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Shlomo Pines, Leo Strauss The Guide of the Perplexed, Vol 1 .pdf

Nombre del archivo original: Shlomo Pines, Leo Strauss The Guide of the Perplexed, Vol 1.pdf
Título: The Guide of the Perplexed, Volume 1
Autor: Moses Maimonides

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Moses Maimonides

Translated with an Introduction and Notes by

With an Introductory Essay by



Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637
The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London
© 1963 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. Published 1963.
Published with the aid of the Bollingen Foundation
Designed by Andor Braun
10 09 08 07 06 05 04 03 02 01

12 13 14 15 16

ISBN: 0-226-50230-9 (Vol. 1, paperback)
0-226-50231-7 (Vol. 2, paperback)
LCN: 62-18113

e The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of
the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of
Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.















o Professor Ralph Lerner of the University of Chicago we wish to express our
deepest thanks for the most valuable editorial task he has performed. He has
contributed greatly to giving this translation an English style that reflects Maimonides' subtle prose. This contribution involved repeated recourse to both the
Arabic and Hebrew versions of the Guide in order to verify the consistency and
clarity of the translation. While we must absolve him of any responsibility for
such defects as may still exist, we are very much obliged to Professor Lerner for
his devoted labors, skill, patience, and wise understanding of the problems.

Shlomo Pines
Leo Strauss



connected with the production of this translation of Maimonides'
Guide of the Perplexed has long felt that such a new translation was necessary.
The legitimate demand that must be made of any translation is not satisfied by
any of the existing modern language translations of the Guide. We rightly demand
that a translation should remain as close as is practicable to the original, that
within the limits of the possible it should give the reader an impression - both in
general and in detail- resembling the impression offered by the original. In the
present translation, pains have been taken to meet this demand. As far as was
compatible with intelligibility, every Arabic technical term has been rendered by
one and the same English term. Wherever the original is ambiguous or obscure,
the translation has preserved or attempted to preserve that very ambiguity or
obscurity. A special effort has been made to reproduce the artful interplay of
Maimonides' Arabic text with his Hebrew and Aramaic quotations from the classic
Jewish sources. Besides, considerable progress has been made, within the last
generation, in the understanding of the Guide. These advances have, of course,
been based on a close study of the original text, and as always in such cases, by
virtue of these advances the existing translations prove now to be less adequate
than they had appeared to be before. In other words, to the extent that earlier
translators. were not sufficiently sensitive to certain facets of the Guide, their
translations failed to disclose those facets. A single example must suffice: where
Maimonides speaks of "political," previous translators speak of "social"; where
Maimonides says "city," they translate "state"; where Maimonides speaks of
"political civic actions," they speak of "social conduct." A moment's reflection
shows that an entirely different perspective is provided when the political is
mentioned, rather than the social.
The present translation is based on the Arabic text established by S. Munk
(Le Guide des Egares; 3 vols.; Paris, 1856-66) and edited with variant readings

by Issachar Joel (Dallilat al-l}lPirin; Jerusalem: J. Junovitch, 5691 [1930/31]).
Where the readings adopted by Munk and Joel have not been followed, this has
been noted. The pagination of the Munk edition is indicated by thin vertical lines
in the body of the text and by bracketed numerals in the running head. These
numerals refer to those pages of the Arabic text whose beginnings are denoted by
the first and last vertical lines occurring on the two facing pages. Italic type in the
text has been reserved to indicate Maimonides' use of words that are clearly
identifiable as being Hebrew or Aramaic. The division of the text into parts and
chapters is Maimonides'. The Arabic text has no paragraphing, very little punctuation, and, of course, no capitalization; the translator is responsible for such features
in this volume.
Shlomo Pines
Leo Strauss



How To Begin To Study







Translator's Introduction



















The Guide of the Perplexed



that it will not be amiss if I simply present the plan of the Guide as it
has become clear to me in the course of about twenty-five years of frequently
interrupted but never abandoned study. In the following scheme Roman (and
Arabic) numerals at the beginning of a line indicate the sections (and subsections)
of the Guide while the numbers given in parentheses indicate the Parts and the
chapters of the book.

A. Views (I I-III 24)

Views regarding God and the angels (I I-III 7)

Biblical terms applied to God (I 1-70)
II. Terms suggesting the corporeality of God (and the angels) (I 1-49)
1. The two most important passages of the Torah that seem to suggest
that God is corporeal (I 1-7)
2. Terms designating place, change of place, the organs of human
locomotion, etc. (I 8-28)
3. Terms designating wrath and consuming (or taking food) that if
applied to divine things refer to idolatry on the one hand and to
human knowledge on the other (I 29-36)
4. Terms designating parts and actions of animals (I 37-49)

Terms suggesting multiplicity in God (I 50-70)
5. Given that God is absolutely one and incomparable, what is the
meaning of the terms applied to God in nonfigurative speech?
6. The names of God and the utterances of God (I 61-67)


The Guide of the Perplexed
7. The apparent multiplicity in God consequent upon His knowledge,
His causality, and His governance (I 68-70)

Demonstrations of the existence, unity, and incorporeality of God (I 71II ~)l)



Introductory (I 71-73)
Refutation of the Kali'im demonstrations (I 74-76)
The philosophic demonstrations (II 1)
Maimonides' demonstration (II 2)
The angels (II 3-12)
Creation of the world, i.e., defense of the belief in creation out of
nothing against the philosophers (II 13-24)
Creation and the Law (II 25-31)

III. Prophecy (II 32-48)
Natural endowment and training the prerequisites of prophecy
(II 32-34)
2. The difference between the prophecy of Moses and that of the other
prophets (II 35)
3. The essence of prophecy (II 36-38)
4. The legislative prophecy (of Moses) and the Law (II 39-40)
5. Legal study of the prophecy of the prophets other than Moses (II 411.

6. The degrees of prophecy (II 45)
7. How to understand the divine actions and works and the divinely
commanded actions and works as presented by the prophets (II 4648)

The account of the Chariot (III 1-7)

Views regarding bodily beings that come into being and perish, and in particular regarding man (III 8-54)

Providence (III 8-24)
Statement of the problem: matter is the ground of all evils and yet
matter is created by the absolutely good God (III 8-14)
2. The nature of the impossible or the meaning of omnipotence (III 15)
3. The philosophic arguments against omniscience (III 16)
4. The views regarding providence (III 17-18)

The Guide of the Perplexed


6. Jewish views on omniscience and Maimonides' discourse on this
subject (III 19-21)
6. The book of Job as the authoritative treatment of providence (III 2223)
7. The teaching of the Torah on omniscience (III 24)

B. Actions (III 25-54)

The actions commanded by God and done by God (III 25-50)
}. The rationality of God's actions in general and of His legislation in
particular (III 25-26)
2. The manifestly rational part of the commandments of the Torah
(III 27-28)
3. The rationale of the apparently irrational part of the commandments
of the Torah (III 29-33)
4. The inevitable limit to the rationality of the commandments of the
Torah (III 34)
5. Division of the commandments into classes and explanation of the
usefulness of each class (III 55)
6. Explanation of all or almost all commandments (III 36-49)
7. The narratives in the Torah (III 50)


Man's perfection and God's providence (III 51-54)


True knowledge of God Himself is the prerequisite of providence
(III 51-52)
True knowledge of what constitutes the human individual himself
is the prerequisite of knowledge of the workings of providence (III 53-

The Guide consists then of seven sections or of thirty-eight subsections.
Wherever feasible, each section is divided into seven subsections; the only section
that does not permit of being divided into subsections is divided into seven chapters.
The simple statement of the plan of the Guide suffices to show that the book
is sealed with many seals. At the end of its Introduction Maimonides describes the
preceding passage as follows: "It is a key permitting one to enter places the gates
to which were locked. When those gates are opened and those places are entered,
the souls will find rest therein, the eyes will be delighted, and the bodies will be
eased of their toil and of their labor." The Guide as a whole is not merely a key to


The Guide of the Perplexed

a forest but IS itself a forest, an enchanted forest, and hence also an enchanting
forest: it is a delight to the eyes. For the tree of life is a delight to the eyes.
The enchanting character of the Guide does not appear immediately. At first
glance the book appears merely to be strange and in particular to lack order and
consistency. But progress in understanding it is a progress in becoming enchanted
by it. Enchanting understanding is perhaps the highest form of edification.
One begins to understand the Guide once one sees that it is not a philosophic
book - a book written by a philosopher for philosophers - but a Jewish book:
a book written by a Jew for Jews. Its first premise is the old Jewish premise that
being a Jew and being a philosopher are two incompatible things. Philosophers
are men who try to give an account of the whole by starting from what is always
accessible to man as man; Maimonides starts from the acceptance of the Torah.
A Jew may make use of philosophy and Maimonides makes the most ample use of it;
but as a Jew he gives his assent where as a philosopher he would suspend his
assent (cf. II 16).
Accordingly, the Guide is devoted to the Torah or more precisely to the true
science ofthe Torah, ofthe Law. Its first purpose is to explain biblical terms and its
second purpose is to explain biblical similes. The Guide is then devoted above all to
biblical exegesis, although to biblical exegesis of a particular kind. That kind of
exegesis is required because many biblical terms and all biblical similes have an
apparent or outer and a hidden or inner meaning; the gravest errors as well as
the most tormenting perplexities arise from men's understanding the Bible
always according to its apparent or literal meaning. The Guide is then devoted to
"the difficulties of the Law" or to "the secrets of the Law." The most important
of those secrets are the Account of the Beginning (the beginning of the Bible)
and the Account of the Chariot (Ezek. 1 and 10). The Guide is then devoted primarily and chiefly to the explanation of the Account of the Beginning and the
Account of the Chariot.
Yet the Law whose secrets Maimonides intends to explain forbids that they be
explained in public, or to the public; they may only be explained in private and only
to such individuals as possess both theoretical and political wisdom as well as the
capacity of both understanding and using allusive speech; for only "the chapter
headings" of the secret teaching may be transmitted even to those who belong to
the natural elite. Since every explanation given in writing, at any rate in a book,
is a public explanation, Maimonides seems to be compelled by his intention to
transgress the Law. There were other cases in which he was under such a compulsion. The Law also forbids one to study the books of idolaters on idolatry, for the
first intention of the Law as a whole is to destroy every vestige of idolatry; and
yet Maimonides, as he openly admits and even emphasizes, has studied all the

The Guide of the Perplexed


available idolatrous books of this kind with the utmost thoroughness. Nor is this all.
He goes so far as to encourage the reader of the Guide to study those books by
himself (III 29-30, 32, 37; Mishneh Torah, H. CAbodah Zarah II 2 and III 2). The
Law also forbids one to speculate about the date of the coming of the Messiah, yet
Maimonides presents such a speculation or at least its equivalent in order to comfort
his contemporaries (Epistle to Yemen, 62, 16 ff., and 80, 17 ff. Halkin; cf. Halkin's
Introduction, pp. xii-xiii; M. T., H. Melakhim XII 2). Above all, the Law forbids
one to seek for the reasons of the commandments, yet Maimonides devotes almost
twenty-six chapters of the Guide to such seeking (III 26; cf. II 25). All these
irregularities have one and the same justification. Maimonides transgresses the
Law "for the sake of heaven," i.e., in order to uphold or to fulfill the Law
(I Introd. and III Introd.). Still, in the most important case he does not, strictly
speaking, transgress the Law, for his written explanation of the secrets of the Law
is not a public but a secret explanation. The secrecy is achieved in three ways.
First, every word of the Guide is chosen with exceeding care; since very few men
are able or willing to read with exceeding care, most men will fail to perceive the
secret teaching. Second, Maimonides deliberately contradicts himself, and if a man
declares both that a is b and that a is not b, he cannot be said to declare anything.
Lastly, the "chapter headings" of the secret teaching are not presented in an
orderly fashion but are scattered throughout the book. This permits us to understand why the plan of the Guide is so obscure. Maimonides succeeds immediately
in obscuring the plan by failing to divide the book explicitly into sections and
subsections or by dividing it explicitly only into three Parts and each Part into
chapters without supplying the Parts and the chapters with headings indicating
the subject matter of the Parts or of the chapters.
The plan of the Guide is not entirely obscure. No one can reasonably doubt
for instance that II 32-48, III 1-7, and III 25-50 form sections. The plan is most
obscure at the beginning and it becomes clearer as one proceeds; generally speaking,
it is clearer in the second half (II 13-end) than in the first half. The Guide is then
not entirely devoted to secretly transmitting chapter headings of the secret teaching.
This does not mean that the book is not in its entirety devoted to the true science
of the Law. It means that the true science of the Law is partly public. This is not
surprising, for the teaching of the Law itself is of necessity partly public. According
to one statement, the core of the public teaching consists of the assertions that God
is one, that He alone is to be worshipped, that He is incorporeal, that He is incomparable to any of His creatures and that He suffers from no defect and no
passion (I 35). From other statements it would appear that the aC'£eptance of the
Law on every level of comprehension presupposes belief in God, in angels, and in
prophecy (III 45) or that the basic beliefs are those in God's unity and in Creation


