philosophy, he disposes of the Kalām, and demonstrates that its arguments are illogical and illusory.
The “Guide for the Perplexed” contains, therefore, an Introduction and the following four parts:—1. On homonymous, figurative, and hybrid terms. 2. On the Supreme Being and His relation to the universe, according to the Kalām. 3. On the Primal Cause and its relation to the universe, according to the philosophers. 4. Esoteric exposition of some portions of the Bible (sodot): a, Maaseh bereshith, or the history of the Creation (Genesis, ch. i.-iv.); b, on Prophecy; c, Maaseh mercabhah, or the description of the divine chariot (Ezekiel, ch. i.).
According to this plan, the work ends with the seventh chapter of the Third Part. The chapters which follow may be considered as an appendix; they treat of the following theological themes: the Existence of Evil, Omniscience and Providence, Temptations, Design in Nature, in the Law, and in the Biblical Narratives, and finally the true Worship of God.
In the Introduction to the “Guide,” Maimonides (1) describes the object of the work and the method he has followed; (2) treats of similes; (3) gives “directions for the study of the work”; and (4) discusses the usual causes of inconsistencies in authors.
1 (pp. 2-3). Inquiring into the root of the evil which the Guide was intended to remove, viz., the conflict between science and religion, the author perceived that in most cases it originated in a misinterpretation of the anthropomorphisms in Holy Writ. The main difficulty is found in the ambiguity of the words employed by the prophets when speaking of the Divine Being; the question arises whether they are applied to the Deity and to other things in one and the same sense or equivocally; in the latter case the author distinguishes between homonyms pure and simple, figures, and hybrid terms. In order to show that the Biblical anthropomorphisms do not imply the corporeality of the Deity, he seeks in each instance to demonstrate that the expression under examination is a perfect homonym denoting things which are totally distinct from each other, and whenever such a demonstration is impossible, he assumes that the expression is a hybrid term, that is, being employed in one instance figuratively and in another homonymously. His explanation of “form” (ẓelem) may serve as an illustration. According to his opinion, it invariably denotes “form” in the philosophical acceptation of the term, viz., the complex of the essential properties of a thing. But to obviate objections he proposes an alternative view, to take ẓelem as a hybrid term that may be explained as a class noun denoting only things of the same class, or as a homonym employed for totally different things, viz., “form” in the philosophical sense, and “form” in the ordinary meaning of the word. Maimonides seems to have refrained from explaining anthropomorphisms as figurative expressions, lest by such interpretation he might implicitly admit the existence of a certain relation and comparison between the Creator and His creatures.
Jewish philosophers before Maimonides enunciated and demonstrated the Unity and the Incorporeality of the Divine Being, and interpreted Scriptural metaphors on the principle that “the Law speaks in the language of man”; but our author adopted a new and altogether original method. The Commentators, when treating of anthropomorphisms, generally contented themselves with the statement that the term under consideration must not be taken in its literal sense, or they paraphrased the passage in expressions which implied a lesser degree of corporeality. The Talmud, the Midrashim, and the Targumim abound in paraphrases of this kind. Saadiah in “Emunot ve-de‘ot,” Bahya in his “Ḥobot ha-lebabot,” and Jehudah ha-levi in the “Cusari,” insist on the necessity and the appropriateness of such interpretations. Saadiah enumerates ten terms which primarily denote organs of the human body, and are figuratively applied to God. To establish this point of view he cites numerous instances in which the terms in question are used in a figurative sense without being applied to God. Saadiah further shows that the Divine attributes are either qualifications of such of God’s actions as are perceived by man, or they imply a negation. The correctness of this method was held to be so obvious that some authors found it necessary to apologize to the reader for introducing such well-known topics. From R. Abraham ben David’s strictures on the Yad haḥazaḳah it is, however, evident that in the days of Maimonides persons were not wanting who defended the literal interpretation of certain anthropomorphisms. Maimonides, therefore, did not content himself with the vague and general rule, “The Law speaks in the language of man,” but sought carefully to define the meaning of each term when applied to God, and to identify it with some transcendental and metaphysical term. In pursuing this course he is sometimes forced to venture upon an interpretation which is much too far-fetched to commend itself even to the supposed philosophical reader. In such instances he generally adds a simple and plain explanation, and leaves it to the option of the reader to choose the one which appears to him preferable. The enumeration of the different meanings of a word is often, from a philological point of view, incomplete; he introduces only such significations as serve his object. When treating of an imperfect homonym, the several significations of which are derived from one primary signification, he apparently follows a certain system which he does not employ in the interpretation of perfect homonyms. The homonymity of the term is not proved; the author confines himself to the remark, “It is employed homonymously,” even when the various meanings of a word might easily be traced to a common source.
2 (pag. 4-8). In addition to the explanation of homonyms Maimonides undertakes to interpret similes and allegories. At first it had been his intention to write two distinct works—Sefer ha-nebuah, “A Book on Prophecy,” and Sefer ba-shevaah, “A Book of Reconciliation.” In the former work he had intended to explain difficult passages of the Bible, and in the latter to expound such passages in the Midrash and the Talmud as seemed to be in conflict with common sense. With respect to the “Book of Reconciliation,” he abandoned his plan, because he apprehended that neither the learned nor the unlearned would profit by it: the one would find it superfluous, the other tedious. The subject of the “Book on Prophecy” is treated in the present work, and also strange passages that occasionally occur in the Talmud and the Midrash are explained.
The treatment of the simile must vary according as the simile is compound or simple. In the first case, each part represents a separate idea and demands a separate interpretation; in the other case, only one idea is represented, and it is not necessary to assign to each part a separate metaphorical meaning. This division the author illustrates by citing the dream of Jacob (Gen. xxviii. 12sqq.), and the description of the adulteress (Prov. vii. 6sqq.). He gives no rule by which it might be ascertained to which of the two categories a simile belongs, and, like other Commentators, he seems to treat as essential those details of a simile for which he can offer an adequate interpretation. As a general principle, he warns against the confusion and the errors which arise when an attempt is made to expound every single detail of a simile. His own explanations are not intended to be exhaustive; on the contrary, they are to consist of brief allusions to the idea represented by the simile, of mere suggestions, which the reader is expected to develop and to complete. The author thus aspires to follow in the wake of the Creator, whose works can only be understood after a long and persevering study. Yet it is possible that he derived his preference for a reserved and mysterious style from the example of ancient philosophers, who discussed metaphysical problems in figurative and enigmatic language. Like Ibn Ezra, who frequently concludes his exposition of a Biblical passage with the phrase, “Here a profound idea (sod) is hidden,” Maimonides somewhat mysteriously remarks at the end of different chapters, “Note this,” “Consider it well.” In such phrases some Commentators fancied that they found references to metaphysical theories which the author was not willing fully to discuss. Whether this was the case or not, in having recourse to that method he was not, as some have suggested, actuated by fear of being charged with heresy. He expresses his opinion on the principal theological questions without reserve, and does not dread the searching inquiries of opponents; for he boldly announces that their displeasure would not deter him from teaching the truth and guiding those who are able and willing to follow him, however few these might be. When, however, we examine the work itself, we are at a loss to discover to which parts the professed enigmatic method was applied. His theories concerning the Deity, the Divine attributes, angels, creatio ex nihilo, prophecy, and other subjects, are treated as fully as might be expected. It is true that a cloud of mysterious phrases enshrouds the interpretation of Ma‘aseh bereshit(Gen. i.-iii.) and Ma‘aseh mercabah(Ez. i.). But the significant words occurring in these portions are explained in the First Part of this work, and a full exposition is found in the Second and Third Parts. Nevertheless the statement that the exposition was never intended to be explicit occurs over and over again. The treatment of the first three chapters of Genesis concludes thus: “These remarks, together with what we have already observed on the subject, and what we may have to add, must suffice both for the object and for the reader we have in view” (II. xxx.). In like manner, he declares, after the explanation of the first chapter of Ezekiel: “I have given you here as many suggestions as may be of service to you, if you will give them a further development. . . . Do not expect to hear from me anything more on this subject, for I have, though with some hesitation, gone as far in my explanation as I possibly could go” (III. vii.).
