How does one “review” a dense, millennia-old treatise on Jewish philosophy and religion?
One doesn’t. But what one can do is share insights and particularly powerful ideas and concepts with another.
In The Guide for the Perplexed, written around 1190 in Moor-occupied Spain, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (aka Maimonides aka Rambam) writes to his student Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, to remove some of his confusions regarding certain aspects of faith and philosophy.
The Guide touches on many, many topics including:
- The multiple meanings of Hebrew words and how to properly interpret the Torah (aka the first five books of the Old Testament)
- Aristotelian philosophy: what Aristotle got right and wrong
- Problems Maimonides sees with certain aspects of Islamic theology
- The nature of God and proof of His existence
- The nature of evil, and why it exists
- Divine Providence
- The nature of angels, prophecy (with a detailed discussion of Ezekiel) and dreams
- Astronomy (as understood at the time) and the “spheres”
- The purpose of God’s commandments
And yet instead of seeming disjointed, the Guide has as a constant thread two main themes:
- Discerning who God is and what He wants
- Achieving perfection, as much as possible, by coming to true knowledge of God
It’s heavy stuff, but it makes you appreciate the magic of the written word, and how one man’s letters nearly one thousand years ago still speak to us today, explaining mysteries and, as the title says, removing perplexities . . . or at least easing them and providing a way forward for further studies and thought.
Regular readers of Amatopia know that I am a Christian and don’t shy about writing on religious topics, so if that isn’t your bag, you have been warned. But even though Maimonides was Jewish, there is much overlap between Judaism and Christianity–same God, same creation stories, same traditions, similar rites (or at least the meaning behind them) and much of the same general theology and philosophy about God and man.
Obviously, Christians accept Christ as the promised Messiah and Son of God described in Jewish prophecy and Jews regard Him as a prophet and religious leader, but not Divine.
But the point remains: Christians can get a lot out of The Guide for the Perplexed. And even if you are not Christian, Jewish, or religious at all, Maimonides is a powerful thinker you will get a lot out of reading. Here are eight of my favorite takeaways from The Guide for the Perplexed: