Guide for the Perplexed
« Prev Part II. Next »


The Second Part includes the following sections: — 1. Introduction; 2. Philosophical Proof of the Existence of One Incorporeal Primal Cause (ch. i.); 3. On the Spheres and she Intelligences (ii.–xii.); 4. On the theory of the Eternity of the Universe (xiii.–xxix.); 5. Exposition of Gen. i.-iv. (xxx., xxxi.); 6. On Prophecy (xxxii.–xlviii.).

The enumeration of twenty-six propositions, by the aid of which the philosophers prove the Existence, the Unity, and the Incorporeality of the Primal Cause, forms the introduction so the Second Part of this work. The propositions treat of the properties of the finite and the infinite (i–iii., x.–xii., xvi.), of change and motion (iv.–ix., xiii.–xviii.), and of the possible and the absolute or necessary (xx.–xxv.); they are simply enumerated, but are not demonstrated. Whatever the value of these Propositions may be, they were inadequate for their purpose, and the author is compelled to introduce auxiliary propositions to prove the existence of an infinite, incorporeal, and uncompounded Primal Cause. (Arguments I. and III.)

The first and the fourth arguments may be termed cosmological proofs. They are based on the hypothesis that the series of causes for every change is finite, and terminates in the Primal Cause. There is no essential difference in the two arguments: in the first are discussed the causes of the motion of a moving object; the fourth treats of the causes which bring about the transition of a thing from potentiality to reality. To prove that neither the spheres nor a force residing in them constitute the Primal Cause, the philosophers employed two propositions, of which the one asserts that the revolutions of the spheres are infinite, and the other denies the possibility that an infinite force should reside in a finite object. The distinction between the finite in space and the finite in time appears to have been ignored; for it is not shown why a force infinite in time could not reside in a body finite in space. Moreover, those who, like Maimonides, reject the eternity of the universe, necessarily reject this proof, while those who hold that the universe is eternal do not admit that the spheres have ever been only potential, and passed from potentiality to actuality. The second argument is supported by the following supplementary proposition If two elements coexist in a state of combination, and one of these elements is to be found as the same time separate, in a free state, is it certain that the second element is likewise to be found by itself. Now, since things exist which combine in themselves motive power and mass moved by that power, and since mass is found by itself, motive power must also be found by itself independent of mass.

The third argument has a logical character: The universe is either eternal or temporal, or partly eternal and partly temporal. It cannot be eternal in all its parts, as many parts undergo destruction; it is not altogether temporal, because, if so, the universe could not be reproduced after being destroyed. The continued existence of the universe leads, therefore, to the conclusion that there is an immortal force, the Primal Cause, besides the transient world.

These arguments have this in common, that while proving the existence of a Primal Cause, they at the same time demonstrate the Unity, the Incorporeality, and time Eternity of that Cause. Special proofs are nevertheless superadded for each of these postulates, and on the whole they differ very little from those advanced by the Mohammedan Theologians.

This philosophical theory of the Primal Cause was adapted by Jewish scholars to the Biblical theory of the Creator. The universe is a living, organized being, of which the earth is the centre. Any changes on this earth are due to the revolutions of the spheres; the lowest or innermost sphere, viz., the one nearest to the centre, is the sphere of the moon; the outermost or uppermost is “the all-encompassing sphere.” Numerous spheres are interposed; but Maimonides divides all the spheres into four groups, corresponding to the moon, the sun, the planets, and the fixed stars. This division is claimed by the author as his own discovery; he believes that it stands in relation to the four causes of their motions, the four elements of the sublunary world, and the four classes of beings, viz., the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, and the rational. The spheres have souls, and are endowed with intellect; their souls enable them to move freely, and the impulse to the motion is given by the intellect in conceiving the idea of the Absolute Intellect. Each sphere has an intellect peculiar to itself; the intellect attached to the sphere of the moon is called “the active intellect” (Sekel ha-po‘el). In support of this theory numerous passages are cited both from Holy Writ and from post-Biblical Jewish literature. The angels (elohim, malakim) mentioned in the Bible are assumed to be identical with the intellects of the spheres; they are free agents, and their volition invariably tends to that which is good and noble they emanate from the Primal Cause, and form a descending series of beings, ending with the active intellect. The transmission of power from one element to the other is called “emanation” (shefa‘). This transmission is performed without the utterance of a sound; if any voice is supposed to be heard, it is only an illusion, originating in the human imagination, which is the source of all evils (ch. xii.).

