Maimonides (Moses Ben Maimon)
MAIMONIDES (MOSES BEN MAIMON)
Medieval Jewish scholar; b. Córdoba, Spain, March 30, 1135; d. Fosṭāṭ, Egypt, Dec. 13, 1204. In Jewish circles often called "the second Moses" or "the RaMBaM" (an acrostic composed of the initial letters of the title Rabbi and his name), Moses Maimonides was known to the Islamic world as Abū 'Imrān Mūsā ibn Maimūn ibn ‘Ubayd-Allāh and to medieval Latin theologians as Rabbi Moyses (Aegyptius).
Life. He was born on the Preparation Day of Passover. Maimonides's first instruction was at the hands of his father, Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph, a mathematician, astronomer, and author of Talmudic commentaries, a study on the ritual, and notes on the Pentateuch. To a thorough formation in rabbinics, Moses was able to add the wealth of Greco-Arabian learning accessible in Islamic Spain and North Africa. With the fall of Córdoba in 1148 to the Almohades, Muslim zealots from Morocco, both Judaism and Christianity were proscribed, and the Maimon family entered upon 12 years of wandering through Spain before attempting to settle at Fez in Morocco. But persecution raged in Morocco as well as in Spain, and the family escaped only through the good offices of a friendly Muslim poet and theologian, whose name is given as Abū-’l-‘Arab ibn Ma'īšah. On April 18, 1165, they left Fez for Palestine. Landing at Acre, they made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Hebron but, disappointed by the unhappy state of Judaism in the Holy Land, finally established themselves at Fostāt in Egypt, an ancient settlement "two Sabbath-day-journeys" south of Cairo. There Maimon ben Joseph died in 1166, and David, a younger brother of Moses, who had been supporting the family by trading in jewels, was drowned in the course of a voyage to the Indies. With him were lost the family resources, and funds entrusted to him by other merchants. Prostrated for a time by this disaster, Moses recovered to undertake the practice of medicine and rose to become personal physician of A-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil, Vizier of Saladin. Al-Qifṭī has recorded that Maimonides declined the offer of a comparable post with "the King of the Franks at Ascalon," Richard I of England. More than 20 years after he had rescued the Maimon family at Fez, Abū’l-‘Arab ibn Ma'īšah encountered Moses in Egypt living openly as a Jew and there denounced him as having lapsed from Islam. This has suggested that the Maimons had passed as Muslims while residing at Fez. But the charge was dismissed, and Maimonides was granted the office of nāgîd, chief of all the Jewish communities in Egypt. Maimonides was active both as a physician and as nāgîd until his last illness. Jews and Muslims alike observed three days of public mourning at Fosṭāṭ; a funeral service and a general fast were kept at Jerusalem; and the body of the great rabbi was entombed at Tiberias in Galilee.
Works. Maimonides's writings include an Arabic Treatise on Logic, said to have been published when the author was but 16 (1151), and translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn tibbon (c. 1240–83). In 1158 he produced a treatise in Hebrew on the Jewish Calendar. A "Letter on Apostasy," written in Arabic and addressed to the persecuted Jews of Morocco, the authenticity of which is not uncontested, belongs to the year 1160. In 1168 after a decade of labor, he published his Sirāj (Enlightenment), an Arabic commentary on the mishnah that may be the earliest application of scientific method to the interpretation of that collection. In 1172 Maimonides answered a plea for counsel from the suffering Jews of Yemen with his "Letter to the South." His personal "deuteronomy," the Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Law), later known as "The Strong Hand," an echo of Dt 34.12, appearing in 1180, was intended to introduce systematic order into the centuries-old accumulation of the laws and commentaries of Judaism. Written in Hebrew, this took the form of a vast codification of Jewish legislation, both Biblical and rabbinical. A "Book of Precepts," published in Arabic at an undetermined date, deals with the traditional 613 precepts of the Mosaic Law. Maimonides's major influence outside Judaism has been exercised through his Guide of the Perplexed. Published in Arabic in 1190, the Guide appeared with the author's approval in the Hebrew version of Samuel ibn Tibbon on Nov. 30, 1204, and under the title Môrēh N ebûkîm. The Latin version of the Guide, Dux dubiorum, Dux neutrorum, known to 13th-century Christian theologians, seems to have been produced before 1240; it stems from a Hebrew translation by Judah Al-Ḥarīzī. In 1520 a printing of the medieval Latin version, with revisions characteristic of Renaissance editions, was published in Paris by Augustinus Justinianus, and a Latin translation of the ibn Tibbon version was published as Dux perplexorum by John Buxtorf the Younger at Basel in 1629. It was in the Buxtorf edition that the Guide was known to Leibniz, whereas Spinoza possessed the Hebrew version of ibn Tibbon. Maimonides responded to accusations that he had denied the resurrection of the body with a treatise on the subject in 1191. Unlike the immortality of the soul, for which rational demonstrations are possible, he explained, this doctrine is held exclusively on faith. A request from the Jews of Marseilles was the occasion of his Letter on Astrology in 1194, in which he totally rejected the pseudo-scientific subordination of human affairs to celestial phenomena. To these may be added collections of his Responsa and Letters. A treatise on the unity of God, ascribed to him, is of uncertain authenticity. Maimonides's practice as a physician is reflected in a series of medical treatises that includes his translation into Hebrew of the Canon of avicenna and his annotated extracts from galen.
