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Guide To The Perplexed Essay

2267 words - 10 pages

In order to begin to analyze any text on Maimonides one needs to have an understanding of pertinent information historically and biographically. Maimonides, also know as Moses Ben Maimon, or RaMBaM, was born in Cordova, Spain in 1135. At age thirteen, he and his family fled to Egypt because his town was captured by the Almohad Muslim sect. He wrote most of his major works while in Egypt where he also practiced as a physician to the Sultan (Schloss 79). At the tender age of seventeen, he composed a grammar book which is still studied to this day by numerous serious students of Hebrew grammar. He undertook a project of writing a comprehensive book of halacha, codifying it topic by topic, ...view middle of the document...

Today, the work is translated into many languages and studied by many cultures. Rambam himself admits this book is difficult to learn and one must have a grasp of Torah and be familiar with classic Greek philosophy(Seeskin xvi). Rambam was able to quote text from the Tanach as well as understand classic Greek philosophy. Maimonides wants the student to struggle and reflect upon the perplexities of the Torah, as he did (Seeskin 6) and at the core of his Guide is the desire to imbue the reader with a desire to study and acquire knowledge of the Divine(Levy 30).
One particular theme in the Guide to the Perplexed is Maimonides' theory of the attributes of Hashem via negativa. The definition of the phrase " via negativa" is to attempt to describe Hashem through what He is not and if one tries to describe God in term of what He is it will then introduce complexity of Hashem which is opposite His oneness. Those who study this theory pose some questions in order better to comprehend this lofty notion. How can one really know Hashem via negativa? Can one discuss Hashem's unity and incorporeality without limiting His essence? Can the student differentiate between the epistemological and semantic approaches of the theory via negativa? How can the student reconcile the tradition of a moral and ethical divine being which drives us to be moral and ethical and a divine being that cogitates about its own cognition which we cannot describe or discuss because we may not limit this entity? These are but just a few questions that are discussed in the literature concerning The Guide to the Perplexed. While exploring literature published on this theory, an effort will be made to resolve and explain some of these difficulties the reader may struggle with in The Guide to the Perplexed.
In exploring chapter 53, Maimonides presents an analogy of fire to help the student comprehend Hashem's unity. He elaborates that fire hardens, cooks, burns, bleaches and blackens(Maimonides 120), yet all these actions manifest through the characteristic of heat. Rambam then introduces that Hashem possesses power, will, life, and knowledge which are parts of His essence.(Maimonides 121). But how can one discuss individual attributes in regard to Hashem? Will this compromise His unity? These are multiple notions of the essence of oneness of God. There is no multiplicity, just unity. These actions proceed from one simple essence, not composited of parts, of absolute unity. Each notion; power, knowledge, life, and will are metaphorical and therefore not limiting. "Thus it is possible to talk about God without compromising his absolute unity" (Levy 33). Rambam would insist that if we were to speak of Hashem in positive attributes one would need to apply terms equivocally, with different meaning when used in reference to human beings (Levy 33).
According to Maimonides, in chapter 54 of Guide to the Perplexed, the conversation between Hashem and Moshe concluding in Hashem...

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