In accordance with this doctrine, Maimonides explains that the three men who appeared to Abraham, the angels whom Jacob saw ascend and descend the ladder, and all other angels seen by man, are nothing but the intellects of the spheres, four in number, which emanate from the Primal Cause (ch. x). In his description of the spheres he, as usual, follows Aristotle. The spheres do not contain any of the four elements of the sublunary world, but consist of a quintessence, an entirely different element. Whilst things on this earth are transient, the beings which inhabit the spheres above are eternal. According to Aristotle, these spheres, as well as their intellects, coexist with the Primal Cause. Maimonides, faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures, here departs from his master, and holds that the spheres and the intellects had a beginning, and were brought into existence by the will of the Creator. He does not attempt to give a positive proof of his doctrine all he contends is that the theory of the creatio ex nihilo is, from a philosophical point of view, not inferior to the doctrine which asserts the eternity of the universe, and that he can refute all objections advanced against his theory (ch. xiii.–xxviii.).

He next enumerates and criticises the various theories respecting the origin of the Universe, viz.: A. God created the Universe out of nothing. B. God formed the Universe from an eternal substance. C. The Universe originating in the eternal Primal Cause is co-eternal. — It is not held necessary by the author to discuss the view of those who do not assume a Primal Cause, since the existence of such a cause has already been proved (ch. xiii.).

The objections raised to a creatio ex nihilo by its opponents are founded partly on the properties of Nature, and partly on those of the Primal Cause, They infer from the properties of Nature the following arguments: (1) The first moving force is eternal; for if it had a beginning, another motion must have produced it, and then it would not be the First moving force. (2) If the formless matter be not eternal, it must have been produced out of another substance; it would then have a certain form by which it might be distinguished from the primary substance, and then it would not formless. (3) The circular motion of the spheres does not involve the necessity of termination; and anything that is without an end, must be without a beginning. (4) Anything brought to existence existed previously in potentia; something must therefore have pre-existed of which potential existence could be predicated. Some support for the theory of the eternity of the heavens has been derived from the general belief in the eternity of the heavens. — The properties of the Primal Cause furnished the following arguments: — If it were assumed that the Universe was created from nothing, it would imply that the First Cause had changed from the condition of a potential Creator to that of an actual Creator, or that His will had undergone a change, or that He must be imperfect, because He produced a perishable work, or that He had been inactive during a certain period. All these contingencies would be contrary so a true conception of the First Cause (ch. xiv.).

Maimonides is of opinion that the arguments based on the properties of things in Nature are inadmissible, because the laws by which the Universe is regulated need not have been in force before the Universe was in existence. This refutation is styled by our author “a strong wall built round the Law, able to resist all attacks” (ch. xvii.). In a similar manner the author proceeds against the objections founded on the properties of the First Cause. Purely intellectual beings, he says, are not subject to the same laws as material bodies; that which necessitates a change in the latter or in the will of man need not produce a change in immaterial beings. As so the belief that the heavens are inhabited by angels and deities, it has not its origin in the real existence of these supernatural beings; it was suggested to man by meditation on the apparent grandeur of heavenly phenomena (ch. xviii.).

Maimonides next proceeds to explain how, independently of the authority or Scripture, he has been led to adopt the belief in the creatio ex nihilo. Admitting that the great variety of the things in the sublunary world can be traced to those immutable laws which regulate the influence of the spheres on the beings below — the variety in the spheres can only be explained as the result of God’s free will. According to Aristotle — the principal authority for the eternity of the Universe — it is impossible that a simple being should, according to the laws of nature, be the cause of various and compound beings. Another reason for the rejection of the Eternity of the Universe may be found in the fact that the astronomer Ptolemy has proved the incorrectness of the view which Aristotle had of celestial spheres, although the system of that astronomer is likewise far from being perfect and final (ch. xxiv.). It is impossible to obtain a correct notion of the properties of the heavenly spheres; “the heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s, but the earth hath He given to the children of man” (Ps. cxv. 16). The author, observing that the arguments against the creatio ex nihilo are untenable, adheres to his theory, which was taught by such prophets as Abraham and Moses. Although each Scriptural quotation could, by a figurative interpretation, be made to agree with the opposite theory, Maimonides declines to ignore the literal sense of a term, unless it be in opposition so well-established truths, as is the case with anthropomorphic expressions; for the latter, if taken literally, would be contrary to the demonstrated truth of God’s incorporeality (ch. xxv.). He is therefore surprised that the author of Pirke-di Rabbi Eliezer ventured to assume the eternity of matter, and he thinks it possible that Rabbi Eliezer carried the license of figurative speech too far. (Ch. xxvi.).

