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About the Author:
Maimonides lived an eventful life in a time of widespread upheaval. Born Moses ben Maimon in Cordova, Spain, in AD 1135 to a distinguished local rabbi and his scandalously lower-class wife, he ultimately left his homeland, due to oppression, and began a journey, punctuated by temporary residencies in Morocco, Palestine, and Alexandria, that would end in Egypt. Maimonides became widely regarded as a legendary figure during his lifetime.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486203515
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 6/1/1956
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 473
  • Sales rank: 310,420
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Moses Maimonides - (1135-1204), medieval Jewish philosopher and theologian
Maimonides, also known as Moses Ben Maimon, was born in Cordoba, the center of Jewish learning and Islamic culture. There is disagreement about his date of birth. It is widely stated to be 1135, however other sources give the date as 1138, based on recent research. His was born into a family of rabbinic scholars and his father was his first and most important teacher. Even at the age of 16, Maimonides showed a marked interest in theology, writing a paper on the proper linguistic usage of theological terms.

After being persecuted by the puritanical Almohades during a time of great political upheaval in Spain, Maimonides and his family fled to Fostat in Egypt. He was a great leader of the Jewish community in Egypt, and because rabbis were not paid in that time, he trained to become a physician. Thanks to his intellectual ability he quickly rose to be one of the most influential physicians of his time, and became the official doctor to Saladin, the ruler of Egypt.

However, it is his commentary on Jewish texts that mark him out as one of the most influential and important Jews in history. He wrote three major essays on Jewish law, the most famous being 'The Guide for the Perplexed', and each of them is still regarded as hugely important in Jewish philosophy. This monumental work laid the foundation for all subsequent Jewish philosophic inquiry known as Chakirah, and stimulated centuries of philosophic Jewish writing.

Maimonides, living in the religious melting pot of North Africa, was hugely influenced by all the faiths surrounding him. The Arab and Greek ideas he was exposed to at the time probably made him among the most tolerant of religious leaders. He did not believe that true prophecy was confined to only the Jews, but rather stressed a difference in the degree of responsibility.

He was one of the few Jewish leaders whose teachings also influenced the non Jewish world during that period, and Christian leaders, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, referred to him in writings as 'Rabbi Moses'. He was successful in bringing four cultures (GrecoRoman, Arab, Jewish, and Western) together in one person, and in doing so, remains one of the most influential religious philosophers of the intellectual world.
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The Guide for the Perplexed

By Moses Maimonides, M. Friedländer

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1956 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11964-9


SOME have been of opinion that by the Hebrew zelem, the shape and figure of a thing is to be understood, and this explanation led men to believe in the corporeality [of the Divine Being]: for they thought that the words "Let us make man in our zelem" (Gen.i. 26), implied that God had the form of a human being, i.e., that He had figure and shape, and that, consequently, He was corporeal. They adhered faithfully to this view, and thought that if they were to relinquish it they would eo ipso reject the truth of the Bible: and further, if they did not conceive God as having a body possessed of face and limbs, similar to their own in appearance, they would have to deny even the existence of God. The sole difference which they admitted, was that He excelled in greatness and splendour, and that His substance was not flesh and blood. Thus far went their conception of the greatness and glory of God. The incorporeality of the Divine Being, and His unity, in the true sense of the word—for there is no real unity without incorporeality—will be fully proved in the course of the present treatise. (Part II., ch. i.) In this chapter it is our sole intention to explain the meaning of the words zelem and demut. I hold that the Hebrew equivalent of "form" in the ordinary acceptation of the word, viz., the figure and shape of a thing, is toär. Thus we find "[And Joseph was] beautiful in toär ('form'), and beautiful in appearance" (Gen. xxxix. 6): "What form (toär) is he of?" (I Sam. xxviii. 14): "As the form (toär) of the children of a king" (Judges viii. 18). It is also applied to form produced by human labour, as "He marketh its form (toär) with a line," "and he marketh its form (toar) with the compass" (Isa. xliv. 13). This term is not at all applicable to God. The term zelem, on the other hand, signifies the specific form, viz., that which constitutes the essence of a thing, whereby the thing is what it is; the reality of a thing in so far as it is that particular being. In man the "form" is that constituent which gives him human perception: and on account of this intellectual perception the term zelem is employed in the sentences "In the zelem of God he created him" (Gen. i. 27). It is therefore rightly said, "Thou despisest their zelem " (Ps. lxiii. 20); the "contempt" can only concern the soul—the specific form of man, not the properties and shape of his body. I am also of opinion that the reason why this term is used for "idols"may be found in the circumstance that they are worshipped on account of some idea represented by them, not on account of their figure and shape. For the same reason the term is used in the expression, "the forms (zalme) of your emerods" (1 Sam. vi. 5), for the chief object was the removal of the injury caused by the emerods, not a change of their shape. As, however, it must be admitted that the term zelem is employed in these two cases, viz. "the images of the emerods" and "the idols" on account of the external shape, the term zelem is either a homonym or a hybrid term, and would denote both the specific form and the outward shape, and similar properties relating to the dimensions and the shape of material bodies; and in the phrase "Let us make man in our zelem" (Gen. i. 26), the term signifies "the specific form" of man, viz., his intellectual perception, and does not refer to his "figure" or "shape." Thus we have shown the difference between zelem and toär, and explained the meaning of zelem.