3 (pag. 8-9). In the next paragraph, headed, “Directions for the Study of this Work,” he implores the reader not to be hasty with his criticism, and to bear in mind that every sentence, indeed every word, had been fully considered before it was written down. Yet it might easily happen that the reader could not reconcile his own view with that of the author, and in such a case he is asked to ignore the disapproved chapter or section altogether. Such disapproval Maimonides attributes to a mere misconception on the part of the reader, a fate which awaits every work composed in a mystical style. In adopting this peculiar style, he intended to reduce to a minimum the violation of the rule laid down in the Mishnah (Ḥagigah ii. 1), that metaphysics should not be taught publicly. The violation of this rule he justifies by citing the following two Mishnaic maxims: “It is time to do something in honour of the Lord” (Berakot ix. 5), and “Let all thy acts be guided by pure intentions” (Abot ii. 17). Maimonides increased the mysteriousness of the treatise, by expressing his wish that the reader should abstain from expounding the work, lest he might spread in the name of the author opinions which the latter never held. But it does not occur to him that the views he enunciates might in themselves be erroneous. He is positive that his own theory is unexceptionally correct, that his esoteric interpretations of Scriptural texts are sound, and that those who differed from him—viz., the Mutakallemim on the one hand, and the unphilosophical Rabbis on the other—are indefensibly wrong. In this respect other Jewish philosophers—e.g. Saadiah and Baḥya—were far less positive; they were conscious of their own fallibility, and invited the reader to make such corrections as might appear needful. Owing to this strong self-reliance of Maimonides, it is not to be expected that opponents would receive a fair and impartial judgment at his hands.
4 (pag. 9-11). The same self-reliance is noticeable in the next and concluding paragraph of the Introduction. Here he treats of the contradictions which are to be found in literary works, and he divides them with regard to their origin into seven classes. The first four classes comprise the apparent contradictions, which can be traced back to the employment of elliptical speech; the other three classes comprise the real contradictions, and are due to carelessness and oversight, or they are intended to serve some special purpose. The Scriptures, the Talmud, and the Midrash abound in instances of apparent contradictions; later works contain real contradictions, which escaped the notice of the writers. In the present treatise, however, there occur only such contradictions as are the result of intention and design.
The homonymous expressions which are discussed in the First Part include—(1) nouns and verbs used in reference to God, ch. i. to ch. xlix.; (2) attributes of the Deity, ch. l. to lx.; (3) expressions commonly regarded as names of God, ch. lxi. to lxx. In the first section the following groups can be distinguished—(a) expressions which denote form and figure, ch. i. to ch. vi.; (b) space or relations of space, ch. viii. to ch. xxv.; (c) parts of the animal body and their functions, ch. xxviii. to ch. xlix. Each of these groups includes chapters not connected with the main subject, but which serve as a help for the better understanding of previous or succeeding interpretations. Every word selected for discussion bears upon some Scriptural text which, according to the opinion of the author, has been misinterpreted. But such phrases as “the mouth of the Lord,” and “the hand of the Lord,” are not introduced, because their figurative meaning is too obvious to be misunderstood.
The lengthy digressions which are here and there interposed appear like outbursts of feeling and passion which the author could not repress. Yet they are “words fitly spoken in the right place”; for they gradually unfold the author’s theory, and acquaint the reader with those general principles on which he founds the interpretations in the succeeding chapters. Moral reflections are of frequent occurrence, and demonstrate the intimate connexion between a virtuous life and the attainment of higher knowledge, in accordance with the maxim current long before Maimonides, and expressed in the Biblical words, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. cxi. 10). No opportunity is lost to inculcate this lesson, be it in a passing remark or in an elaborate essay.
The discussion of the term “ẓelem” (ch. i.) afforded the first occasion for reflections of this kind. Man, “the image of God,” is defined as a living and rational being, as though the moral faculties of man were not an essential element of his existence, and his power to discern between good and evil were the result of the first sin. According to Maimonides, the moral faculty would, in fact, not have been required, if man had remained a purely rational being. It is only through the senses that “the knowledge of good and evil” has become indispensable. The narrative of Adam’s fall is, according to Maimonides, an allegory representing the relation which exists between sensation, moral faculty, and intellect. In this early part (ch. ii.), however, the author does not yet mention this theory; on the contrary, every allusion to it is for the present studiously avoided, its full exposition being reserved for the Second Part.
The treatment of ḥazah “he beheld” (ch. vi.), is followed by the advice that the student should not approach metaphysics otherwise than after a sound and thorough preparation, because a rash attempt to solve abstruse problems brings nothing but injury upon the inexperienced investigator. The author points to the “nobles of the children of Israel” (Exod. xxiv. 11), who, according to his interpretation, fell into this error, and received their deserved punishment. He gives additional force to these exhortations by citing a dictum of Aristotle to the same effect. In a like way he refers to the allegorical use of certain terms by Plato (ch. xvii.) in support of his interpretation of “ẓur” (lit., “rock”) as denoting “Primal Cause.”
The theory that nothing but a sound moral and intellectual training would entitle a student to engage in metaphysical speculations is again discussed in the digression which precedes the third group of homonyms (xxxi.-xxxvi.). Man’s intellectual faculties, he argues, have this in common with his physical forces, that their sphere of action is limited, and they become inefficient whenever they are overstrained. This happens when a student approaches metaphysics without due preparation. Maimonides goes on to argue that the non-success of metaphysical studies is attributable to the following causes: the transcendental character of this discipline, the imperfect state of the student’s knowledge, the persistent efforts which have to be made even in the preliminary studies, and finally the waste of energy and time owing to the physical demands of man. For these reasons the majority of persons are debarred from pursuing the study of metaphysics. Nevertheless, there are certain metaphysical truths which have to be communicated to all men, e.g., that God is One, and that He is incorporeal; for to assume that God is corporeal, or that He has any properties, or to ascribe to Him any attributes, is a sin bordering on idolatry.
Another digression occurs as an appendix to the second group of homonyms (ch. xxvi.-xxvii.). Maimonides found that only a limited number of terms are applied to God in a figurative sense; and again, that in the “Targum” of Onkelos some of the figures are paraphrased, while other figures received a literal rendering. He therefore seeks to discover the principle which was applied both in the Sacred Text and in the translation, and he found it in the Talmudical dictum, “The Law speaketh the language of man.” For this reason all figures are eschewed which, in their literal sense, would appear to the multitude as implying debasement or a blemish. Onkelos, who rigorously guards himself against using any term that might suggest corporification, gives a literal rendering of figurative terms when there is no cause for entertaining such an apprehension. Maimonides illustrates this rule by the mode in which Onkelos renders “yarad” (“he went down,”), when used in reference to God. It is generally paraphrased, but in one exceptional instance, occurring in Jacob’s “visions of the night” (Gen. xlvi. 4), it is translated literally; in this instance the literal rendering does not lead to corporification; because visions and dreams were generally regarded as mental operations, devoid of objective reality. Simple and clear as this explanation may be, we do not consider that it really explains the method of Onkelos. On the contrary, the translator paraphrased anthropomorphic terms, even when he found them in passages relating to dreams or visions; and indeed it is doubtful whether Maimonides could produce a single instance in favour of his view. He was equally unsuccessful in his explanation of “hazah” “he saw” (ch. xlviii.). He says that when the object of the vision was derogatory, it was not brought into direct relation with the Deity; in such instances the verb is paraphrased, while in other instances the rendering is literal. Although Maimonides grants that the force of this observation is weakened by three exceptions, he does not doubt its correctness.