The theory of the creatio ex nihilo does not involve the belief that the Universe will at a future time be destroyed; the Bible distinctly teaches the creation, but not the destruction of the world except in passages which are undoubtedly conceived in a metaphorical sense. On the contrary, respecting certain parts of the Universe it is clearly stated “He established them for ever.” (Ps. cxlviii. 5.) The destruction of the Universe would be, as the creation has been, a direct act of the Divine will, and not the result of those immutable laws which govern the Universe. The Divine will would in that case set aside those laws, both in the initial and the final stages of the Universe. Within this interval, however, the laws remain undisturbed (ch. xxvii.). Apparent exceptions, the miracles, originate in these laws, although man is unable to perceive the causal relation. The Biblical account of the creation concludes with the statement that God rested on the seventh day, that is to say, He declared that the work was complete; no new act of creation was to take place, and no new law was to be introduced. It is true that the second and the third chapters of Genesis appear to describe a new creation, that of Eve, and a new law, viz., that of man’s mortality, but these chapters are explained as containing an allegorical representation of man’s psychical and intellectual faculties, or a supplemental detail of the Contents of the first chapter. Maimonides seems to prefer the allegorical explanation which, as it seems, he had in view without expressly stating it, in his treatment of Adams sin and punishment. (Part I. ch. ii.) It is certainly inconsistent on the one hand to admit that at the pleasure of the Almighty the laws of nature may become inoperative, and that the whole Universe may become annihilated, and on the other hand to deny, that during the existence of the Universe, any of the natural laws ever have been or ever will be suspended. It seems that Maimonides could not conceive the idea that the work of the All-wise should be, as the Mutakallemim taught — without plan and system, or that the laws Once laid down should not be sufficient for all emergencies.

The account of the Creation given in the book of Genesis is explained by the author according to the following two rules: First its language is allegorical; and, Secondly, the terms employed are homonyms. The words erez, mayim, ruaḥ, and ḥoshek in the second verse (ch. i.), are homonyms and denote the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire; in other instances erez is the terrestrial globe, mayim is water or vopour, ruaḥ denotes wind, and ḥoshek darkness: According to Maimonides, a summary of the first chapter may be given thus; God created the Universe by producing first the reshit the “beginning” Gen. i. 1), or hatḥalah, i.e., the intellects which give to the spheres both existence and motion, and thus become the source of the existence of the entire Universe. At first this Universe consisted of a chaos of elements, but its form was successively developed by the influence of the spheres, and more directly by the action of light and darkness, the properties of which were fixed on the first day of the Creation. In the subsequent five days minerals, plants, animals, and the intellectual beings came into existence. The seventh day, on which the Universe was for the first time ruled by the same natural laws which still continue in operation, was distinguished as a day blessed and sanctified by the Creator, who designed it to proclaim the creatio ex nihilo (Exod. xx. 11). The Israelites were moreover commanded to keep this Sabbath in commemoration of their departure from Egypt (Deut. v. ii), because during the period of the Egyptian bondage, they had not been permitted to rest on that day. In the history of the first sin of man, Adam, Eve, and the serpent represent the intellect, the body, and the imagination. In order to complete the imagery, Samael or Satan, mentioned in the Midrash in connexion with this account, is added as representing man’s appetitive faculties. Imagination, the source of error, is directly aided by the appetitive faculty, and the two are intimately connected with the body, to which man generally gives paramount attention, and for the sake of which he indulges in sins; in the end, however, they subdue the intellect and weaken its power. Instead of obtaining pure and real knowledge, man forms false conceptions; in consequence, the body is subject to suffering, whilst the imagination, instead of being guided by the intellect and attaining a higher development becomes debased and depraved. In the three sons of Adam, Kain, Abel, and Seth, Maimonides finds an allusion to the three elements in man: the vegetable, the animal, and the intellectual. First, the animal element (Abel) becomes extinct; then the vegetable elements (Kain) are dissolved; only the third element, the intellect (Seth), survives, and forms the basis of mankind (ch. xxx., xxxi.).

Maimonides having so far stated his opinion in explicit terms, it is difficult to understand what he had in view by the avowal that he could not disclose everything. It is unquestionably no easy matter to adapt each verse in the first chapters of Genesis to the foregoing allegory; but such an adaptation is, according to the author’s own view (Part I., Introd., p. 19), not only unnecessary, but actually objectionable.