Demut is derived from the verb damah, "he is like." This term likewise denotes agreement with regard to some abstract relation: comp. "I am like a pelican of the wilderness" (Ps. cii. 7); the author does not compare himself to the pelican in point of wings and feathers, but in point of sadness. "Nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in beauty" (Ezek. xxxi. 8); the comparison refers to the idea of beauty. "Their poison is like the poison of a serpent" (Ps. lviii. 5); "He is like unto a lion" (Ps. xvii. 12); the resemblance indicated in these passages does not refer to the figure and shape, but to some abstract idea. In the same manner is used "the likeness of the throne" (Ezek. i. 26); the comparison is made with regard to greatness and glory, not, as many believe, with regard to its square form, its breadth, or the length of its legs: this explanation applies also to the phrase "the likeness of the hayyot ("living creatures," Ezek. i. 13).

As man's distinction consists in a property which no other creature on earth possesses, viz., intellectual perception, in the exercise of which he does not employ his senses, nor move his hand or his foot, this perception has been compared—though only apparently, not in truth—to the Divine perception, which requires no corporeal organ. On this account, i.e., on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form.


SOME years ago a learned man asked me a question of great importance; the problem and the solution which we gave in our reply deserve the closest attention. Before, however, entering upon this problem and its solution I must premise that every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, and that Onkelos the proselyte explained it in the true and correct manner by takingElohim in the sentence, "and ye shall be like Elohim" (Gen. iii. 5) in the last-mentioned meaning, and rendering the sentence "and ye shall be like princes." Having pointed out the homonymity of the term "Elohim" we return to the question under consideration. "It would at first sight," said the objector, "appear from Scripture that man was originally intended to be perfectly equal to the rest of the animal creation, which is not endowed with intellect, reason, or power of distinguishing between good and evil: but that Adam's disobedience to the command of God procured him that great perfection which is the peculiarity of man, viz., the power of distinguishing between good and evil—the noblest of all the faculties of our nature, the essential characteristic of the human race. It thus appears strange that the punishment for rebelliousness should be the means of elevating man to a pinnacle of perfection to which he had not attained previously. This is equivalent to saying that a certain man was rebellious and extremely wicked, wherefore his nature was changed for the better, and he was made to shine as a star in the heavens." Such was the purport and subject of the question, though not in the exact words of the inquirer. Now mark our reply, which was as follows:—"You appear to have studied the matter superficially, and nevertheless you imagine that you can understand a book which has been the guide of past and present generations, when you for a moment withdraw from your lusts and appetites, and glance over its contents as if you were reading a historical work or some poetical composition. Collect your thoughts and examine the matter carefully, for it is not to be understood as you at first sight think, but as you will find after due deliberation; namely, the intellect which was granted to man as the highest endowment, was bestowed on him before his disobedience. With reference to this gift the Bible states that "man was created in the form and likeness of God." On account of this gift of intellect man was addressed by God, and received His commandments, as it is said: "And the Lord God commanded Adam" (Gen. ii. 16)—for no commandments are given to the brute creation or to those who are devoid of understanding. Through the intellect man distinguishes between the true and the false. This faculty Adam possessed perfectly and completely. The right and the wrong are terms employed in the science of apparent truths (morals), not in that of necessary truths, as, e.g, it is not correct to say, in reference to the proposition "the heavens are spherical," it is "good" or to declare the assertion that "the earth is flat" to be "bad"; but we say of the one it is true, of the other it is false. Similarly our language expresses the idea of true and false by the terms emet and sheker, of the morally right and the morally wrong, by tob and ra'. Thus it is the function of the intellect to discriminate between the true and the false—a distinction which is applicable to all objects of intellectual perception. When Adam was yet in a state of innocence, and was guided solely by reflection and reason—on account of which it is said: "Thou hast made him (man) little lower than the angels" (Ps. viii. 6)—he was not at all able to follow or to understand the principles of apparent truths; the most manifest impropriety, viz., to appear in a state of nudity, was nothing unbecoming according to his idea: he could not comprehend why it should be so. After man's disobedience, however, when he began to give way to desires which had their source in his imagination and to the gratification of his bodily appetites, as it is said,"And the wife saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to the eyes" (Gen. iii. 6), he was punished by the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed. He therefore transgressed a command with which he had been charged on the score of his reason; and having obtained a knowledge of the apparent truths, he was wholly absorbed in the study of what is proper and what improper. Then he fully understood the magnitude of the loss he had sustained, what he had forfeited, and in what situation he was thereby placed. Hence we read," And ye shall be like elohim, knowing good and evil," and not "knowing" or "discerning the true and the false": while in necessary truths we can only apply the words "true and false," not "good and evil." Further observe the passage, "And the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked" (Gen. iii. 7): it is not said, "And the eyes of both were opened, and they saw"; for what the man had seen previously and what he saw after this circumstance was precisely the same; there had been no blindness which was now removed, but he received a new faculty whereby he found things wrong which previously he had not regarded as wrong. Besides, you must know that the Hebrew word pakah used in this passage is exclusively employed in the figurative sense of receiving new sources of knowledge, not in that of regaining the sense of sight. Comp., "God opened her eyes" (Gen. xxi. 19). "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened" (Isaiah xxxviii. 8). "Open ears, he heareth not" (ibid. xlii. 20), similar in sense to the verse, "Which have eyes to see, and see not" (Ezek. xii. 2). When, however, Scripture says of Adam, "He changed his face (panav) and thou sentest him forth" (Job xiv. 20), it must be understood in the following way: On account of the change of his original aim he was sent away. For panim, the Hebrew equivalent of face, is derived from the verb panah, "he turned," and signifies also "aim," because man generally turns his face towards the thing he desires. In accordance with this interpretation, our text suggests that Adam, as he altered his intention and directed his thoughts to the acquisition of what he was forbidden, he was banished from Paradise: this was his punishment; it was measure for measure. At first he had the privilege of tasting pleasure and happiness, and of enjoying repose and security; but as his appetites grew stronger, and he followed his desires and impulses, (as we have already stated above), and partook of the food he was forbidden to taste, he was deprived of everything, was doomed to subsist on the meanest kind of food, such as he never tasted before, and this even only after exertion and labour, as it is said, "Thorns and thistles shall grow up for thee" (Gen. iii. 18), "By the sweat of thy brow," etc., and in explanation of this the text continues, "And the Lord God drove him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground whence he was taken." He was now with respect to food and many other requirements brought to the level of the lower animals; comp., "Thou shalt eat the grass of the field" (Gen. iii. 18). Reflecting on his condition, the Psalmist says, "Adam unable to dwell in dignity, was brought to the level of the dumb beast" (Ps. xlix. 13).

