species of leaven - toxic Hellenic influences on
Moses ben Maimon
an 8th error more deadly than all.
one believes Him to be One and to possess a number of attributes, one
in fact says he
is One but thinks
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
Ch.50 (tr. Chaim
Rabin, with one minor change)
Rambam's signature from the Cairo Geniza collection
introduction to the doctrine of Simplicity
Maimonides and his pagan Simplex god
preemption and reproof of the error.
(1135-1204) משה בן מימון
Affectionately known by
most Jews as Rambam (רמב"ם)
is a towering figure in Jewish history, a refugee from the
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
his life, but he is a key milestone for its prominent expression and
after some strong criticism, widespread
acceptance within much of Orthodox Judaism.
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.
1. Apophatic Theology
Maimonides is an
avid advocate of negative descriptions of HaShem.
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.
As with Xenophanes,
this defensive tendency comes from his strong rejection of physical
anthropomorphisms, and may be seen as an overreaction to physical idols.
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
highly philosophical approach to Deity jars very severely with the
repeated scriptural emphasis on positively asserting God's attributes.
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
has Rambam allowed himself to be blinkered by rationalist
Simplicity of the Essence of Deity
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
(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
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
wholly depersonalised being, and not as defects.
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
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
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
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.
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
Behold, I have graven
thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.'
This is what the Rambam has to say of the many, many passages like this:
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).
'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
Rambam's philosophical tendencies have left him somewhat embarrassed at
positive assertions like this, and left His Deity looking somewhat
a Being Who can only be dimly perceived from his actions, not His
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!
Restriction of the Image of God to the merely rational, not a
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'
the word order is reversed the implication is obvious, parenting itself
is wrapped up in this analogy of the Divine Image.
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.
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,
also emphatically assert that in order for complete display of the Divine Image in man
there is necessarily a relational
of his full spiritual, mental
and physical powers.
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
He that backbiteth not
with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a
reproach against his neighbour.
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.
that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the
innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.'
'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.
depicts a famous parable of the King's palace.
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.
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.'
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
somewhat softpedals Aristotle's error in positing an
eternal creation, and refuses to slay it outright, despite
it flatly contradicts scripture.
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)
'critique' of Aristotle's reasoning for the eternity of creation is
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
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)
Endorsement of profound errors of physics.
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
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
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
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)
Democritus' atom theory
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
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
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.
baseless and somewhat mystical assertion about angular momentum
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
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:
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
'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
is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth
more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. (Prov.11.25)
different from Moses, Solomon or David.
respect that most modern rabbinic Jews are shy to rehearse this most
unwise tradition publicly, and seem in practice to reject it.