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Warga 1 Maimonides: Prophecy in the Guide for the Perplexed and the Epistle to Yemen Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) is perhaps one of the most influential rabbinic scholars of modern Judaism. A distinguished scholar, philosopher, and physician, Maimonides created many substantial works despite his being self-exiled from Spain and North Africa. His Commentary on the Mishnah, Mishneh-Torah and The Guide for the Perplexed are among his most famed works. Through his Aristotelian-based theory, Maimonides provided a philosophical lens through which to view Judaism. The Guide for the Perplexed is one such work that refracted the ideals of Judaism current in his time. The Guide worked through many components of Judaism, using a hermeneutical style primarily based on homonymic evidence within the Torah and other sacred books. It became and continues to be a highly influential book for the theological studies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Another area of value in discussing the works of Maimonides are his epistles and treatises written to various Jewish communities throughout France, Germany, North Africa and the Middle East. Very often lengthy responses to questions or concerns raised by the communities to which they were addressed, Maimonides had a way satisfying much of the thirst from which the communities suffered. His Jewish Creed provides the foundation for the faith of any Torah-true Jew. While his Treatise on Resurrection works to answer questions that, perhaps, many felt were left unanswered. Of particular interest to this paper is The Epistle to Yemen, a series of responsa to the legendary South Arabian Jewish community that discusses themes of prophecy, astrology and messianism. Warga 2 Through this paper, I will utilize both the Guide for the Perplexed and the Epistle to Yemen in an attempt to elucidate Maimonides views on prophecy including where the two works collide and how elitism played a role in these works. The Guide for the Perplexed Maimonides’ The Guide for the Perplexed is quite possibly his most widely reaching and influential work. Unlike his Commentary on the Mishneh or the Mishneh Torah, the Guide was produced as a strictly philosophical piece crossing the boundaries between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Maimonides’ Aristotelian interpretations of themes important to this medieval thinker depict an audience from among the three monotheistic religions quite capable of a few bouts in the intellectual ring with Aristotle himself. The Guide is rife with assumptions intended for the philosophical elite of his time to infer without a great deal of trouble. For our purposes, the prophetical views of Maimonides will be at issue here. Particularly in focus will be whom Maimonides declares a prophet—such as Moses. More specifically, what sets Moses apart from all other prophets before and since the Revelation at Mt. Sinai? This section will also analyze Maimonides’ handling of Mohammed in a work meant for Muslim eyes. Any inflammatory work could have easily gotten Maimonides killed, so how does he balance his philosophical view of prophecy in Judaism with the ruling religion’s prophetic finale. Likewise, it is important to look at the role of dreams in the determination of prophecy and prophet. If a person received a vision in a dream, was this prophecy? If an angel delivered a message in a Warga 3 dream, was this prophecy? Simply, what are the criteria that Maimonides presents to his philosophically inclined peers? Maimonides has no qualms discussing his philosophical views of prophecy the elite scholars of his day. Throughout the entirety of the Guide there exists a certain air of authority and elitism. He repeatedly concludes chapters with an abrupt “Note it (229)” or “Note what is meant by these words (234),” adding to the degree of authority he wishes to convey. He remarks quite matter-of-factly regarding certain aspects of the material and divine worlds so as to separate his elitist audience from the vulgar below. When discussing the precepts concerning the faculties of potential prophet’s mind, Maimonides speaks of “the intuitive faculty” that “all possess, but in different degrees (229).” As if this is something that any individual would ponder on any given day. Maimonides knows affectionately the audience he is trying to reach and leaves unapologetically the vulgar in the dust. It seems that of particular interest to Maimonides is the subject of prophecy. He devotes nearly the entire second part of the Guide to this matter. Perhaps living under