Doctrine. Persuaded that faith has nothing to fear from a circumspect application of reason to Scripture, Maimonides acknowledged the value of a preparation in the quadrivium and in logic for the believer who must contend with the metaphysical questions broached by the mutakallimün, Muslim devotees of the rational discussion of faith called kalĀm (discourse). Although few in number, erudite believers deserve guidance, for the confrontation of science and Scripture can beget grave perplexity; hence his Guide of the Perplexed (see the introduction to the English translation by S. Pines, p. lvii; and 2.23, ibid., pp. 321–322). Biblical terms must be understood correctly, and the arguments that seem to militate against the Mosaic Law must be classified as apodictic, merely probable, or fallacious if they are to be solved (ibid. 2.16, p. 293). In his Treatise on Logic, Maimonides had taken into account not only the books usually assigned to the Organon of aristotle, but also the Rhetoric with its probable reasonings and the Poetics with its discussion of fiction and imitation. The purpose of the Guide is to illumine Scripture (ibid., introductory essay by Leo Strauss, p. xiv; 2.2 pp. 253–254); the first part recalls Maimonides's youthful interest in precise terminology,
while the second and third parts elaborate the Talmudic themes of "Creation" and the "Divine Chariot." The Guide stated, in 26 propositions, the main theses from which philosophers proved the existence of God, and Maimonides rejected only the one that asserts the eternity of the world. The point in Aristotle, he claimed, is held as merely probable, whereas, according to his commentators, the Philosopher had demonstrated the proposition. On the other hand, the mutakallimūn tried to demonstrate temporal creation. Maimonides thought both commentators and mutakallimūn wrong (ibid. 2 Introd., pp. 235–241). Should reason demand it, the scriptural passages on temporal creation could be explained figuratively (ibid. 2.25 pp. 327–328), but the philosophical objections to the eternity of the world are stronger than those urged against the doctrine of creation as "held by our Father Abraham and our Teacher Moses" (ibid. 2.22p. 320); hence the Bible account prevails (ibid. 2.23 p.322). Since we cannot demonstrate that the world is not eternal, philosophical integrity demands that we give such proofs of God's existence as would be valid even if it were; Aristotelian demonstrations meet this challenge (ibid. 2.1 pp. 245–246) and, what is more, support the Biblical teaching that God is One: His essence and existence are identical (ibid. 1.57 p. 132). God has no essential attributes, and because He has nothing in common with creatures, human language is radically inadequate to express Him (ibid. 1.50–53 pp. 111–123). Even in Scripture, terms predicated of God are but metaphors (ibid. 1.26 pp. 56–57). The true attributes of God are negative ones (ibid. 1.58 pp. 134–135), but those based on His many actions are permissible since they do not compromise the divine unity (ibid. 1.54 pp. 123–128).
The eternity of the world apart, Aristotle is reliable on what transpires under the sphere of the moon (ibid. 2.22 pp. 319–320), but later thinkers have improved upon his teaching concerning what is above. These have shown that there are nine intelligences to animate the nine spheres and a tenth, the agent intellect, which reduces to act our individual possible intellects (ibid. 2.4 pp. 257–258). These intelligences are philosophical analogues of Scripture's angels (ibid. 2.6 pp. 261–262). Nor were the philosophers wrong to say that Providence does not extend to every individual, for Providence has regard for a man in direct proportion to his merits (ibid. 3.18 pp. 475–476) and departs from those who occupy themselves with creatures (ibid. 3.51 pp. 624–626). Prophecy, itself susceptible of many grades and most fully realized in Moses, is the height of human knowledge (ibid. 2.37–48 pp. 373–412). Intellectual perfection bespeaks moral perfection (ibid. 1.34 pp. 75–78), and the possession of intellectual qualities assures a man of immortality (ibid. 3.54p. 635). Knowledge through union with the agent intellect is identified with the eternal life promised by faith: the souls of the pious will not die (ibid. 2.27 p. 333).