The next Section (ch. l. to ch. lix.) “On the Divine Attributes” begins with the explanation that “faith” consists in thought, not in mere utterance; in conviction, not in mere profession. This explanation forms the basis for the subsequent discussion. The several arguments advanced by Maimonides against the employment of attributes are intended to show that those who assume the real existence of Divine attributes may possibly utter with their lips the creed of the Unity and the Incorporeality of God, but they cannot truly believe it. A demonstration of this fact would be needless, if the Attributists had not put forth their false theses and defended them with the utmost tenacity, though with the most absurd arguments.
After this explanation the author proceeds to discuss the impropriety of assigning attributes to God. The Attributists admit that God is the Primal Cause, One, incorporeal, free from emotion and privation, and that He is not comparable to any of His creatures. Maimonides therefore contends that any attributes which, either directly or indirectly, are in contradiction to this creed, should not be applied to God. By this rule he rejects four classes of attributes: viz., those which include a definition, a partial definition, a quality, or a relation.
The definition of a thing includes its efficient cause; and since God is the Primal Cause, He cannot be defined, or described by a partial definition. A quality, whether psychical, physical, emotional, or quantitative, is always regarded as something distinct from its substratum; a thing which possesses any quality, consists, therefore, of that quality and a substratum, and should not be called one. All relations of time and space imply corporeality; all relations between two objects are, to a certain degree, a comparison between these two objects. To employ any of these attributes in reference to God would be as much as to declare that God is not the Primal Cause, that He is not One, that He is corporeal, or that He is comparable to His creatures.
There is only one class of attributes to which Maimonides makes no objection, viz. such as describe actions, and to this class belong all the Divine attributes which occur in the Scriptures. The “Thirteen Attributes” (shelosh esreh middot, Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7) serve as an illustration. They were communicated to Moses when he, as the chief of the Israelites, wished to know the way in which God governs the universe, in order that he himself in roling the nation might follow it, and thereby promote their real well-being.
On the whole, the opponents of Maimonides admit the correctness of this theory. Only a small number of attributes are the subject of dispute. The Scriptures unquestionably ascribe to God Existence, Life, Power, Wisdom, Unity, Eternity, and Will. The Attributists regard these as properties distinct from, but co-existing with, the Essence of God. With great acumen, and with equally great acerbity, Maimonides shows that their theory is irreconcilable with their belief in the Unity and the Incorporeality of God. He points out three different ways of interpreting these attributes:—1. They may be regarded as descriptive of the works of God, and as declaring that these possess such properties as, in works of man, would appear to be the result of the will, the power, and the wisdom of a living being. 2. The term “existing,” “one,” “wise,” etc., are applied to God and to His creatures homonymously; as attributes of God they coincide with His Essence; as attributes of anything beside God they are distinct from the essence of the thing. 3. These terms do not describe a positive quality, but express a negation of its opposite. This third interpretation appears to have been preferred by the author; he discusses it more fully than the two others. He observes that the knowledge of the incomprehensible Being is solely of a negative character, and he shows by simple and appropriate examples that an approximate knowledge of a thing can be attained by mere negations, that such knowledge increases with the number of these negations, and that an error in positive assertions is more injurious than an error in negative assertions. In describing the evils which arise from the application of positive attributes to God, he unsparingly censures the hymnologists, because he found them profuse in attributing positive epithets to the Deity. On the basis of his own theory he could easily have interpreted these epithets in the same way as he explains the Scriptural attributes of God. His severity may, however, be accounted for by the fact that the frequent recurrence of positive attributes in the literary composition of the Jews was the cause that the Mohammedans charged the Jews with entertaining false notions of the Deity.
The inquiry into the attributes is followed by a treatment of the names of God. It seems to have been beyond the design of the author to elucidate the etymology of each name, or to establish methodically its signification; for he does not support his explanations by any proof. His sole aim is to show that the Scriptural names of God in their true meaning strictly harmonize with the philosophical conception of the Primal Cause. There are two things which have to be distinguished in the treatment of the Primal Cause: the Primal Cause per se, and its relation to the Universe. The first is expressed by the tetragrammaton and its cognates, the second by the several attributes, especially by rokeb ba‘arabot, “He who rideth on the ‘arabot” (Ps. lxviii. 4)
The tetragrammaton exclusively expresses the essence of God, and therefore it is employed as a nomen proprium. In the mystery of this name, and others mentioned in the Talmud, as consisting of twelve and of forty-two letters, Maimonides finds no other secret than the solution of some metaphysical problems. The subject of these problems is not actually known, but the author supposes that it referred to the “absolute existence of the Deity.” He discovers the same idea in ehyeh(Exod. iii. 14), in accordance with the explanation added in the Sacred Text: asher ehyeh, “that is, I am.” In the course of this discussion he exposes the folly or sinfulness of those who pretend to work miracles by the aid of these and similar names.
With a view of preparing the way for his peculiar interpretation of rokeb ba‘arabot, he explains a variety of Scriptural passages, and treats of several philosophical terms relative to the Supreme Being. Such expressions as “the word of God,” “the work of God,” “the work of His fingers,” “He made,” “He spake,” must be taken in a figurative sense; they merely represent God as the cause that some work has been produced, and that some person has acquired a certain knowledge. The passage, “And He rested on the seventh day” (Exod. xx. 11) is interpreted as follows: On the seventh Day the forces and laws were complete, which during the previous six days were in the state of being established for the preservation of the Universe. They were not to be increased or modified.
It seems that Maimonides introduced this figurative explanation with a view of showing that the Scriptural “God” does not differ from the “Primal Cause” or “Ever-active Intellect” of the philosophers. On the other hand, the latter do not reject the Unity of God, although they assume that the Primal Cause comprises the causa efficiens, the agens, and the causa finalis (or, the cause, the means, and the end); and that the Ever-active Intellect comprises the intelligens, the intellectus, and the intellectum (or, the thinking subject, the act of thought, and the object thought of); because in this case these apparently different elements are, in fact, identical. The Biblical term corresponding to “Primal Cause” is rokeb ba‘arabot, “riding on ‘arabot.” Maimonides is at pains to prove that ‘arabot denotes “the highest sphere,” which causes the motion of all other spheres, and which thus brings about the natural course of production and destruction. By “the highest sphere” he does not understand a material sphere, but the immaterial world of intelligences and angels, “the seat of justice and judgment, stores of life, peace, and blessings, the seat of the souls of the righteous,” etc. Rokeb ba‘arabot, therefore, means: He presides over the immaterial beings, He is the source of their powers, by which they move the spheres and regulate the course of nature. This theory is more fully developed in the Second Part.