the influence of Muslim rule, Maimonides thought often about the meaning of prophecy. After all, Mohammed, according to Islam, is the final prophet of the Lord. This of course conflicts with much of Maimonides’ views concerning the Jewish faith and the fate of the Jewish people (Jewish Creed). So, here on the stage before not only his usual coreligionists, he attempts to rectify exactly what it means to be a prophet for his Christian and Muslim philosophical peers as well (Guide xl). Before setting out on exactly what makes a prophet, Maimonides must first acknowledge what beliefs of prophecy are held among the God-fearing folk. This, of Warga 4 course, immediately cancels out the Atheists who would disqualify any God-based prophecy from the outset. He develops, then, three categories of people to whom his views on prophecy should be relevant. First, the group of people that believe in Prophecy as ordained by God who chooses individuals as prophets at random. This group, admittedly, dismisses the wicked as capable prophets unless some divine intervention were to make the wicked upright (219). Second, the philosophers who only believe prophesy as a function of the scholarly individual. For this group, Maimonides contends, there is no prophecy without perfection in the “intellectual and moral faculties.” The third and lengthiest view of Prophecy is contained in the Scripture. He asserts, likewise, that this view is a principle of Judaism. Therefore, and this is undoubtedly directed toward his coreligionists, this is the type of Prophecy with which he will be in agreement. He does concede to the similarity of his type of prophecy with that of the philosophers. However, unlike the philosophers who suggest anyone capable of prophecy is therefore a prophet, Maimonides makes the distinction that a prophet is only a prophet if she communicates the prophecy. In addition, the prophet would only be prevented from revealing prophesy by some will of God. It is by this Will that prophecy like all miracles is administered or silenced. In keeping with his elitist attitude, Maimonides assures that ignoramuses are unfit for prophecy. He likens such the possibility for an ignorant prophet to that of an “ass or a frog” prophesying. As soon as the opinions of prophecy are established, Maimonides moves right on to Moses. Being fond of categorization, Maimonides wants to set forth the traits that distinguish Moses from those of other prophets. He states unquestionably, “It is clear to me that what Moses experienced at the revelation on Mount Sinai was different from that Warga 5 which was experience by all the other Israelites, for Moses was alone addressed by God….” (221). Though Maimonides specifies the Israelites in this sentence; his argument upholds that Moses was exceptional among all other Israelites and prophets. He concludes his discussion of Moses reminding the reader that he compiled already four arguments noting the distinction of Moses over all other prophets “in books accessible to every one, in the Commentary on the Mishnah and in Mishneh-Torah” (223). Of course, the reader of the Guide should be well familiar with these volumes for Maimonides will not be referring to Moses in relation to prophecy any further (223). In this way, he has set apart Judaism from Christianity and Islam. He has unabashedly placed Moses and his prophecy above that of Jesus and Mohammed without mentioning their names or fully explaining what he considers prophecy to be. It is not difficult to understand the reasoning behind Maimonides’ vague allusions to Christianity and Islam in his discussions of Prophecy. Living in a society in which the ruling class adheres strictly to the moral code of a particular religion is perhaps enough to make anyone mum on the subject of the ruling religion—in this case Islam. Yehuda Shamir reminds us that Maimonides’ residence in Egypt and his prior residence in Spain and North Africa would have well informed him on the matters of punishment regarding outbursts against Islam (213). Maimonides needed to set apart Moses in order to stealthily lower the prophetic aspirations of Mohammed and Jesus. Despite his unimpressed attitude toward the vision of Mohammed and Jesus, Maimonides still manages to allude to their status as being among the ranks of Abraham. In the Guide, he redacts a list containing, in his view, all the degrees of prophecy in accordance with his deduction through and his hermeneutical readings of Scripture. Warga 6 Excluding Moses’ prophecy, he reduces all prophetic aspirations to just eleven categories (241). Most of these degrees revolve around the core idea of