"May the Almighty be praised, whose design and wisdom cannot be fathomed."


IT might be thought that the Hebrew words temunah and tabnit have one and the same meaning, but this is not the case. Tabnit, derived from the verb banah (he built), signifies the build and construction of a thing—that is to say, its figure, whether square, round, triangular, or of any other shape. Comp. "the pattern (tabnit) of the Tabernacle and the pattern (tabnit) of all its vessels" (Exod. xxv. 9); "according to the pattern (tabnit) which thou wast shown upon the mount" (Exod. xxv. 40); "the form of any bird" (Deut. iv. 17); "the form (tabnit) of a hand (Ezek. viii. 3);" the pattern (tabnit) of the porch" (1 Chron. xxviii. 11). In all these quotations it is the shape which is referred to. Therefore the Hebrew language never employs the word tabnit in speaking of the qualities of God Almighty.

The term temunah, on the other hand, is used in the Bible in three different senses. It signifies, first, the outlines of things which are perceived by our bodily senses, i.e., their shape and form; as, e.g., "And ye make an image the form (temunat) of some likeness" (Deut. iv. 16); "for ye saw no likeness" (temunah) (Deut. iv. 15). Secondly, the forms of our imagination, i.e., the impressions retained in imagination when the objects have ceased to affect our senses. In this sense it is used in the passage which begins "In thoughts from the visions of the night" (Job iv. 13), and which concludes "it remained but I could not recognize its sight, only an image—temunah—was before my eyes," i.e., an image which presented itself to my sight during sleep. Thirdly, the true form of an object, which is perceived only by the Intellect: and it is in this third signification that the term is applied to God. The words "And the similitude of the Lord shall he behold" (Num. xii. 8) therefore mean "he shall comprehend the true essence of the Lord."


THE three verbs raah, hibbit, and hazah, which denote "he perceived with the eye," are also used figuratively in the sense of intellectual perception. As regards the first of these verbs this is well known, e.g., "And he looked (va-yar) and behold a well in the field" (Gen. xxix. 2): here it signifies ocular perception; "yea, my heart has seen (raah) much of wisdom and of knowledge" (Eccles. i. 16); in this passage it refers to the intellectual perception.

