Maimonides' 'Guide of the Perplexed'
A Philosophical Guide
University of Chicago Press 2016
Alfred Ivry‘s book, Maimonides’ ‘Guide of the Perplexed’: A Philosophical Guide (University of Chicago, 2016) is the only modern commentary in English to explicate Maimonides’ summa The Guide of the Perplexed in its entirety. In so doing, it stands as a monument to both The Guide and to a career spent studying it. The book begins with an introduction that outlines its main arguments and method, and with chapters on Maimonides biography and intellectual context. It then divides the Guide into eight thematic sub-sections and provides a paraphrase and analysis of each in turn; it tackles the way Maimonides read the bible, synthesized physics and metaphysics, and espoused a new understanding of the Jewish tradition. The sections cover Maimonides’ philosophy of language and anti-anthropomorphic reading of the bible, his opposition to Kalām (Islamic theology) and theory of creation, and his theories of prophecy, metaphysics, providence and theodicy. The work ends with chapters on the Law, on politics, and True Knowledge.
Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) was born in Cordoba, Spain and lived his mature life in Fustat, Egypt, he was a Jewish communal leader and legal scholar, physician and philosopher. The Guide is his philosophic masterwork, undoubtably one of the most influential and perplexing works of any faith written in the Middle Ages. Tucked away in Professor Ivry’s analysis is a rich reflection on Maimonides’ intellectual milieu and a genealogy sourced in both the Jewish tradition and Greek thought. Uniquely, he uses Maimonides’ biography and psychology as analytical tools and sees the book as a reflection of a Maimonides’ torn in his loyalties, seeking guidance as much as offering it, as a “mature spiritual and intellectual autobiography.” While others may read The Guide strictly as a work of exegesis or politics, Professor Ivry takes Maimonides’ metaphysical claims seriously, and sees him as neither a total skeptic nor a strictly orthodox thinker. Rather, this commentary understands The Guide in the mode of a confession, as a tool to tease out and come to terms with the eternal tensions between Reason and Revelation, and to see “Maimonides [as] indebted to a philosophical tradition that contradicted his inherent faith.” Rarely has a summa, the mature reflections of a career steeped in philosophic thought, been made so accessible.
Alfred Ivry is emeritus professor in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies as well as in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. He is renowned worldwide as both a scholar and a teacher, combining rich philological skills with a deep knowledge of Classical and Medieval philosophy; his career is now in its sixth decade.
Moses Lapin is a perplexed graduate student in the departments of History and Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.