The Guide of the Perplexed

(II 13)' In brief one may say that the public teaching of the Law in so far as it
refers to beliefs or to "views," can be reduced to the thirteen "roots" (or dogmas)
which Maimonides had put together in his Commentary on the Mishnah. That
part of the true science of the Law which is devoted to the public teaching of
the Law or which is itself public has the task of demonstrating the roots to the
extent to which this is possible or of establishing the roots by means of speculation
(III 51 and 54). Being speculative, that part of the true science of the Law is not
exegetic; it is not necessarily in need of support by biblical or talmudic texts
(cf. II 45 beginning). Accordingly, about 20 per cent of the chapters of the Guide
contain no biblical quotations and about 9 per cent of them contain no Hebrew or
Aramaic expressions whatever. It is not very difficult to see (especially on the
basis of III 7 end, 23, and 28) that the Guide as devoted to speculation on the roots
of the Law or to the public teaching consists of sections II-III and V-VI as indicated
in our scheme and that the sequence of these sections is rational; but one cannot
understand in this manner why the book is divided into three Parts, or what
sections I, IV, and VII and most, not to say all, subsections mean. The teaching of
the Guide is then neither entirely public or speculative nor is it entirely secret
or exegetic. For this reason the plan of the Guide is neither entirely obscure nor
entirely clear.
Yet the Guide is a single whole. What then is the bond uniting its exegetic
and its speculative ingredients? One might imagine that while speculation
demonstrates the roots of the Law, exegesis proves that those roots as demonstrated
by speculation are in fact taught by the Law. But in that case the Guide would
open with chapters devoted to speculation, yet the opposite is manifestly true.
In addition, if the exegesis dealt with the same subject matter as that speculation
which demonstrates the public teaching par excellence, namely, the roots of the
Law, there would be no reason why the exegesis should be secret. Maimonides
does say that the Account of the Beginning is the same as natural science and the
Account of the Chariot is the same as divine science (i.e., the science of the incorporeal beings or of God and the angels). This might lead one to think that the
public teaching is identical with what the philosophers teach, while the secret
teaching makes one understand the identity of the teaching of the philosophers
with the secret teaching of the Law. One can safely say that this thought proves
to be untenable on almost every level of one's comprehending the Guide: the
nonidentity of the teaching of the philosophers as a whole and the thirteen roots of
the Law as a whole is the first word and the last word of Maimonides. What he
means by identifying the core of philosophy (natural science and divine science)
with the highest secrets of the Law (the Account of the Beginning and the Account
of the Chariot) and therewith by somehow identifying the subject matter of

The Guide of the Perplexed


speculation with the subject matter of exegesis may be said to be the secret par excellence of the Guide.
Let us then retrace our steps. The Guide contains a public teaching and a
secret teaching. The public teaching is addressed to every Jew including the
vulgar; the secret teaching is addressed to the elite. The secret teaching is of no
use to the vulgar and the elite does not need the Guide for being apprised of the
public teaching. To the extent to which the Guide is a whole, or one work, it is
addressed neither to the vulgar nor to the elite. To whom then is it addressed?
How legitimate and important this question is appears from Maimonides' remark
that the chief purpose of the Guide is to explain as far as possible the Account of the
Beginning and the Account of the Chariot "with a view to him for whom (the
book) has been composed" (III beginning). Maimonides answers our question both
explicitly and implicitly. He answers it explicitly in two ways; he says on the one
hand that the Guide is addressed to believing Jews who are perfect in their religion
and in their character, have studied the sciences of the philosophers, and are
perplexed by the literal meaning of the Law; he says on the other hand that the
book is addressed to such perfect human beings as are Law students and perplexed.
He answers our question more simply by dedicating the book to his disciple
Joseph and by stating that it has been composed for Joseph and his like. Joseph
had come to him "from the ends of the earth" and had studied under him for a
while; the interruption ofthe oral instruction through Joseph's departure, which
"God had decreed," induced Maimonides to write the Guide for Joseph and his
like. In the Epistle Dedicatory addressed to Joseph, Maimonides extolls Joseph's
virtues and indicates his limitation. Joseph had a passionate desire for things
speculative and especially for mathematics. When he studied astronomy, mathematics, and logic under Maimonides, the teacher saw that Joseph had an excellent
mind and a quick grasp; he thought him therefore fit to have revealed to him
allusively the secrets of the books of the prophets and he began to make such revelations. This stimulated Joseph's interest in things divine as well as in an appraisal of
the Kaliim; his desire for knowledge about these subjects became so great that
Maimonides was compelled to warn him unceasingly to proceed in an orderly
manner. It appears that Joseph was inclined to proceed impatiently or unmethodically in his study and that this defect had not been cured when he left Maimonides.
The most important consequence of Joseph's defect is the fact, brought out by
Maimonides' silence, that Joseph turned to divine science without having studied
natural science under Maimonides or before, although natural science necessarily
precedes divine science in the order of study.
The impression derived from the Epistle Dedicatory is confirmed by the book
itself. Maimonides frequently addresses the reader by using expressions like "know"


The Guide of the Perplexed

or "you know already." Expressions of the latter kind indicate what the typical
addressee knows and expressions of the former kind indicate what he does not
know. One thus learns that Joseph has some knowledge of both the content and
the character of divine science. He knows for example that divine science in
contradistinction to mathematics and medicine requires an extreme of rectitude
and moral perfection, and in particular of humility, but he apparently does not
yet know how ascetic Judaism is in matters of sex (I 34, III 52). He had learned
from Maimonides' "speech" that the orthodox "views" do not last in a man if he
does not confirm them by the corresponding "actions" (II 31). It goes without
saying that while his knowledge of the Jewish sources is extensive, it is not comparable in extent and thoroughness to Maimonides' (II 26, 33)' At the beginning of
the book he does not know that both according to the Jewish view and according
to demonstration, angels have no bodies (I 43, 49) and he certainly does not know,
strictly speaking, that God has no body (I g). In this respect as well as in other
respects his understanding necessarily progresses while he advances in his study
of the Guide (cf. I 65 beginning). As for natural science, he has studied astronomy
but is not aware of the conflict between the astronomical principles and the principles of natural science (II 24), because he has not studied natural science. He knows
a number of things that are made clear in natural science, but this does not mean
that he knows them through having studied natural science (cf. I 17, 28; III 10).
From the ninety-first chapter (II 15) it appears that while he knows Aristotle's
Topics and Farabi's commentary on that work, he does not know the Physics and
On the Heaven (cf. II 8). Nor will he acquire the science of nature as he acquires
the science of God and the angels while he advances in the study of the Guide.
For the Guide, which is addressed to a reader not conversant with natural science,
does not itself transmit natural science (II 2). The following remark occurring in
the twenty-sixth chapter is particularly revealing: "It has been demonstrated
that everything moved undoubtedly possesses a magnitude and is divisible;
and it will be demonstrated that God possesses no magnitude and hence possesses no
motion." What "has been demonstrated" has been demonstrated in the Physics
and is simply presupposed in the Guide; what "will be demonstrated" belongs to
divine science and not to natural science; but that which "will be demonstrated"
is built on what "has been demonstrated." The student of the Guide acquires
knowledge of divine science but not of natural science. The author of the Guide in
contradistinction to its addressee is thoroughly versed in natural science. Still, the
addressee needs some awareness of the whole in order to be able to ascend from the
whole to God, for there is no way to knowledge of God except through such ascent
(I 71 toward the end); he acquires that awareness through a report of some kind
(170) that Maimonides has inserted into the Guide. It is characteristic of that report

The Guide of the Perplexed



that it does not contain a single mention of philosophy in general and of natural
science in particular. The serious student cannot rest satisfied with that report; he
must turn from it to natural science itself, which demonstrates what the report
merely asserts. Maimonides cannot but leave it to his reader whether he will turn
to genuine speculation or whether he will be satisfied with accepting the report
on the authority of Maimonides and with building on that report theological
conclusions. The addressee of the Guide is a man regarding whom it is still undecided whether he will become a genuine man of speculation or whether he will
remain a follower of authority, if of Maimonides' authority (cf. I 72 end). He stands
at the point of the road where speculation branches off from acceptance of authority.
Why did Maimonides choose an addressee of this description? What is the
virtue of not being trained in natural science? We learn from the seventeenth
chapter that natural science had already been treated as a secret doctrine by the
pagan philosophers "upon whom the charge of corruption would not be laid ifthey
exposed natural science clearly": all the more is the community of the Lawadherents obliged to treat natural science as a secret science. The reason why natural
science is dangerous and is kept secret "with all kinds of artifices" is not that it undermines the Law- only the ignorant believe that (133), and Maimonides' whole life
as well as the life of his successors refutes this suspicion. Yet it is also true that
natural science has this corrupting effect on all men who are not perfect (cf. I 62).
For natural science surely affects the understanding of the meaning of the Law,
of the grounds on which it is to be obeyed and of the weight that is to be attached
to its different parts. In a word, natural science upsets habits. By addressing a
reader who is not conversant with natural science, Maimonides is compelled to
proceed in a manner that does not upset habits or does so to the smallest possible
degree. He acts as a moderate or conservative man.
But we must not forget that the Guide is written also for atypical addressees.
In the first place, certain chapters of the Guide are explicitly said to be useful also
for those who are simply beginners. Since the whole book is somehow accessible
to the vulgar, it must have been written in such a way as not to be harmful to the
vulgar (I Introd.; III 29). Besides, the book is also meant to be useful to such men
of great intelligence as have been trained fully in all philosophic sciences and as
are not in the habit of bowing to any authority - in other words, to men not inferior
to Maimonides in their critical faculty. Readers of this kind will be unable to bow
to Maimonides' authority; they will examine all his assertions, speculative or
exegetic, with all reasonable severity; and they will derive great pleasure from
all chapters of the Guide (I Introd.; I 55, 68 end, 73, tenth premise).
How much Maimonides' choice of his typical addressee affects the plan of his
book will be seen by the judicious reader glancing at our scheme. It suffices to


The Guide of the Perplexed

mention that no section or subsection of the Guide is devoted to the bodies that
do not come into being and perish (cf. III 8 beginning, and I 11), i.e., to the heavenly bodies, which according to Maimonides possess life and knowledge, or to "the
holy bodies," to use the bold expression used by him in his Code (M. T., H.
Yesodei ha-Torah IV 12). In other words, no section or subsection of the Guide is
devoted to the Account of the Beginning in the manner in which a section is
devoted to the Account of the Chariot. More important, Maimonides' choice of his
typical addressee is the key to the whole plan of the Guide, to the apparent lack of
order or to the obscurity of the plan. The plan of the Guide appears to be obscure
only so long as one does not consider the kind of reader for which the book is
written or so long as one seeks for an order agreeing with the essential order of
subject matter. We recall the order of the sciences: logic precedes mathematics,
mathematics precedes natural science, and natural science precedes divine science;
and we recall that while Joseph was sufficiently trained in logic and mathematics,
he is supposed to be introduced into divine science without having been trained
properly in natural science. Maimonides must therefore seek for a substitute for
natural science. He finds that substitute in the traditional Jewish beliefs and ultimately in the biblical texts correctly interpreted: the immediate preparation for
divine science in the Guide is exegetic rather than speculative. Furthermore,
Maimonides wishes to proceed in a manner that changes habits to the smallest
possible degree. He himself tells us which habit is in particular need of being
changed. After having reported the opinion of a pagan philosopher on the obstacles
to speculation, he adds the remark that there exists now an obstacle that the
ancient philosopher had not mentioned because it did not exist in his society:
the habit of relying on revered "texts," i.e., on their literal meaning (I 31).
It is for this reason that he opens his book with the explanation of biblical terms,
i.e., with showing that their true meaning is not always their literal meaning.
He cures the vicious habit in question by having recourse to another habit of his
addressee. The addressee was accustomed not only to accept the literally understood
biblical texts as true but also in many cases to understand biblical texts according
to traditional interpretations that differed considerably from the literal meaning.
Being accustomed to listen to authoritative interpretations of biblical texts, he is
prepared to listen to Maimonides' interpretations as authoritative interpretations.
The explanation of biblical terms that is given by Maimonides authoritatively is
in the circumstances the natural substitute for natural science.
But which biblical terms deserve primary consideration? In other words,
what is the initial theme of the Guide? The choice of the initial theme is dictated
by the right answer to the question of which theme is the most urgent for the typical
addressee and at the same time the least upsetting to him. The first theme of the

