Rabbi Maimonides is a medieval Jewish philosopher who wields considerable influence on Jewish thought and on philosophy in general. He also contributed significantly to the codification of the Jewish law. His writings and views hold a prominent place in Jewish intellectual history. In the Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides explores the concept of God and explains the plausible description of God according to Torah. Maimonides also spends significant amount of time in trying to understand the structure and characteristics of the universe. To this point, it becomes important that Maimonides wrote the book before scientific discoveries, so he draws from Aristotelian worldview in combination with his theological and philosophical commitments. The writer also considers numerous mystic passages in the Torah in an attempt to refute traditional Jewish accounts of these passages. This paper attempts to explore how Maimonides uses biblical language, divine attributes, and proofs of God in drawing a conclusion. From this book, it is evident that the bible is very significant to the thoughts of Maimonides. The author uses the theory of prophecy, particularly his description of the prophecy of Moses to explain the reason for reliance of the bible. According to Maimonides, the bible offers direct guidance for the practical, as well as intellectual life of every Jew.
In this book, Maimonides provides answers to the perennial for which the human mind has ever searched. These include the nature and existence of God, purpose of creation, God and His relation to the Universe, the origin and underlying reality of evil, the meaning of life and human destiny, and many others. In countries with Islamic cultural influence, such as Egypt where Maimonides lived, where the Greek philosophy captured the attention of many intellectuals, it became popular also in some Jewish circles (Samuelson 14). With the increasing interest in the ancient works of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, particularly in its Arabic formation and garb, there arose a noticeable conflict between the views of secular philosophy and certain ideas and statements expressed in the Talmudic and Torah literature. For example, how can the absolute in-corporeality and spirituality of God be reconciled with the anthropomorphic, human descriptions of Him in the bible?
The Jews, who were philosophically oriented, while firmly committed to the practice and principles of Torah Judaism, were perplexed and troubled by the seeming contradiction between faith and reason. Owing to his deep-felt concern for the spiritual well0being of his people, Maimonides noticed the inherent danger posed by such a situation. He noticed that this danger was especially severe among the less educated Jewish religious thought among which Aristotelian philosophy threatened to make serious inroads and who, because of the evident inconsistencies between faith and reason, began to falter in their religious commitment (Samuelson 84). Maimonides had adequate knowledge in the teachings of the ancient and contemporary philosophers, which made him feel compelled to compose a systematic exposition and presentation of the fundamental religious-philosophical principles of Judaism, which would provide answers to questions which agitated the philosophically oriented intellectual, remove the doubts of the “perplexed” and allow them to continue adhering to Torah-true Judaism.
The opening of the Guide deals with two central questions posed by Torah, which include the account of creation and the account of the chariot, and their complex relationship. The author attempts to help the reader understand the scriptural account of creation, and the contact that exist between the sacred and the profane. The two immediate options are either to follow call of reasoning ignoring religious law or to follow faith by abandoning reasoning, and living in pain with a dissatisfied heart (34).Maimonides main aim of writing the Guide was an attempt to show that this is a false dilemma, and that sacred scriptures use reasoning.
However, there is demand for proof of this harmony between scriptures and the truth. This necessitated the encounter of the scripture and reason in preserving the veracity of both without sacrificing one of them for the sake of the other. To confirm this, the dilemma of the world’s eternity versus creatio ex nihilo presented one of the most formidable and controversial fronts of this encounter. There existed a variety of perspectives to address the question of cosmology circulating in the medieval Islamic intellectual landscapes. One of the most influential types was the arguments of mutakallimūn, with which Maimonides appears to share intellectual engagement (Samuelson 351). The book dedicates four chapters to expounding the arguments of mutakallimūn on creation. An essential part of their propositions was the refutation of the eternity of the universe, which has its origin in Attic and Neo-Platonic philosophy.
The legacy of the Ancient Greek venerated, developed and appropriated by medieval Islamic philosophers have brought a diverse intellectual approaches to theology that were not necessarily in line with Abrahamic or monotheistic conceptions of God and with the conventional reading of scripture. The accounts of medieval Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sīnā (d.1037) and AbūNaṣr al-Fārābī (d.950) implied that the world was eternal and resulted in the “vocation” of God from creation in favor of an emanationist approach of cosmology (Maimonides 950-1037). Their deeply Neo-platonic understanding of creation, according to al- Ghazālī, did not leave space for divine will, insofar as the emanationist account of creation was simply a mechanical process. Additionally, Al- Ghazālī was perturbed by the allegorical interpretation of sacred scripture by medieval Islamic philosophers. He maintained that these people were compromising the scriptures for the sake of harmonizing religious and philosophical currents (Maimonides 59).
The first part of the Guide focuses on the semantic points concerning language used in the bible concerning God and that, which should be used concerning him. According to Maimonides, there exist different meanings in language. Homonymy is a single word descriptive word used with multiple significations, for example, “zelem” means both physical shape and essence. Accordingly, human beings are made in the image of God only in the later sense of zelem, because we exhibit intelligence, and thus the notion that we are made in his image does not imply that he is corporeal.
