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Maimonides in His World

Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker

Sarah Stroumsa
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    Maimonides in His World
    Book Description:

    While the great medieval philosopher, theologian, and physician Maimonides is acknowledged as a leading Jewish thinker, his intellectual contacts with his surrounding world are often described as related primarily to Islamic philosophy.Maimonides in His Worldchallenges this view by revealing him to have wholeheartedly lived, breathed, and espoused the rich Mediterranean culture of his time.

    Sarah Stroumsa argues that Maimonides is most accurately viewed as a Mediterranean thinker who consistently interpreted his own Jewish tradition in contemporary multicultural terms. Maimonides spent his entire life in the Mediterranean region, and the religious and philosophical traditions that fed his thought were those of the wider world in which he lived. Stroumsa demonstrates that he was deeply influenced not only by Islamic philosophy but by Islamic culture as a whole, evidence of which she finds in his philosophy as well as his correspondence and legal and scientific writings. She begins with a concise biography of Maimonides, then carefully examines key aspects of his thought, including his approach to religion and the complex world of theology and religious ideas he encountered among Jews, Christians, Muslims, and even heretics; his views about science; the immense and unacknowledged impact of the Almohads on his thought; and his vision of human perfection.

    This insightful cultural biography restores Maimonides to his rightful place among medieval philosophers and affirms his central relevance to the study of medieval Islam.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3132-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Chapter One Maimonides and Mediterranean Culture
    (pp. 1-23)

    From the many honorific titles appended to Maimonides’ name, “The Great Eagle” has come to be identified as his particular, personal title. This biblical sobriquet (from Ezekiel 17: 3) was meant, no doubt, to underline his regal position in the Jewish community. At the same time, the imagery of the wide-spread wings does justice not only to the breadth of Maimonides’ intellectual horizons, but also to the scope of his impact, which extended across the Mediterranean, and beyond it to Christian Europe.

    To the extent that the quantity of scholarly studies about an author is a criterion for either importance...

  7. Chapter Two The Theological Context of Maimonides’ Thought
    (pp. 24-52)

    Scrupulous footnoting, which we nowadays regard as essential to scientific publications, was not part of the ethos of medieval authors.¹ Medieval writers often quote without indicating their source, and they regularly present their thought without mentioning previous authors who inspired them (unless, of course, they want to present themselves as following a school tradition). An investigation that aspires to draw the parameters of Maimonides’ cultural world necessarily requires the identification of his sources. This, however, turns out to be in many ways a task for the detective, who must keep alert for unexpected discoveries.

    In seeking to identify the philosophical...

  8. Chapter Three An Almohad “Fundamentalist”?
    (pp. 53-83)

    As a young adult, between the years 1148 and 1165, Maimonides lived under Almohad rule. The immense impact of these formative years on his thought has been almost totally overlooked by modern scholarship.¹ This chapter will investigate the permeation of his thought, both halachic and philosophical, by Almohad doctrine.

    In 1148, Cordoba, Maimonides’ birthplace, was conquered by theMuwaḥḥidūn(known in Latin as the Alomohads), a Berber dynasty that had by then established its rule in North Africa. The founder of the movement, Muḥammad ibn Tūmart (1078 [or 1081]–1130) and his successor and the actual founder of the dynasty,...

  9. Chapter Four La Longue Durée: Maimonides as a Phenomenologist of Religion
    (pp. 84-124)

    Through his studies of what he considered to be ancient pagan texts Maimonides believed to have cracked the code of biblical commandments. He identified these ancient texts with the culture of the Sabians. This chapter will analyze Maimonides’ insight, which he himself describes as his great scientific discovery. It will also study Maimonides’ ensuing analysis of contemporary religions: Islam and Christianity, as well as contemporary Judaism.

    The Sabians (al-ṣāba,al-ṣābiɔa, oral-ṣābiɔūn) appear in Arabic literature as an ancient nation that lived in the Near East from antiquity up to the Abbasid period. This nation is never mentioned in the...

  10. Chapter Five A Critical Mind: Maimonides as Scientist
    (pp. 125-152)

    In modern consciousness Maimonides the physician is probably as famous as Maimonides the philosopher. A search on the web, in either Hebrew or English, is likely to bring up first of all half a dozen hospitals and medical centers named after him. Of all the sciences, medicine was indeed the one in which Maimonides was most intimately involved. He was also interested in astronomy and in mathematics; he mentions his meeting with the son of the astronomer Ibn al-Aflaḥ,¹ and from the context it seems that the texts he read with a student of the philosopher Ibn Bājja were also...

  11. Chapter Six “From Moses to Moses”: Maimonides’ Vision of Perfection
    (pp. 153-188)

    Notwithstanding maimonides’ complete immersion in the cultural world of his time, the Jewish tradition and the Jewish community were at the heart of his thought and activity. As the community’s leader, he aspired to reach the point at which the Jewish people would be found deserving of being described by the nations as “a wise, understanding nation” [Deut. 4:6]. At the same time, he sought to attain a personal level of understanding that he knew was suited only for a few individuals, and not for the masses. This chapter will examine the tension between Maimonides’ role as a community leader,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 189-192)

    The preceding pages were dedicated to one major medieval thinker, Moses Maimonides, and to the examination of his thought in its context. The outcome of this examination bears first of all upon our understanding of Maimonides himself. The description presented here, of Maimonides as a Mediterranean thinker, is not meant to say that he was not also, and essentially, a Jewish thinker. Rather, it highlights and elucidates Maimonides’ consistent interpretation of his own, Jewish tradition in contemporary terms, as they were shaped by his Mediterranean legacy.

    Such an interpretation, which translates tradition into contemporary, more familiar terms, is in itself...

    (pp. 193-218)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 219-222)