Rambam & Aristotle: Why We Read Rambam

Today, you will begin to realise why the Great & Immortal Etienne Gilson insisted that all capable men read Rambam's, "Guide to the Perplexed".

We're finally in the heat of battle! Let us stretch our minds in preparation for receiving our windfall of wisdom.

Rambam: Treading Carefully

Rambam had to be very careful with this particular exegesis, because he knew he was skirting Apikoros and, to a sapient reader, was clearly applying Aristotelian concepts to his analysis of the opening verses of Genesis.

Punishment for Rambam's Apikoros could range from sanctions to excommunication or even execution(most likely by strangulation, in this case, since he could be seen as endorsing idolatry or praise of Greek philosophers/gods).

Therefore, Rambam had to lightly and carefully weave his Classical thread. He knew the Greeks had a wisdom he must inject into his Faith in order to preserve its virility and that of his People, but how he did so would require utmost care in order to avoid endangering his legacy and personal welfare.

Man in the Image of God

In the first chapter, Rambam begins the discussion with the verse in Genesis I, 26, "Let us make man in our zelem." Zelem is roughly translated a "image", and the literal interpretation of this passage is that God made man, in his own form.

Constrasting zelem with toar

Rambam explicitly says that in God, there is no corporeality like that of Man: Rambam emphasizes the distinction between the word zelem and toar: one word implies the essence of a form, while the other word means the actual figure and shape of something.

By contrasting the meaning of these two distinct words, Rambam hopes to illuminate the intended objective of the passage to convey God's Divine essence injected into Man, rather than God possessing antropomorphic features.

This is made explicit the next passage of Genesis, where it says, "In the zelem of God he created him." Likewise, Rambam illustrates this use of zelem in Pslams 63, 20, where it says, "Thou despisest their zelem.": this applies to the soul of man, not the physical form of man.

Rambam on Man versus Animals

Rambam states in his last paragraph of Chapter One:

... man's distinction consists in a property which no other creature on earth possesses, viz., intellectual perception, in the exercise of which he does not employ his senses, nor move his hand or his foot, this perception has been compared -- though only apparently, not in truth--to the Divine perception, which requires no corporeal organ. On this account, i.e. on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form.

Re-read the paragraph above, then compare and contrast it with Aristotle's conception of the Divine Intellect.

Aristotle's Divine Intellect

Aristotle distinguished between the passive intellect and the active intellect. This parallels Rambam's distinction between the thoughts of animals versus those of men: animals are restricted to perception and reaction to sensory stimulus, whereas men can actively meditate on ideas which of themselves come from no clear sensory origin.

Aristotle characterises this spontaneous and intrinsicly human intellectual aspect as irreducibily Divine in origin and distinct from the minds and souls of creatures.

Rambam Uses Aristotle's Divine Intellect to "Bring Light" to the Text

By carefully using Aristotle's concept of Divine Intellect, Rambam is able to imbue this early passage of Genesis with a far more profound and substantial truth than one found in a literal or mystical interpretation.

This seemingly esoteric application of Aristotle to Genesis would later ramify into the great medieval philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and eventually form the foundation of the Enlightenment that would nuture the Golden Era of Western Civilisation.