In the next section (xxxii.–xlviii.) Maimonides treats of Prophecy. He mentions the following three opinions: — 1. Any person, irrespective of his physical or moral qualifications, may be summoned by the Almighty to the mission of a prophet. 2. Prophecy is the highest degree of mental development, and can only be attained by training and study. 3. The gift of prophecy depends on physical, moral, and mental training, combined with inspiration. The author adopts the last-mentioned opinion. He defines prophecy as an emanation (shefa‘), which through the will of the Almighty descends from the Active Intellect so the intellect and the imagination of thoroughly qualified persons. The prophet is thus distinguished both from wise men whose intellect alone received the necessary impulse from the Active Intellect, and from diviners or dreamers, whose imagination alone has been influenced by the Active Intellect. Although it is assumed that the attainment of this prophetic faculty depends on God’s will, this dependence is nothing else but the relation which all things bear to the Primal Cause; for the Active Intellect acts in conformity with the laws established by the will of God; it gives an impulse to the intellect of man, and, bringing to light those mental powers which lay dormant, it merely turns potential faculty into real action. These faculties can be perfected to such a degree as to enable man to apprehend the highest truths intuitively, without passing through all the stages of research required by ordinary persons. The same fact is noticed wish respect to imagination; man sometimes forms faithful images of objects and events which cannot be traced to the ordinary channel of information, viz., impressions made on the senses. Since prophecy is the result of a natural process, it may appear surprising that, of the numerous men excelling in wisdom, so few became prophets. Maimonides accounts for this fact by assuming that the moral faculties of such men had not been duly trained. None of them had, in the author’s opinion, gone through the moral discipline indispensable for the vocation of a prophet. Besides this, everything which obstructs mental improvement, misdirects the imagination or impairs the physical strength, and precludes man from attaining to the rank of prophet. Hence no prophecy was vouchsafed to Jacob during the period of his anxieties on account of his separation from Joseph. Nor did Moses receive a Divine message during the years which the Israelites, under Divine punishment, spent in the desert. On the other hand, music and song awakened the prophetic power (comp. 2 Kings iii. 15), and “The spirit of prophecy alights only on him who is wise, strong, and rich” (Babyl. Talm. Shabbat, 92a). Although the preparation for a prophetic mission, the pursuit of earnest and persevering study, as also the execution of the Divine dictates, required physical strength, yet in the moment when the prophecy was received the functions of the bodily organs were suspended. The intellect then acquired true knowledge, which presented itself to the prophet’s imagination in forms peculiar to that faculty. Pure ideals are almost incomprehensible; man must translate them into language which he is accustomed to use, and he must adapt them to his own mode of thinking. In receiving prophecies and communicating them to others the exercise of the prophet’s imagination was therefore as essential as that of his intellect, and Maimonides seems to apply to this imagination the term “angel,” which is so frequently mentioned in the Bible as the medium of communication between the Supreme Being and the prophet.

Only Moses held his bodily functions under such control that even without their temporary suspension he was able to receive prophetic inspiration the interposition of the imagination was in his case not needed “God spoke to him mouth to mouth” (Num. xii. 8). Moses differed so completely from other prophets that the term “prophet” could only have been applied to him and other men by way of homonymy.

The impulses descending from the Active intellect so man’s intellect and to his imagination produce various effects, according to his physical, moral, and intellectual condition. Some men are thus endowed with extraordinary courage and with an ambition to perform great deeds, or they feel themselves impelled to appeal mightily to their fellowmen by means of exalted and pure language. Such men are filled with “the spirit of the Lord,” or, “with the spirit of holiness.” To this distinguished class belonged Jephthah, Samson, David, Solomon, and the authors of the Hagiographa. Though above the standard of ordinary men, they were not included in the rank of prophets. Maimonides divides the prophets into two groups, viz., those who receive inspiration in a dream and those who receive it in a vision. The first group includes the following five classes: — 1. Those who see symbolic figures; 2. Those who hear a voice addressing them without perceiving the speaker; 3. Those who see a man and hear him addressing them; 4. Those who see an angel addressing them; 5. Those who see God and hear His voice. The other group is divided in a similar manner, but contains only the first four classes, for Maimonides considered it impossible that a prophet should see God in a vision. This classification is based on the various expressions employed in the Scriptures to describe the several prophecies.

When the Israelites received the Law at Mount Sinai, they distinctly heard the first two commandments, which include the doctrines of the Existence and the Unity of God; of the other eight commandments, which enunciate moral, not metaphysical truths, they heard the mere “sound of words”; and it was through the mouth of Moses that the Divine instruction was revealed to them. Maimonides defends this opinion by quotations from the Talmud and the Midrashim.

The theory that imagination was an essential element in prophecy is supported by the fact that figurative speech predominates in the prophetical writings, which abound in figures, hyperbolical expressions and allegories. The symbolical acts which are described in connexion with the visions of the prophets, such as the translation of Ezekiel from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ez. viii. 3), Isaiah’s walking about naked and barefoot (Isa. xx. 2), Jacob’s wrestling with the angel (Gen. xxxii. 17 sqq.), and the speaking of Balaam’s ass (Num. xxii. 28), had no positive reality. The prophets, employing an elliptical style, frequently omitted to state that a Certain event related by them was part of a vision or a dream. In consequence of such elliptical speech events are described in the Bible as coming directly from God, although they simply are the effect of the ordinary laws of nature, and as such depend on the will of God. Such passages cannot be misunderstood when it is borne in mind that every event and every natural phenomenon can for its origin be traced to the Primal Cause. In this sense the prophets employ such phrases as the following: “And I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isa. v. 6); “I have also called my mighty men” (ibid. xi. 3).

« Prev Part II. Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |