7 species of leaven - toxic Hellenic influences on Moses ben Maimon

and an 8th error more deadly than all.

'If one believes Him to be One and to possess a number of attributes, one in fact says he is One but thinks He is many.
This is the same as the Christians say: He is One, but He is three, and the three are One. 
There is no difference between saying this and saying: He is One but has many attributes...'
 MN Book 1 Ch.50 (tr. Chaim Rabin, with one minor change)


An introduction to the doctrine of Simplicity

Maimonides and his pagan Simplex god

Scriptural preemption and reproof of the error.

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) משה בן מימון
Affectionately known by most Jews as Rambam (רמב"ם)

Maimonides is a towering figure in Jewish history, a refugee from the horrors of Spanish persecution, he escaped to eventually thrive in Fatimid Egypt. Despite an intensely busy schedule as a highly successful and sought after physician, he was a prolific author. He drew up the most famous rabbinic creed, the 13 principles of faith, and the Mishneh Torah, a key to the voluminous and labyrinthine writings of the Talmud. However his most famous work among Gentiles, a 'Guide for the Perplexed' (Moreh Nebuchim) is a masterpiece of subtlety and erudition, originally penned in Arabic, and subsequently translated into Hebrew in 1204.

He is careful to resist the Sadducees' earlier concession to Greek doubts about bodily resurrection, and contends with the philosophers about the eternity of an uncreated universe. However his heavy dependance upon and critical interaction with Aristotle and neo-Platonic writers, partly from his dialogue with and reaction to Muslim theologians has resulted in the manifest assimilation of many Hellenic themes in his works. Hellenic influence was evident in rabbinic theology before his life, but he is a key milestone for its prominent expression and after some strong criticism, widespread acceptance within much of Orthodox Judaism.

This is why the writing of this 'Great Eagle' serves as a helpful sample for the extensive damage Hellenic concepts have wrought in rabbinic theology as whole.


Moreh Nebuchim

1. Apophatic Theology
Maimonides is an avid advocate of negative descriptions of HaShem.
'Know that the negative attributes of God are the true attributes: they do not include any incorrect notions or any deficiency whatever in reference to God,
while positive attributes imply polytheism, and are inadequate, as we have already shown.' MN 1.58

He uses the Islamic term Shirk (association) for polytheism.
Moreh Nebuchim Ch 58
As with Xenophanes, this defensive tendency comes from his strong rejection of physical anthropomorphisms, and may be seen as an overreaction to physical idols.
'That God is incorporeal, that He cannot be compared with His creatures, that He is not subject to external influence; these are things which must be explained to every one according to his capacity, and they must be taught by way of tradition to children and women, to the stupid and ignorant, as they are taught that God is One, that He is eternal, and that He alone is to be worshipped.' MN 1.35

This highly philosophical approach to Deity jars very severely with the repeated scriptural emphasis on positively asserting God's attributes.

'The LORD ...proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.' (Exod. 34.5-7)

Does such a body of assertions 'comport polytheism' or 'a lack of perfection', or has Rambam allowed himself to be blinkered by rationalist scruples?

2. Simplicity of the Essence of Deity
This principal and root flaw is not not merely characteristic of Maimonides, but also of Muslim and  even myopic Christian theologians.
Divine Simplicity, despite as even its advocates acknowledge being taught nowhere in scripture and being strongly refuted by them is the key element of neo-Platonism.
It is derived from two main streams, a strong reaction against anthropomorphism, but also from metaphysical arguments about causation, potentiality vs actuality
and the implausibility of a changeless primary being possessing  attributes that in fact are accidental to his essence. This abstruse and highly speculative field of expression (I will not dignify it with the description knowledge) also led to the theory of the four elements (fire, water, air and earth) and other physical errors to be explored later.
It is founded in a morass of hollow speculation, constructed from logical extrapolations with no secure validation, and unfit and encumbering for a physical scientist and less suitable still  for a serious Bible theologian.
Unfortunately, Maimonides, like Ibn Sina, Aquinas and even the reformer Calvin, bows down at this foreign altar.

'There cannot be any belief in the unity of God except by admitting that He is one simple substance, without any composition or plurality of elements: one from whatever side you view it, and by whatever test you examine it: not divisible into two parts in any way and by any cause, nor capable of any form of plurality either objectively or subjectively, as will be proved in this treatise.' MN 1.51

3. A Depersonalised Deity
'Human' affections like compassion, tenderness, sympathy, anger, frustration or a jealous concern and interest are seen as far too anthropomorphic for the 'Philosopher's Stone' that results from this view of God.
The repeated and explicit declarations of the Tenach and the NT to the contrary must be explained as an interpretative explanation of  God's inscrutable and wholly depersonalised being, and not as defects.