prophecy being intertwined with dreams. All prophets including Jesus and Mohammed received their prophecy through an intermediary such as an angel or a messenger within the dream—excluding the prophecy of Moses since “mouth to mouth [God] spoke to him (Exodus 25:22)” (245). Maimonides notes that it is unreservedly important to make the distinction between prophecy received through a dream and the revelation Moses experienced at Sinai. As stated before, Maimonides does not discuss at length in the Guide what Moses experienced at Sinai. He does, however, discuss at length what it means to receive prophecy by dream. This type of prophecy is second only to what Moses experienced at Sinai. Maimonides continues in his philosophical way to deduce that as long as the person receiving prophecy is sound in her rationality, this type of prophecy will only include visions or dreams containing an angel. There will never be any intervention on the part of God to communicate directly or through the dream state to the prophet. This is something Maimonides makes very clear (244). Once again, Maimonides makes this distinction quite purposefully. Despite his silence in uttering his name, Maimonides does not in any way wish to exalt the prophecy of Mohammed to the level of prophecy attained by Moses. By describing the prophetic dream like that experienced by Mohammed without mentioning his name, Maimonides is able to assert Judaism as the one true monotheistic religion. Yehuda Shamir refers to a censored portion from the Mishneh-Torah that helps to clarify Maimonides views of Christianity and Islam (214). Maimonides states that Jesus and Mohammed “only served Warga 7 to clear the way for King Messiah, to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord….Thus the messianic hope, the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics….[People from faraway lands] are discussing these matters…But when the true King Messiah will appear and succeed…they will forthwith recant and realize that they have inherited naught but lies from their fathers, that their prophets and forbears led them astray (214).” Thus, it is clear that Maimonides has used his views of prophecy to subordinate the roles of Islam and Christianity to the true God-given religion of Judaism. Shamir provides three guidelines for what Maimonides believes Christianity and Islam to be: (1) unauthentic religions when held to the light of Judaism; (2) dispersers of the ideals of monotheism and the Torah; and (3) preparatory devices for the Messiah who will reveal for all the true religion—Judaism (215). These are critical functions for Maimonides view of prophecy. He does not outright dismiss the work of Mohammed and Jesus. He instead provides a purpose for the two largest of the three monotheistic religions. That purpose is preparation. God revealing to Jesus and to Mohammed through the Angel Gabriel endowed the world with a means to understand monotheism. According to Maimonides, prior to the presageful visions of Jesus and Mohammed, the Romans and the Arabs bathed in the sin of paganism. Following their prophecy, Jesus and Mohammed spread monotheism throughout the world. Though unable to express this view directly in the Guide, Maimonides is still able to address how he feels about the two dispersers through his discussion of their type of prophecy. The Epistle to Yemen Warga 8 After analyzing Maimonides’ elitist depictions of prophecy, it is also important to understand how he translates the heavy material of the Guide to less philosophically attuned individuals. So now we turn to Maimonides’ famed Epistle to Yemen. Written as a response, or possibly series of responsa, to Rabbi Jacob ben Nethan’el al-Fayyumi, the Epistle addresses a legendary Jewish community highly learned in the Law and with unrelenting devotion unrivaled among the Jewish people. The Jews of Yemen are “the real roots” to the existence of unwavering devotion and righteousness from among whom “no breach, no going forth, and no outcry” could be heard [1-2]. Despite Maimonides’ portrayal of the Yemenite community as a pious bunch out which song flows freely and Jewish ceremonies continue unbroken; the Epistle demonstrates a people living in utter fear and terror of the their Muslim counterparts, a people whose devotion is shaken by the preaching of false prophets and forced conversion, a people whose burden is so massive it could easily break the backs of those who bear it, let alone the spirits. Rabbi Jacob wrote to Maimonides not only to praise its upright stature among the Jews of Muslim countries, but also to seek dire spiritual counsel lest the backbone of the