Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Persecution and the Art of Writing Pt III - Maimonides

(cont'd from here)

The third chapter of the book is an analysis of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. Strauss' key point is that the Guide was purposefully written as an esoteric text, whose true meaning was encoded in the text, which Maimonides states pretty much outright in the introduction. Strauss then procedes to decode the various methods that Maimonides employs to hide the true meaning of his work.

Strauss starts out by pointing out that Maimonides, like other traditional Jews, believed that the text of the Torah contained secrets and mysteries encoded in it; secrets that can only be unlocked through a careful analysis of the text by the select few. In this Maimonides perpetuates the ancient outlook - there are those who are destined to be the elite, the philosophers, those who have the capacity to understand the secret teachings, and then there are the rest, who are doomed to ignorance. The writing of the Guide, ostensibly to explicate the mysteries of the Torah, is done using similar techniques that the Torah used.

Strauss then elaborates on these techniques, specifically, repetition and contradiction. In Scripture, whenever concepts or stories are repeated, usually with minor variations, the traditional approach is to look carefully at the minor variations, since it is through them that the hidden additional meanings are revealed. The Guide uses the same technique. Likewise, whenever a seeming contradiction is encountered in the text, instead of attributing this contradiction to a shortcoming of the author, the astute reader needs to analyze the contradiction, since it is also a signpost for a secret concept.

This is a profound thought. In many ways, modern Biblical criticism uses the concepts of repetitive variation and contradicting statements to argue against the Divine authorship of the Torah. Yet here Strauss argues, that these techniques can be used on purpose as a method of conveying secret concepts, that they were done intentionally by the author. Of course, Strauss is not arguing for Divine authorship of the Torah, and the fact that Maimonides uses the same approach as used by the Sages is not a very strong argument. However, what struck me as interesting is that Strauss states that Al-Farabi, and Plato used similar techniques in their works. Now Al-Farabi was very familiar with greek philosophy so it is likely that he picked up this technique from them, but is it the case that the Greek philosophers were using such techniques. If so, this would imply that the techniques of purposeful repetition and contradiction were known independently in both the Jewish and Greek traditions.

Interesting...

10 Comments:

Blogger Shoshana said...

I'm not sure it would be so unreasonable to believe that the Greek and Jewish traditions used the same techniques, especially if you assume that the Torah was written, as biblical scholars assert, during the Babylonian exile time period, because that is the same time period that a lot of the major Greek philosophy was written as well. I have often wondered whether there was any kind of interactions between the Greek philosophers and those who wrote the Talmud. It seems likely to me.

November 14, 2007 10:13 AM  
Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

fascinating, Jim

November 14, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

b.spin,

just wait - the last chapter of the book is on reading the "Theologico-Political Treatise" and from what i've heard, Strauss was not a big fan of Spinosa

November 14, 2007 10:47 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

shoshana,

You may be right. I don't know how much cross pollination of ideas went on between the cultures. I have read somewhere that Pythagoras lived among the Babylonians and Persians for some time. He certainly was a secretive and mystical dude...

November 14, 2007 10:59 AM  
Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

>In many ways, modern Biblical criticism uses the concepts of repetitive variation and contradicting statements to argue against the Divine authorship of the Torah.

mostly they show it was a compilation of different texts written at different times. This is supported by the linguistic differences in addition to the repetitions and contradictions.

It's conceivable that the redactor(s) allowed contradictions to remain in order to conceal secrets. But it is also possible that the redactor(s) wanted to preserve the different traditions, and the idea that it contained secrets was a later invention perhaps influenced by Greek methodology

November 14, 2007 11:01 AM  
Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

>just wait - the last chapter of the book is on reading the "Theologico-Political Treatise"

I can't wait

November 14, 2007 11:02 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

But it is also possible that the redactor(s) wanted to preserve the different traditions, and the idea that it contained secrets was a later invention perhaps influenced by Greek methodology

Yes that is certainly a possibility. My point was just that I was surprised that the notion of intentional repetition and contradiction existed seemingly outside the Rabbinical universe.

November 14, 2007 11:17 AM  
Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

>My point was just that I was surprised that the notion of intentional repetition and contradiction existed seemingly outside the Rabbinical universe.

yes, that's interesting

November 14, 2007 11:38 AM  
Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

by the way, are you familiar with Kugel's essay on apologetics?

November 14, 2007 2:38 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

b. spin,

I had actually read Kugel's essay when his latest book came out, but frankly, I did not recognize the commonality of subjects between it and Strauss' essay on the Rambam.

Thanks for pointing this out.

November 14, 2007 5:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home