Disgraceful! Maimonides’ Use of Qabīḥ in the Guide

In: Oriens
Steven Harvey Professor Emeritus, Department of Jewish Philosophy Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan Israel

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Maimonides (d. 1204) employs three different sets of terms for good and bad in his Guide of the Perplexed I, 2: one Hebrew set (from Gen. 3:5), ṭov and raʿ; and two Arabic sets, al-ḫayr and al-šarr, and al-ḥasan and al-qabīḥ. Guide I, 2 is one of the betterknown chapters of the book – one of the first chapters the beginning student of the Guide encounters and one whose important teachings have been the subject of many valuable studies. Curiously, leading translators and scholars do not see any meaningful distinction between the two sets of Arabic terms despite Maimonides’ well-known declaration that “the diction of this Treatise has not been chosen at haphazard” (see below, n. 19). This article seeks to understand and explain why Maimonides employs two different sets of Arabic terms here for the concepts of good and bad, with special focus on qabīḥ, a key term for him in this chapter and in others in the book.

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