Familiar from his youth with persecution, Maimonides counseled patience and even flight in his "Letter to the South," addressed to the Jews of Yemen, and warned them at the same time against a fatuous messianism. If the "Letter on Apostasy" is indeed his, it may reflect the straits of his own family at Fez, where some Jews had made an external profession of faith in Islam but continued to practice Judaism in secret. Against the condemnation by a rigorous rabbi of this dissembling, the second letter likens the Law to a rope let down from heaven to earth: to grasp it firmly with both hands offers the best hope, but to hold on with the tips of the fingers is better than to let go altogether (Cahiers juifs, 8–12).
Influence. Maimonides's theological and exegetical works soon counted as classics in Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Spain, and France; but the author's alleged pretension to supremacy in the rabbinate, his freedom in interpreting venerated texts, and his policy of omitting his authorities, all invited attack. To the distress of those who deplored dogmatism, Maimonides had formulated in his "Enlightenment" 13 articles of faith as the minimum that would guarantee every Israelite a part in the world to come. The disciple to whom the Guide was addressed expressed his disappointment with Maimonides's reconciliation of faith and learning, while readers who found the resurrection of the body in neither the "Repetition of the Law" nor in the Guide did not miss the echoes of Averroës and Aristotle when the Rambam dealt with the immortality of the soul. Judah al-Fakhar of Toledo and Moses ben Naḥmān declined his leadership. By about 1230, the anti-Maimonists Solomon ben Abraham, David ben Saul, and Jonas ben Abraham led an assault in the name of the letter of the Mosaic Law against the Maimonists of Lunel, Béziers, and Narbonne. levi ben gerson (1288–1344) and Ḥasdāi Crescas (1340–1410) were to subject Maimonides to severe critiques, and Cabbalists managed to mark his tomb as that of "an excommunicate and heretic" (Levy, 233–235). The sympathetic use of the Guide by Christian theologians makes it tempting to exaggerate his influence on St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus; but it remains true that in the Christian universities no other master of Judaism was so much esteemed as Rabbi Moses. Despite all controversies, the Rambam has inspired the popular saying: "From Moses to Moses, there has been no one like Moses."
Bibliography: Texts and translations. Le Guide des égarés, tr. and ed. s. munk, 3 v. (Paris 1856–66; reprint 1960), contains Arabic text and Fr. tr.; Dalālat al-ḥā'irīn, ed. i. joel (Jerusalem 1930–31); Guide of the Perplexed, tr. with introd. and nn. s. pines, introd. essay l. strauss (Chicago 1963), the best tr.; Guide for the Perplexed, tr. m. friedlÄnder, 3 v. (London 1881, abr. 1904; repr. Gloucester, Mass. 1962), older rendering; The Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah ) (Yale Judaica Ser.; New Haven 1949-), to date Bks. 3–14, ann. Eng. trs.; Treatise on Logic, ed. and tr. i. efros (New York 1938), contains orig. Arabic text and three Hebrew trs. i. efros, "Maimonides' Treatise on Logic: The New Arabic Text," Jewish Quarterly Review 53 (1963) 269–273. r. lerner and m. mahdi, eds., Medieval Political Philosophy; A Sourcebook (Glencoe, Ill. 1963), contains Letter on Astrology and further references. c. p. farrar and a. p. evans, Bibliography of English Translations from Medieval Sources (New York 1946) 2790–2807. Literature. a. heschel, Maimonides: Eine Biographie (Berlin 1935). l. g. levy, Maïmonide (Paris 1932). i. mÜnz, Maimonides: The Story of His Life and Genius, tr. h. t. schnittkind (Boston 1935). "Maïmonide, sa vie, son oeuvre, son influence," Cahiers juifs 16–17 (1935). a. cohen, The Teachings of Maimonides (London 1927). j. guttmann, Das Verhältniss des Thomas von Aquino zum Judenthum und zur jüdischen Litteratur (Göttingen 1891).
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