The Guide of the Perplexed


Guide is God's incorporeality. God's incorporeality is the third of the three most
fundamental truths, the preceding ones being the existence of God and His unity.
The existence of God and His unity were admitted as unquestionable by all Jews;
all Jews as Jews know that God exists and that He is one, and they know this
through the biblical revelation or the biblical miracles. One can say that because
belief in the biblical revelation precedes speculation, and the discovery of the
true meaning of revelation is the task of exegesis, exegesis precedes speculation.
But regarding God's incorporeality there existed a certain confusion. The biblical
texts suggest that God is corporeal and the interpretation of these texts is not a very
easy task (II 25, 31, III 28). God's incorporeality is indeed a demonstrable truth but,
to say nothing of others, the addressee of the Guide does not come into the possession
of the demonstration until he has advanced into the Second Part (cf. I 1, 9, 18).
The necessity to refute "corporealism" (the belief that God is corporeal) does not
merely arise from the fact that corporealism is demonstrably untrue: corporealism
is dangerous because it endangers the belief shared by all Jews in God's unity
(I 35). On the other hand, by teaching that God is incorporeal, one does not do more
than to give expression to what the talmudic Sages believed (I 46). However, the
Jewish authority who had given the most consistent and the most popularly effective
expression to the belief in God's incorporeality was Onqelos the Stranger, for the
primary preoccupation of his translation of the Torah into Aramaic, which Joseph
knew as a matter of course, was precisely to dispose of the corporealistic suggestions
of the original (I 21, 27, 28, 36 end). Maimonides' innovation is then limited to
his deviation from Onqelos' procedure: he does explicitly what Onqelos did implicitly; whereas Onqelos tacitly substituted noncorporealistic terms for the corporealistic terms occurring in the original, Maimonides explicitly discusses each
of the terms in question by itself in an order that has no correspondence to the
accidental sequence of their occurrence in the Bible. As a consequence, the discussion
of corporealism in the Guide consists chiefly of a discussion of the various biblical
terms suggesting corporealism, and, vice versa, the chief subject of what Maimonides declares to be the primary purpose of the Guide, namely, the explanation of
biblical terms, is the explanation of biblical terms suggesting corporealism. This is
not surprising. There are no biblical terms that suggest that God is not one, whereas
there are many biblical terms that suggest that God is corporeal: the apparent
difficulty created by the plural Elohim can be disposed of by a single sentence or by
a single reference to Onqelos (I 2).
The chief reason why it is so urgent to establish the belief in God's incorporeality, however, is supplied by the fact that that belief is destructive of idolatry.
It was of course universally known that idolatry is a very grave sin, nay, that the
Law has, so to speak, no other purpose than to destroy idolatry (I 35, III 29 end).


The Guide of the Perplexed

But this evil can be completely eradicated only if everyone is brought to know
that God has no visible shape whatever or that He is incorporeal. Only if God is
incorporeal is it absurd to make images of God and to worship such images. Only
under this condition can it become manifest to everyone that the only image of
God is man, living and thinking man, and that man acts as the image of God only
through worshipping the invisible or hidden God alone. Not idolatry but the belief
in God's corporeality is a fundamental sin. Hence the sin of idolatry is less grave
than the sin of believing that God is corporeal (I 56). This being the case, it becomes
indispensable that God's incorporeality be believed in by everyone whether or not
he knows by demonstration that God is incorporeal. \Vith regard to the majority of
men it is sufficient and necessary that they believe in this truth on the basis of
authority or tradition, i.e., on a basis that the first subsections of the Guide are
meant to supply. The teaching of God's incorporeality by means of authoritative
exegesis, i.e., the most public teaching of God's incorporeality, is indispensable for
destroying the last relics of paganism: the immediate source of paganism is less
the ignorance of God's unity than the ignorance of His radical incorporeality
(cf. I 56 with M. T., H. cAbodah Zarah I 1).
It is necessary that we understand the character of the reasoning that
Maimonides uses when he determines the initial theme of the Guide. We limit
ourselves to a consideration of the second reason demanding the teaching of
Incorporeality. While the belief in Unity leads immediately to the rejection of the
worship of "other gods" but not to the rejection of the worship of images of the
one God, the belief in Incorporeality leads immediately only to the rejection of the
worship of images or of other bodies but not to the rejection of the worship of
other gods: all gods may be incorporeal. Only if the belief in God's incorporeality is hased on the belief in His unity, as Maimonides' argument indeed assumes,
does the belief in God's incorporeality appear to be the necessary and sufficient
ground for rejecting "forbidden worship" in every form, i.e., the worship of
other gods as well as the worship of both natural things and artificial things.
This would mean that the prohibition against idolatry in the widest sense is as
much a dictate of reason as the belief in God's unity and incorporeality. Yet
Maimonides indicates that only the theoretical truths pronounced in the Decalogue
(God's existence and His unity), in contradistinction to the rest of the Decalogue,
are rational. This is in agreement with his denying the existence of rational
commandments or prohibitions as such (II 33; cf. I 54, II 31 beginning, III 28;
Eight Chapters VI). Given the fact that Aristotle believed in God's unity and
incorporeality and yet was an idolater (I 71, III 29), Maimonides' admiration for
him would be incomprehensible if the rejection of idolatry were the simple consequence of that belief. According to Maimonides, the Law agrees with Aristotle in

The Guide of the Perplexed



holding that the heavenly bodies are endowed with life and intelligence and that
they are superior to man in dignity'; one could say that he agrees with Aristotle in
implying that those holy bodies deserve more than man to be called images of God.
But unlike the philosophers he does not go so far as to call those bodies "divine
bodies" (II 4-6; cf. Letter to Ibn Tibbon). The true ground of the rejection of
"forbidden worship" is the belief in creation out of nothing, which implies that
creation is an absolutely free act of God or that God alone is the complete good that
is in no way increased by creation. But creation is according to Maimonides not
demonstrable, whereas God's unity and incorporeality are demonstrable. The
reasoning underlying the determination of the initial theme of the Guide can then
be described as follows: it conceals the difference of cognitive status between the
belief in God's unity and incorporeality on the one hand and the belief in creation
on the other; it is in accordance with the opinion of the Kalam. In accordance with
this, Maimonides brings his disagreement with the Kalam into the open only after
he has concluded his thematic discussion of God's incorporeality; in that discussion
he does not even mention the Kalam.
It is necessary that we understand as clearly as possible the situation in which
Maimonides and his addressee find themselves at the beginning of the book, if not
throughout the book. Maimonides knows that God is incorporeal; he knows this by
a demonstration that is at least partly based on natural science. The addressee does
not know that God is incorporeal; nor does he learn it yet from Maimonides:
he accepts the fact that God's incorporeality is demonstrated, on Maimonides'
authority. Both Maimonides and the addressee know that the Law is a source of
knowledge of God; only the Law can establish God's incorporeality for the addressee in a manner that does not depend on Maimonides' authority. But both know
that the literal meaning of the Law is not always its true meaning and that the
literal meaning is certainly not the true meaning when it contradicts reason, for
otherwise the Law could not be "your wisdom and your understanding in the
sight of the nations" (Deut. 4: 6). Both know in other words that exegesis does
not simply precede speculation. Yet only Maimonides knows that the corporealistic expressions of the Law are against reason and must therefore be taken as
figurative. The addressee does not know and cannot know that Maimonides'
figurative interpretations of those expressions are true: Maimonides does not
adduce arguments based on grammar. The addressee accepts Maimonides' interpretations just as he is in the habit of accepting the Aramaic translations as correct
translations or interpretations. Maimonides enters the ranks of the traditional
Jewish authorities: he simply tells the addressee what to believe regarding the
meaning of the biblical terms. Maimonides introduces Reason in the guise of
Authority. He takes on the garb of authority. He tells the addressee to believe in


The Guide of the Perplexed

God's incorporeality because, as he tells him, contrary to appearance, the Law
does not teach corporeality, because, as he tells him, corporeality is a demonstrably
wrong belief.
But we must not forget the most important atypical addressee, the reader
who is critical and competent. He knows the demonstration of God's incorporeality
and the problems connected with it as well as Maimonides does. Therefore the
exegetic discussion of God's incorporeality which is presented in the first forty-nine
chapters of the Guide, and which is pre-speculative and hence simply public as far
as the typical addressee is concerned, is post-speculative and hence secret from the
point of view of the critical and competent reader. The latter will examine Maimonides' explanations of biblical terms in the light of the principle that one cannot
establish the meanings of a term if one does not consider the contexts in which
they occur (II 29; cf. Epistle to Yemen 46, 7 ff.) or that while grammar is not a
sufficient condition, it is surely the necessary condition of interpretation. For while
the competent reader will appreciate the advantages attendant upon a coherent
discussion of the biblical terms in question as distinguished from a translation of
the Bible, he will realize that such a discussion may make one oblivious of the
contexts in which the terms occur. He will also notice contradictions occurring in
the Guide, remember always that they are intentional, and ponder over them.
The readers of the Guide were told at the beginning that the first purpose of
the book is the explanation of biblical terms. They will then in no way be surprised
to find that the book opens with the explanation of biblical terms in such a way that,
roughly speaking, each chapter is devoted to the explanation of one or several
biblical terms. They will soon become habituated to this procedure: they become
engrossed by the subject matter, the What, and will not observe the How. The
critical reader, however, will find many reasons for becoming amazed. To say
nothing of other considerations, he will wonder why almost the only terms
explained are those suggesting corporeality. It is perhaps not a matter of surprise
that one chapter is devoted to the explanation of "place" and another to the
explanation of "to dwell." But why is there no chapter devoted to "one," none to
"merciful," none to "good," none to "intelligence," none to "eternity"? Why is
there a chapter devoted to "grief" and none to "laughter" ? Why is there a chapter
devoted to "foot" and another to "wing" but none to "hand" nor to "arm"?
Assuming that one has understood Maimonides' selection of terms, one still has to
understand the order in which he discusses them. To what extent the explanation
of terms is limited to terms suggesting corporeality, appears with particular
clarity when one considers especially those chapters that are most visibly devoted to
the explanation of terms, the lexicographic chapters. By a lexicographic chapter
I understand a chapter that opens with the Hebrew term or terms to be explained