'Whenever such evils are caused by us to any person, they originate in great anger, violent jealousy, or a desire for revenge. God is therefore called, because of these acts, "jealous," "revengeful," "wrathful," and "keeping anger" (Nah. 1. 2) that is to say, He performs acts similar to those which, when performed by us, originate in certain psychical dispositions, in jealousy, desire for retaliation, revenge, or anger: they are in accordance with the guilt of those who are to be punished, and not the result of any emotion: for He is above all defect!' MN 1.54

However, a jealous Bridegroom's concern for His people is strongly asserted to be an ineradicable part of His essential character.
'For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose Name is Jealous, is a jealous God:' (Italics added) Exod. 34.14

It is given not merely as explanation of His past acts, but the repeated grounds of His eternal law and His warnings about future judgements.
'Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me' Exod.20

This somewhat belies Maimonides' assertion that the only legitimate description of God's attributes can be drawn from His actions,
all other kinds of attributions are improper which is the tenor of argument in chapter 1.52.

It is disturbing that this also applies to God's lovingkindness, leaving us quite uncertain whether God has much heart of compassion at all.
Look at the exceedingly gentle motherliness of God's description of His kindess in Isaiah,
'But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.' (Isa.49.14-6)

This is what the Rambam has to say of the many, many passages like this:
'Of course, God is not experiencing the feeling of affection or tenderness but such actions as a father will do for his child through pure love, compassion, and affection do emanate from God with regard to His favourites, though they are not caused by affection or change.' (Chaim Rabin's translation, Ch.54).
Moreh Nebuchim ch 54. 'Not by affection'
'Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.
Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast.
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.' Psalm 36.5-8

The Rambam's philosophical tendencies have left him somewhat embarrassed at positive assertions like this, and left His Deity looking somewhat abstract,
a Being Who can only be dimly perceived from his actions, not His glorious assertions.
However the God of Scripture is superabundantly personal, not subpersonal, He is more personal than us, we are His faint and imperfect analogy, His shadow and likeness, not He ours!

4. Restriction of the Image of God to the merely rational, not a relational Unity.

It is striking that the Image of God is the consequence of an unprecedented Divine Council, 'Let Us make', even for the angels no such council is recorded.
It is even more remarkable to us that this image is reflected in the gender distinctions between man and woman.
'God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.' Gen.1.27
Why is this? Does the image reside in the sexes themselves, no for then most animals themselves would bear the image too.
An interesting further insight into this is gained in a striking parallel from Gen.5.
'In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.' (v.1-2)
Then the Spirit writes:
'And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth'
Though the word order is reversed the implication is obvious, parenting itself is wrapped up in this analogy of the Divine Image.

The intimate, mutual and rational relationship between a deeply loving husband and wife is a small glimpse into the Being of God.
God is profoundly relational, and our deepest and most significant relationships dimly mirror His Image.

This is precisely why extra-marital sex is listed as among the particularly deep violations of His holy character, incurring such vandalism of His image.
'A man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane My holy Name.' Amos.2.7 A message on this subject.

Yet Maimonides in properly dismissing crass anthropomorphisms (that God eternally resided in a human bodily form) restricts to the Image of God to our rational faculties, divorced from their exercise in relationship.

'As man's distinction consists in a property which no other creature on earth possesses, viz., intellectual perception, in the exercise of which he does not employ his senses, nor move his hand or his foot, this perception has been compared--though only apparently, not in truth--to the Divine perception, which requires no corporeal organ. On this account, i.e., on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form.' MN 1.1

Whilst we emphatically assert that God is pure Spirit and has no need of the corporeal,
we also emphatically assert that in order for complete display of the Divine Image in man there is necessarily a relational expression of his full spiritual, mental and physical powers.

5. Conversion of the relational gulf between man and God from a moral into a metaphysical barrier - for which we bear no culpability - flattering to the flesh, dangerous to the spirit.

'LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.' Ps.15

'The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.' Ps.92. 12-3

Rambam depicts a famous parable of the King's palace.
The inhabitants of the inner court are metaphysicians and philosophers, not those reknowned for their sanctity and moral purity, but by their intellectual rigour and conceptual perception.

'Know, my dear son, that as long as you are occupied with the mathematical sciences and the technique of logic, you belong to those who walk around the palace in search of the gate, as our sages have expressed it metaphorically: 'Ben Zoma is still outside' (Hagiga 15a). As soon as you learn the natural sciences you enter the palace and pass through its forecourts. When you complete your study of the natural sciences and get a grasp of metaphysics, you enter unto the prince into the inner courtyard (Ezek.44.21,27) and have achieved to be in the same house as he.' MN 3.51 (Chaim Rabin's translation, emphasis original).