community be broken. Rabbi Jacob chose no better an individual than Maimonides to relay their distress. Like the Yemenite community, Maimonides with his family were forced to flee southern Spain due to forced conversions of Jews to Islam or, quite possibly, death at the hands of the Berbers. Quite unlike the Maimon family, however, the Yemenite community was quite impoverished. Notwithstanding Maimonides’ humble insistence that, dissimilar to generations prior to his own that reached great heights in their Warga 9 learnedness of Torah and all the works’ of the Great Sages, he was unable to know the depths of their Torah knowledge since being shuffled from one country to another; the Yemenite Jews had not the freedom of choice afforded by the wealthy Jews of southern Spain. Their remaining in Yemen was not a choice but a requirement determined by their lack of funds and their status as dhimmi—non-Muslim protected class, or “People of the Book.” Maimonides’ addresses Rabbi Jacob in Arabic as an equal and as messenger. He is inculcated with a most important task. He must deliver the contents of the Epistle not only to the elites within the Yemenite community, but also to every women and every child amongst them. The Epistle is thus a decree to the most vulnerable of the community. Those persons not at all versed in Torah and those yet to fully understand all the Torah provides to the Jewish community. He requires of Rabbi Jacob to distribute the letter so that all persons can hear the Epistle in the company of others and read the Epistle in solitude to be familiar with all that Maimonides is detailing. In requiring this of Rabbi Jacob, Maimonides reveals quite a different attitude than that depicted in the Guide. Here it seems that in times of dire need, Maimonides insists upon the dispersal of knowledge among all the children of Israel, not only the rabbis, to ensure the righteousness of future generations. All must know who can be considered a prophet, who is most certainly not a prophet, and how to deal with those other poor representations of the true Prophecy seen at Sinai. After relating his own experience, Maimonides begins to restate the information provided to him by the Rabbi in the now lost letters sent out by R. Jacob. It is here that Maimonides reminds the Yemenite community of the travails that Israel will face in Warga 10 accordance with the Divine plan, yet to be revealed. He speaks of Israel’s time in the Diaspora, a time that, for Maimonides, will be coming to an end possibly in his lifetime. He advises that despite the falling away from Torah by some of Israel, God has not forgotten her. There will always be those that turn away from God, to their own dreadful fate, and yet God remains steadfast by Israel’s side. God does not disregard his Chosen People. In order to prove God’s devotion to Israel, he recalls through the prophetic words of Daniel and Isaiah several nations who by “sword” or by “intellect” have posed, at various times in history, great strife for the Israelites. Among those who have attempted to destroy Israel through sword he mentions Amalek, Sisera and Nebuchadnezzar, and among those who have attempted to destroy Israel through intellect he mentions the Syrians, Persians and Greeks. All these were great nations, he continues, yet God did not waver in his devotion—as the community should not waver in theirs— and pulled Israel from out of the fire. He relieves some of the burden felt by the Yemenite Jewish community by enforcing the eternal Truth of God who is eternally superior to the power and knowledge of any mortal [9-11]. After reassuring his readers of Israel’s place in God’s eyes, Maimonides turns to problems of the day—Christianity and, in particular, Islam. Once again, he uses the words of a Biblical prophet to uplift and embolden the hearts of the Yemenite Jews. He says that Daniel spoke of both Jesus—a heretic, and Mohammed—the wicked one—in his own true divination. The heretic would “make bold to claim prophecy, but they shall fall” (Daniel 11:14). Maimonides’ own detraction of Jesus the Nazarene is brief but poignant. In only one short paragraph, he divulges that although Jesus was in fact a legitimate child and a Jew, he was nonetheless a false prophet of the worst kind. Through Warga 11 his false prophesizing, Jesus interpreted the commandments so as to lead to their utter dissolution . Maimonides bluntly reminds the Yemenites of Jesus’ fate following his prophetic plans. After a hasty jaunt into the life and false prophecy of Jesus, Maimonides runs directly into the more pressing issue of Mohammed whom he terms the Crazy one. In this