The Guide of the Perplexed


in the chapter regardless of whether these terms precede the first sentence or
form the beginning of the first sentence, and regardless of whether these terms
are supplied with the Arabic article al- or not. The lexicographic chapter may be
said to be the normal or typical chapter in the discussion of God's incorporeality
(11-49); thirty out of the forty-nine chapters in question are lexicographic whereas
in the whole rest of the book there occur at most two such chapters (I 66 and 70).
All these thirty chapters occur in I 1-45: two thirds of the chapters in I 1-45 are
lexicographic. Thus the question arises why nineteen chapters of the discussion
of God's incorporeality- and just the nineteen chapters having both the subject
matters and the places that they do - are not lexicographic. Why do ten of these
thirty lexicographic chapters begin with Hebrew terms preceding the first sentence
and twenty of them begin with Hebrew terms forming part of the first sentence?
Thirteen of the terms in question are nouns, twelve are verbs and five are verbal
nouns: why does Maimonides in some cases use the verbs and in other cases the
verbal nouns? Within the chapters, generally speaking, he discusses the term that
is the subject of the chapter in question, first in regard to the various meanings
it has when it is not applied to God and then in regard to the various meanings it
has when applied to God; he proves the existence of each of these meanings in
most cases by quoting one or more biblical passages; those quotations are sometimes
explicitly incomplete (ending in "and so on") and more frequently not; the
quotations used to illustrate a particular meaning of a particular term do not
always follow the biblical order; they are frequently introduced by "he said"
but sometimes they are ascribed to individual biblical authors or speakers; in most
cases he does not add to the name of the biblical author or speaker the formula
"may he rest in peace," but in some cases he does; sometimes "the Hebrew
language" or "the language" is referred to. In a book as carefuly worded as is the
Guide according to Maimonides' emphatic declaration, all these varieties, and
others that we forgo mentioning, deserve careful consideration. It goes without
saying that there ill not necessarily only one answer to each of the questions implied
in each of these varieties; the same device- e.g., the distinction between lexicographic and nonlexicographic chapters or the tracing of a biblical quotation to an
individual biblical author- may fulfill different functions in different contexts.
In order to understand the Guide, one must be fully awake and as it were take
nothing for granted. In order to become enabled to raise the proper questions, one
does well to consider the possibility that there exists the typical chapter or else
to construct the typical chapter, i.e., to find out which of the varieties indicated
are most in accordance with the primary function of the chapters devoted to the
explanation of biblical terms: only the other varieties are in need of a special


The Guide of the Perplexed

The first chapter of the Guide is devoted to "image and likeness." The selection
of these terms was necessitated by a single biblical passage: "And God said,
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.... So God created man in his
image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them"
(Gen. 1: 26-27)' The selection of these terms for explanation in the first chapter
is due to the unique significance of the passage quoted. That passage suggests to the
vulgar mind more strongly than any other biblical passage that God is corporeal
in the crudest sense: God has the shape of a human being, has a face, lips, and
hands, but is bigger and more resplendent than man since He does not consist of
flesh and blood, and is therefore in need, not of food and drink, but of odors;
His place is in Heaven from which He descends to the earth, especially to high
mountains, in order to guide men and to find out what they do, and to which He
ascends again with incredible swiftness; He is moved, as men are, by passions,
especially by anger, jealousy, and hate, and thus makes men frightened and sad;
His essence is Will rather than Intellect. (Cf. I 10, 20, 56-57, 59, 45, 46,47,68.)
Maimonides tells his addressee that ~elem (the Hebrew term which is rendered by
"image") does not mean, if not exactly in any case, but certainly in the present
case, a visible shape; it means the natural form, the specific form, the essence of a
being: "God created man in his image" means that God created man as a being
endowed with intellect or that the divine intellect links itself with man. Similar
considerations apply to the Hebrew term rendered by "likeness." The Hebrew
term designating form in the sense of visible shape is to'ar, which is never applied
to God. After having dispelled the confusion regarding "image" Maimonides says:
"We have explained to thee the difference between ~elem and to' ar and we have
explained the meaning of ~elem." He thus alludes to the twofold character of his
explanation here as well as elsewhere: one explanation is given to "thee," i.e.,
to the typical addressee, and another is given to indeterminate readers; the latter
explanation comes to sight only when one considers, among other things, the
context of all biblical passages quoted. To mention only one example, the second
of the three quotations illustrating the meaning of to'ar is "What form is he of?"
(I Sam. 28: 14). The quotation is taken from the account of King Saul's conversation with the witch of Endor, whom the king had asked to bring up to him the
dead prophet Samuel; when the woman saw Samuel and became frightened and
the king asked her what she saw, she said: "I saw gods (elohim) ascending out of the
earth." The account continues as follows: "And he said unto her, What form is
he of? And she said: an old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle."
Maimonides himself tells us in the next chapter that elohim is an equivocal term
that may mean angels and rulers of cities as well as God; but this does not explain
why that term is also applied to the shades of the venerable departed - beings

The Guide of the Perplexed


without flesh and blood - which frighten men either because those shades do not
wish to be "disquieted," i.e., they wish to rest in peace, or for other reasons.
To say nothing of other reasons, the rational beings inhabiting the lowest depth
are in truth not men who have died, but all living men, the Adamites r i.e., the
descendants of Adam, who lack Adam's pristine intellectuality (cf. I 2 with I 10).
It looks as if Maimonides wished to draw our attention to the fact that the Bible
contains idolatrous, pagan, or "Sabian" relics. If this suspicion should prove to be
justified, we would have to assume that his fight against "forbidden worship"
and hence against corporealism is more radical than one would be inclined to believe
or that the recovery of Sabian relics in the Bible with the help of Sabian literature
is one of the tasks of his secret teaching. However this may be, his interpretation
of Genesis 1 : 26 seems to be contradicted by the fact that the Torah speaks shortly
afterward of the divine prohibition addressed to Man against eating of the fruit
of the tree of knowledge: if Man was created as an intellectual being and hence
destined for the life of the intellect, his Creator could not well have forbidden him
to strive for knowledge. In other words, the biblical account implies that man's
intellectuality is not identical with man's being created in the image of God but is
a consequence of his disobedience to God or of God's punishing him for that sin.
As we are told in the second chapter, this objection was raised not by the addressee
of the Guide but by another acquaintance of Maimonides, a nameless scientist of
whom we do not even know whether he was of Jewish extraction and who was
apparently not very temperate in regard to drink and to sex. (Compare the parallel
in III 19.) Maimonides tells his addressee that he replied to his objector as follows:
the knowledge that was forbidden to Man was the knowledge of "good and evil,"
i.e., of the noble and base, and the noble and base are objects not of the intellect
but of opinion; strictly speaking they are not objects of knowledge at all. To
mention only the most important example, in Man's perfect state, in which he
was unaware of the noble and base, although he was aware of the naturally good
and bad, i.e., of the pleasant and painful, he did not regard the uncovering of one's
nakedness as disgraceful. After having thus disposed of the most powerful objection
to his interpretation of Genesis 1 : 26, or after having thus taught that the intellectuallife is beyond the noble and base, Maimonides turns to the second most important passage of the Torah that seems to suggest that God is corporeal. More precisely,
he turns both to the terms applied in that passage to God and to kindred terms.
The passage, which occurs in Numbers 12: 8, reads as follows: "he (Moses) beholds
the figure of the Lord." He devotes to this subject three chapters (I 3-5); in I 3
he discusses explicitly the three meanings of "figure" and in I 4 he discusses
explicitly the three meanings of the three terms designating "beholding"
or "seeing"; in one of the biblical passages partly quoted, the Lord is


The Guide of the Perplexed

presented as having appeared to Abraham in the guise of three men who yet were
one. Maimonides tells the addressee that the Hebrew terms designating "figure"
and "beholding" (or its equivalents) mean, when they are applied to God, intellectual truth and intellectual grasp. The relation of 1 5 to 1 5-4 resembles the relation
of 1 2 and 1 1. The view that man was created for the life of the intellect was
contradicted by the apparent prohibition against acquiring knowledge. Similarly,
"the prince of the philosophers" (Le., Aristotle) apparently contradicts his view
that man exists for the life of the intellect by apologizing for his engaging in the
investigation of very obscure matters: Aristotle apologizes to his readers for his
apparent temerity; in fact, he is prompted only by his desire to know the truth.
This restatement of an Aristotelian utterance affords an easy transition to the
Jewish view according to which Moses was rewarded with beholding the figure
of the Lord because he had previously "hid his face; for he was afraid to look
upon God" (Exod. 5: 6). The pursuit of knowledge of God must be preceded by
fear of looking upon God or, to use the expression that Aristotle had used in the
passage in question (On the Heaven 291b 21 ff.) and that does not occur in Maimonides' summary, by sense of shame: the intellectual perfection is necessarily
preceded by moral perfection- by one's having acquired the habit of doing the
noble and avoiding the base- as well as by other preparations. Maimonides'
emphasis here on moral perfection, especially on temperance, as a prerequisite
of intellectual perfection is matched by his silence here on natural science as such a
prerequisite. The weeding-out of corporealism proceeds pari passu with the watering
of asceticism. Having arrived at this point, Maimonides does something strange:
he abruptly turns to the explanation of the terms "man and woman" (1 6) and
"to generate" (1 7). The strangeness, however, immediately disappears once one
observes that 1 6-? are the first lexicographic chapters after I 1 and one remembers
that 1 2 is merely a corollary of 1 1: the explanation of "man and woman" and of
"to generate" forms part ofthe explanation of Genesis 1: 26-27. There it is said that
"in the image of God created (God man); male and female created he them."
Literally understood, that saying might be thought to mean that man is the image
of God because he is bisexual or that the Godhead contains a male and a female
element that generate "children of God" and the like. Accordingly, the last word of
I 7 is the same as the first word of I 1: "image." Maimonides does not discuss the
implication which was stated, for it is one of the secrets of the Torah and we are
only at the beginning of our training. The explanation of the key terms (or their
equivalents) occurring in Genesis 1: 26-27 surrounds then the explanation of the
key terms (or their equivalents) occurring in Numbers 12: 8. The discussion of the
most important passages of the Torah regarding Incorporeality forms the fitting
subject of the first subsection of the Guide. That subsection seems to be devoted to

The Guide of the Perplexed


five unconnected groups of terms; closer inspection shows that it is devoted to
two biblical passages: Maimonides seems to hesitate to sever the umbilical cord
connecting his exegesis with Onqelos'.
At first glance the theme of the second subsection is much easier to recognize
than that of the first. This seems to be due to the fact that that theme is not two or
more biblical passages but biblical terms designating phenomena all of which
belong essentially together: place as well as certain outstanding places, occupying
place, changing place, and the organs for changing place. Nineteen of the twentyone chapters of the second subsection are manifestly devoted to this theme. The
discussion begins with "place" (I 8), turns to "throne" (I 9), a most exalted place
that if ascribed to God designates not only the temple but also and above all the
heaven, and then turns to "descending and ascending" (I 10). While this sequence
is perfectly iucid, we are amazed to find that, whereas I 8 and 9 are lexicographic
chapters, I 10 is not a lexicographic chapter. This irregularity can be provisionally
explained as follows: when Maimonides treats thematically several verbs in one
lexicographic chapter, those verbs are explicitly said to have the same or nearly the
same meaning (I 15, 18); when he treats thematically verbs that primarily designate opposites but do not designate opposites if applied to God, he treats them in
separate chapters (I II, 12, 22, 23); but "descending" and "ascending" designate
opposites both in their primary meaning and if applied to God: God's descending
means both His revealing Himself and His punitive action, and His ascending
means the cessation of His revelation or punitive action (cf. the silence on "returning" at the beginning of I 23)' Maimonides indicates the unique character of the
subject "descent and ascent" by treating it in a nonlexicographic chapter surrounded on the one side by four and on the other side by three lexicographic chapters.
On the basis of "the vulgar imagination" God's natural state would be sitting on
His throne and sitting is the opposite of rising. "Sitting" and "rising" (I II and 12)
designate opposites but do not designate opposites if applied to God: although
God's "sitting" refers to His unchangeability, His "rising" refers to His keeping His
promises or threats, it being understood that His promises to Israel may very well
be threats to Israel's enemies. A talmudic passage that confirms Maimonides' public
explanation and in which "sitting" is mentioned together, not with "rising," but
with "standing up" naturally leads to the discussion of "standing up" (I 13), which
term, according to Maimonides, means if applied to God His unchangeability, an
unchangeability not contradicted, as he indicates, by God's threats to destroy Israel.
Having arrived at this point, Maimonides interrupts his discussion of verbs
or of other terms that refer to place and turns to the explanation of "man"
(I 14.). A similar interruption occurs shortly afterwards when he turns from
"standing" and "rock" (I 15 and 16) to an explanation of the prohibition against