6. Weakening of the agency of Creation
'By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.' Ps.33.6
'For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.' Ps.33.9
'And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.' Gen 1.3
'They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants.' Ps.119.91

God created all things by means of His command, by the fiat of His Word. This truth preserves a vital distinction between Creator and Creation. The denial of this precept in Islam tends to pantheism.
Divine Simplicity facilitates this denial.

'Therefore we, who truly believe in the Unity of God, declare, that as we do not believe that some element is included in His essence by which He created the heavens, another by which He created the [four] elements, a third by which He created the ideals, in the same way we reject the idea that His essence contains an element by which He has power, another element by which He has will, and a third by which He has a knowledge of His creatures. On the contrary, He is a simple essence, without any additional element whatever; He created the universe, and knows it, but not by any extraneous force.MN 1.53

He somewhat softpedals Aristotle's error in positing an eternal creation, and refuses to slay it outright, despite knowing it flatly contradicts scripture.
'Similarly I consider the arguments of Aristotle and his school for the eternity of the world, not as decisive proofs, but as assertions open to grave doubts, as you will learn later on.'
MN .1.16 (Chaim Rabin's translation)

His 'critique' of Aristotle's reasoning for the eternity of creation is obscure, tenuous and metaphysical, and even Rambam doesn't seem entirely convinced by it. No wonder contemporary rabbis were furious.
See  whole of MN 2.18
'Having demonstrated to you that our assertion is at least possible and not an impossibility, as say those who proclaim that the world is uncreated, I shall retrace my steps and prove in the next chapters that our view is the more acceptable...' MN 2.18 (Chaim Rabin's translation)

7. Endorsement of profound errors of physics.
Whilst the Jewish sage was but a man of his time, and could not be expected to see into the future. It is striking that his philosophical assumptions only serve to reinforce the barriers which prevented scientific progress in at least two significant areas. Aristotle's physics recall enshrined the four elements: fire, earth, air and water and added a fifth aether, which imprisoned scientific enquiry for centuries. (Maimonides also explicitly endorsed this notion in the 4th chapter of the laws of the basic principles of Torah.)

Rambam's own analogy of his apophatic theology with the physics of the Heavens is profoundly misguided and reveals how weakly validated his borrowed metaphysics was even at the time of writing, indeed he is rehearsing the Aristotelian straitjacket that later stymied Galileo and Kepler.

The Heavens not subject only to ordinary definition or investigation

'...the heaven is a moving body...yet our minds are completely unable to apprehend what it is... For this reason we can only describe it by negative terms (lit. names which are unconstraining), not  by positive ones (lit.  constraining expressions). We say that the heaven is not light nor heavy, not prone to excitability nor receptive to external impression, it has no taste or smell, and similar negative expressions. All this is because we are ignorant of that kind of matter.' MN 1.58
(Translation mine, adapted from Chaim Rabin)
Moreh Nebuchim 1.58
Denial of Democritus' atom theory
'False notions, however, may be spread either by a person labouring under error, or by one who has some particular end in view, and who establishes theories contrary to the real nature of things, by denying the
existence of things perceived by the senses, or by affirming the existence of what does not exist. Philosophers are thus required to establish by proof things which are self-evident, and to disprove the existence of things which only exist in man's imagination. Thus Aristotle gives a proof for the existence of motion, because it had been denied: he disproves the reality of atoms, because it had been asserted.'
 MN 1.51
In 400 B.C., Democritus may not have discovered the Periodic Table, but his ideas were far closer to modern physics than Aristotle's refutation.
Maimonides' dependence on Aristotle again obliges him to take a false turn.

A wholly baseless and somewhat mystical assertion about angular momentum
'The same applies to his [Aristotle's] statement about circular motion having no beginning (Physics 8.9). This is correct once the spherical body performing a circular motion has come into existence; no beginning of this motion can be imagined.'  MN 2.17 (Chaim Rabin's translation)

8. By far the most serious flaw of all
In terrible violation of the manifold Messianic mandate of the prophets, 'I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.'
'He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles', 'the isles shall wait for His law', Rambam rehearses the stifling of Gentile interest in the study of the Torah:

 גוי שעסק בתורה, חייב מיתה; לא יעסוק אלא בשבע מצוות שלהן בלבד
.  וכן גוי ששבת--אפילו ביום מימות החול--אם עשה אותו לעצמו כמו שבת, חייב מיתה;
 ואין צריך לומר אם עשה מועד לעצמו

'A gentile who studies the Torah is obligated to die. They should only be involved in the study of their seven mitzvot.' 

'Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge:
ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.'

There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. (Prov.11.25)
How different from Moses, Solomon or David.
We respect that most modern rabbinic Jews are shy to rehearse this most unwise tradition publicly, and seem in practice to reject it.