χώρα Revue dÉtudes Anciennes et Médievales:
Philosophie, Théologie, Sciences »,1/2003,
Editura Meridiane, Bucureşti, 2003

Jose Faur, HOMO MYSTICUS. A Guide to Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed,

Madeea Sâsâna

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Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1999, 266p.

Jose Faur is professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, Netanya, Israel. Master of Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic (rabbinic literature in its encounter with the Graeco-Arabic philosophy is one of his major research interests), as well as of modern methodologies and perspectives of the critical theory and poststructural analysis, his approach to Maimonides’ treatise is highly academic, pertinent and original.

The very exciting title of the book announces, indicates and somehow already “explains” its content and idea. If the message of the Guide is mainly methodological, then writing a book on Mamimonides’ “doctrine” would be a misleading mistake: “the aim is not “to prove” or “to demonstrate” or “to establish some ultimate truth”, but to point out as a ‘signpost’, which is the accurate meaning of Guide (Arabic: Dalala)”. The successful reader of this book becomes the author. Someone can point to what Maimonides himself is pointing only by applying his (Maimonides’) methods. Faur is consciously entering this play and, by the end, he is creating a “new” Guide, his own one. What is less important, how becomes the key: “The Guide is a work on critical theory, focusing on the esoteric elements of biblical and rabbinic literature”.

The accent upon the esoteric elements, upon the mysticism considered as an anthropological dimension and the very purpose of the human race, makes this book different from many other previous studies which overestimate the Aristotelian, rational and doctrinal aspect of the treatise. Homo mysticus has already transcended the realm of mythology and rationality developing a new level of consciousness: “Homo mysticus is, first and foremost, a postrational individual. His knowledge is a suprarational one. The ordinary, conventional objectivity is surpassed by a sublime and unique subjectivity.

The book is structured into four parts, all of them arranged in the frame of one critical question: whether man is able to transcend the tension between knowable and unknowable, which describes the mystical realm.

The first part (Apophasis) examines Maimonides’ doctrine of the negative theology. Knowledge of God is to be attained via negativa. The accent is not upon the rejection of the positive attributes, but on the dynamics of the nascent paradoxes following one another in a spiral succession. “This knowledge leads to the Maimonidean doctrine of silence”. What can be said does not belong to the realm of the esoterics. The distinction between “being said” and “being indicated” marks the very limit between rational and mystical. As the positive language cannot express total meaning, the space between letters, words or lines becomes an integral element in Hebrew writing, a meaningful “hyperspace”.

The second part (Imagination) deals with Maimonides’ important theory of the imagination. The interpretation is somehow hiding the special, positive role of this faculty as Maimonides describes it in relation with prophecy. Imagination is seen as the “bad” faculty responsible for human misery and idolatry as well. “Its purpose is not to interpret but to substitute reality". The author considers that “illusion” would be a more accurate term for rendering the Maimonidean khayal, usually translated as “imagination”. Also terms like religion or idolatry undergo a critical analysis meant to redefine them from within a proper, Jewish frame.

The third part (Cosmology) examines the Maimonides’ doctrine of Creation (once again the real problem can only be indicated). Beyond the realm of imagination, one can reach the objective reality – God as Creator: “In the Maimonidean system knowledge of God as a transcendental Supreme Being means knowledge of God as the absolute Creator”. The fascinating “relation” Aristotle-Maimonides is lucidly analysed providing new and original details of their encounter in reference to this issue.

The last part (Anthropology) is dealing with “the origin of humankind and its development to ultimate perfection” – the prophecy. Humans can ascend to heaven like the angels in Jacob’s vision (Gn. 28, 12). Every one has his own and unique way. “Mamimonidean perfection is individual and individualistic”. The general public enjoys it via these individuals – the descending angels from the same vision.

It is important to note that the author deliberately refuses to discuss Maimonides’ view of the Mercaba (Chariot), the very essence of rabbinic esoterics. If the reason he explicitely mentions (Mercaba is rather related to the doctrine of perfection, hence the need to contradict all the other standard interpretations) is the only one, or there must be taken into consideration some other “methodological” issues as well (i.e., the impossibility of any kind of discourse as referring to this subject which is therefore only indicated) is hard to say. Till the end the author is not breaking the rules of the game. Proving that there are some things which can not be proved, Faur offers the mirror-message of the Guide. His contribution is double: first, by the kind of approach using modern instruments of interpretation; second, by the uncovering of the esoteric dimension as a possible key to this controversial treatise. For whoever wants today to “grasp” the complexity of the Guide, this book is a must.

Madeea Sâsână
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