In this figurative sense the verb is to be understood, when applied to God; e.g., "I saw (ra ti) the Lord" (I Kings xxii. 19); "And the Lord appeared (va-yera) unto him" (Gen. xviii. i); "And God saw (va-yar) that it was good" (Gen, i. 10); "I beseech thee, show me (hareni) thy glory" (Exod. xxxiii. 18); "And they saw (va-yirü) the God of Israel" (Exod. xxiv. 10). All these instances refer to intellectual perception, and by no means to perception with the eye as in its literal meaning: for, on the one hand, the eye can only perceive a corporeal object, and in connection with it certain accidents, as colour, shape, etc.; and, on the other hand, God does not perceive by means of a corporeal organ, as will be explained.


Excerpted from The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides, M. Friedländer. Copyright © 1956 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Life of Maimonides
  Moreh Nebuchim Literature. Analysis of the Guide for the Perplexed
  Dedicatory Letter
  The Object of the Guide
  On Similes
  Directions for the Study of this Work
  Introductory Remarks
I The homonymity of Zelem
II On Genesis iii. 5
III On tabnit and temunab
IV "On raah, bibbit and hazab"
V On Exod. xxiv. 10
VI "On ish and ishshab, ab and abot"
VII On yalad
VIII On makom
IX On kisse
X "On 'alah, yarad"
XI On yashab
XII On kam
XIII On 'amad
XIV On adam
XV "On nazab, yazab"
XVI On Zur
XVII On Mishnah Hagigah ii. I
XVIII "On karab, naga', niggash"
XIX On male
XX "On ram, nissa"
XXI On 'abar
XXII On ba
XXIII "On Yaza, shub"
XXIV On halak
XXV On shaken
XXVI "On "The Torah speaketh the language of man"
XXVII On Targum of Gen. xlvi. 4
XXVIII On regel
XXIX On 'azeb
XXX On akal
"XXXI, XXXII" On the Limit of Man's Intellect
XXXIII to XXXVI On the Study and the Teaching of Metaphysics
XXXVII On panim
XXXIX On leb
XL On ruab
XLI On nefesh
XLII On bayyim-mavet
XLIII On kanaf
XLIV On 'ayin
XLV On shama'
"XLVI, XLVII" On the Attribution of Senses and Sensations to God
XLVIII The Targum of shama' and raah
XLIX Figurative Expressions applied to Angels
L On Faith
LI-LX On Attributes
LI On the Necessity of Proving the Inadmissibility of Attributes in reference to God
LII Classification of Attributes
LIII The Arguments of the Attributists
LIV On Exod. xxxii. 13 ; xxxiv. 7
LV "On Attributes implying Corporeality, Emotion, Non-existence and Comparison"
LVI "On Attributes denoting Existence, Life, Power, Wisdom and Will"
LVII On the Identity of the Essence of God and His Attributes
LVIII On the Negative Sense of the True Attributes of God
LIX On the Character of the Knowledge of God Consisting of Negations
LX On the Difference between Positive and Negative Attributes
LXI On the Names of God
LXII "On the Divine Names composed of Four, Twelve and Forty-two Letters"
LXIII "On Ehyeh, Yah and Shaddai"
LXIV "On "The Name of the Lord," and "The Glory of God"
LXV "On the phrase "God spake"
LXVI On Exod. xxxii. 16
LXVII On shabat and nah
LXVIII "On the Terms "The Intellectus, the Intelligens and the Intelligibile"
LXIX On the Primal Cause
LXX On the attribute rokeb ba'arabot
LXXI The Origin of the Kalam
LXXII A Parallel between the Universe and Man
LXXIII Twelve Propositions of the Kalam
LXXIV Proofs of the Kalam for the creatio ex nibilo
LXXV Proofs of the Kalam for the Unity of God
LXXVI Proofs of the Kalam for the Incorporeality of God
The Author's Introduction. The Twenty-Six Propositions employed by the Philosophers to prove the Existence of God
I "Philosophical proofs for the Existence, Incorporeality, and Unity of the First Cause"
II On the Existence of Intelligences or purely Spiritual Beings
III The Author adopts the Theory of Aristotle as least open to Objections
IV The Spheres and the Causes of their Motion
V Agreement of the Aristotelian Theory with the Teaching of Scripture
VI "What is meant by the Scriptural Term "Angels"
VII "The Homonymity of the term "Angel"
VIII On the Music of the Spheres
IX On the Number of the Heavenly Spheres
X The Influence of the Spheres upon the Earth manifests itself in four different ways
XI The Theory of Eccentricity Preferable to that of Epicycles
XII On the Nature of the Divine Influence and that of the Spheres
XIII Three Different Theories about the Beginning of the Universe
XIV Seven Methods by which the Philosophers sought to prove the Eternity of the Universe
XV Aristotle does not scientifically demonstrate his Theory
XVI The Author refutes all Objections to Creatio ex nibilo
XVII "The Laws of Nature apply to Things Created, but do not regulate the Creative Act which produces them"
XVIII Examinations of the Proofs of Philosophers for the Eternity of the Universe
XIX Design in Nature
XX The Opinion of Aristotle as regards Design in Nature
XXI Explanation of the Aristotelian Theory that the Universe is the necessary Result of the First Cause
XXII Objections to the Theory of the Eternity of the Universe
XXIII The Theory of Creatio ex nibilo is preferable to that of the Eternity of the Universe
XXIV Difficulty of Comprehending the Nature and the Motion of the Spheres according to the Theory of Aristotle
XXV "The Theory of Creation is adopted because of its own Superiority, the Proofs based on Scripture being Inconclusive"
XXVI Examination of a passage from Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer in reference to Creation
XXVII The Theory of a Future Destruction of the Universe is not part of the Religious Belief taught in the Bible
