One theme that constantly arises in theology is whether reason and philosophy conflict with religious belief. There seems to be a significant movement in the United States in favor of willful ignorance, that faith is much more important than facts.
A look at some of the more prominent religious philosophers in history, however, shows us that they wouldn’t have been too keen on this idea. You may remember my post on Philo of Alexandria, one of the first noted scholars to propose that Greek philosophy and the Jewish religion were actually in perfect harmony. Some eleven centuries later, much the same position was taken up by the preeminent Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, more commonly known to history by the Greek form of his name, Moses Maimonides. He was also sometimes called Rambam, which was an acronym for his name with the title in front of it.
Maimonides was born in 1135 (or possibly 1138) in Cordova, Spain, which was then under Moorish rule. When the Almohads conquered the place during Maimonides’ youth, they gave the choice of death or exile to non-Muslims living there. Maimonides’ family relocated to Morocco, then Palestine, and finally Egypt. This nation was also under Islamic rule, but they tolerated other religions, and Maimonides eventually worked his way up to leader of all Egyptian Jewish communities. He was also a physician, serving the Grand Vizier Alfadil and then Saladin himself.
In his philosophical works on Judaism, he expounded upon the idea that Judaism and Aristotelian philosophy were not at all in conflict. Some ideas of his include the definition of God in terms of what He isn’t rather than what He is, the concept of necessary beliefs that weren’t actually true but were required for social order (the Wikipedia article cites the idea that God gets mad at people as one of these), and the belief that the afterlife would be spiritual rather than physical. In regards to the latter, he did hold that the bodily resurrection mentioned in Daniel would happen, but insisted it would only be temporary. His most famous writings were the Mishneh Torah, a collection of Jewish law from several different sources; and the Guide for the Perplexed, which explained his philosophical views.
While many of his ideas were considered heretical in his own time, a good many of them have since been incorporated into mainstream Judaism. They were also somewhat influential on medieval Christianity, as we shall likely see next week.