Maimonides was instructed in philosophy and the natural sciences by local Muslim scholars. In addition to living in Cordova and other parts of Spain, he also lived in Morocco and Egypt, where he entered into a medical career and became a court physician to Saladin. He died in Egypt but was buried in Tiberias, Palestine.
Maimonides was a philosopher, scientist, rabbi, physician, and judge. Writing his Commentary on the Mishneh (1168) and the Mishneh Torah (1180) made him one of the greatest authorities in Jewish Law until this day. Moreover, one of his most distinguished works is his Guide of the Perplexed (دلالة الحائرين) written originally in Arabic, excerpts of which will be shown below. Among devout Jews, Maimonides is also well-known for his Thirteen Principles of the Jewish faith, without which a Jew may not be called a believer. These thirteen principles are:
The following are excerpts from his most famous books.
Guide of the Perplexed
You already know that even the [traditionally] transmitted jurisprudence was not put down in writing in the olden times because of the command, which is widely known in the nation: "Words that I have communicated to you orally you are not allowed to put down in writing." This was extremely wise with regard to the Law, for it avoided what ultimately befell it. I mean the multiplicity of opinions, the proliferation of schools, the uncertainties occurring in the expression of what is put down in writing, the negligence that accompanies what is written down, the rise of dissension among men who are separated into sects, and the introduction of perplexity in actions....
Now if there was insistence that jurisprudence should not be perpetuated in a written compilation accessible to all men in view of the harm that would be caused by such a procedure, still less could any of the mysteries of the Torah be set down in writing and be made accessible to men. On the contrary, they were transmitted by a few of the elect to a few of the same kind, as I explained to you from their saying: "The mysteries of the Torah may only be transmitted to a counsellor, wise in crafts," and so on. This was the cause that necessitated the disappearance of these great roots [of knowledge] from the nation. You will not find anything of them except slight indications and pointers occurring in the Talmud and the Midrashoth. These are a few kernels of grain, which are overlaid by many layers of husks, so that people were occupied with these layers of husks and thought that beneath them there was no kernel whatever.
As for the scanty bit of argument regarding the notion of the unity of God and regarding what depends on this notion, which you will find in the writings of some Geonim and in those of the Qaraites, these are matters they have taken over from the dialectical theologians of Islam and they are scanty indeed as compared to what the Muslims have composed on this subject.
Know also that all the statements that the Muslims - both the Mutazilites and the Asharites - have made concerning these notions are all of them opinions founded upon premises that are taken over from the books of the Greeks and the Syrians who wished to disagree with the opinions of the philosophers and to disprove their statements....
There is no doubt that there are things that are common to all three of us, I mean the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims: namely, the assertion of the temporal creation of the world, the validity of which entails the validity of miracles and other things. As for the other things into which these two communities undertook to plunge - for instance, the notion of trinity into which the Christians plunged and the dialectical theology into which certain sects of the Muslims plunged - so that they found it requisite to establish premises....
Guide of the Perplexed
When I studied the books of these dialectical theologians... I found that the method of all the dialectical theologians was one and the same in kind.... Thus when they propound the premises that we will let you hear, they reach the judgment, through their demonstrations, that the world is created in time. And when it is thus established that the world is created in time, it is likewise undoubtedly established that it has a maker who has created it in time. Then they infer that this maker is one; whereupon, basing themselves upon His being one, they affirm that He is not a body. This is the way of every dialectical theologian from among the Muslims in anything concerning this subject. Thus also do those belonging to our community who imitate them and follow their ways.
Now when I considered this method, my soul felt a very strong aversion to it, and had every right to do so. For every argument deemed to be a demonstration of the temporal creation of the world is accompanied by doubts and is not a decisive demonstration except among those who do not know the difference between demonstration, dialectic, and sophistry. As for those who know these arts, it is clear and evident to them that there are doubts with regard to all these proofs and that permises that have not been demonstrated have been used in them. According to me, the utmost power of one who seeks to ascertain the truth (among those who follow a Law) consists in his refuting the proofs of the philosophers bearing on the eternity of the world. How sublime a thing it is when it is possible for him to do it! And everyone who engages in speculation, who is perceptive, and who seeks to ascertain the truth and does not deceive himself, knows that with regard to this question - namely, the eternity of the world or its temporal creation - no decisive demonstration can be reached and that it is a point at which the intellect rests.