XXVIII Scriptural Teaching is in favour of the Indestructibility of the Universe
XXIX Explanation of Scriptural Phrases implying the Destruction of Heaven and Earth
XXX Philosophical Interpretation of Genesis i.-iv.
XXXI "The Institution of the Sabbath serves ( I ) to Teach the Theory of Creation, and ( 2 ) to promote Man's Welfare"
XXXII Three Theories concerning Prophecy
XXXIII The Difference between Moses and the other Israelites as regards the Revelation on Mount Sinai
XXXIV Explanation of Exodus xxiii. 20
XXXV The Difference between Moses and the other Prophets as regards the Miracles wrought by them
XXXVI "On the Mental, Physical and Moral Faculties of the Prophets"
XXXVII On the Divine Influence upon Man's Imaginative and Mental Faculties through the Active Intellect
XXXVIII Courage and Intuition reach the highest degree of Perfection in Prophets
XXXIX "Moses was the fittest Prophet to Receive and Promulgate the Immutable Law, which succeeding Prophets merely Taught and Expounded"
XL The Test of True Prophecy
XLI "What is Mean by "Vision"
XLII Prophets Received Direct Communication only in Dreams or Visions
XLIII On the Allegories of the Prophets
XLIV On the Different Modes in which Prophets Receive Divine Messages
XLV The Various Classes of Prophets
XLVI The Allegorical Acts of Prophets formed Parts of Prophetic Visions
XLVII On the Figurative Style of the Prophetic Writings
XLVIII Scripture ascribes Phenomena directly produced by Natural Causes to God as the First Cause of all things
"The Author's Introduction and Apology for Publishing, contrary to the Teaching of the Mishnah, an Interpretation of Ezek. i."
I "The "Four Faces" are Human Faces with four different peculiarities"
II The Hayyot and the Ofannim
III Further Explanation of the Hayyot and the Ofannim derived from Ezek. x.
IV The rendering of Ofan by Gilgal in the Targum of Jonathan
V The Vision of Ezekiel is divided into three stages : ( 1 ) Hayyot (=the Sphere) ; ( 2 ) Ofannium (=Earthly elements) ; and ( 3 ) the man above the Hayyot (=Intelligences)
VI On the Difference between the Vision of Ezekiel and that of Isaiah (vi.)
VII The Different Ways in which the Prophet perceived the Three Parts of the Mercabah (Chariot)
VIII Man has the Power to Control his Bodily Wants and Earthly Desires
IX The Material Element in Man Prevents him from Attaining Perfection
X God is not the Creator of Evil
XI Man is the Cause of his own Misfortunes
XII Three Kinds of Evil : ( 1 ) That caused by the Nature of Man ; ( 2 ) Caused by Man to Man ; ( 3 ) Caused by Man to himself
XIII The Universe has No other Purpose than its own Existence
XIV It is the Will of the Creator that the Spheres regulate the Affairs of Mankind
XV "Impossible Things are not ascribed to the Creator, but it is difficult to Prove the Impossibility in each Individual Case"
XVI On God's Omniscience
XVII Five Theories concerning Providence
XVIII Every Individual Member of Mankind enjoys the Influence of Divine Providence in proportion to his Intellectual Perfection
XIX It is an ancient Error to Assume that God takes no Notice of Man
XX God's Knowledge is Different from Man's Knowledge
XXI The Creator's knowledge of His Production is Perfect
XXII "Object of the Book of Job, and Explanation of the First Two Chapters"
XXIII Job and his Friends Discuss the various Theories concerning Providence
XXIV On Trials and Temptations
XXV The Actions of God are Not Purposeless
XXVI The Divine Precepts Serve a certain Purpose
XXVII The Object of the Divine Precepts is to Secure the Well-being of Man's Soul and Body
XXVIII "This Object is easily seen in some Precepts, whilst in others it is only known after due Reflection"
XXIX On the Sabeans or Star-worshippers
XXX It is one of the Objects of the Law of Moses to Oppose Idolatry
XXXI "The Law Promotes the Well-being of Man by teaching Truth, Morality and Social Conduct"
XXXII Why did God give Laws to Oppose Idolatry instead of Uprooting it directly?
XXXIII Another chief Object of the Law is to Train Man in Mastering his Appetites and Desires
XXXIV The Law is based on the ordinary condition of man
XXXV Division of the Precepts into Fourteen Classes
XXXVI "First Class of Precepts, to Know, Love and Fear God"
XXXVII "Second Class, Laws concerning Idolatry"
XXXVIII "Third Class, Moral Precepts"
XXXIX "Fourth Class, Laws relating to Charity"
XL "Fifth Class, Compensation for Injury and the Duty of Preventing Sin"
XLI "Sixth Class, Punishment of the Sinner"
XLII "Seventh Class, Equity and Honesty"
XLIII "Eighth Class, Sabbath and Festivals"
XLIV "Ninth Class, Prayer, Tefillin, Zizit and Mezuzab"
XLV "Tenth Class, The Temple, its Vessels and its Ministers"
XLVI "Eleventh Class, Sacrifices"
XLVII "Twelfth Class, Distinction between Clean and Unclean ; and on Purification"
XLVIII "Thirteenth Class, Dietary Laws"
XLIX "Fourteenth Class, Marriage Laws"
LXXVI On Scriptural Passages with seemingly Purposeless Contents
LI How God is worshipped by a Perfect Man
LII On the Fear of God
LIII "Explanation of Hesed (Love), Mishpat (Judgment), and Zedakah (Righteousness)"
LIV On True Wisdom
Index of Scriptural Passages
Index of Quotations from the Targumim
Index of Quotations from the Midrashim
Index of Quotations from the Talmud
Index of References to Other Works of Maimonides
Index of References to Works of Science and Philosophy
Alphabetical Index
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"…man's love of God is identical with his knowledge of Him."
- The Guide for the Perplexed, Chapter 51