The Guide of the Perplexed

the public teaching of natural science (I 17). Although these chapters are subtly
interwoven with the chapters preceding and following them, at first glance they
strikingly interrupt the continuity of the argument. By this irregularity our
attention is drawn to a certain numerical symbolism that is of assistance to the
serious reader of the Guide: 14 stands for man or the human things and 17 stands
for nature. The connection between "nature" and "change of place" (or, more
generally, motion), and therewith the connection between the theme of I 17 and
the subsection to which that chapter belongs, has been indicated before. The
connection between "14" and the context cannot become clear before we have
reached a better understanding of the relation between nature and convention;
at present it must suffice to say that I 7 deals with "to generate." Although I 26
obviously deals with terms referring to place, it also fulfills a numerological function: the immediate theme of that chapter is the universal principle governing
the interpretation of the Torah ("the Torah speaks according to the language of
human beings"); 26 is the numerical equivalent of the secret name of the Lord,
the God of Israel; 26 may therefore also stand for His Torah. Incidentally, it may
be remarked that 14 is the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew for "hand";
I 28 is devoted to "foot": no chapter of the Guide is devoted to "hand," the
characteristically human organ, whereas Maimonides devotes a chapter, the
central chapter of the fourth subsection, to "wing," the organ used for swift
descent and ascent. In all these matters one can derive great help from studying
Joseph Albo's Roots. Albo was a favorite companion living at the court of a great king.
Of the twenty-one chapters of the second subsection sixteen are lexicographic
and five (I 10, '4, 17, 26, 27) are not. Of these sixteen chapters two begin with
Hebrew terms supplied with the Arabic article (I 23 and 24). Thus only seven of the
twenty-one chapters may be said to vary from the norm. In seven of the fourteen
chapters beginning with a pure Hebrew term, that term precedes the first sentence
and in the seven others the Hebrew term forms part of the first sentence. Seven
of these chapters begin with a verb and seven with a noun or a verbal noun. It is
one thing to observe these regularities and another thing to understand them.
The distinction between the verbs and the verbal nouns is particularly striking,
since lexicographic chapters beginning with verbal nouns occur only in our subsection. Furthermore, of the three lexicographic chapters of the first subsection,
one opens with nouns preceding the first sentence, one with nouns forming part
of the first sentence, and one with a verb preceding the first sentence; orderliness
would seem to require that there be a chapter opening with a verb that forms part
ofthe first sentence. One of the chapters ofthe second subsection (I 22) begins with
a verb preceding the first sentence but the first sentence opens with the verbal
noun (supplied with the Arabic article) of the same verb; there occurs no other

The Guide of the Perplexed


case of this kind in the whole book. If we count this ambiguous chapter among the
chapters beginning with a verbal noun forming part of the flrst sentence, we
reach this conclusion: the second subsection contains four chapters beginning with
verbs or verbal nouns preceding the flrst sentence and eight chapters beginning
with verbs or verbal nouns forming part of the flrst sentence. Furthermore, the
second subsection contains six chapters beginning with verbs and six chapters
beginning with verbal nouns; of the latter six chapters three begin with pure verbal
nouns and three begin with verbal nouns supplied with the Arabic article. The
second subsection surpasses the flrst subsection in regularity especially if I 22 is
properly subsumed. From all this we are led to regard it as possible that I 22
somehow holds the key to the mystery of the second subsection.
The first chapter of the second subsection (I 8) is devoted to "place," a term
that in post-biblical Hebrew is used for designating God Himself. To our great
amazement Maimonides is completely silent about this meaning of "place."
His silence is all the more eloquent since he quotes in this very chapter postbiblical Hebrew expressions containing "place," since he admonishes the readers in
this very chapter to consult regarding his explanation of any term not only "the
books of prophecy" but also other "compilations of men of science" - Talmud and
Midrash are such compilations- and since he had concluded the preceding chapter
with a quotation from the Midrash. In the only other lexicographic chapter devoted
to a term used for designating God Himself-in I 16, which is devoted to "rock"he does not hesitate to say that that term is also used for designating God, for that
meaning of "rock" is biblical. We see then how literally he meant his declaration
that the flrst intention of the Guide is to explain terms occurring in "the books of
prophecy," i.e., primarily in the Bible: he is primarily concerned with the theology
of the Bible in contradistinction to post-biblical Jewish theology. He is alive to the
question raised by the Karaites. As he puts it, not only does criticism of the talmudic Sages do no harm to them - it does not even do any harm to the critic or
rather to the foundations of belief (I Introd., 5 end, 1gend, 46 end; cf. Resurrection 2g, 10-30, 15 Finkel). This observation enables us to solve the difficulty
presented by I 22.
I 18--21 opened with verbs; I 22 marks the transition from chapters opening
with verbs to chapters opening with verbal nouns supplied with the Arabic
article; I 23-24 open with verbal nouns supplied with the Arabic article. I 25
opens again with a verb. That verb is "to dwell." The transition made in I 22
and the procedure in I 23-24 make us expect that I 26 should open with the
verbal noun "the dwelling," the Shekhinah, the post-biblical term particularly used
for God's Indwelling on earth, but this expectation is disappointed. Maimonides
makes all these preparations in order to let us see that he is anxious to avoid as a


The Guide of the Perplexed

chapter heading the term Shekhinah, which does not occur in the Bible in any
sense, and to avoid the Hebrew term Shekhinah in its theological sense within the
most appropriate chapter itself: when speaking there of the Shekhinah theologically, he uses the Arabic translation of Shekhinah but never that Hebrew term
itself. He does use the Hebrew term Shekhinah in a theological meaning in a number of other chapters, but Shekhinah never becomes a theme of the Guide: there
are no "chapters on the Shekhinah" as there are "chapters on providence" or
"chapters on governance" (I 40 and 44). It should also be noted that the chapter
devoted to "wing" does not contain a single reference to the Shekhinah (cf. particularly Maimonides' and Ibn Janii~'s explanation of Isaiah 30: 20 with the
Targum ad loc.). In the chapter implicitly devoted to the Shekhinah, which is
the central chapter of the part devoted to Incorporeality (I 1-49), Maimonides had
mentioned the Shekhinah together with providence, but Shekhinah and providence
are certainly not identical (cf. I 10 and 23)' One should pay particular attention
to the treatment of the Shekhinah in the chapters obviously devoted to providence
strictly understood (III 17-18 and 22-25). With some exaggeration one may say
that whereas the Shekhinah follows Israel, providence follows the intellect. In
other words, it is characteristic of the Guide that in it Shekhinah as a theological
theme is replaced by "providence," and "providence" in its turn to some extent
by "governance," "governance" being as it were the translation of Merkabah
("Chariot"), as appears from I 70. Needless to say, it is not in vain that Maimonides
uses the Arabic article at the beginning of I 23 and 24. He thus connects I 23 and 24
and the context of these chapters with the only other group of chapters all of which
begin with a Hebrew term supplied with the Arabic article: III 36-49. That group
of chapters deals with the individual biblical commandments, i.e., with their
literal meaning rather than their extra-biblical interpretation, as is indicated in the
chapter (III 41) that stands out from the rest ofthe group for more than one reason
and that is devoted to the penal law. One reason why that chapter stands out is that
it is the only chapter whose summary, in III 35, is adorned with a biblical quotation,
III 35 being the chapter that serves as the immediate introduction to III 56-49.
To repeat, the second subsection of the Guide draws our attention to the difference
between the biblical and the post-biblical Jewish teaching or to the question
raised by the Karaites. Maimonides, it need hardly be said, answered that question
in favor of the Rabbanites, although not necessarily in their spirit. It suffices to
remember that not only Shekhinah but also "providence" and "governance"
are not biblical terms.
Like the first subsection, the second subsection is based on two biblical
passages, although not as visibly and as clearly as the first. The passages are
Exodus 35: 20-25 and Isaiah 6. In the former passage the Lord says to Moses:

The Guide of the Perplexed


"Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live: ... thou
shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." Accordingly, Moses sees
only the Lord's "glory pass by." In the latter passage Isaiah says: "I saw the Lord
sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up .... Mine eyes have seen the king, the
Lord of hosts." Isaiah does not speak, as Moses did, of "the figure of the Lord" or
of "the image of God." Nor is it said of Isaiah, as it is said of Moses, Aaron, Nadab,
Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: "they saw the God of Israel: and there
was under his feet etc . ... And the nobles of the children of Israel ... saw God,
and did eat and drink" and thus suggested that the vision was imperfect (cf. I 5
with Albo's Roots III 17)' We are thus induced to believe that Isaiah reached a
higher stage in the knowledge of God than Moses or that Isaiah's vision marks
a progress beyond Moses'. At first hearing, this belief is justly rejected as preposterous, not to say blasphemous: the denial of the supremacy of Moses' prophecy
seems to lead to the denial of the ultimacy of Moses' Law, and therefore Maimonides does not tire of asserting the supremacy of Moses' prophecy. But the belief
in the ultimacy of Moses' Law and even in the supremacy of Moses' prophecy in no
way contradicts the belief in a certain superiority of Isaiah's speeches to Moses'
speeches - to say nothing of the fact that Maimonides never denied that he
deliberately contradicts himself. The following example may prove to be helpful.
In his Treatise on Resurrection, Maimonides teaches that resurrection, one of the
thirteen roots of the Law, is clearly taught within the Bible only in the book of
Daniel, but certainly not in the Torah. He explains this apparently strange fact as
follows: at the time when the Torah was given, all men, and hence also our
ancestors, were Sabians, believing in the eternity of the world, for they believed that
God is the spirit of the sphere, and denying the possibility of revelation and of
miracles; hence a very long period of education and habituation was needed until
our ancestors could be brought even to consider believing in that greatest of all
miracles, the resurrection of the dead (26,18-27, 15 and 31, 1-33, 14 Finkel). This
does not necessarily mean that Moses himself did not know this root of the Law
but he certainly did not teach it. At least in this respect the book of Daniel,
of a late prophet of very low rank (II 45), marks a great progress beyond the
Torah of Moses. All the easier is it to understand that Isaiah should have made
some progress beyond Moses.
The reason why progress beyond the teaching of the Torah is possible or even
necessary is twofold. In the first place, the Torah is the law par excellence. The
supremacy of Moses' prophecy- the superiority of Moses' knowledge even to that
of the Patriarchs- is connected with its being the only legislative prophecy (I 63,
II 13, 39). But precisely because his prophecy culminates in the Law, it reflects the
limitations of law. Law is more concerned with actions than with thoughts


The Guide of the Perplexed

(III 27-28; I Introd.). Mosaic theology reflects this orientation. According to the
opinion of many of our contemporaries, Maimonides' theological doctrine proper
is his doctrine of the divine attributes (I 50-60). In that subsection he quotes
passages from the Torah only in that single chapter (I 54) in which he discusses the
thirteen divine attributes revealed to Moses (Exod. 34: 5-'7); those attributes - all
of them moral qualities- constitute the Mosaic theology; they express positively
what in negative expression is called in the same context "God's back parts."
Although God's goodness had been revealed to Moses in its entirf'ty, the thirteen
attributes articulate only that part of God's goodness which is relevant for the ruler
of a city who is a prophet. Such a ruler must imitate the divine attributes of wrath
and mercy not as passions- for the incorporeal God is above all passion- but
because actions of mercy or wrath are appropriate in the circumstances, and he
must imitate God's mercy and wrath in due proportion. The ruler of a city on the
other hand must be more merciful than full of anger, for extreme punitiveness is
required only because of the necessity, based on "human opinion," to exterminate
the idolaters by fire and sword (I 54). Following another suggestion of Maimonides
(161-63) one could say that the adequate statement of Mosaic theology is contained
in the divine name YHVH - a name by which God revealed Himself for the first
time to Moses as distinguished from the Patriarchs: "I appeared unto Abraham,
unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name YHVH
was I not known to them" (Exod. 6: 3)' Maimonides recognizes that this verse
asserts or establishes the superiority of Moses' prophecy to that of the Patriarchs
(II 35) but he does not explain that verse: he does not explain, at least not clearly,
which theological verities other than the thirteen attributes were revealed to
Moses but were unknown to the Patriarchs. Only this much may be said to emerge:
Abraham was a man of speculation who instructed his subjects or followers rather
than a prophet who convinced by miracles and ruled by means of promises and
threats, and this is somehow connected with the fact that he called "on the name
of YHVH, the God of the world" (Gen. 21: 33) (I 63, II 13), i.e., the God of the
trans-moral whole rather than the law-giving God. It is this Abrahamitic expression
that opens each Part of the Guide as well as other writings of Maimonides.
Considering all these things, one will find it wise to limit oneself to saying that
the Mosaic theology par excellence is the doctrine of the thirteen moral
Second, the Mosaic legislation was contemporary with the yet unbroken and
universal rule of Sabianism. Therefore the situation in the time of Moses was not
different from the situation in the time of Abraham, who disagreed with all men,
all men having the same Sabian religion or belonging to the same religious
community. The innovation was naturally resisted, even with violence, although