Now if this is the state of this question, how can we take the doctrine of the temporal creation of the world as a premise upon which we found the existence of the deity? For in that case the existence of the deity would be doubtful: if the world were created in time, there would be a deity; and if it were eternal, there would be no deity.... All this is remote from the truth. Rather, the correct way, according to me, which is the method of demonstration about which there can be no doubt, is to establish the existence and the oneness of the deity and the negation of corporeality through the methods of the philosophers; which methods are founded upon the doctrine of the eternity of the world - not because I believe in the eternity of the world or because I concede this point to the philosophers, but because it is through this method that the demonstration becomes valid and perfect certainty is obtained with regard to these three things: I mean the existence of the deity, His oneness, and His not being a body; all this without regard to reaching a judgment as to the world's being eternal or created in time. When these three great and sublime problems have been validated for us through a correct demonstration, we shall thereafter return to the question of the creation of the world in time and we shall enounce with regard to it all the argumentation that is possible.
As to this my method, it is as I shall describe to you in a general way now. Namely I shall say: the world cannot but be either eternal or created in time. If it is created in time, it undoubtedly has a creator who created it in time. For it is a first intelligible that what has appeared at a certain moment in time has not created itself in time and that its creator is other than itself. Accordingly the one who created the world in time is the deity. If, however, the world is eternal, it follows necessarily because of this and that proof that there is some being other than all the bodies to be found in the world; a being who is not a body and not a power in a body and who is one, permanent, and everlasting; who has no cause and who cannot change: this, then, is the deity. Thhus it has become manifest to you that the proofs of the existence and the oneness of the deity and of His not being a body ought to presuppose the eternity of the world, for in this way the demonstration will be perfect, both if the world is eternal and if it is created in time.
Guide of the Perplexed
...The people to whose mind the existence of the deity is firmly established have three opinions concerning prophecy. I shall not pay attention to the opinion of Epicurus, for he does not believe in the existence of a deity, let alone believe in a prophecy. I only aim to state the opinions of those who believe in the deity.
The first opinion - that of the multitude of the ignorant communities who accept prophecy and also believed by some of the vulgar among the followers of our Law - is that God, the Exalted, chooses whom He wishes from among men, turns him into a prophet, and sends him with a mission. According to them it makes no difference whether this individual was a man of knowledge or ignorant, aged, or young. However, they also posit as a condition his having certain goodness and sound morality. For up to now people have not gone so far as to say that God sometimes turns a wicked man into a prophet unless He has first, according to this opinion, turned him into a good man.
The second opinion - that of the philosophers - is that prophecy is a certain perfection in the nature of man. This perfection is not achieved by any individual from among men except after a training that makes that which exists in the potentiality of the species pass into actuality, provided an obstacle due to temperament or to some external cause does not hinder this, as is the case with regard to every perfection whose existence is possible in a certain species. For the existence of that perfection in its extreme and ultimate form in every individual of that species is not possible. It must, however, exist necessarily in at least one particular individual; if, in order to be achieved, this perfection requires something that actualizes it, that something necessarily exists. According to this opinion it is not possible that an ignoramus should turn into a prophet; nor can a man who is not a prophet become a prophet overnight, as though one has made a find. Things are rather as follows: a virtuous individual who is perfect with respect to his rational and moral qualities, when his imaginative faculty is in its most perfect state and when he has been prepared in the way that you will hear, he will necessarily become a prophet, inasmuch as this is a perfection that belongs to us by nature. According to this opinion an individual cannot be fit for prophecy and prepared for it and not become a prophet....