instance, his audience appears transparent. He trusts that the Epistle should reach every Jew close to the community without splintering to an unworthy audience. Though he is writing in Arabic and is quite aware of the punishment he would receive if the letter should be discovered, Maimonides deems Mohammed the Crazy one. There is perhaps no simpler way of dismissing someone than to term them crazy, and this is exactly the task that Maimonides has to accomplish. He reaffirms the divine place of Torah above the divine aspirations set forth by the very human creation of Mohammed. Mohammed followed in the footsteps of Jesus with his false prophecy. However, he injected his religion with the additional components of “rule and submission” —objectives with which the Yemenite community were certainly familiar when R. Jacob wrote his initial inquiries to Maimonides. Clearly, Maimonides takes issue with the teachings of Mohammed, but this does not explain what disqualifies his prophecy. At this point, Maimonides alludes that mere humanity does not disqualify Mohammed’s divine inspirations, reminding the reader that all of the Biblical prophets including Moses were assuredly human. What separates Mohammed’s false presage from the Biblical prophets was the assertion of his own religion above that of the divinely transmitted Law—the Torah. Maimonides explains in allegorically: Warga 12 “All of these men purposed to place their teachings on the same level with our divine religion. But only a simpleton who lacks knowledge of both would liken divine institutions to human practices. Our religion differs as much from other religions for which there are alleged resemblances as a living man endowed with the faculty of reason is unlike a statue which is ever so well carved….When a person ignorant of divine wisdom or of God’s works sees the statue that superficially resembles a man…, he believes that the structure of the parts of a statue is like the constitution of a man, because he is deficient in understanding concerning the inner organization of both. But the informed person who knows the interior of both, is cognizant of the fact that the internal structure of the parts of man are truly marvelously made, a testimony to the wisdom of the Creator…the uncovered parts and covered parts, every one of these in proportion, in form and proper place.” The infraction by a simpleton to be led astray by the teachings of other religions is not at all surprising to Maimonides. He expects human beings to be mistaken. Both religions have positive and negative aspects that could allow a person to choose the incorrect one—that is the religion not transmitted from God. This requires the true believers in Torah to be extra diligent in whom they trust to be a prophet. Again Daniel citing, Maimonides reminds the reader that Mohammed is a false prophet who “shall seek to change the seasons and the law.” (Daniel 7:25). Maimonides uplifts the spirit of the Jew who may not have scholarly attributes yet still yearns to know God. He admits that there is a place for Christianity and Islam in Warga 13 preparing the world for the Messiah. However, he asserts that the only way to divine perfection is the Torah. Maimonides ascertains that certain Islamists are attempting to read into the Torah the name of Mohammed in order to proselytize Jews. Maimonides immediately takes issue with this, stating that God created the divine covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Unlike the religion of Mohammed that teaches a covenant between Abraham, Ishmael, and his descendants, the divinely sanctioned Torah states that God’s covenant with Ishmael was only to make him a great nation, not the Chosen nation. In the Epistle, Maimonides investigates the passage from the Torah used as evidence for the Godly foreshadowing associated with Mohammed. The suggested references are supposedly scattered in the Torah thereby foreseeing Mohammed’s inception and the carrying of God’s promise to the descendants of Ishmael. Maimonides, however, is not impressed by the exegetical explanations. He dismisses any allusions to Mohammed’s name through the numerical values of certain Hebrew roots, to Mohammed being mentioned in reference to Mount Paran (Deuteronomy 33:2), and to the nation of Ishamel being anything more than great in size. (Genesis 17:20). [37-38]. Maimonides impresses upon the Yemenite community his might in the ken of Torah swiftly striking down the legitimacy of Mohammed and his teachings as being true prophecy more upright than the Torah. Not only does he denounce the claims made Islamists to read Mohammed into the Torah, he places