The Guide of the Perplexed


it was not a principle of Sabianism to exterminate unbelievers. Yet the Torah has
only one purpose: to destroy Sabianism or idolatry. But the resistance by the
Sabians proper was less important than the inner Sabianism of the early adherents
of the Torah. It was primarily for this reason that Sabianism could be overcome
only gradually: human nature does not permit the direct transition from one
opposite to the other. To mention only the most obvious example, our ancestors
had been habituated to sacrifice to natural or artificial creatures. The sacrificial
laws of the Torah are a concession to that habit. Since the simple prohibition or
cessation of sacrifices would have been as unintelligible or distasteful to our ancestors
as the prohibition or cessation of prayer would be now, God provided that henceforth all sacrifices be transferred to Him and no longer be brought to any false gods
or idols. The sacrificial laws constitute a step in the gradual transition, in the progress from Sabianism to pure worship, i.e., pure knowledge, of God (cf. I 54, 64);
the sacrificial laws were necessary only "at that time." The Sabians believed that
success in agriculture depends on worship of the heavenly bodies. In order to
eradicate that belief, God teaches in the Torah that worship of the heavenly
bodies leads to disaster in agriculture whereas worship of God leads to prosperity.
For the reason given, the open depreciation of sacrifices as such occurs not yet in the
Torah but in the prophets and in the Psalms. Conversely, the Torah is less explicit
than the later documents regarding the duty of prayer (III 29, 30, 32, 35-37)'
No less important an adaptation to Sabian habits is the corporealism of the Bible.
For Sabianism is a form of corporealism; according to the Sabians, the gods are the
heavenly bodies or the heavenly bodies are the body of which God is the spirit
(III 29). As for the Bible, Maimonides' teaching on this subject is not free from
ambiguity. The first impression we receive from his teaching is that according to it
the corporealistic understanding of the Bible is a mere misunderstanding. For
instance, ~elem simply does not mean visible shape but only natural form, and
even if it should sometimes mean visible shape, the term must be considered to be
homonymous, and it certainly does not mean visible shape but natural form in
Genesis 1: 26-27 (I 1; cf. I 49). In other cases, perhaps in most cases, the primary
meaning of the term- say, "sitting" - is corporealistic but when it is applied to
God, it is used in a derivative or metaphoric sense; in those cases the meaning of
the text, the literal meaning, is metaphoric. Generally stated, the literal meaning
of the Bible is not corporealistic. But there are also cases in which the literal
meaning is corporealistic, for instance in the many cases in which the Bible
speaks of God's anger (cf. I 29)' One must go beyond this and say that generally
speaking the literal meaning of the Bible is corporealistic because "the Torah
speaks in accordance with the language of the children of Man," i.e., in accordance
with "the imagination of the vulgar," and the vulgar mind does not admit, at


The Guide of the Perplexed

least to begin with, the existence of any being that is not bodily; the Torah therefore describes God in corporealistic terms in order to indicate thafHe is (I 26, 47, 51
end). The Bible contains indeed innumerable passages directed against idolatry
(I 36), but, as we have seen, idolatry is one thing and corporealism is another.
The corporealistic meaning is not the only meaning, it is not the deepest meaning,
it is not the true meaning, but it is as much intended as the true meaning; it is
intended because of the need to educate and to guide the vulgar and, we may add,
a vulgar that originally was altogether under the spell of Sabianism. What is
true of the biblical similes is true also of the metaphoric biblical terms. According
to the talmudic Sages, the outer of the similes is nothing while the inner is a
pearl; ac.::ording to King Solomon, who was "wiser than all men" (I Kings 5: 11),
the outer is like silver, i.e., it is useful for the ordering of human society, and the
inner is like gold, i.e., it conveys true beliefs (I Introd.). Hence it is not without
danger to the vulgar that one explains the similes or indicates the metaphoric
character of expressions (I 33). For such biblical teachings as the assertions that
God is angry, compassionate, or in other ways changeable, while not true, yet
serve a political purpose or are necessary beliefs (III 28). A third possibility emerges
through Maimonides' thematic discussion of providence. There he makes a
distinction between the view of the Law regarding providence and the true view
(III 17, 23). He could well have said that the true view is the secret teaching of the
Law. Instead he says that the true view is conveyed through the book of Job,
thus implying that the book of Job, a nonprophetic book whose characters are not
Jews and that is composed by an unknown author (II 45; Epistle to Yemen 50,
19-52, 1 Halkin) marks a progress beyond the Torah and even beyond the prophets
(cf. III 19). We recall that the simple co-ordination, taught by the Torah, of the
worship of the Lord with agricultural and other prosperity was merely a restatement of the corresponding Sabian doctrine. As Maimonides indicates when
explaining the account of the revelation on Mount Sinai, the beautiful consideration
of the texts is the consideration of their outer meaning (II 36 end, 37). This remark
occurs within the section on prophecy in which he makes for the first time an
explicit distinction between the legal (or exegetic) and the speculative discussion
ofthe same subject (cf. II 45 beginning). Accordingly, he speaks in his explanation
of the Account of the Chariot, at any rate apparently, only of the literal meaning
of this most secret text (III Introd.). Or to state the matter as succinctly as Maimonides does in the last chapter, the science of the Law is something essentially
different, not only from the post-biblical or at any rate extra-biblical legal interpretation of the Law, but from wisdom, i.e., the demonstration of the views
transmitted by the Law, as well.
Undoubtedly Maimonides contradicts himself regarding Moses' prophecy.
He declares that he will not speak in the Guide explicitly or allusively about the

The Guide of the Perplexed


characteristics of Moses' prophecy because or although he had spoken most
explicitly about the differences between the prophecy of Moses and that of the other
prophets in his more popular writings. And yet he teaches explicitly in the Guide
that Moses' prophecy, in contradistinction to that of the other prophets, was
entirely independent of the imagination or was purely intellectual (II 35, 36, 45
end). His refusal to speak of Moses' prophecy has indeed a partial justification.
At least one whole subsection of the section on prophecy (II 41-440) is devoted to the
prophecy of the prophets other than Moses, as is indicated by the frequent quotation in that subsection of this passage: "If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord
will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream" ;
for the Bible continues as follows: "My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in
all my house" (Num. 12: 6-7)' Still the assertion that Moses' prophecy was entirely
independent of the imagination leads to a great difficulty if one considers the fact,
pointed out by Maimonides in the same context (II 36; cf. II 47 beginning),
that it is the imagination that brings forth similes and, we may add, metaphors,
as well as the fact that the Torah abounds if not with similes, at any rate with
metaphors. To mention only one example, Moses' saying that Eve was taken from
one of Adam's ribs or that Woman was taken out of Man (Gen. 2:21-23) or
derived from man reflects the fact that the word ishah (woman) is derived from
the word ish (man) and such substitutions of the relation of words for the relation
of things are the work of the imagination (cf. II 30 and 43; I 28; and M. T.,
H. Yesodei ha-torah I). In order to understand the contradiction regarding Moses'
prophecy, we must return once more to the beginning. Maimonides starts from
accepting the Law as seen through the traditional Jewish interpretation. The
Law thus understood is essentially different from "demonstration" (II 3), i.e., the
views of the Law are not as such based on demonstration. Nor do they become
evident through "religious experience" or through faith. For, according to Maimonides, there is no religious experience, i.e., specifically religious cognition;
all cognition or true belief stems from the human intellect, sense perception,
opinion, or tradition; the cognitive status even of the Ten Commandments was
not affected by or during the revelation on Mount Sinai: some of these utterances
are and always remained matters of "human speculation," while the others are
and always remained matters of opinion or matters of tradition (I 51 beginning and
II 33; Letter on Astrology §§ 4-5 Marx; and Logic chap. 8). As for faith, it is,
according to Maimonides, only one of the moral virtues, which as such do not
belong to man's ultimate perfection, the perfection of his intellect (III 53-54)'
The views of the Law are based on a kind of "speculative perception" that human
speculation is unable to understand and that grasps the truth without the use of
speculative premises or without reasoning; through this kind of perception peculiar


The Guide of the Perplexed

to prophets, the prophet sees and hears nothing except God and angels (II 38, 36,
34)' Some of the things perceived by prophets can be known with certainty also
through demonstration. While for instruction in these things nonprophetic men
are not absolutely in need of prophets, they depend entirely on prophets regarding
those divine things that are not accessible to human speculation or demonstration.
Yet the nonrational element in the prophetic speeches is to some extent imaginary,
i.e., infra-rational. It is therefore a question how nonprophetic men can be certain
of the supra-rational teaching of the prophets, i.e., of its truth. The general answer
is that the supra-rational character of the prophetic speeches is confirmed by the
supra-natural testimony of the miracles (II 25, III 29). In this way the authority
of the Law as wholly independent of speculation is established wholly independently
of speculation. Accordingly the understanding or exegesis of the Law can be
wholly independent of speculation and in particular of natural science; and
considering the higher dignity of revelation, exegesis will be of higher rank than
natural science in particular; the explanations given by God Himself are infinitely
superior to merely human explanations or traditions. This view easily leads to the
strictest biblicism. "The difficulty of the Law" may be said to arise from the fact
that the miracles do not merely confirm the truth of the belief in revelation but
also presuppose the truth of that belief; only if one holds in advance the indemonstrable belief that the visible universe is not eternal can one believe that a given
extraordinary event is a miracle (II 25). It is this difficulty that Maimonides
provisionally solves by suggesting that Moses' prophecy is unique because it is
wholly independent of the imagination, for if this suggestion is accepted, the
difficulty caused by the presence of an infra-rational element in prophetic speeches
does not arise. Yet if Moses' prophecy alone is wholly independent of the imagination,
the Torah alone will be simply true, i.e., literally true, and this necessarily leads to
extreme corporealism. Since corporealism is demonstrably wrong, we are compelled
to admit that the Torah is not always literally true and hence, as matters stand,
that the teaching of the other prophets may be superior in some points to that of
Moses. The fundamental difficulty of how one can distinguish the supra-rational,
which must be believed, from the infra-rational, which ought not to be believed,
cannot be solved by recourse to the fact that we hear through the Bible, and in
particular through the Torah, "God's book" par excellence (III 12), not human
beings but God Himself. It is indeed true in a sense that God's speech gives the
greatest certainty of His existence, and His declaring His attributes sets these
attributes beyond doubt (cf. 1 9 and 11, II 11), but God Himself cannot explain
clearly the deepest secrets of the Torah to flesh and blood (1 Introd., 51 beginning),
He "speaks in accordance with the language of the children of man" (1 26),
things that might have been made clear in the Torah are not made clear in it