The third opinion - the opinion of our Law and the foundation of our doctrine - is identical with the philosophic opinion except in one thing. For we believe that it may happen that one who is fit for prophecy and prepared for it should not become a prophet, namely, on account of the divine will. To my mind... the natural thing is that everyone who is fit by his natural disposition and who trains himself in his education and study will become a prophet.
However we find many texts, some of them scriptural and some of them dicta of the sages, all of which follow this fundamental: that God turns whom He wills, whenever He wills it, into a prophet - but only someone perfect and virtuous to the utmost degree. But as regards one of the ignorant among the vulgar, this is not possible according to us - I mean that He should turn one of them into a prophet - except as it is possible that He should turn a donkey or a frog into a prophet. It is our fundamental that there must be training and perfection, whereupon the possibility arises to which the power of the deity becomes attached. You should not be led astray by His saying: "Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you come forth from the womb I sanctified you" (Jer. 1:5). For this is the state of every prophet: he must have a natural preparedness in his original natural disposition, as shall be explained.
Know that the truth and essence of prophecy consist in its being an emanation from God, the Mighty and Majestic, through the meditation of the Active Intellect to the rational faculty in the firsty place and thereafter to the imaginative faculty. This is the highest degree of man and the ultimate perfection that can exist for his species; and this state is the ultimate perfection of the imaginative faculty. This is something that can in no way exist in every man. And it is not something that may be attained through perfection in the theoretical sciences and through improvement of moral habits (to the end that all of them become as fine and beautiful as can be) without there being in addition the highest possible degree of perfection of the imaginative faculty in respect of its original natural disposition. [...] It is not a thing whose lack could be made good or whose deficiency could be remedied in any way by means of a regimen.
You already know also the actions of this imaginative faculty that are in its nature, such as retaining sense-perceptions, combining them, and imitation, and that its greatest and noblest action takes place only when the senses rest and are not performing their actions....
Why should we teach you by means of the dicta of [the sages] (may their memory be a blessing) and leave aside the texts of the Torah? If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord do make Myself known unto him in a vision, I do speak with him in a dream [Num. 12:6]. Thus, He, the Exalted, has informed us of the truth and essence of prophecy and has let us know that it is a perfection that comes in a dream or in a vision.... In those two groups, I mean vision and dream, all the degrees of prophecy are included, as shall be explained.
After these premises, you should know that if a human individual the substance of whose brain at the origin of his natural disposition is extremely well-proportioned... then that individual obtains knowledge and wisdom until he passes from potentiality to actuality and acquires a perfect and complete human intellect and pure and well-temperd human moral habits. All his desires are directed to acquiring the science of the secrets of this existence and knowledge of its causes, and his thought always goes toward noble matters, and he is interested only in the knowledge of the deity and in reflection on His works and on what ought to be believed with regard to that. His thought is detached from, and his desire abolished for, bestial things. (I mean the preference for the pleasures of eating, drinking, copulation, and, in general, of the sense of touch, which Aristotle explained in the Ethics, saying that this sense is a disgrace for us. How fine is what he said, and how true it is that it is a disgrace! For we have it only in so far as we are animals like the other beasts, and nothing that belongs to the notion of humanity pertains to it.... It is likewise necessary that the thought of that individual be detached from the spurious kinds of rulership and that his desire for them should be abolished - I mean the wish to dominate or to be held great by the vulgar and to obtain from them honor and obedience for its own sake.... There is no doubt that whenever - in an individual of this description - his imaginative faculty, which is as perfect as possible, acts and receives from the Intellect an emanation corresponding to his theoretical perfection, this individual will only apprehend divine and most extraordinary matters, will see only God and His angels, and will only be aware, and achieve knowledge of, matters that constitute true opinions and general directives for the well-being of men in their relations with one another....