The Guide for the Perplexed is the literary masterpiece of Moses Maimonides, perhaps the greatest Jewish thinker of the middle ages if not of all time. The work's historical importance is insured merely by the fact that it was the primary conduit through which the rationalism of Aristotle's philosophy was transmitted from medieval Arabic high culture to Christian theologians such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. In this way Aristotle was reintroduced into the Western culture to which he had been lost for almost a millennium, and it was through the rediscovery of Aristotle that the first seeds of Renaissance humanism and early modern scientific optimism were sown. But the historical, philosophical, and spiritual importance of The Guide for the Perplexed is so extensive and diverse as to be nearly immeasurable. It is one of the rare perfect jewels of world spiritual literature, a profound and timeless statement of man's relation to himself, to God, and to society. Yet it is simultaneously, as Maimonides acknowledges in his introduction, an intellectual labyrinth, permeated by contradiction. It offers modern readers, like their medieval predecessors, a stiff challenge: do you have the tenacity to penetrate the interrelated paradoxes of The Guide for the Perplexed, the mind, and the universe in order to join the fortunate few who have glimpsed the ultimate truths of existence

Maimonides lived an eventful life in a time of widespread upheaval. Born Moses ben Maimon in Cordova, Spain, in A.D. 1135 to adistinguished local rabbi, Maimon ben Joseph, and his scandalously lower-class wife, Maimonides was to become widely regarded as a legendary figure during his lifetime. In his youth, Cordova was a flourishing and tolerant center of Islamic culture and its heady blend of Aristotelian philosophy, the latest in the arts and sciences, and a highly comfortable lifestyle infused the thriving Jewish community that Maimonides would later recall with nostalgia. But the freedom of Jews to worship as they pleased was not destined to last. In 1148, the fanatical Islamic sect the Almohades, which demanded of its Jews conversion or exile, conquered Cordova. At first the Maimon family remained in Cordova, outwardly acting as converts to Islam while privately practicing the Jewish faith. But this proved an increasingly insecure way of life, and Moses' family ultimately left its homeland and began a journey, punctuated by temporary residencies in Morocco, Palestine, and Alexandria, that would end in Fostat, Egypt. Amazingly, Maimonides continued studying throughout this period of transience and even wrote the majority of his first monumental study of Jewish law, Commentary on the Torah. His life, however, had changed into one of persistent hardship. Shortly after settling in Fostat, his father died. Several years later, his beloved half-brother, who operated the family's jewelry business alone so that Maimonides could devote his talents exclusively to his studies, died in a shipwreck that consumed the family's entire savings. Maimonides - now nearly forty years old - suddenly became responsible for his and his brother's households and required a financially viable career. Though eligible for support by his community in exchange for his services as rabbi, Maimonides chose to practice medicine - a field he had mastered solely to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. His reputation as an excellent doctor spread quickly, and in 1187 he was appointed court physician by the vizier of the sultan, Saladin.

