Written in the 12th century in Arabic by a faithful Jewish man, "The Guide" is a work that explores the contradiction a very intelligent mind clearly saw between the tradition he was raised to believe inherently and the growing philosophy of Arabian and Western culture. In Maimonides' time, there was an emerging disparity between the Law and a new level of philosophical sophistication, which he attempts to bridge in this work, primarily through the use of metaphor, though also acknowledging this method's limitations. "The Guide" follows the form of a three-volume letter to a student, which was quickly translated to Hebrew and spread throughout the known world and carefully read by Jews and non-Jewish philosophers alike well through the Middle Ages. This work was so successful in its organization and arguments that it has long been a classic of the Jewish religion and of the secular world of philosophy.
The first part focuses on Maimonides arguing against the anthropomorphism of God, basically stating God is incorporeal, and all references in the Bible to God doing physical things are essentially figurative language to allow the human mind to understand the works of God. This leads into a discussion by Maimonides that states that God cannot be described in positive terms only negative conceptions because while positive terms put limits on God, the negative does not. This leads into a discussion of philosophy and mysticism of various kinds. The second part begins on Maimonides expounding on the physical structure of the universe, an essentially Aristotelian world-view, which eventually leads into a debate on if the universe is eternal or created. Though Maimonides admits that Aristotle’s arguments for an eternal universe are better, Divine Revelation decides the matter. Maimonides then expounds on the Creation presented in Genesis and theories on the possible end of the world. The last part is explained as the climax of the whole work as Maimonides expounds on the mystical passage of the Chariot found in Ezekiel, which isn’t supposed to be directly taught only hinted at though over time direct instruction has become the normal. This is followed by analysis of the moral aspects of the universe and explaining the reasons for the 613 laws in the Torah. Maimonides ends the book with how God is worshipped correctly, through wisdom.
The comparison of and thesis of complimenting of long held Jewish theological thought and Aristotelian philosophy by Maimonides could have been hard to follow, the text was more than readable and thus the arguments very understandable. While his arguments and logic are insight and enlightening, Maimonides is yet another religious individual who has married ‘pagan’ philosophy with divine revelation to the determinant of the latter like many of his Christian contemporaries were doing and their predecessors before them and many would do after. This is the book’s biggest flaw, but instead of being a reason not to read it is the main one to read it and thus understand the arguments of those who want to merge two separate worldviews into one.
The Guide for the Perplexed was intended by Maimonides for learned individuals to give his view on philosophy more than theology, however the two could not be connected within the text. While I do not adhere to the vast majority of the thoughts the author expounded upon, the insight into medieval thought were invaluable and insightful.