You know that every bodily faculty sometimes grows tired, is weakened, and is corrupted, and at other times is in a sound state. Now this imaginative faculty is undoubtedly a bodily faculty. Accordingly you will find that the prophecy of the prophets ceased when they were sad or angry or the like. You know their saying that "prophecy does not descend during sadness or languor"; that revelation did not come to Jacob our Father as long as he was mourning because of the fact that his imaginative faculty was preoccupied with the loss of Joseph; and that, after the disastrous incident of the spies and until the whole generation of the desert had perished, revelation did not come to Moses (peace be on him) in the way that it had come before, because - seeing the enormity of their crime - he suffered greatly because of this matter.... this was what he meant by saying: They shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it [Amos 8:12]. And it also says: Her king and her princes are among the nations, the Law is no more; yea, her prophets find no vision from the Lord [Lam. 2:9]. This is true and the cause thereof is clear. For the instrument has ceased to function. This also will be the cause for the return of prophecy to us in its customary form, as has been promised in the days of the Messiah, may he be revealed soon.
Know that when this intellectual emanation flows only to the rational faculty and none of it overflows to the imaginative faculty - either because of the scantiness of hwat flows or because of some deficiency existing in the imaginative faculty in its natural disposition that makes it impossible for it to receive emanation of the Intellect - then this is the class of men of science, theoretical men. If, on the other hand, this emanation is to both faculties - I mean both the rational and the imaginative (as we and others among the philosophers have explained) - and if the imaginative faculty is in its ultimate perfection as regards the natural disposition, then this is the class of the prophets. If, again, the emanation is only to the imaginative faculty, the defect of the rational faculty deriving either from its original natural disposition or from insufficiency of training, then this class are those who govern cities and are the legislators, the soothsayers, the augurs, and those who have true dreams....
It is known that in each of these three classes there are very many differences of degree.... Sometimes the revelation that comes to him only renders that prophet perfect and nothing more. And sometimes what comes to him of it compels him to address a call to the people, teach them, and let his own perfection flow to them.
It has already become clear to you that, were it not for this additional perfection, sciences would not be set forth in books and prophets would not call upon people to know the truth. For a man of science does not compose anything for himself in order to teach himself what he already knows. Rather the nature of this Intellect is such that it always flows and extends from the one who receives that emanation to another one who receives it after him.... The nature of this matter makes it necessary for someone to whom this additional measure of emanation has come, to address a call to people, regardless of whether that call is listened to or not, and even if it leads to his being harmed in his body.... He says: Because the word of the Lord is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, all the day. And if I say: I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name; then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot [Jer. 20:8-9].
Why do we need prophets?
It has been explained with utmost clarity that man is political by nature and that it is in his natgure to associate with others. He is not like the other animals for whom association is not a necessity. Because of the manifold composition of this species - for, as you know, it is the last one to ohave been composed - there are many differences between the individuals belonging to it, so that you can hardly find two individuals who are alike in any one of the species of moral habits, any more than their visible forms are alike.... Nothing like this great individual difference is found among any other animal species. Rather the differences between the individuals of every species are slight, except for man. For you find among us two individuals who seem to belong to two different species with regard to each moral habit; so that you find in an individual cruelty that reaches a point at which he kills the youngest of his sons in his great anger, whereas another individual is full of pity at the killing of a bug or any other insect, his soul being too tender for this....
Now as the nature of the human species requires that there be those differences among the individuals belonging to it and as, in addition, association is a necessity for this nature, it is by no means possible that his association should be accomplished except - and this is necessarily so - through a ruler who gauges the actions of the individuals, perfecting that which is deficient and reducing that which is excessive, and who lays down actions and moral habits for all of them to practice always in the same way, until the natural diversity is hidden through the multiple points of conventional accord, and so the society becomes well-ordered. Therefore I say that the Law, although it is not natural, has a basis in what is natural. It was a part of the wisdom of the deity with regard to the continuance of this species, that He put it into its nature (when He willed its existence), that individuals belonging to it should have the faculty of ruling. Among them there is one to whom that governance has been revealed by prophecy directly; he is a prophet or the one who lays down the nomos.
