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Maimonides (1135-1204), was a Jewish physician, writer, religious scholar and philosopher. Hebrew sources call him Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon ("Rabbi Moses the son of Maimon"), often abbreviated into Rambam. In Greek, he is usually called Maimonides, which means "son of Maimon".

Maimonides was born in Cordoba, Spain, but soon fled to Morocco after the fall of Córdoba to the Almohads. After that he lived in Palestine and Egypt, where he was the doctor of the Egyptian ruler. His main works are: The Commentary on the Mishna, The Guide of the Perplexed, and The Mishneh Torah, a comprehensive code of Jewish law written in Arabic.

Maimonides was one of the few medieval Jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-Jewish world. Even today he is among the most respected of all Jewish philosophers. A popular saying in the Middle Ages stated that From Moses [of the Torah] to Moses [Maimonides] there was no one as great as Moses [Maimonides].

Views of resurrection of the dead and the afterlife

Maimonides wrote much on this topic, but in most cases he wrote about the immortality of the soul for people of perfected intellect; his writings were not about any resurrection of dead bodies. This prompted hostile criticism from the rabbis of his day, and sparked a controversy over his true views, which has gone on unabated to this day.

Rabbinic works usually refer to this afterlife as "Olam Haba" (the world to come). Note that some books use this phrase to refer to the messianic era, a physical realm right here on Earth; in other works this phrase refers to a purely spiritual realm. It was during Maimonides's lifetime, that this lack of agreement flared into a full blown theological dispute, with Maimonides himself charged as being a heretic by many Jewish leaders.

Some Jews at this time taught that Judaism did not require a belief in the physical resurrection of the dead, as the afterlife would be a purely spiritual realm. They used Maimonides' works on this subject to back up their position. In return, their opponents claimed that this was outright heresy; for them the afterlife was right here on Earth, where God would raise dead bodies from the grave so that the resurrected could live eternally. Maimonides was brought into this dispute by both sides, as the first group stated that his writings agreed with them, and the second group portrayed him as a heretic for writing that the afterlife is for the immaterial spirit alone. Eventually, Maimonides felt pressured to write a treatise on the subject, the "Ma'amar Tehiyyat Hametim" (the treatise on resurrection).

In it he shows that contrary to the prevailing dogma, the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] is ambiguous on resurrection; most verses on this topic can be read in two ways, and these are only hints or allusions. It is only the book of Daniel that Maimonides accepts as definitively stating that "many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence". (12:2) This is taken as referring to a physical resurrection of the dead, which clearly would be a miracle. However, we must take care to understand Maimonides' understanding of "miracles", for it is not the same as the definition used by many sages of the Talmud, nor is it the same one used by many Orthodox Jews.

Maimonides writes that God never violates the laws of nature. Rather, all divine interaction is by way of angels. Maimonides also states that the layman's understanding of the term "angel" is ignorant in the extreme; the Bible's and Talmud's references to "angels" are really metaphors for the various laws of nature, or the principles by which the physical universe operates, or kinds of Platonic eternal forms. Thus, if a unique event actually occurs, even it is perceived as a miracle, it is not a violation of the world's order ["Perush ha-Mishnah" (Commentary on the Mishnah), Avot 5:6]

In contrast to the dogma of his day, Maimonides believes that miracles are not permanent. Thus, any dead who are resurrected must eventually die again. Maimonides thus disassociated the resurrection of the dead from both the afterlife as well as from the Messianic era.

Note that Maimonides says nothing of a universal resurrection. All he says it is that whatever resurrection does take place, it will occur at an indeterminate time before the world to come, which he repeatedly states will be purely spiritual. He writes "It appears to us on the basis of these verses [Daniel 11:2,13] that those people who will return to those bodies will eat, drink, copulate, beget, and die after a very long life, like the lives of those who will live in the Days of the Messiah." This clearly states that (a) the resurrection is not the world to come, and (b) it has nothing to do with the messianic era.