The Guide of the Perplexed


(I 29), God makes use of ruses and of silence for only "a fool will reveal all his
purpose and his will" (140; cf. III 32, 45 and 54) and, last but not least, as Maimonides explains in the Guide, God does not use speech in any sense (I 23) and
this fact entails infinite consequences. One is therefore tempted to say that the
infra-rational in the Bible is distinguished from the supra-rational by the fact that
the former is impossible whereas the latter is possible: biblical utterances that
contradict what has been demonstrated by natural science or by reason in any
other form cannot be literally true but must have an inner meaning; on the other
hand, one must not reject views the contrary of which has not been demonstrated,
i.e., which are possible- for instance, creation out of nothing-lest one become
thoroughly indecent (I 32, II 25). Yet this solution does not satisfy Maimonides.
Whereas he had originally declared that the human faculty that distinguishes
between the possible and the impossible is the intellect and not the imagination,
he is compelled, especially in his chapters on providence, to question this verdict
and to leave it open whether it is not rather the imagination that ought to have the
last word (I 49, 7~;, III 15). He is therefore induced to say that the certainty of
belief is one's awareness of the impossibility of the alternative or that the very
existence of God is doubtful if it is not demonstrated or that man's intellect can
understand what any intelligent being understands (I 50 and 51 beginning, 71,
III 17). This is acceptable if the Account of the Beginning and the Account of the
Chariot are indeed identical with natural science and divine science and if these
sciences are demonstrative. But this enigmatic equation leaves obscure the place
or the status of the fact of God's free creation of the world out of nothing: does this
fact belong to the Account of the Beginning or to the Account of the Chariot or to
both or to neither? (Cf. Commentary on the Mishnah, J:Iagigah II 1.) According to
the Guide, the Account of the Chariot deals with God's governance of the world,
in contradistinction not only to His providence (cf. I 44 on the one hand, and on
the other I 40, where Maimonides refers to III 2 and not, as most commentators
believe, to the chapters on providence, just as in III 2 he refers back to I 4 0 ),
but also to His creation. By considering the relation of the Account of the Beginning
and the Account of the Chariot, one is enabled also to answer completely the
question that has led us to the present difficulty, the question concerning the order
of rank between the Mosaic theophany and the Isaian theophany. The Account
of the Beginning occurs in the Torah of Moses but the Account of the Chariot,
which is identical with the divine science or the apprehension of God (I 34),
occurs in the book of Ezekiel and in its highest form precisely in the sixth chapter
of Isaiah (III 6; cf. also the quotations from the Torah on the one hand and from
other biblical books on the other in III 54).
Once one has granted that there is an intra-biblical progress beyond the


The Guide of the Perplexed

teaching of Moses, one will not be compelled to deny the possibility of a postbiblical progress of this description. The fact of such a progress can only be proven if
there are characteristic differences between the Bible and the post-biblical authoritative books. We could not help referring for instance to Maimonides'tacit confrontation of the talmudic view according to which the outer of the similes is "nothing"
and of Solomon's view according to which it is "silver," i.e., politically useful;
taken by itself this confrontation suggests that Solomon appreciated the political
to a higher degree than did the talmudic Sages. The differences in question are to
some extent concealed, since the post-biblical view ordinarily appears in the guise
of an explanation of a biblical text. Maimonides discusses this difficulty in regard
to homiletic rather than legal explanations; he rejects both the opinion that these
explanations are genuine explanations of biblical texts and the opinion that since
they are not genuine explanations, they ought not to be taken seriously; in fact
the talmudic Sages used a poetic or a charming device, playing as it were with the
text of the Bible, in order to introduce moral lessons not found in the Bible (III 43).
He indicates that he will not stress his critique of the talmudic Sages (III 14 end).
Since the emphasis on serious differences between the Bible and the Talmud could
appear in the eyes of the vulgar as a criticism of the talmudic Sages, he has spoken
on this subject with considerable, although not extraordinary, restraint. Whenever
he presents a view as a view of the Law, one must consider whether he supports
his thesis at all by biblical passages, and if he does so, whether the support is
sufficient according to his standards as distinguished from traditional Jewish
standards. In other words, in studying a given chapter or group of chapters one
must observe whether he uses therein any post-biblical Jewish quotations at all
am! what is the proportion in both number and weight of post-biblical to biblical
quotations. In the first chapter explicitly dealing with providence (III 17), he speaks
of an "addition" to the text of the Torah that occurs "in the discourse of the
Sages"; as one would expect, he disapproves of this particular "addition." This
statement is prepared by an immediately preceding cluster of talmudic quotations
that are in manifest agreement with the teaching of the Torah and that strike us
with particular force because of the almost complete absence of talmudic quotations after the end of III 10. In this twofold way he prepares his silence on the
future life in his presentation of the Torah view on providence: the solution of
the problem of providence by recourse to the future life is more characteristic of the
post-biblical teaching than of the Bible. According to the talmudic Sages, "in the
future life there is no eating, nor drinking" and this means that the future life is
incorporeal (M. T., H. Teshubah VIn 3). It follows that the Talmud is freer from
corporealism than the Bible (I 46, 47, 49, 70, II 3). Accordingly certain talmudic
thoughts resemble Platonic thoughts and are expressed with the help of terms of

The Guide of the Perplexed


Greek origin (II 6). Similarly it was Onqelos the Stranger who more than anyone else
made corporealism inexcusable within Judaism and may well have thought that it
would be improper to speak in Syriac (i.e., Aramaic), as distinguished from
Hebrew, of God's perceiving an irrational animal (I 21, 27, 28, 56, 48; cf. II 55)·
The progress of incorporealism is accompanied by a progress of asceticism. To
mention only one example, the Talmud is to say the least much clearer than the
Bible about the fact that Abraham had never looked at his beautiful wife until
sheer self-preservation compelled him to do so (III 8, 47, 49). There is a corresponding progress in gentleness (I 50 and 54). Finally, the Talmud is more explicit
than the Bible regarding the value of the intellectual life and of learning for men
in general and for prophets in particular (II 52, 55, 41, III 14, 25, 57, 54). But
even the Talmud and Onqelos do not contain the last word regarding the fundamentals as Maimonides indicates by a number of remarks (I 21, 41, II 8-9, 26,
47, III 4-5, 14, 25). One example for each case must suffice. The talmudic Sages
follow at least partly the opinion according to which the Law has no other ground
than mere Will, whereas "we," says Maimonides, follow the opposite opinion
(III 48). "We" is an ambiguous term. As Maimonides has indicated by as it were
opening only two chapters (I 62 and 65) with "we," the most important meanings
are "we Jews" and "Maimonides." As for Onqelos, he removes through his
translation the corporealistic suggestions of the original but he does not make clear
what incorporeal things the prophets perceived or what the meaning of a given
simile is; this is in accordance with the fact that he translated for the vulgar; but
Maimonides explains the similes and he is enabled to do so because of his knowledge
of natural science (I 28). Progress beyond Onqelos and the Talmud became
possible chiefly for two reasons. In the first place, the ever more deepened effect
ofthe Torah on the Jewish people as well as the rise and political victory of Christianity and Islam have brought it about that the Sabian disease has completely disappeared (III 49, 29). Second, the fundamental verities regarding God are genuinely
believed in by nonprophetic men only when they are believed in on the basis
of demonstration, but this requires for its perfection that one possess the art of
demonstration, and the art of demonstration was discovered by the wise men of
Greece or the philosophers, or more precisely by Aristotle (II 15). Even Kallim,
i.e., what one may call theology or more precisely the science of demonstrating
or defending the roots of the Law, which is directly of Christian origin, owes its
origin indirectly to the effect of philosophy on the Law. In spite of its defects,
the Kallim is very far from being entirely worthless; and properly understood,
as prior to Maimonides it was not, it is even indispensable for the defense of the
Law. Kallim entered Judaism long after the talmudic period, in the Gaonic
period (I 71, 75). All the more must the introduction of philosophy into Judaism


The Guide of the Perplexed

be regarded as a great progress, if it is introduced in due subordination to the Law
or in the proper manner (i.e., as Maimonides introduced it to begin with in his
legal works). One must also consider the considerable scientific progress that was
made by both Greeks and Muslims after Aristotle's time (II 4, 19). All this does
not mean, however, that Maimonides regarded his age as the peak of wisdom.
He never forgot the power of what one may call the inverted Sabianism that
perpetuates corporealism through unqualified submission to the literal meaning
of the Bible and thus even outdoes Sabianism proper (131); nor did he forget the
disastrous effect of the exile (I 71, 11 11): "If the belief in the existence of God were
not as generally accepted as it is now in the religions [i.e., Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam], the darkness of our times would even be greater than the darkness of
the times of the sages of Babylon" (III 29). This is to say nothing of the fact that
Sabianism proper was not completely eradicated and could be expected to have a
future (cf. I 36). It goes without saying that Maimonides also never forgot the
Messianic future, a future that mayor may not be followed by the end of the
world (cf. I 61 with II 27). In spite of this, one is entitled to say that Maimonides
regarded the step that he took in the Guide as the ultimate step in the decisive
respect, namely, in the overcoming of Sabianism. As he modestly put it, no Jew
had written an extant book on the secrets of the Law "in these times of the exile"
(I Introd.). At the beginning, the power of Sabianism was broken only in a limited
part of the world through bloody wars and through concessions to Sabian habits;
those concessions were retracted almost completely by the post-Mosaic prophets,
by the Aramaic translators, and by the Talmud, to say nothing of the cessation
through violence of the sacrificial service, and the conversion of many pagans,
which was assisted by military victories, to Christianity or Islam. Now the time
has come when even the vulgar must be taught most explicitly that (':rOd is incorporeal. Since the Bible suggests corporealism, the vulgar will thus become
perplexed. The remedy for this perplexity is the allegoric explanation of the
corporealistic utterances or terms that restores the faith in the truth of the Bible
(I 35), i.e., precisely what Maimonides is doing in the Guide. But the progress in
overcoming Sabianism was accompanied by an ever increasing oblivion of Sabianism
and thus by an ever increasing inability to remove the last, as it were, fossilized
concessions to Sabianism or relics of Sabianism. Maimonides marks a progress
even beyond the post-Mosaic prophets in so far as he combines the open depreciation of the sacrifices with a justification of the sacrificial laws of the Torah,
for his depreciation of the sacrifices does not as such mean a denial of the
obligatory character of the sacrificial laws. He is the man who finally eradicates
Sabianism, i.e., corporealism as the hidden premise of idolatry, through the
knowledge of Sabianism recovered by him. He recovered that knowledge

The Guide of the Perplexed


also through his study of Aristotle, who after all belonged to a Sabian society
(II 23)'
If the Torah for the Perplexed thus marks a progress beyond the Torah for
the Unperplexed, Maimonides was compelled to draw the reader's attention at an
early stage to the difference between the biblical and the post-biblical teaching.
In that stage that difference alone was important. Hence to begin with he treats
the Bible on the one hand and the post-biblical writings on the other as unities.
Generally speaking, he introduces biblical passages by "he says" (or "his saying is")
and talmudic passages by "they say" (or "their saying is"). He thus suggests that
in the Bible we hear only a single speaker while in the Talmud we hear indeed
many speakers who, however, all agree at least in the important respects. Yet in the
first chapter of the Guide "he" who speaks is in fact first God, then the narrator,
then God, and then "the poor one" ; in the second chapter "he" who speaks is the
narrator, the serpent, God, and so on; God "says" something and the narrator
"makes clear and says." But the Guide as a whole constitutes an ascent from the
common view, or an imitation of the common view, to a discerning view. Accordingly, Maimonides gradually brings out the differences concealed by the stereotyped,
not to say ritual, expressions. For instance, in I 32 he introduces each of four
biblical quotations by the expression "he indicated by his speech"; only in the
last case does he give the name ofthe speaker, namely, David; the saying of David
is somewhat more akin in spirit than the preceding three sayings (of Solomon)
to a saying of the talmudic Sages quoted immediately afterward; the talmudic
Sages had noted that Solomon contradicted his father David (I Introd. toward the
end). In I 34 he introduces by the expression "they say" the saying of a talmudic
Sage who tells what "I have seen." The unnamed "he" who, a('cording to I 44,
spoke as Jeremiah's providence was Nebuchadnezzar. In I 49 he quotes five
biblical passages; in two cases he gives the names of the biblical authors, in one
of the two cases adding "may he rest in peace" to the name. In I 70 he introduces
a talmudic passage with the expression "They said," while he says at the end of the
quotation, "This is literally what he said." Names of biblical teachers occur with
unusual frequency in some chapters, the first of which is II 19 and the last of
which is III 32. Near the beginning of II 29 Maimonides notes that every prophet
had a diction peculiar to him and that this peculiarity was preserved in what God
said to the individual prophet or through him. The prophet singled out for extensive
discussion from this point of view is Isaiah; thereafter six of the other prophets are
briefly discussed in a sequence that agrees with t}qe sequence of their writings in
the canon; only in the case of the prophet who occupies the central place (Joel) is
the name of the prophet's father added to the name of the prophet. One must also
not neglect the references to the difference between the Torah proper and the