The next section (chap. lxxi.-lxxvi.) treats of the Kalām. According to the author, the method of the Kalām is copied from the Christian Fathers, who applied it in the defence of their religious doctrines. The latter examined in their writings the views of the philosophers, ostensibly in search of truth, in reality, however, with the object of supporting their own dogmas. Subsequently Mohammedan theologians found in these works arguments which seemed to confirm the truth of their own religion; they blindly adopted these arguments, and made no inquiry whence these had been derived. Maimonides rejects ȧ priori the theories of the Mutakallemim, because they explain the phenomena in the universe in conformity with preconceived notions, instead of following the scientific method of the philosophers. Among the Jews, especially in the East and in Africa, there were also some who adopted the method of the Kalām; in doing so they followed the Mu’tazilah (dissenting Mohammedans), not because they found it more correct than the Kalām of the Ashariyah (orthodox Mohammedans), but because at the time when the Jews became acquainted with the Kalām it was only cultivated by the Mu‘tazilah. The Jews in Spain, however, remained faithful to the Aristotelian philosophy.
The four principal dogmas upheld by the dominant religions were the creatio ex nihilo, the Existence of God, His Incorporeality, and His Unity. By the philosophers the creatio ex nihilo was rejected, but the Mutakallemim defended it, and founded upon it their proofs for the other three dogmas. Maimonides adopts the philosophical proofs for the Existence, Incorporeality, and Unity of God, because they must be admitted even by those who deny the creatio ex nihilo, the proofs being independent of this dogma. In order to show that the Mutakallemim are mistaken in ignoring the organization of the existing order of things, the author gives a minute description of the analogy between the Universe, or Kosmos, and man, the mikrokosmos (ch. lxxii.). This analogy is merely asserted, and the reader is advised either to find the proof by his own studies, or to accept the fact on the authority of the learned. The Kalām does not admit the existence of law, organization, and unity in the universe. Its adherents have, accordingly, no trustworthy criterion to determine whether a thing is possible or impossible. Everything that is conceivable by imagination is by them held as possible. The several parts of the universe are in no relation to each other; they all consist of equal elements; they are not composed of substance and properties, but of atoms and accidents: the law of causality is ignored; man’s actions are not the result of will and design, but are mere accidents. Maimonides in enumerating and discussing the twelve fundamental propositions of the Kalām (ch. lxiii.), which embody these theories, had apparently no intention to give a complete and impartial account of the Kalām; he solely aimed at exposing the weakness of a system which he regarded as founded not on a sound basis of positive facts, but on mere fiction; not on the evidences of the senses and of reason, but on the illusions of imagination.
After having shown that the twelve fundamental propositions of the Kalām are utterly untenable, Maimonides finds no difficulty in demonstrating the insufficiency of the proofs advanced by the Mutakallemim in support of the above-named dogmas. Seven arguments are cited which the Mutakallemim employ in support of the creatio ex nihilo.1 The first argument is based on the atomic theory, viz., that the universe consists of equal atoms without inherent properties: all variety and change observed in nature must therefore be attributed to an external force. Three arguments are supplied by the proposition that finite things of an infinite number cannot exist (Propos. xi.). Three other arguments derive their support from the following proposition (x.): Everything that can be imagined can have an actual existence. The present order of things is only one out of the many forms which are possible, and exist through the fiat of a determining power.
The Unity of God is demonstrated by the Mutakallemim as follows: Two Gods would have been unable to produce the world; one would have impeded the work of the other. Maimonides points out that this might have been avoided by a suitable division of labour. Another argument is as follows: The two Beings would have one element in common, and would differ in another; each would thus consist of two elements, and would not be God. Maimonides might have suggested that the argument moves in a circle, the unity of God being proved by assuming His unity. The following argument is altogether unintelligible: Both Gods are moved to action by will; the will, being without a substratum, could not act simultaneously in two separate beings. The fallacy of the following argument is clear: The existence of one God is proved; the existence of a second God is not proved, it would be possible; and as possibility is inapplicable to God, there does not exist a second God. The possibility of ascertaining the existence of God is here confounded with potentiality of existence. Again, if one God suffices, the second God is superfluous; if one God is not sufficient, he is not perfect, and cannot be a deity. Maimonides objects that it would not be an imperfection in either deity to act exclusively within their respective provinces. As in the criticism of the first argument, Maimonides seems here to forget that the existence of separate provinces would require a superior determining Power, and the two Beings would not properly be called Gods.
The weakest of all arguments are, according to Maimonides, those by which the Mutakallemim sought to support the doctrine of God’s Incorporeality. If God were corporeal, He would consist of atoms, and would not be one; or He would be comparable to other beings: but a comparison implies the existence of similar and of dissimilar elements, and God would thus not be one. A corporeal God would be finite, and an external power would be required to define those limits.
The Second Part includes the following sections:—1. Introduction; 2. Philosophical Proof of the Existence of One Incorporeal Primal Cause (ch. i.); 3. On the Spheres and the Intelligences (ii.-xii.); 4. On the theory of the Eternity of the Universe (xiii.-xxix.); 5. Exposition of Gen. i.-iv. (xxx., xxxi.); 6. On Prophecy (xxxii.-xlviii.).
The enumeration of twenty-six propositions, by the aid of which the philosophers prove the Existence, the Unity, and the Incorporeality of the Primal Cause, forms the introduction to the Second Part of this work. The propositions treat of the properties of the finite and the infinite (i.-iii., x.-xii., xvi.), of change and motion (iv.-ix., xiii.-xviii.), and of the possible and the absolute or necessary (xx.-xxv.); they are simply enumerated, but are not demonstrated. Whatever the value of these Propositions may be, they were inadequate for their purpose, and the author is compelled to introduce auxiliary propositions to prove the existence of an infinite, incorporeal, and uncompounded Primal Cause. (Arguments I. and III.)
The first and the fourth arguments may be termed cosmological proofs. They are based on the hypothesis that the series of causes for every change is finite, and terminates in the Primal Cause. There is no essential difference in the two arguments: in the first are discussed the causes of the motion of a moving object; the fourth treats of the causes which bring about the transition of a thing from potentiality to reality. To prove that neither the spheres nor a force residing in them constitute the Primal Cause, the philosophers employed two propositions, of which the one asserts that the revolutions of the spheres are infinite, and the other denies the possibility that an infinite force should reside in a finite object. The distinction between the finite in space and the finite in time appears to have been ignored; for it is not shown why a force infinite in time could not reside in a body finite in space. Moreover, those who, like Maimonides, reject the eternity of the universe, necessarily reject this proof, while those who hold that the universe is eternal do not admit that the spheres have ever been only potential, and passed from potentiality to actuality. The second argument is supported by the following supplementary proposition: If two elements coexist in a state of combination, and one of these elements is to be found at the same time separate, in a free state, it is certain that the second element is likewise to be found by itself. Now, since things exist which combine in themselves motive power and mass moved by that power, and since mass is found by itself, motive power must also be found by itself independent of mass.
The third argument has a logical character: The universe is either eternal or temporal, or partly eternal and partly temporal. It cannot be eternal in all its parts, as many parts undergo destruction; it is not altogether temporal, because, if so, the universe could not be reproduced after being destroyed. The continued existence of the universe leads, therefore, to the conclusion that there is an immortal force, the Primal Cause, besides the transient world.
These arguments have this in common, that while proving the existence of a Primal Cause, they at the same time demonstrate the Unity, the Incorporeality, and the Eternity of that Cause. Special proofs are nevertheless superadded for each of these postulates, and on the whole they differ very little from those advanced by the Mohammedan Theologians.
