Moses Maimonides on the Providence of God

From Israeli Bank Note

From Israeli Bank Note

Introduction

 

Moses Maimonides (Cir. 1135-1204 C.E.) affectionally referred to as the Rambam wrote a profound philosophical work in approximately 1190 C.E. called The Guide of The Perplexed. Within this book he provided a very enlightening exposition regarding his view of the concept of divine providence. Recognizing the complexity of this subject and seeing many philosophy and Bible students avoiding it one comes to appreciate Maimonides and his efforts to tackle the concept of providence. Because Maimonides wrote in medieval times he cannot be understood using modern presuppositions.[1] In fact Colette Sirat’s excellent introductory work on this subject in her own words affirms this. “This book was written…. In an attempt to elucidate their (Middle Age philosophers) meaning and to situate them in their historical context.” [2] Therefore in order to begin to understand what he explained it is important to examine at least the term providence.

Since terms have meaning and we are reading an English version of The Guide of The Perplexed translated in 1963 C.E., it is helpful to identify the words used designating providence. In English the word is of late Middle English origin, which comes through Old French from the Latin providential meaning to attend to or to provide.[3] Of course Maimonides may have been acquainted with Middle English, which is recognized as beginning with the Norman invasion of 1066 C.E., but he wrote the Guide in Arabic. Then in 1204 C.E. though a contemporary of his, Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, [4] it was translated into Hebrew.

Ibn Tibbon coined the Hebrew term hashgahah as a translation of the Arabic word ana yah to “provide.” Both of these words are language descriptors of providence. These terms seem to be used most often in efforts to describe universal or even individual measures of governance with which God carries out His controlling criterion of the universe and particularly this earth and its inhabitants. In a sense then God plans, foresees, and governs the universe as well as the world as an object of His care.

The subject of providence carries with it several sub categories. Chief among these are creation, origin of evil, and conservation or administration. While not the primary object of this paper some consideration of Maimonides’ views on evil is helpful to understand his exposition of providence. Read more

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