Mohammed on a rung far below that of Moses—the True Prophet. Maimonides sees Moses—like the Torah—on a different plain than that of Mohammed because Moses, unlike Mohammed, received his Warga 14 prophecy directly from God. Unlike Mohammed, Moses and God did not have a mediating angel. Mohammed spoke not to God but to the angel Gabriel. Maimonides thinks even less highly of Mohammed than Moses because the prophecy that Mohammed received came to him by dream. This type of prophecy to Maimonides is unreliable. He insists that the reader maintain caution when a potential prophet is revealed divine teachings through dreams. These prophets are unreliable and perhaps confuse dreams with divine inspiration. As well, Mohammed was revealed divine teachings with fear in his heart. Moses, however, sat at God’s side while the entire secrets of the Torah were revealed all the while bathing in the gloriousness of God. Aside from Mohammed and Jesus, Maimonides emphasizes other means of telling a false prophet. One devious means by which a prophet would attempt to seduce a person is through the human practice of soothsaying. One should be weary to the prophet that tempts one to commit acts of astrological calculation or augury. If a prophet should suggest such means and state that they be in accordance with God’s will, this prophet is false. Maimonides makes this point to uphold the value that any prophet who should attempt to diminish or add to the God-given Torah should be labeled as false. Conclusion The differences that exist between the Guide and the Epistle are certainly not difficult notice. Though Maimonides has presented generally the same view of prophecy in both works, he has constructed to very separate audiences in the manner he composed each. The Guide is highly philosophical in its depiction of prophecy. There is a great deal of allusion that he was obliged to make use of in order to conceal his genuine beliefs Warga 15 regarding Mohammed and Jesus. The insinuating method that Maimonides used allowed this major work to be distributed to a much broader audience had he been forthright in his conclusions. The Epistle, on the other hand, was constructed specifically to enliven the Jewish spirit in Yemen. Maimonides received word of the plight concerning the Jewish community there. He, then, produced a most uplifting and dignifying letter that, in a way, raised the intellect of the vulgar to that of the elite. This was a composition intended strictly for Jewish eyes. And Maimonides’ slaying of the prophecy and character of Mohammed speaks directly to this point. The Crazy man whose only real achievement was to pull the Arabs from the fires of paganism in order to ready them in the ways of monotheism. A task fit for nearly anyone with the proper faculties, in the view of Maimonides. Judaism is the only triumphant religion in the end. Maimonides holds that Christianity and Islam are but poor representations of a divine revelation long since past. They may lay claim to a type of prophecy. However, the only true prophecy was experienced at Sinai. Warga 16 Works Cited Maimonides, Moses. The Epistle to Yemen. Ed. by Abraham S. Halkin. Translated from the Arabic by Boaz Cohen. American Academy for Jewish Research, New York. 1952. Maimonides, Moses. The Guide for the Perplexed. Translated from the Arabic by M. Friedlander, Ph.D. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. Maimonides, Moses. Jewish Creed. Translated by J. Abelson. The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 19, No. 1. Oct., 1906, pp. 24-58. Shamir, Yehuda. Allusions to Muhammed in Maimonides’ Theory of Prophecy in His “Guide of the Perplexed.” The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 64, No. 3. Jan., 1974. pp. 212-224. Works Consulted Breslauer, S. Daniel. Philosophy and Imagination: The Politics of Prophecy in the View of Moses Maimonides. The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 70, No. 3. Jan., 1980. pp. 153-171. Kiener, Ronald C. Jewish Isma’ilism in Twelfth Century Yemen: R. Nathanel ben alFayyumi. The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 74, No. 3. Jan., 1984. pp. 249-266. Maimonides, Moses. Treatise on Resurrection. Translated by Ralph Lerner. History of Religions, Vol. 23, No. 2. Nov., 1983. pp. 140-155. Morais, Sabato. A Letter by Maimonides to the Jews of South Arabia Entitled “The Inspired Hope.” The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 25, No. 4. Apr., 1935. pp. 330-369. Warga 17 Wolfson, Harry Austryn. Hallevi and Maimonides on Prophecy. The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 32, No.4. Apr., 1942. pp. 345-370.