And if you find a Law all of whose governances attend to the aforementioned soundness of the bodily states and also to the soundness of belief - a Law that takes pains to give correct opinions regarding God, the Exalted, in the first place, and with regard to the angels, and what desires to make man wise, to give understanding, and to awaken his attention, so that he knows the whole of existence as it truly is - you must know that this governance comes from Him, the Exalted, and that this Law is divine.
Degrees of Prophecy
The First Degree: The first of the degrees of prophecy is that an individual is accompanied by divine help, which moves and activates him to a righteous, great, and important action - such as the deliverance of community of virtuous people from a community of wicked people....
The Second Degree: It consists in an individual's finding that a certain thing has descended upon him and that another power has come upon him and has made him speak; so that he talks wise sayings or in words of praise or in useful admonitory dicta, or concerning governmental or divine matters - and all this while he is awake and his senses function as usual. This is the one of whom it is said that he "speaks through the Holy Spirit." It is through this Holy Spirit that David composed "Psalms," and Solomon "Proverbs," "EEcclesiastes," and "Song of Songs."
The Third Degree: This is the first of the degrees of those who say: "The word of the Lord came to me," or expressions having a similar sense. That is, a prophet sees a parable in a dream according to all the conditions set forth before with regard to the truth of prophecy. And it is in this very dream of prophecy that the meaning of that parable - what was intended thereby - is made manifest to him, as in most of the parables of Zechariah.
The Fourth Degree: consists in his hearing articular and clear speech in the dream of prophecy, but without seeing the speaker - as has happened to Samuel in the first revelation that came to him, as we have explained with regard to him.
The Fifth Degree: This consists in his being addressed by a man in a dream - as it says in one of Ezekiel's prophecies: And the man said unto me: Son of man,... [Ezek. 40:4].
The Sixth Degree: consists in his being addressed by an angel in a dream. This is the state of the majority of the prophets. Thus it says: And the angel of God said unto me in the dream,... [Gen. 31:11].
The Seventh Degree: consists in his eeing in the dream of prophecy, as it were, that He, the Exalted, addresses him. Thus Isaiah says: I saw the Lord,... [Isa. 6:1]. And He said: Whom shall I send,... [Isa. 6:8]. Thus Micaiah, son of Imla, says: I saw the Lord,... [I Kings 22:19; II Chron. 18:18].
The Eighth Degree: consists in revelation coming to him in a vision of prophecy and his seeing parables - as Abraham in the vision between the pieces, since these parables came in a vision during the day, as has been explained.
The Ninth Degree: consists in his hearing speech in a vision - as is said with regard to Abraham: And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying: This shall not be thine heir [Gen. 15:4].
The Tenth Degree: consists in his seeing a man who addresses him in a vision of prophecy - as Abraham again by the terebinths of Mamre and as Joshua in Jericho.
The Eleventh Degree: consists in his seeing an angel who addresses him in a vision - as Abraham at the time of the binding. According to me, this is the highest of the degrees of the prophets whose states are attested by the books....