This philosophical theory of the Primal Cause was adapted by Jewish scholars to the Biblical theory of the Creator. The universe is a living, organized being, of which the earth is the centre. Any changes on this earth are due to the revolutions of the spheres; the lowest or innermost sphere, viz., the one nearest to the centre, is the sphere of the moon; the outermost or uppermost is “the all-encompassing sphere.” Numerous spheres are interposed; but Maimonides divides all the spheres into four groups, corresponding to the moon, the sun, the planets, and the fixed stars. This division is claimed by the author as his own discovery; he believes that it stands in relation to the four causes of their motions, the four elements of the sublunary world, and the four classes of beings, viz., the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, and the rational. The spheres have souls, and are endowed with intellect; their souls enable them to move freely, and the impulse to the motion is given by the intellect in conceiving the idea of the Absolute Intellect. Each sphere has an intellect peculiar to itself; the intellect attached to the sphere of the moon is called “the active intellect” (Sekel ha-po‘ēl). In support of this theory numerous passages are cited both from Holy Writ and from post-Biblical Jewish literature. The angels (elohim, malakim) mentioned in the Bible are assumed to be identical with the intellects of the spheres; they are free agents, and their volition invariably tends to that which is good and noble; they emanate from the Primal Cause, and form a descending series of beings, ending with the active intellect. The transmission of power from one element to the other is called “emanation” (shefa‘). This transmission is performed without the utterance of a sound; if any voice is supposed to be heard, it is only an illusion, originating in the human imagination, which is the source of all evils (ch. xii.).
In accordance with this doctrine, Maimonides explains that the three men who appeared to Abraham, the angels whom Jacob saw ascend and descend the ladder, and all other angels seen by man, are nothing but the intellects of the spheres, four in number, which emanate from the Primal Cause (ch. x). In his description of the spheres he, as usual, follows Aristotle. The spheres do not contain any of the four elements of the sublunary world, but consist of a quintessence, an entirely different element. Whilst things on this earth are transient, the beings which inhabit the spheres above are eternal. According to Aristotle, these spheres, as well as their intellects, coexist with the Primal Cause. Maimonides, faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures, here departs from his master, and holds that the spheres and the intellects had a beginning, and were brought into existence by the will of the Creator. He does not attempt to give a positive proof of his doctrine; all he contends is that the theory of the creatio ex nihilo is, from a philosophical point of view, not inferior to the doctrine which asserts the eternity of the universe, and that he can refute all objections advanced against his theory (ch. xiii.-xxviii.).
He next enumerates and criticises the various theories respecting the origin of the Universe, viz.: A. God created the Universe out of nothing. B. God formed the Universe from an eternal substance. C. The Universe originating in the eternal Primal Cause is co-eternal.—It is not held necessary by the author to discuss the view of those who do not assume a Primal Cause, since the existence of such a cause has already been proved (ch. xiii.).
The objections raised to a creatio ex nihilo by its opponents are founded partly on the properties of Nature, and partly on those of the Primal Cause. They infer from the properties of Nature the following arguments: (1) The first moving force is eternal; for if it had a beginning, another motion must have produced it, and then it would not be the First moving force. (2) If the formless matter be not eternal, it must have been produced out of another substance; it would then have a certain form by which it might be distinguished from the primary substance, and then it would not be formless. (3) The circular motion of the spheres does not involve the necessity of termination; and anything that is without an end, must be without a beginning. (4) Anything brought to existence existed previously in potentia; something must therefore have pre-existed of which potential existence could be predicated. Some support for the theory of the eternity of the heavens has been derived from the general belief in the eternity of the heavens.—The properties of the Primal Cause furnished the following arguments:—If it were assumed that the Universe was created from nothing, it would imply that the First Cause had changed from the condition of a potential Creator to that of an actual Creator, or that His will had undergone a change, or that He must be imperfect, because He produced a perishable work, or that He had been inactive during a certain period. All these contingencies would be contrary to a true conception of the First Cause (ch. xiv.).
Maimonides is of opinion that the arguments based on the properties of things in Nature are inadmissible, because the laws by which the Universe is regulated need not have been in force before the Universe was in existence. This refutation is styled by our author “a strong wall built round the Law, able to resist all attacks” (ch. xvii.). In a similar manner the author proceeds against the objections founded on the properties of the First Cause. Purely intellectual beings, he says, are not subject to the same laws as material bodies; that which necessitates a change in the latter or in the will of man need not produce a change in immaterial beings. As to the belief that the heavens are inhabited by angels and deities, it has not its origin in the real existence of these supernatural beings; it was suggested to man by meditation on the apparent grandeur of heavenly phenomena (ch. xviii.).
Maimonides next proceeds to explain how, independently of the authority or Scripture, he has been led to adopt the belief in the creatio ex nihilo. Admitting that the great variety of the things in the sublunary world can be traced to those immutable laws which regulate the influence of the spheres on the beings below—the variety in the spheres can only be explained as the result of God’s free will. According to Aristotle—the principal authority for the eternity of the Universe—it is impossible that a simple being should, according to the laws of nature, be the cause of various and compound beings. Another reason for the rejection of the Eternity of the Universe may be found in the fact that the astronomer Ptolemy has proved the incorrectness of the view which Aristotle had of celestial spheres, although the system of that astronomer is likewise far from being perfect and final (ch. xxiv.). It is impossible to obtain a correct notion of the properties of the heavenly spheres; “the heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s, but the earth hath He given to the children of man” (Ps. cxv. 16). The author, observing that the arguments against the creatio ex nihilo are untenable, adheres to his theory, which was taught by such prophets as Abraham and Moses. Although each Scriptural quotation could, by a figurative interpretation, be made to agree with the opposite theory, Maimonides declines to ignore the literal sense of a term, unless it be in opposition to well-established truths, as is the case with anthropomorphic expressions; for the latter, if taken literally, would be contrary to the demonstrated truth of God’s incorporeality (ch. xxv.). He is therefore surprised that the author of Pirke-di-Rabbi Eliezer ventured to assume the eternity of matter, and he thinks it possible that Rabbi Eliezer carried the license of figurative speech too far. (Ch. xxvi.).
The theory of the creatio ex nihilo does not involve the belief that the Universe will at a future time be destroyed; the Bible distinctly teaches the creation, but not the destruction of the world except in passages which are undoubtedly conceived in a metaphorical sense. On the contrary, respecting certain parts of the Universe it is clearly stated “He established them for ever.” (Ps. cxlviii. 5.) The destruction of the Universe would be, as the creation has been, a direct act of the Divine will, and not the result of those immutable laws which govern the Universe. The Divine will would in that case set aside those laws, both in the initial and the final stages of the Universe. Within this interval, however, the laws remain undisturbed (ch. xxvii.). Apparent exceptions, the miracles, originate in these laws, although man is unable to perceive the causal relation. The Biblical account of the creation concludes with the statement that God rested on the seventh day, that is to say, He declared that the work was complete; no new act of creation was to take place, and no new law was to be introduced. It is true that the second and the third chapters of Genesis appear to describe a new creation, that of Eve, and a new law, viz., that of man’s mortality, but these chapters are explained as containing an allegorical representation of man’s psychical and intellectual faculties, or a supplemental detail of the contents of the first chapter. Maimonides seems to prefer the allegorical explanation which, as it seems, he had in view without expressly stating it, in his treatment of Adam’s sin and punishment. (Part I. ch. ii.) It is certainly inconsistent on the one hand to admit that at the pleasure of the Almighty the laws of nature may become inoperative, and that the whole Universe may become annihilated, and on the other hand to deny, that during the existence of the Universe, any of the natural laws ever have been or ever will be suspended. It seems that Maimonides could not conceive the idea that the work of the All-wise should be, as the Mutakallemim taught—without plan and system, or that the laws once laid down should not be sufficient for all emergencies.
