Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker

By Sarah Stroumsa | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
“From Moses to Moses”:
Maimonides' Vision of Perfection

Notwithstanding maimonides' complete immersion in the cultural world of his time, the Jewish tradition and the Jewish community were at the heart of his thought and activity. As the community's leader, he aspired to reach the point at which the Jewish people would be found deserving of being described by the nations as “a wise, understanding nation” [Deut. 4:6]. At the same time, he sought to attain a personal level of understanding that he knew was suited only for a few individuals, and not for the masses. This chapter will examine the tension between Maimonides' role as a community leader, and his craving for solitary, individual salvation.


“True Felicity”: The Hereafter in Maimonides' Thought

Although Maimonides' discussion of the hereafter is couched in the terms of traditional Jewish sources, his position must be understood against the backdrop of Islamic philosophy. We should there fore begin with a brief description of the hereafter of Muslim Philosophers.1

The attitude of Muslim Philosophers to the hereafter was determined by the sacred text. Both eternal punishment for the wicked and everlasting bliss for the righ teous are depicted in the Qur'ān in vivid colors. Paradise is described in sensuous, corporeal terms, and the Qur'an dwells in detail on the garden's pleasures or delights. Hadīth literature expounds on the Qur 'ānic descriptions of paradise and adds to them still more colorful, more sensuous descriptions. This corporeal paradise could not be accepted by the Philosophers. When the falāsifa speak of the hereafter, they consider it to be the culmination of human perfection. According to all falāsifa, the human being is composed of body and soul. Following Platonic teaching, they see the soul as including vegetal and animal souls or parts, and a rational soul. The body perishes with death, regardless of

1 On the depiction of the hereafter in Islam and in Islamic philosophy, see further S. Stroumsa,
“ 'True Felicity': Paradise in the Thought of Avicenna and Maimonides,” Medieval Encoun-
ters
4 (1998): 51- 77.

-153-

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