Inasmuch as I found scriptural texts attesting that prophets heard speech - it having been made clear that this was in a vision - I said by way of conjecture that it is possible that, in this speech that is heard in a dream and the like of which may not occur in a vision, it is God who is making him imagine that He is addressing him; all this is based on the external meaning. One could also say that every vision in which you find the hearing of an address, was in its beginning a vision, but ended in a state of submersion [in sleep] and became a dream, as we have explained with regard to the saying: And a deep sleep fell upon Abram [Gen. 15:12]. [The sages] have said: "This is the deep sleep of prophecy." Therefore all speech that is heard, whatever the way may be in which it is heard, was heard only in a dream; as the text has it: I will speak unto him in a dream [Num. 12:6]. On the other hand, in a vision of prophecy only parables or intellectual unions are apprehended, which lead to the attainment of scientific matters similar to those attained through speculation, as we have explained. This is the meaning of its saying: I will make Myself known unto him in a vision [Num. 12:6]. Consequently, according to this last interpretation, there are eight degrees of prophecy; the highest and most perfect among them being the one in which [the prophet] prophesies in a vision - taking this in a general way - even though, as has been mentioned, he is merely addressed by a man. Perhaps you will raise the objection against me, saying: "You have counted among the degrees of prophecy the prophet's hearing an address from God who addresses him, as in the cases of Isaiah and Micaiah. How can this be when our fundamental is that all prophets hear an address only through the intermediary of an angel, with the exception of Moses our Master, of whom it is said: With him do I speak mouth to mouth [Num. 12:8]?" Know then that this is in fact so, and that the intermediary here is the imaginative faculty. For he only hears in a dream of prophecy that God has spoken to him. Moses our Master, on the other hand, heard Him from above the ark-cover, from between the two cherubim [Exod. 25:22], without action on the part of the imaginative faculty. We have already explained in Mishneh Torah the differentia of that prophecy and have commented on the meaning of: Mouth to mouth [Num. 12:8], and: As a man speaks unto his friend [Exod. 33:11], and others. Understand it from there, for there is no need to repeat what has already been said.
Guide of the Perplexed
The Law as a whole aims at two things: the well-being of the soul and the well-being of the body. As for the well-being of the soul, it consists in the multitude acquiring correct opinions corresponding to their respective capacity. Therefore some of them [i.e. opinions] are set forth explicitly and some of them are set forth in parables.... As for the well-being of the body, it comes about by the improvement of their ways of living one with another. This matter is achieved through two things. One of them is the removal of reciprocal wrongdoing from among them.
Know that as between these two aims, one is undoubtedly greater in nobility, namely the well-being of the soul...; while the second aim, I mean the well-being of the body, is prior in nature and time. The latter aim consists in the governance of the city and the well-being of the states of all its people according to to their capacity. This second is the more urgent one, and it is the one regarding which every effort has been made to expound it and to expound all its particulars. For the first aim can only be achieved after achieving the second one. For it has already been demonstrated that man has two perfections: a first perfection, which is the perfection of the body, and an ultimate perfection, which is the perfection of the soul. His first perfection consists in his being healthy and in the very best bodily state, and this is only possible through his finding the things necessary for him whenever he seeks them. These are his food and the rest of the things needed for the governance of his body, such as shelter, bathing, and so forth. This cannot be achieved in any way by one isolated individual. An individual can only attain all this through a political association, it being already known that man is political by nature.... It is clear that this ultimate perfection does not comprise either actions or moral habits and that it consists only of opinions arrived at through speculation and made necessary by investigation. It is also clear that this noble ultimate perfection can only be achieved after the first perfection has been achieved. For a man cannot cognize an intelligible even when made to comprehend it, and still less become aware of it of his own accord, while in pain or very hungry or thirsty or hot or very cold. But once the first perfection has been achieved it is possible to achieve the ultimate perfection, which is undoubtedly more noble and is the only cause of lasting life.... The text of the Torah has spoken of both perfections and has informed us that the end of this Law in its entirity is the achievement of these two perfections.
As regards all the correct opinions concerning the whole of this existence - opinions that constitute all the theoretical sciences in their many kinds through which those opinions forming the ultimate end are validated - the Law, although it does not call to them explicitly as it does with regard to the former, does do this in summary fashion by saying: To love the Lord [Deut. 11:13,22; 19:9; 30:6,16,20]. You already iknow what is found regarding the expression "love": With all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might [Deut. 6:5]. We have already explained in Mishneh Torah that this love becomes valid only through the apprehension of the whole of existence as it is and through the consideration of His wisdom in it. We have also mentioned there that the sages (may their memory be a blessing) call attention to this notion.... No question as to the end need to be posed with regard to such commandments. For at no time at all was anyone perplexed or asked why we were commanded by the Law that God is one, or why we were forbidden to kill and to steal, or why we were forbidden to exercise vengeance and retaliation, or why we were ordered to love one another.
Translated by Ralph Lerner and Muhsin Mahdi
[more to come]