Despite his time-consuming new obligations, Maimonides continued studying and writing. In 1180, he completed an unimaginably comprehensive synthesis of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah. Many contemporary Jewish authorities believed Maimonides overstepped the boundaries of acceptable commentary in this controversial work by presuming to settle, under his own authority, questions that only prophets were qualified to answer definitively. Nevertheless, given the paucity of noteworthy Jewish thinkers in the Islamic and Christian regions of Europe, North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean, few could argue with the fact that Maimonides' authority was becoming increasingly secure. His advice was sought by laypeople and religious leaders throughout the region, and ultimately he was officially named "nagid," or leader of the Egyptian Jewish community. Severely overworked for the remainder of his life, Maimonides continued writing prolifically, answering countless religious and legal inquiries, compiling medical treatises that would remain definitive for centuries, and, in 1190, publishing the summation of his philosophical and religious studies, The Guide for the Perplexed. But his health inevitably declined under the strain of his endless official duties. In later life he suffered from exhaustion and a weak heart, and, in 1204, he died a frail old man.

Due to a dearth of intellectually stimulating companions in Egypt, Maimonides made efforts to meet any learned colleagues. It was as a result of one such fortuitous meeting that The Guide for the Perplexed was written. A young scholar, Joseph ben Aknin, approached Maimonides for instruction and Maimonides consented to teach him. Maimonides' method was slow and deliberate - math and science had to be mastered before metaphysics could be approached - and Ibn Aknin wanted to learn hastily. Nonetheless, the two grew close, and when Ibn Aknin was forced to relocate before completing his course of instruction, Maimonides worried that his student had mastered enough philosophy to question his religious beliefs, but not enough to recognize that the highest truths of philosophy and religion are compatible. "Perplexed" by apparent opposition between the truths of reason and revelation, Ibn Aknin would, Maimonides feared, become alienated from Judaism. Thus Maimonides composed The Guide for the Perplexed "to enlighten a religious man who. . .has been successful in his philosophical studies" and "finds it difficult to accept as correct the teaching based on the literal interpretation of the Law." The book quickly aroused widespread interest and mixed reactions, but Maimonides was apparently unmoved by the attention or criticism. He was satisfied that the readers for whom the book was intended would "derive much benefit from every chapter."

The Guide for the Perplexed was written in clear and, for the most part, non-technical Arabic. Maimonides' prose is forceful and direct. Nevertheless, the work is puzzling. Simply reading it like any book, from beginning to end, is insufficient to give one an understanding of it. As one makes one's way through the chapters, one finds an account of the complimentary truths of philosophy and Judaism, but one also encounters contradictions that seem to go unresolved. After finishing the book, the dilemmas raised in the reader's mind begin to point to a different way of understanding the book's topics than the one explicitly presented. These topics seem designed to shake loose from their moorings in the book's structure and to realign in an alternative order that the book implies but never articulates. The reason for this is that Maimonides believed the highest wisdom could not be imparted to everyone alike. The majority, he thought, would never devote sufficient effort to understanding it and would likely abuse what little they grasped. Maimonides felt no disdain for the general public - he spent his mature life in its service - he merely believed his knowledge could only benefit the majority if it was aimed at their level. Thus The Guide for the Perplexed is written so that the casual reader will get something genuinely useful from the letter of the text while seekers of the highest wisdom will find it hidden between the lines.

Like Maimonides' student, Ibn Aknin, readers today wish to know immediately the most profound truths Maimonides possessed. Thus they may be discouraged to read that The Guide for the Perplexed is written in such a way "that the truths should be at one time apparent, and at another time concealed." They may also be displeased to find Maimonides' admission that the contradictions in the book are purposeful and, given the topic, necessary. Such readers may justifiably wonder how to approach this renowned and influential work if it is intentionally obscure.

One way is to take a cue from Maimonides' own statements. In his introduction he writes, "if a person, who has attained a certain degree of perfection, wishes to impart to others. . .the knowledge which he has acquired. . ., he is utterly unable to be. . .systematic…. For this reason, great theological scholars gave instruction in all such matters only by means of metaphors and allegories." In this light it seems significant that Maimonides places near the end of his work an allegory, the striking nature of which has caused the passage containing it to be ranked among his most famous. A brief examination of the chapter containing this allegory will illuminate the main themes of The Guide for the Perplexed and offer a preliminary insight into the interrelated message and function of Maimonides' great intellectual cipher.

