Barry S. Kogan's “Two Gentlemen of Cordova: Averroes and Maimonides on the Transcendence and Immanence of God”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This essay compares and contrasts the thinking of Averroes and Maimonides on divine transcendence and immanence based on two of their works which were written to achieve very similar aims forsimilar audiences within their respective religious communities.  The two works are Averroes’ Exposition of the Methods of Proofs Concerning the Articles of Faith of the Religious Community (recently translated into English by Ibrahim Najjar as Faith and Reason in Islam: Averroes’ Exposition of Religious Arguments) and Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed.  After examining the ways in which each thinker introduces his project and aims, the discussion turns  first to their respective views on divine transcendence and what we can hope to know about God as such, by what means, with what limitations, and how this knowledge can best be expressed. The discussion turns next to divine immanence and what are traditionally taken to be God’s actions.  It focuses primarily on the ways in which each one deals with the issue of the world’s creation out of nothing (as opposed to its eternity throughout time) and what each author  means by the way in which he treats the subject. The next section takes up their respective treatments of prophecy and revelation, both of which are likewise taken to be expressions of divine immanence.  The analysis notes both important similarities between their approaches and also a number significant differences. It also  presents a new perspective on why Maimonides thought the Tanakh was written in the often intellectually problematic way that has come down to us.  This discussion is followed by a comparison of their treatments of one aspect of the problem of divine justice, namely, why God is repeatedly depicted as misleading people.  This section contains a probing discussion of Maimonides views on “divinely imposed trials” with special emphasis on the famous story of the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 22, a story that has troubled Jewish readers of every age.  A novel interpretation is suggested which may be of interest to anyone familiar with the story.  The essay concludes with a discussion of the historical question of whether Maimonides was familiar with Averroes or any of his works before he wrote the Guide and argues, tentatively, that there is now far more reason to think that he was familiar with at least this work than scholars have supposed until now.

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Barry S. Kogan, “Two Gentlemen of Cordova: Averroes and Maimonides on the Transcendence and Immanence of God,” in Adaptations and Innovations: Studies on the Interaction between Jewish and Islamic Thought and Literature from the Early Middle Ages to the Late Twentieth Century Dedicated to Professor Joel L. Kraemer, eds. Y. Tzvi Langermann & Josef Stern (Paris-Louvain-Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2007), pp. 157-227.


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