How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed

"How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed," Moses Maimonides: The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines, University of Chicago Press, 1963.  Reprinted in Liberalism Ancient and Modern.


The simple statement of the plan of the Guide suffices to show that the book is sealed with many seals.  At the end of its Introduction, Maimonides describes the preceding passage as follows: “It is a key permitting one to enter places the gates to which were locked.  When those gates are opened and those placed are entered, the souls will find rest therein, the eyes will be delighted, and the bodies will be eased of their toil and of their labor.”  The Guide as a whole is not merely a key to a forest but is itself a forest, an enchanted forest, and hence also an enchanting forest: it is a delight to the eyes.  For the tree of life is a delight to the eyes.

The enchanting character of the Guide does not appear immediately.  At first glance the book appears merely to be strange and in particular to lack order and consistency.  But progress in understanding it is a progress in becoming enchanted by it.  Enchanting understanding is perhaps the highest form of edification.  One begins to understand the Guide once one sees that it is not a philosophic book–a book written by a philosopher for philosophers–but a Jewish book: a book written by a Jew for Jews.  its first premise is the old Jewish premise that being a Jew and being a philosopher are two incompatible things.  Philosophers are men who try to give an account of the whole by starting from what is always accessible to man as man; Maimonides starts from the acceptance of the Torah.  A Jew may make use of philosophy, and Maimonides makes the most ample use of it; but as a Jew he gives his assent, where as a philosopher he would suspend his assent.

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