Chapter 51 begins: "The present chapter. . .is a kind of conclusion. . .it will explain in what manner those worship God who have obtained a true knowledge concerning God; it will direct them how to come to that worship which is the highest aim man can attain…." Maimonides' famous allegory follows:
A king is in his palace, and all his subjects are partly in the country and partly abroad. Of the former, some have their backs turned towards the king's palace, and their faces in another direction; and some are desirous and zealous to go to the palace. . .but have not yet seen even the face of the wall of the house. Of those that desire to go to the palace, some reach it, and go round about in search of the entrance gate; others have passed through the gate, and walk about in the ante-chamber, and others have succeeded in entering into the inner part of the palace, and being in the same room with the king in the royal palace. But even the latter do not immediately on entering the palace see the king, or speak to him; for, after having entered the inner part of the palace, another effort is required before they can stand before the king - at a distance or close by - hear his words or speak to him.
Maimonides proceeds to explain the spiritual capacities of each group named, but what interests us here is the description of those who finally "stand before the king." Of them Maimonides states: "those who have succeeded in finding a proof for everything that can be proved, who have a true knowledge of God, so far as a true knowledge can be attained. . .have reached the goal."

These quoted passages are pregnant with the implications of Maimonides' fusion of Aristotelian rationalism with Judaism. To begin to understand how to enter the company of "the king" is to begin to unlock the secrets of The Guide for the Perplexed.

For Maimonides, knowledge gained through Aristotle's philosophy does not lead away from true knowledge of God. Rather, it assists one in delineating the limits of possible rational knowledge concerning God and thereby helps one recognize the false or metaphorical nature of most religious ideas. The cornerstone of Maimonides' integration of Aristotelian rationalism and biblical Judaism is their shared affirmation of the truth of monotheism. Using several arguments, Aristotle claimed to have proven rationally that there was one first cause of the universe (i.e., God). Maimonides leaves these proofs essentially unchallenged, but when it comes to Aristotle's characterizations of God and his activities, Maimonides claims Aristotle runs afoul of reason. Maimonides accepts Aristotle's view that God must be a simple unity and, therefore, that nothing positive can be affirmed of Him, because in affirming His possession of various qualities, one implicitly denies His simplicity and unity. From this it follows, Maimonides argues, that Aristotle's positive characterization of God as passive and impersonal violates his own restrictions on meaningful language usage. In this way Maimonides establishes the possibility that the actively creative and personal God of Jewish revelation - rather than the abstract God of Greek philosophy - belongs atop Aristotle's rational system of thought.

A consistent thread running throughout Maimonides' treatment of this and many other themes in The Guide for the Perplexed is his insistence, following Aristotle, that reason provides secure knowledge only of mathematics and earthly things apprehended by our senses. We can logically extrapolate from this knowledge ideas concerning metaphysical reality, but these are merely speculative possibilities. Reason, for Maimonides, demonstrates its own limits, and this fact is of the greatest religious importance because a rational understanding of both the truths of religion and the limits of reason is essential to grasping the necessity of revelation for the advancement of human morality and spirituality. Rational thought, according to Maimonides, is the primary means whereby God prepares man to receive His inspiration. Thus the man who perfects his intellect through the pursuit of a rational proof "for everything that can be proved" prepares himself to receive as much of God's truth as possible - truth that is identical with the deep meaning of the Bible once the latter's symbolism has been rationally decoded.

Solving the puzzle of The Guide for the Perplexed thus means recognizing that it is more than a book. It is an instrument of contemplation meant to function as a pathway to the highest rational knowledge concerning God and thereby as a preparation for the reception of divine inspiration and the experience of the presence of the Lord. In this light the advice Maimonides gives his readers in chapter 51 becomes clear: "When you have arrived by way of intellectual research at a knowledge of God and his works, then commence to devote yourself to Him, try to approach Him and strengthen the intellect, which is the link that joins you to Him…. [R]educe the hours which you spend in other occupations and during which you are not striving to come near unto Him. This instruction suffices for the object of this treatise." In other words, the goal of The Guide for the Perplexed is to enable readers to approach God by facilitating their cultivation of their capacity for reason. If Maimonides has achieved his extraordinarily ambitious objective with this work, then continually reading, rereading, and contemplating the philosophical arguments and logical dilemmas of The Guide for the Perplexed should be sufficient to bring one into "the inner palace" and the presence of "the king." The book's enduring influence testifies to the fact that throughout history at least some readers have found this to be so.

David Taffel is the author of Nietzsche Unbound: The Struggle for Spirit in the Age of Science and managing editor of The Conversationalist, a global news and culture website. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Graduate Faculty of the New School University where his dissertation was awarded the Hans Jonas Memorial Prize for Philosophy.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2005

    This is a must-read for all students of the Bible

    ¿Guide for the Perplexed¿ is a perfect title for this book. It certainly clarified many nebulous and abstract topics that have confused studiers of the Bible for centuries such as angels and the apparent the corporeality of G-d. He goes into detail in giving the proper use of Hebrew words that pose problems to modern reading. For example, he shows what it means for G-d to ¿see¿, ¿hear¿, or ¿go down¿. The best thing about the book is that Rambam uses only logical proof to explain his theories. Therefore there is no room for doubt.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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