Kings and Philosophers:
Great Influences on Abrahamic Religion
Dr. Jonathan Seidel
December 8, 2010
Every major school of thought has its authors, its influencers, and its divine chosen, if you will. These men and women influence everything from macro economics and political science to the physical sciences of the known universe. Without the contribution of these grand individuals, academics would be destined to their origins, they would cease to develop and many would not even exist. So it is on the existence of these great minds in which we invest our confidence for an ever-growing world. There is one topic in particular, though, whose existence and development is greatly attributed to these individuals: religion.
Dr. Jonathan Seidel, a professor at Oregon State University, defines Abrahamic religions as “The world's three primary monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which share a common origin and values.” (Seidel) The three main inspirational figures in these religions-- Maimonides, Jesus Christ of Nazareth and the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Bin Abdul-- are major contributors to the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, respectively. Every religion owes its creation and maturity to a multitude of individuals and events, but without the aforementioned people, the three Abrahamic religions would not be what they are today. Maimonides, although not the oldest of the three, has had a significant impact on the history and formation of Judaism.
Maimonides's full name was Moses ben Maimon; in Hebrew he is often known by the acronym of Rambam, meaning Rabbi Moses ben Maimon. He was born in Córdoba, Spain on Passover Eve, 1135, and died in Egypt on 20th Tevet, December 12, 1204 (Broyde and Jacobs). Maimonides was a philosopher, astronomer, and physician. When he was young he received his early rabbinic education from his father and various distinguished Arabic masters of the time. Given a choice between converting to Islam or being killed, Maimonides and his family fled their homeland before he had reached his teens. It was during these nomadic years that Maimonides composed a commentary on the Mishnah entitled "Kitab al-Siraj", a code of Jewish Law called the “Mishneh Torah”, and the philosophical work "A Guide for the Perplexed". Maimonides' major contribution to Judaism remains the Mishneh Torah. His intention was to compose a book that would guide Jews on how to behave, by reading the Torah and his code, without having to expend large amounts of time searching through the Talmud (Zeitlin). Needless to say, this confrontational foundation did not help Maimonides’ relation to many traditional Jews, who were concerned that people would begin to rely solely on his code rather than study the Talmud itself. Despite an early opposition, the Mishneh Torah has become a standard guide for Jewish practice; it later served as the model for the Shulkhan Arukh, the sixteenth-century code of Jewish law that is regarded as authoritative by Orthodox Jews to this day (Telushkin). What makes Maimonides distinguishable from many other philosophers or religious authors is how his work transcends Judaism alone. Vitali Naumkin, a Soviet scholar, said during a Paris conference on Maimonides, “Maimonides is perhaps the only philosopher in the Middle Ages, perhaps even now, who symbolizes a confluence of four cultures: Greco-Roman, Arab, Jewish, and Western.” Additionally, Time magazine said of him “Maimonides is the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, and quite possibly of all time.” (Time magazine, December 23, 1985) The work of Maimonides has, and continues, to influence Jewish thought and modern scholars. His notoriety in Judaism is only shadowed by the that of Jesus in Christianity. Of all the ministries of religion throughout time, none overshadow that of Jesus Christ’s in the first century CE. In a mere 18 months, Jesus succeeded in beginning what is now the...
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