The account of the Creation given in the book of Genesis is explained by the author according to the following two rules: First its language is allegorical; and, Secondly, the terms employed are homonyms. The words erez, mayim, ruaḥ, and ḥoshek in the second verse (ch. i.), are homonyms and denote the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire; in other instances erez is the terrestrial globe, mayim is water or vopour, ruaḥ denotes wind, and ḥoshek darkness: According to Maimonides, a summary of the first chapter may be given thus; God created the Universe by producing first the reshit the “beginning” Gen. i. 1), or hatḥalah, i.e., the intellects which give to the spheres both existence and motion, and thus become the source of the existence of the entire Universe. At first this Universe consisted of a chaos of elements, but its form was successively developed by the influence of the spheres, and more directly by the action of light and darkness, the properties of which were fixed on the first day of the Creation. In the subsequent five days minerals, plants, animals, and the intellectual beings came into existence. The seventh day, on which the Universe was for the first time ruled by the same natural laws which still continue in operation, was distinguished as a day blessed and sanctified by the Creator, who designed it to proclaim the creatio ex nihilo(Exod. xx. 11). The Israelites were moreover commanded to keep this Sabbath in commemoration of their departure from Egypt (Deut. v. 15), because during the period of the Egyptian bondage, they had not been permitted to rest on that day. In the history of the first sin of man, Adam, Eve, and the serpent represent the intellect, the body, and the imagination. In order to complete the imagery, Samael or Satan, mentioned in the Midrash in connexion with this account, is added as representing man’s appetitive faculties. Imagination, the source of error, is directly aided by the appetitive faculty, and the two are intimately connected with the body, to which man generally gives paramount attention, and for the sake of which he indulges in sins; in the end, however, they subdue the intellect and weaken its power. Instead of obtaining pure and real knowledge, man forms false conceptions; in consequence, the body is subject to suffering, whilst the imagination, instead of being guided by the intellect and attaining a higher development becomes debased and depraved. In the three sons of Adam, Kain, Abel, and Seth, Maimonides finds an allusion to the three elements in man: the vegetable, the animal, and the intellectual. First, the animal element (Abel) becomes extinet; then the vegetable elements (Kain) are dissolved; only the third element, the intellect (Seth), survives, and forms the basis of mankind (ch. xxx., xxxi.).
Maimonides having so far stated his opinion in explicit terms, it is difficult to understand what he had in view by the avowal that he could not disclose everything. It is unquestionably no easy matter to adapt each verse in the first chapters of Genesis to the foregoing allegory; but such an adaptation is, according to the author’s own view (Part I., Introd., p. 19), not only unnecessary, but actually objectionable.
In the next section (xxxii.-xlviii.) Maimonides treats of Prophecy. He mentions the following three opinions:—1. Any person, irrespective of his physical or moral qualifications, may be summoned by the Almighty to the mission of a prophet. 2. Prophecy is the highest degree of mental development, and can only be attained by training and study. 3. The gift of prophecy depends on physical, moral, and mental training, combined with inspiration. The author adopts the last-mentioned opinion. He defines prophecy as an emanation (shefa‘), which through the will of the Almighty descends from the Active Intellect to the intellect and the imagination of thoroughly qualified persons. The prophet is thus distinguished both from wise men whose intellect alone received the necessary impulse from the Active Intellect, and from diviners or dreamers, whose imagination alone has been influenced by the Active Intellect. Although it is assumed that the attainment of this prophetic faculty depends on God’s will, this dependence is nothing else but the relation which all things bear to the Primal Cause; for the Active Intellect acts in conformity with the laws established by the will of God; it gives an impulse to the intellect of man, and, bringing to light those mental powers which lay dormant, it merely turns potential faculty into real action. These faculties can be perfected to such a degree as to enable man to apprehend the highest truths intuitively, without passing through all the stages of research required by ordinary persons. The same fact is noticed with respect to imagination; man sometimes forms faithful images of objects and events which cannot be traced to the ordinary channel of information, viz., impressions made on the senses. Since prophecy is the result of a natural process, it may appear surprising that, of the numerous men excelling in wisdom, so few became prophets. Maimonides accounts for this fact by assuming that the moral faculties of such men had not been duly trained. None of them had, in the author’s opinion, gone through the moral discipline indispensable for the vocation of a prophet. Besides this, everything which obstructs mental improvement, misdirects the imagination or impairs the physical strength, and precludes man from attaining to the rank of prophet. Hence no prophecy was vouchsafed to Jacob during the period of his anxieties on account of his separation from Joseph. Nor did Moses receive a Divine message during the years which the Israelites, under Divine punishment, spent in the desert. On the other hand, music and song awakened the prophetic power (comp. 2 Kings iii. 15), and “The spirit of prophecy alights only on him who is wise, strong, and rich” (Babyl. Talm. Shabbat, 92a). Although the preparation for a prophetic mission, the pursuit of earnest and persevering study, as also the execution of the Divine dictates, required physical strength, yet in the moment when the prophecy was received the functions of the bodily organs were suspended. The intellect then acquired true knowledge, which presented itself to the prophet’s imagination in forms peculiar to that faculty. Pure ideals are almost incomprehensible; man must translate them into language which he is accustomed to use, and he must adapt them to his own mode of thinking. In receiving prophecies and communicating them to others the exercise of the prophet’s imagination was therefore as essential as that of his intellect, and Maimonides seems to apply to this imagination the term “angel,” which is so frequently mentioned in the Bible as the medium of communication between the Supreme Being and the prophet.
Only Moses held his bodily functions under such control that even without their temporary suspension he was able to receive prophetic inspiration; the interposition of the imagination was in his case not needed: “God spoke to him mouth to mouth” (Num. xii. 8). Moses differed so completely from other prophets that the term “prophet” could only have been applied to him and other men by way of homonymy.
The impulses descending from the Active Intellect to man’s intellect and so his imagination produce various effects, according to his physical, moral, and intellectual condition. Some men are thus endowed with extraordinary courage and with an ambition to perform great deeds, or they feel themselves impelled to appeal mightily to their fellowmen by means of exalted and pure language. Such men are filled with “the spirit of the Lord,” or, “with the spirit of holiness.” To this distinguished class belonged Jephthah, Samson, David, Solomon, and the authors of the Hagiographa. Though above the standard of ordinary men, they were not included in the rank of prophets. Maimonides divides the prophets into two groups, viz., those who receive inspiration in a dream and those who receive it in a vision. The first group includes the following five classes:—1. Those who see symbolic figures; 2. Those who hear a voice addressing them without perceiving the speaker; 3. Those who see a man and hear him addressing them; 4. Those who see an angel addressing them; 5. Those who see God and hear His voice. The other group is divided in a similar manner, but contains only the first four classes, for Maimonides considered it impossible that a prophet should see God in a vision. This classification is based on the various expressions employed in the Scriptures to describe the several prophecies.
When the Israelites received the Law at Mount Sinai, they distinctly heard the first two commandments, which include the doctrines of the Existence and the Unity of God; of the other eight commandments, which enunciate moral, not metaphysical truths, they heard the mere “sound of words”; and it was through the mouth of Moses that the Divine instruction was revealed to them. Maimonides defends this opinion by quotations from the Talmud and the Midrashim.
