Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker

By Sarah Stroumsa | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
The Theological Context Of
Maimonides' Thought

ISLAMIC THEOLOGY

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 pa rameters 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 sources for Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, Shlomo Pines relied first and foremost upon Maimonides' explicit statements. Only few thinkers are mentioned by name in the Guide. Some additional information can be culled from Maimonides' letter to Samuel Ibn Tibbon. In writing this letter, however, Maimonides probably did not intend to compose an exhaustive annotated list of his readings. It is more likely that Ibn Tibbon, in a letter that is no longer extant, inquired concerning certain authors whose books were in his own library, and that Maimonides responded in his letter to this inquiry.2 Like the Guide, then, the letter to Ibn Tibbon also does not exhaust the names of authors whom Maimonides read, to whom he reacted, or to the discussion of whose thought he attached particular importance. Maimonides' philosophical erudition was no doubt far broader than would seem to be the case only on the basis of his explicit references.3 We must

1See F. Rosenthal, The Technique and Approach of Muslim Scholarship (Rome, 1947),
esp. 41; S. Stroumsa, “Citation Traditions: On Explicit and Hidden Citations in Judaeo-
Arabic Philosophical Literature,” in J. Blau and D. Doron, eds., Heritage and Innovation in
Medieval Judaeo- Arabic Culture
(Ramat- Gan, 2000), 167–78 [Hebrew].

2See Marx, “Texts by and about Maimonides,” 378; Epistles, 552–53; and see below,
apud note 12.

3This working hypothesis is now widely accepted; see, for instance, the Bulletin de phi-
losophie medieval 46 (2004): 283–87. Nevertheless, it still seems to be diametrically op-

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