Maimonides makes three propositions concerning God, which maintain that he exists, he is one, and he is spiritual. In addition, God demands that people should obey and believe in the Ten Commandments that were presented to Moses. The first commandment says that “I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have none other gods but me” (105). The second commandment discourages people from worshiping graven images. According to Maimonides, since the only part of the soul that remains after death is the acquired intellect, survival after death depends on these beliefs. Problems that arise concerning these propositions is that, a literal reading of the scripture seems to contradict the second and third propositions. The Mutakallimun, followed by some Rabbis, does not provide a solid argument to support these propositions. However, those philosophers who have argued for them adequately have committed minimal errors, such as the eternity of the world and the scope of divine providence.
The focus of Guide deals with the proofs for the existence, unity and incorporeality of God. According to his view, Maimonides’ shift from physical to the intellectual, one might think that God is a necessary being with infinite power and knowledge. This expectation emanates from the first part of the Guide when Maimonides tries to prove the existence of God. Historically, the proofs for the existence of God have not played a significant role in the Jewish philosophy as they have in Christians. From a Jewish perspective, it holds that any person who requires a proof for the existence of God has lost touch with religion. Still, there is no substantial evidence to prove that Judaism has commitment to the existence of God, and Maimonides offers a number of arguments to show why this is a compelling belief.
Maimonides says that “the universe is not empty; we can at least be sure that the things we perceive with our senses exist” (271). The explanation of the existence of these things can take three perspectives. First, all things are eternal and exist necessarily. Second, nothing is eternal and exist necessary. Third, some things are eternal and exist necessarily, while some are not. As Maimonides argues, the first explanation is obviously invalid, because we see things come into existence at a given time and perish later. The second explanation is also wrong because if nothing were permanent, it would mean that everything would perish and nothing takes place. Maimonides refutes that the notion of an empty universe is bizarre. Consequently, it becomes necessary to have a Being that ensures that the universe does not become depleted.
He also adds that his being cannot derive its existence from an external source, because if this happened, its existence would not serve any purposes because it would owe its existence to something else. Maimonides argues that it would prove impossible for two things each to exist independently, because this would require sharing a common essence or nature, independent existence. Sharing of a common essence or nature would imply that they form part of a larger whole, and not independent. Maimonides therefore concludes that only one being can derive its existence from itself, and this Being is God. Since God derives its existence from itself, everything that derives its existence from an external source must ultimately derive its existence from God.
In the book Guide, Maimonides exhibited a different perspective on the logic of the commandments and the relation between intellectual virtue and ethical virtue. Maimonides’ concept on the topic of prophecy has some remarkable features. His version of prophecy has profound connection with epistemology and metaphysics. Maimonides conceptualized prophecy and revelation in terms or reality. He described prophecy as something originating from God, and passed on to human beings through the subject of the Agent Intelligent. Maimonides believes that mystery does not play any role in prophecy. Like other philosophers who proceeded him, he held the view that Judaism did not involving any mysterious doctrines. Maimonides understands prophecy as an emanation of intelligible form to an individual usually suitable to receive it on because of their potency of imaginative and rational faculties.
A prophet has the capacity to accept an extra ordinary amount of intellectual emanation. In addition, he poses a sufficient mental capability to embody concretely what he has received intellectually. It is important to note that prophecy share the same epistemological spectrum with other types of coherent knowledge, such as metaphysics and science. Indeed, Maimonides was a staunch critic of various kinds of mysticism and was specifically harsh on his opposition to Greek view on astrology. To some extent, that resulted from his belief that the denial of free will associated with astrology conflicted with the undeniable need of autonomy of the will. Knowledge requires an informal agency to materialize it in a person who has the potential to acquire knowledge. The Agent Intellect carries out the actualization of knowledge in human beings. This is generally true and also applies in the case of prophecy.
However, if the imaginative and rational senses are distressed, then that individual qualifies as a prophet and if only the imagination is affected, then that person is a lawgiver. Imagination plays a critical role because it allows for actual illustration to comprehensible knowledge; a depiction by the greater mass of people can receive the prophetic message (Maimonides 241). In a wider perspective, the relationship linking the prophet and Agent Intelligent does not result as an endeavor of God. God has the capability to render an individual incapable of performing a prophecy even if an individual meets the requirements for prophecy on epistemological terms and not through heavenly intercession. According to Maimonides, prophet does not have an extraordinary faculty or an inexplicable understanding (Maimonides 241). To achieve the qualities of a prophet, the individual must display the ability to apply their elevated level of understanding, which involves the sort solid detail that can only emanate from imagination. Maimonides maintains that anyone can become a prophet, and that prophecy is an aptness that involves the stature of intellectual, moral character, and imaginative capabilities. Everyone has the virtue of becoming a prophet. However, because of the possibility of performing divine miracles, God has the ability to deny even an individual possessing the appropriate qualities from becoming a prophet.
In conclusion, Maimonides presents the Guide not as a book of philosophical contradictions aimed at hiding the truth from the uneducated, but as a work for intellectual and religious training. Maimonides also maintains that the biblical account of creation cannot be taken literally. He argues that even if other theory of creation discredits the biblical account, this will not harm scriptural truth. Maimonides relates the topics discussed in this paper as each draws from the other. For example, prophecy draws from the proof of the existence of God. He shows that miracles come from God who can at the same time prevent someone from performing miracles. The author uses the theory of prophecy, particularly his description of the prophecy of Moses to explain the reason for reliance of the bible.
Maimonides, Moses, and Shlomo Pines. The Guide of the Perplexed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. Print.
Samuelson, Norbert M. Jewish Faith and Modern Science: On the Death and Rebirth of Jewish Philosophy. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009. Print.