The theory that imagination was an essential element in prophecy is supported by the fact that figurative speech predominates in the prophetical writings, which abound in figures, hyperbolical expressions and allegories. The symbolical acts which are described in connexion with the visions of the prophets, such as the translation of Ezekiel from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ez. viii. 3), Isaiah’s walking about naked and barefoot (Isa. xx. 2), Jacob’s wrestling with the angel (Gen. xxxii. 27sqq.), and the speaking of Balaam’s ass (Num. xxii. 28), had no positive reality. The prophets, employing an elliptical style, frequently omitted to state that a certain event related by them was part of a vision or a dream. In consequence of such elliptical speech events are described in the Bible as coming directly from God, although they simply are the effect of the ordinary laws of nature, and as such depend on the will of God. Such passages cannot be misunderstood when it is borne in mind that every event and every natural phenomenon can for its origin be traced to the Primal Cause. In this sense the prophets employ such phrases as the following: “And I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isa. v. 6); “I have also called my mighty men” (ibid. xi. 3).
This part contains the following six sections:—1. Exposition of the ma‘aseh mercabah(Ez. i.), ch. i. vii.; 2. On the nature and the origin of evil, ch. viii. xii.; 3. On the object of the creation, ch. xiii.,-xv.; 4. On Providence and Omniscience, ch.xvi.-xxv.; 5. On the object of the Divine precepts (ta‘ame ha-miẓvot) and the historical portions of the Bible, ch. xxv.-xl.; 6. A guide to the proper worship of God.
With great caution Maimonides approaches the explanation of the ma‘aseh mercabah, the chariot which Ezekiel beheld in a vision (Ez. i.). The mysteries included in the description of the Divine chariot had been orally transmitted from generation to generation, but in consequence of the dispersion of the Jews the chain of tradition was broken, and the knowledge of these mysteries had vanished. Whatever he knew of those mysteries he owed exclusively to his own intellectual faculties; he therefore could not reconcile himself to the idea that his knowledge should die with him. He committed his exposition of the ma‘aseh mercabah and the ma‘aseh bereshit to writing, but did not divest it of its original mysterious character; so that the explanation was fully intelligible to the initiated—that is to say, to the philosopher—but to the ordinary reader it was a mere paraphrase of the Biblical text.—(Introduction.)
The first seven chapters are devoted to the exposition of the Divine chariot According to Maimonides three distinct parts are to be noticed, each of which begins with the phrase, “And I saw.” These parts correspond to the three parts of the Universe, the sublunary world, the spheres and the intelligences. First of all the prophet is made to behold the material world which consists of the earth and the spheres, and of these the spheres, as the more important, are noticed first. In the Second Part, in which the nature of the spheres is discussed, the author dwells with pride on his discovery that they can be divided into four groups. This discovery he now employs to show that the four “hayyot” (animals) represent the four divisions of the spheres. He points out that the terms which the prophet uses in the description of the hayyot are identical with terms applied to the properties of the spheres. For the four hayyot or “angels,” or cheruhim, (1) have human form; (2) have human faces; (3) possess characteristics of other animals; (4) have human hands; (5) their feet are straight and round (cylindrical); (6) their bodies are closely joined to each other; (7) only their faces and their wings are separate; (8) their substance is transparent and refulgent; (9) they move uniformly; (10) each moves in its own direction; (11) they run; (12) swift as lightning they return towards their starting point; and (13) they move in consequence of an extraneous impulse (ruaḥ). In a similar manner the spheres are described:—(1) they possess the characteristics of man, viz., life and intellect; (2) they consist like man of body and soul; (3) they are strong, mighty and swift, like the ox, the lion, and the eagle; (4) they perform all manner of work as though they had hands; (5) they are round, and are not divided into parts; (6) no vacuum intervenes between one sphere and the other; (7) they may be considered as one being, but in respect to the intellects, which are the causes of their existence and motion, they appear as four different beings; (8) they are transparent and refulgent; (9) each sphere moves uniformly, (10) and according to its special laws; (11) they revolve with great velocity; (12) each point returns again to its previous position; (13) they are self-moving, yet the impulse emanates from an external power.
In the second part of the vision the prophet saw the ofannim. These represent the four elements of the sublunary world. For the ofannim (1) are connected with the ḥayyot and with the earth; (2) they have four faces, and are four separate beings, but interpenetrate each other “as though it were a wheel in the midst of a wheel” (Ez. i. 16); (3) they are covered with eyes; (4) they are not self-moving; (5) they are set in motion by the ḥayyot; (6) their motion is not circular but rectilinear. The same may almost be said of the four elements:—(1) they are in close contact with the spheres, being encompassed by the sphere of the moon; earth occupies the centre, water surrounds earth, air has its position between water and fire; (2) this order is not invariably maintained; the respective portions change and they become intermixed and combined with each other; (3) though they are only four elements they form an infinite number of things; (4) not being animated they do not move of their own accord; (5) they are set in motion by the action of the spheres; (6) when a portion is displaced it returns in a straight line to its original position.
In the third vision Ezekiel saw a human form above the ḥayyot. The figure was divided in the middle; in the upper portion the prophet only noticed that it was ḥashmal, (mysterious); from the loins downwards there was “the vision of the likeness of the Divine Glory,” and “the likeness of the throne.” The world of Intelligences was represented by the figure; these can only be perceived in as far as they influence the spheres, but their relation to the Creator is beyond human comprehension. The Creator himself is not represented in this vision.
The key to the whole vision Maimonides finds in the introductory words, “And the heavens were opened,” and in the minute description of the place and the time of the revelation. When pondering on the grandeur of the spheres and their influences, which vary according to time and place, man begins to think of the existence of the Creator. At the conclusion of this exposition Maimonides declares that he will, in the subsequent chapters, refrain from giving further explanation of the ma‘aseh mercabah. The foregoing summary, however, shows that the opinion of the author on this subject is fully stated, and it is indeed difficult to conceive what additional disclosures he could still have made.
The task which the author has proposed to himself in the Preface he now regarded as accomplished. He has discussed the method of the Kalām, the system of the philosophers, and his own theory concerning the relation between the Primal Cause and the Universe: he has explained the Biblical account of the creation, the nature of prophecy, and the mysteries in Ezekiel’s vision. In the remaining portion of the work the author attempts to solve certain theological problems, as though he wished to obviate the following objections, which might be raised to his theory that there is a design throughout the creation, and that the entire Universe is subject to the law of causation:—What is the purpose of the evils which attend human life? For what purpose was the world created? In how far does Providence interfere with the natural course of events? Does God know and foresee man’s actions? To what end was the Divine Law revealed? These problems are treated seriatim.
All evils, Maimonides holds, originate in the material element of man’s existence. Those who are able to emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the body, and unconditionally to submit to the dictates of reason, are protected from many evils. Man should disregard the cravings of the body, avoid them as topics of conversation, and keep his thoughts far away from them; convivial and erotic songs debase man’s noblest gifts—thought and speech. Matter is the partition separating man from the pure Intellects; it is “the thickness of the cloud” which true knowledge has to traverse before it reaches man. In reality, evil is the mere negative of good: “God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. i. 31). Evil does not exist at all. When evils are mentioned in the Scriptures as the work of God, the Scriptural expressions must not be taken in their literal sense.
There are three kinds of evils:—1. Evils necessitated by those laws of production and destruction by which the species are perpetuated. 2. Evils which men inflict on each other; they are comparatively few, especially among civilized men. 3. Evils which man brings upon himself, and which comprise the majority of existing evils. The consideration of these three classes of evils leads to the conclusion that “the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. cxlv. 9).
