Notes on Maimonides’ Book of Knowledge

"Notes on Maimonides' Book of Knowledge," Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem on His Seventieth Birthday by Pupils, Colleagues, and Friends, Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1967.  Reprinted in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy.


If it is true that the Guide of the Perplexed is not a philosophic book but a Jewish book, it is surely not a Jewish book in the same manner in which the Mishneh Torah is a Jewish book.  Maimonides has made clear the difference between these two kinds of Jewish books by saying that the Guide is devoted to the science of the Law in the true sense: the Mishneh Torah as well as the Commentary on the Mishna belong to the science of the Law in the ordinary sense, i.e., the fiqh or talmud.  The most obvious difference between these two kinds of Jewish books corresponds to the most obvious difference between the two kinds of science of the Law: the foundations of the Law are treated in the Mishneh Torah with much greater brevity than in the Guide, although they are alluded to in the former work in a manner that approaches clear exposition.  Consequently, in the Guide Maimonides discusses as fully as possible the fundamental question at issue between the adherents of the Law and the philosophers–the question whether the world is eternal or has a beginning in time–whereas in his fiqh books he establishes the existence of God on the basis of the view, which he rejects in the Guide, that the world is eternal.  This would seem to mean that in an important respect Maimonides’ fiqh books are more “philosophic” than the Guide.

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