The Guide of the Perplexed

Mishneh Torah, i.e., Deuteronomy (cf. II 34-35 and III 24). Maimonides' link
with the Torah is, to begin with, an iron bond; it gradually becomes a fine thread.
But however far what one may call his intellectualization may go, it always remains
the intellectualization of the Torah.
Our desire to give the readers some hints for the better understanding of
the second subsection compelled us to look beyond the immediate context. Returning to that context we observe that after Maimonides has concluded the second
subsection, he again does something perplexing. The last chapter of the second
subsection dealt with "foot"; that passage of the Torah on which the second subsection is based speaks emphatically of God's "face" and His "back"; nothing
would have been simpler for Maimonides than to devote the third subsection to
terms designating parts of the animate body or of the animal. Instead he devotes
the fourth subsection to this subject; the first two chapters of the fourth subsection
are devoted precisely to "face" and to "back" (I 37 and 38). The third subsection,
which deals with an altogether different subject, thus seems to be out of place or to
be a disconcerting insertion. Furthermore, the third subsection is the least exegetic
or the most speculative among the subsections devoted to Incorporeality; six of its
eight chapters are not lexicographic; five of them are in no obvious sense devoted
to the explanation of biblical terms and do not contain a single quotation from the
Torah; one of these chapters (I 31) is the first chapter of the Guide that does not
contain a single Jewish (Hebrew or Aramaic) expression, and another (I 35) does
not contain a single quotation of Jewish (biblical or talmudic) passages. One is
tempted to believe that it would have been more in accordance with the spirit of
the book if the most speculative among the subsections devoted to Incorporeality
had formed the end of the part devoted to that subject. In order to understand
these apparent irregularities, it is best to start from the consideration that, for the
general reason indicated, Maimonides desired to divide each of the seven sections of
the Guide into seven subsections and that for a more particular reason he decided
to treat Unity in three subsections; hence Incorporeality had to be treated in four
subsections. Furthermore, it was necessary to place almost all lexicographic chapters
within the part treating Incorporeality or conversely it was necessary that the
majority of chapters dealing with Incorporeality should be lexicographic. For
the reasons given where they had to be given, it proved convenient that the majority
of chapters of the first subsection should be nonlexicographic and the majority of
chapters of the second subsection should be lexicographic. It is this proportion of
the first two subsections that Maimonides decided to imitate in the last two subsections devoted to Incorporeality: the majority of chapters of the third subsection
became nonlexicographic and the majority of chapters of the fourth subsection
became lexicographic, but- for a reason to be indicated presently- in such a way

The Guide of the Perplexed


that the third subsection is more predominantly nonlexicographic than the first,
and the fourth subsection is more predominantly lexicographic than the second. It
is reasonable to expect that the distribution of lexicographic and nonlexicographic
chapters among the four subsections has some correspondence to the subject
matter of those subsections. If one defines their subject matter by reference to
the subject matter of their lexicographic chapters, one arrives at this result: the
first subsection deals with the specific form, the sexual difference, and generating,
while the third subsection deals with sorrow and eating; the second subsection
deals chiefly with acts of local motion or rest, while the fourth subsection deals
chiefly with the parts of the animate body and sense-perception. To understand
this arrangement it suffices both to observe that the first quotation regarding
sorrow is "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children" (Gen. 3: 16) and to read
Maimonides' explanation (in I 46) of the relation that links the parts of the
animal and its acts to the ends of preservation. Furthermore, it would be a great
mistake to believe that the emphasis on sorrow and eating is weakened because
these two themes are the only lexicographic themes of the subsection in which
they are discussed. Finally, Maimonides used in the most appropriate manner
the lexicographic chapters devoted to sorrow and to eating as an introduction to the
first series of speculative chapters occurring in the Guide and thus brought it
about that the third subsection (in contradistinction to the first and the second)
ends with nonlexicographic chapters (I 31-36); he thus prepared a similar
ending of the fourth subsection (I 46-49); this enabled him to indicate by the
position of the next lexicographic chapter (I 70), which is the last lexicographic
chapter, as clearly as possible the end of the first section or the fact that I 1-70
form the first section.
The term ca~ab, which we thought convenient in our context to render by
"sorrow," as well as the term "eating," may refer to God's wrath with those who
rebel against Him or to His enmity to them. Since His wrath is directed exclusively
against idolatry and since His enemies are exclusively the idolaters (I 36), the two
terms refer indirectly to idolatry. But "eating" is used also for the acquisition
of knowledge. With a view to this second metaphoric meaning of "eating,"
Maimonides devotes to the subject of human knowledge the five speculative
chapters immediately following the explanation of "eating" (I 30). In the last
chapter of the subsection (I 36) he reconsiders the prohibition against idolatry on the
basis of what had emerged in the five speculative chapters. The third subsection
deals then with both idolatry and knowledge in such a way that the discussion of
idolatry surrounds the discussion of knowledge. This arrangement affects the
discussion of knowledge: Maimonides discusses knowledge with a view to its
limitations, to the harm that may come from it and to the dangers attending it.


The Guide of the Perplexed

One can say that the first series of speculative chapters occurring in the Guide
deals with forbidden knowledge (cf. particularly 132)- forbidden to all or to most
men - within the context of forbidden worship.
The third subsection throws light on the relation between the Bible and the
Talmud. Since we have treated this subject before, we limit ourselves to the
following remark. In the chapter dealing with "eating," Maimonides explicitly
refuses to give an example of the use of the word in its primary meaning: the
derivative meaning according to which the word designates the taking of noncorporeal food has become so widespread as to become as it were the primary
meaning (cf. the quotation from Isa. 1: 20 with Isa. 1: 19). Regarding the meaning
of "eating" as consuming or destroying, which he illustrates by four quotations
from the Torah and two quotations from the prophets, he says that it occurs
frequently, namely, in the Bible; regarding the meaning of "eating" as acquiring
knowledge, which he illustrates by two quotations from Isaiah and two from the
Proverbs, he says that it occurs frequently also in the discourse of the talmudic
Sages and he proves this by two quotations. No talmudic quotation had illustrated
the meanings of ca~ab. The talmudic Sages compared the acquisition of knowledge
of the divine things to the eating of honey and applied to that knowledge the
saying of Solomon: "Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee,
lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it." They thus taught that in seeking
knowledge one must not go beyond certain limits: one must not reflect on what is
above, what is below, what was before, and what will be hereafter- which
Maimonides takes to refer to "vain imaginings" (I 32): Maimonides, who explains
what is meant by the fact that man has a natural desire for knowledge (I 34),
warns not against the desire for comprehensive knowledge, but against seeming
With regard to the fourth subsection, we must limit ourselves to the observation that it is the first subsection that lacks any reference to philosophy or
philosophers. On the other hand the expression "in my opinion" (C indi), which
indicates the difference between Maimonides' opinion and traditional opinions,
occurs about twice as frequently in the fourth subsection as in the first three subsections taken together. Another substitute is the references to grammarians in
141 and 43- references that ought to be contrasted with the parallels in I 8 and
10- as well as the rather frequent references to the Arabic language. One grammarian is mentioned by name: Ibn JanaI:, i.e., the Son of Wing who with the
help of Arabic correctly interpreted the Hebrew term for "wing" as sometimes
meaning "veil" and who may therefore be said to have uncovered "Wing."
Another substitute is the reference (in I 42) to an Andalusian interpreter who, in
agreement with Greek medicine, had explained as a natural event the apparent

The Guide of the



resurrection of the son of a widow by the prophet Elijah. Through his quotations
from the Bible in the same chapter Maimonides refers among other things to a
severe illness caused by the circumcision of adults as well as to the biblical treatment of leprosy. The chapter in question deals with the Hebrew term for "living" ;
that term is the only one occurring in the lexicographic chapters of this subsection
that is not said to be homonymous; this silence is pregnant with grave implications
regarding "the living God" (cf. I 30 and 41).
The last chapter of the fourth subsection is the only chapter of the Guide that
opens with the expression "The angels." This chapter sets forth the assertion that
the angels are incorporeal, i.e., it deals with the incorporeality of something of
which there is a plurality. Maimonides thus makes clear that Incorporeality and not
Unity is still the theme as it had been from the beginning. The next chapter
opens the discussion of Unity. Incorporeality had presented itself as a consequence
of Unity; Unity had been the presupposition, an unquestioned presupposition.
Unity now becomes the theme. We are told at the beginning that Unity must be
understood clearly, not, as it is understood by the Christians, to be compatible with
God's trinity, or, more generally stated, with a multiplicity in God (I 50). In the
fifth subsection Maimonides effects the transformation of the common, not to say
traditional, understanding of Unity, which allowed a multiplicity of positive
attributes describing God Himself, into such an understanding as is in accordance
with the requirements of speculation. The fifth subsection is the first subsection of
the Guide that may be said to be entirely speculative. Hence the discussion of
Unity, in contradistinction to the discussion of Incorporeality, is characterized by a
clear, if implicit, distinction between the speculative and the exegetic discussion of
the subject. In the first four subsections there occurred only one chapter without
any Jewish expression; in the fifth subsection five such chapters occur. In the first
forty-nine chapters there occurred only nine chapters without any quotation from
the Torah; in the eleven chapters of the fifth subsection ten such chapters occur.
In spite of its speculative character the fifth subsection does not demonstrate that
God is one; it continues the practice of the preceding subsections by presupposing
that God is one (I 53, 58, 68). Yet from this presupposition it draws all conclusions
and not merely the conclusion that God is incorporeal: if God is one, one in every
possible respect, absolutely simple, there cannot be any positive attribute of God
except attributes describing His actions.
Maimonides knows by demonstration that God is one. The addressee, being
insufficiently trained in natural science (cf. I 55 with I 52), does not know Unity
by demonstration but through the Jewish tradition and ultimately through the
Bible. The most important biblical text is "Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord is our God, the
Lord is one" (Deut. 6: 4; cf. M. T., H. Yesodei ha-Torah I 7)' To our very great


The Guide of the Perplexed

amazement, Maimonides does not quote this verse a single time in any of the
chapters devoted to Unity. He quotes it a single time in the Guide, imitating the
Torah, which, as he says, mentions the principle of Unity, namely, this verse, only
once (Resurrection 20, 1-2). He quotes the verse in III 45, i.e., the 169th
chapter, thus perhaps alluding to the thirteen divine attributes ("merciful,
gracious ... ") proclaimed by God to Moses. Whatever else that silence may mean,
it certainly indicates the gravity of the change effected by Maimonides in the
understanding of Unity. The demonstrated teaching that positive attributes of
God are impossible stems from the philosophers (159, III 20); it clearly contradicts
the teaching of the Law in so far as the Law does not limit itself to teaching
that the only true praise of God is silence but it also prescribes that we call God
"great, mighty, and terrible" in our prayers. Hence the full doctrine of
attributes may not be revealed to the vulgar (I 59) or is a secret teaching. But since
that doctrine (which includes the provision that certain points that are made fully
clear in the Guide are not to be divulged), is set forth with utmost explicitness
and orderliness in that book, it is also an exoteric teaching (I 55), if a philosophic
exoteric teaching.
As Maimonides indicates, the meaning of "the Lord is one" is primarily
that there is no one or nothing similar or equal to Him and only derivatively that
He is absolutely simple (cf. I 57 end with I 58). He develops the notion of God's
incomparability, of there being no likeness whatsoever between Him and any
other being on the basis of quotations from Isaiah and Jeremiah as distinguished
from the Torah (cf. I 55 with I 54). He is silent here on Deuteronomy 4: 35
("the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him"), on a verse that he quotes
in a kindred context in his Code (H. Yesodei ha-Torah I 4) and in different contexts
in the Guide (II 55, III 52 and 51). Yet absolute dissimilarity or incomparability
to everything else is characteristic of nothing as well as of God. What is meant by
God's absolute dissimilarity or incomparability is His perfection: it is because He is
of incomparable perfection that He is incomparable; it is because He is of unspeakable perfection that nothing positive can be said of Him in strict speech and that
everything positive said of Him is in fact (if it does not indicate His actions rather
than Himself) only the denial of some imperfection. The meaning of the doctrine
of attributes is that God is the absolute perfect being, the complete and perfectly
self-sufficient good, the being of absolute beauty or nobility (I 55, 53, 58, 59, 60
end, II 22). If this were not so, Maimonides' doctrine of attributes would be
entirely negative and even subversive. For that doctrine culminates in the assertion
that we grasp of God only that He is and not what He is in such a manner that every
positive predication made of Him, including that He "is," has only the name in
common with what we mean when we apply such predications to any being (I 56,

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