The question, What is the object of the creation? must be left unanswered The creation is the result of the will of God. Also those who believe that the Universe is eternal must admit that they are unable to discover the purpose of the Universe. It would, however, not be illogical to assume that the spheres have been created for the sake of man, notwithstanding the great dimensions of the former and the smallness of the latter. Still it must be conceded that, even if mankind were the main and central object of creation, there is no absolute interdependence between them; for it is a matter of course that, under altered conditions, man could exist without the spheres. All teleological theories must therefore be confined within the limits of the Universe as it now exists. They are only admissible in the relation in which the several parts of the Universe stand to each other; but the purpose of the Universe as a whole cannot be accounted for. It is simply an emanation from the will of God.
Regarding the belief in Providence, Maimonides enumerates the following five opinions:—1. There is no Providence; everything is subject to chance; 2. Only a part of the Universe is governed by Providence, viz., the spheres, the species, and such individual beings as possess the power of perpetuating their existence (e.g., the stars); the rest—that is, the sublunary world—is left to mere chance. 3. Everthing is predetermined; according to this theory, revealed Law is inconceivable. 4. Providence assigns its blessings to all creatures, according to their merits; accordingly, all beings, even the lowest animals, if innocently injured or killed, receive compensation in a future life. 5. According to the Jewish belief, all living beings are endowed with free-will; God is just, and the destiny of man depends on his merits. Maimonides denies the existence of trials inflicted by Divine love, i.e. afflictions which befall man, not as punishments of sin, but as means to procure for him a reward in times to come. Maimonides also rejects the notion that God ordains special temptation. The Biblical account, according to which God tempts men, “to know what is in their hearts,” must not be taken in its literal sense; it merely states that God made the virtues of certain people known to their fellowmen in order that their good example should be followed. Of all creatures man alone enjoys the especial care of Providence; because the acts of Providence are identical with certain influences (shefa’) which the Active Intellect brings to bear upon the human intellect; their effect upon man varies according to his physical, moral, and intellectual condition; irrational beings, however, cannot be affected by these influences. If we cannot in each individual case see how these principles are applied, it must be borne in mind that God’s wisdom is far above that of man. The author seems to have felt that his theory has its weak points, for he introduces it as follows:—“My theory is not established by demonstrative proof; it is based on the authority of the Bible, and it is less subject to refutation than any of the theories previously mentioned.”
Providence implies Omniscience, and men who deny this, eo ipso, have no belief in Providence. Some are unable to reconcile the fate of man with Divine Justice, and are therefore of opinion that God takes no notice whatever of the events which occur on earth. Others believe that God, being an absolute Unity, cannot possess a knowledge of a multitude of things, or of things that do not yet exist, or the number of which is infinite. These objections, which are based on the nature of man’s perception, are illogical; for God’s knowledge cannot be compared to that of man; it is identical with His essence. Even the Attributists, who assume that God’s knowledge is different from His essence, hold that it is distinguished from man’s knowledge in the following five points:—1. It is one, although it embraces a plurality. 2. It includes even such things as do not yet exist. 3. It includes things which are infinite in number. 4. It does not change when new objects of perception present themselves. 5. It does not determine the course of events.—However difficult this theory may appear to human comprehension, it is in accordance with the words of Isaiah (lv. 8): “Your thoughts are not My thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” According to Maimonides, the difficulty is to be explained by the fact that God is the Creator of all things, and His knowledge of the things is not dependent on their existence; while the knowledge of man is solely dependent on the objects which come under his cognition.
According to Maimonides, the book of Job illustrates the several views which have been mentioned above. Satan, that is, the material element in human existence, is described as the cause of Job’s sufferings. Job at first believed that man’s happiness depends on riches, health, and children; being deprived of these sources of happiness, he conceived the notion that Providence is indifferent to the fate of mortal beings. After a careful study of natural phenomena, he rejected this opinion. Eliphaz held that all misfortunes of man serve as punishments of past sins. Bildad, the second friend of Job, admitted the existence of those afflictions which Divine love decrees in order that the patient sufferer may be fitted to receive a bountiful reward. Zophar, the third friend of Job, declared that the ways of God are beyond human comprehension; there is but one explanation assignable to all Divine acts, namely: Such is His Will. Elihu gives a fuller development to this idea; he says that such evils as befell Job may be remedied once or twice, but the course of nature is not altogether reversed. It is true that by prophecy a clearer insight into the ways of God can be obtained, but there are only few who arrive at that exalted intellectual degree, whilst the majority of men must content themselves with acquiring a knowledge of God through the study of nature. Such a study leads man to the conviction that his understanding cannot fathom the secrets of nature and the wisdom of Divine Providence.
The concluding section of the Third Part treats of the purpose of the Divine precepts. In the Pentateuch they are described as the means of acquiring wisdom, enduring happiness, and also bodily comfort (ch. xxxi.). Generally a distinction is made between “ḥuḳḳim” (“statutes”) and mishpaṭim (“judgments”). The object of the latter is, on the whole, known, but the ḥuḳḳim are considered as tests of man’s obedience; no reason is given why they have been enacted. Maimonides rejects this distinction; he states that all precepts are the result of wisdom and design, that all contribute to the welfare of mankind, although with regard to the ḥuḳḳim this is less obvious. The author draws another line of distinction between the general principles and the details of rules. For the selection and the introduction of the latter there is but one reason, viz.: “Such is the will of God.”
The laws are intended to promote man’s perfection; they improve both his mental and his physical condition; the former in so far as they lead him to the acquisition of true knowledge, the latter through the training of his moral and social faculties. Each law thus imparts knowledge, improves the moral condition of man, or conduces to the well-being of society. Many revealed laws help to enlighten man, and to correct false opinions. This object is not always clearly announced. God in His wisdom sometimes withheld from the knowledge of man the purpose of commandments and actions. There are other precepts which tend to restrain man’s passions and desires. If the same end is occasionally attainable by other means, it must be remembered that the Divine laws are adapted to the ordinary mental and emotional state of man, and not to exceptional circumstances. In this work, as in the Yad ha-ḥazaḳah, Maimonides divides the laws of the Pentateuch into fourteen groups, and in each group he discusses the principal and the special object of the laws included in it.
In addition to the legislative contents, the Bible includes historical information; and Maimonides, in briefly reviewing, the Biblical narratives, shows that these are likewise intended to improve man’s physical, moral, and intellectual condition. “It is not a vain thing for you” (Deut. xxxii. 47), and when it proves vain to anyone, it is his own fault.
In the final chapters the author describes the several degrees of human perfection, from the sinners who have turned from the right path to the best of men, who in all their thoughts and acts cling to the Most Perfect Being, who aspire after the greatest possible knowledge of God, and strive to serve their Maker in the practice of “loving-kindness, righteousness, and justice.” This degree of human perfection can only be attained by those who never forget the presence of the Almighty, and remain firm in their fear and love of God. These servants of the Most High inherit the choicest of human blessings; they are endowed with wisdom: they are godlike beings.
[1 ]See infra, page 4, note 1.
[1 ]See infra, page 5, note 4.
[1 ]Saadiah proves the existence of the Creator in the following way:—1. The Universe is limited, and therefore cannot possess an unlimited force. 2. All things are compounds; the composition must be owing to some external cause. 3. Changes observed in all beings are effected by some external cause. 4. If time were infinite, it would be impossible to conceive the progress of time from the present moment to the future, or from the past to the present moment. (Emunot vede‘ot, ch. i.).—Baḥya founds his arguments on three propositions:—1. A thing cannot be its own maker. 2. The series of successive causes is finite. 3. Compounds owe their existence to an external force. His arguments are:—1. The Universe, even the elements, are compounds consisting of substance and form. 2. In the Universe plan and unity is discernible. (Ḥobot halebabot, ch. i.)
Last modified April 10, 2014