In a move that infuriated his critics, chapter two of the letter on resurrection refers to those who believe that the world to come involves physically resurrected bodies; he refers to one with such beliefs as being an "utter fool" whose belief is "folly": "If one of the multitude refuses to believe [that angels are incorporeal] and prefers to believe that angels have bodies and even that they eat, since it is written (Gen. 18:8) 'they ate', or that those who exist in the World to Come will also have bodies - we won't hold it against him or consider him a heretic; we will not distance ourselves from him, nor will he regard one who speaks thus to be an utter fool. Let us hope that no fool will go farther than this in his folly."

One can now see why so many people regarded Maimonides as heretical. At that time, many Jews believed that the physical resurrection was identical to the world to come; thus denial of a permanent and universal resurrection was considered tantamount to denying the words of the Talmudic sages. However, instead of denying the resurrection, or maintaining the current dogma, Maimonides posited a third way: That resurrection had nothing to do with the messianic era (here in this world) nor to do with Olam Haba (the purely spiritual afterlife). Rather, he considered resurrection simply to be a miracle that the book of Daniel predicted; thus at some point in time we could expect some instances of resurrection to occur temporarily, which would have no place in any eschatological scheme.


Through the "Guide of the Perplexed" and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted a very important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, St. Thomas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of the Arabian philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired through the abundant philosophical literature in the Arabic language an intimate acquaintance with the doctrines of Aristotle, and strove earnestly to reconcile the philosophy of the Stagirite with the teachings of the Bible.

The principle which inspired all his philosophical activity was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. Moreover, by science and philosophy he understood the science and philosophy of Aristotle. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of the Aristotelian text, holding, for instance, that the world is not eternal, as Aristotle taught, but was created ex nihilo, as is taught explicitly in the Bible. Again, he rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual. But, while in these important points Maimonides forestalled the Scholastics and undoubtedly influenced them, he was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators and by the bent of his own mind, which was essentially Jewish, to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept. For instance, he pushed too far the principle of negative predication in regard to God. The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God, but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal", "omnipotent", etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Moses did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal", etc.

The most characteristic of all his philosophical doctrines is that of acquired immortality. He distinguishes two kinds of intelligence in man, the one material in the sense of being dependent on, and influenced by, the body, and the other immaterial, that is, independent of the bodily organism. The latter is a direct emanation from the universal active intellect (this is his interpretation of the noűs poietikˇs of Aristotelian philosophy), and is acquired as the result of the efforts of the soul to attain a knowledge of the absolute, pure intelligence of God. The knowledge of God is, therefore, the knowledge which, so to speak, develops in us the immaterial intelligence, and thus confers on man an immaterial or spiritual nature. This immateriality not only confers on the soul that perfection in which human happiness consists, but also endows the soul with immortality. He who has attained a knowledge of God has reached a condition of existence which renders him immune from all the accidents of fortune, from all the allurements of sin, and even from death itself. Man, therefore, since he has it in his power to attain this salutary knowledge, is in a position not only to work out his own salvation, but also to work out his own immortality. The resemblance between this doctrine and Spinoza's doctrine of immortality is so striking as to warrant the hypothesis that there is a causal dependence of the later on the earlier doctrine. The difference between the two Jewish thinkers is, however, as remarkable as the resemblance. While Spinoza teaches that the way to attain the knowledge which confers immortality is the progress from sense-knowledge through scientific knowledge to philosophical intuition of all things sub specie Šternitatis, Moses holds that the road to perfection and immortality is the path of duty as described in the Law of God.

Among the theological questions which Maimonides discussed were the nature of prophecy and the reconciliation of evil with the goodness of God. He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series of intelligences emanating from God, the prophet must, by study and meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here he invokes the authority of "the Law", which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the free act of God before the man actually becomes the prophet. In his solution of the problem of evil, he follows the neo-Platonists in laying stress on matter as the source of all evil and imperfection.

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