Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker

Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker

Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker

Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker


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 World challenges 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.


The present book is dedicated to one major medieval thinker, Moses Maimonides (d. 1204), and to the examination of his thought in its historical and cultural context. the description of Maimonides as a thinker (rather than a Philosopher, for instance) follows from his own definition of thinking:

Thought (fikra) is one of the properties of a human being that are
consequent upon his form.

As these carefully chosen words indicate, for Maimonides thinking in itself is not identical with human perfection, nor does it guarantee the achievement of this perfection. Thinking is relevant at all levels of the theoretical as well as the practical domain, and it can even be corrupted and turned to vile things. When the process of thinking is interrupted “at first thought” (bi-awwal fikra) it is likely to produce unripe, erroneous, or harmful ideas. When, however, it is used as befits the human form, it prepares the human being to become human in all endeavors: individual or collective, corporeal or intellectual. Maimonides wrote on philosophy and on theology, on medicine and on Jewish law, and he was a community leader and a practicing physician. in all these activities he was driven by the same yearning to think correctly, and to direct his thoughts upwards. To understand him, we must therefore approach his thought in its entirety, as reflecting different aspects of one and the same thinker.

This book does not provide a full picture of Maimonides' thought, nor does it aspire to do so. There are many books that offer a synthesis of our knowledge regarding Maimonides: some are the fruit of joint efforts, presented as collections of articles; others are monographs; and some of them are impressively learned and penetrating. a huge literature exists also on specific important questions in Maimonides' thought. His positions on such fundamental philosophical and religious issues as creation ex nihilo, prophecy, or predestination have been analyzed and debated, with new and interesting studies still appearing. the present book touches on these issues only occasionally and briefly. It is also not a book dedicated

Guide 3.8 (Dalāla, 313:5–6; Pines, 434–35).

On the human being's ability to “direct his thoughts” (an yattajiha bi- fikrihi) to both sub
lime and mean objects, see Guide 1.10 (Dalāla, 24:13–14; Pines, 36).

Guide 1.26 (Dalāla, 37:20–22; Pines, 434–35).

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