Maimonides (1135–1204) was Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (sometimes shortened by Hebrew acronym to Rambam), one of the most influential philosophers and scholars of the Middle Ages. He was born in Cordoba, Spain, but the family later moved to Egypt.
Maimonides had studied medicine in Spain, but gave himself over to religious study. Money woes forced him to return to medicine, and he was eventually appointed Saladin’s personal physician. Despite a gruelling daily work routine, he found time to study and write on philosophy, religion, science and medicine.
Maimonides is arguably the only philosopher of the Middle Ages to bring together Graeco-Roman, Arab, Jewish and Christian thought. Studying Arabic scholars, he became familiar with the Greek philosophy which had been mostly lost to Europe. His core beliefs were that knowledge of God perfects the soul, and man can achieve immortality by following the paths of religious duty, and that there can be no contradictions between human science and God’s truth.
To Jews, he is author of the Mishneh Torah, a code of Jewish law intended as a guide to behaviour in all situations. His Guide for the Perplexed, one of the key philosophical statements of Judaism, espoused rationalism, saying some scriptural statements should not be taken literally. An old Jewish joke has a rabbi fearful of reading the Guide’s summary of rationalist attacks on religion lest he fall asleep before reading Maimonides’ riposte, so spending the night as a heretic.
Answered by: Eugene Byrne, author and journalist