Opening the Gates of Interpretation

Maimonides' Biblical Hermeneutics in Light of His Geonic-Andalusian Heritage and Muslim Milieu

Series:

The biblical hermeneutics of the illustrious philosopher-talmudist Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) has long been underappreciated, and viewed in isolation from the celebrated philological schools of “plain sense” ( peshat) Jewish Bible exegesis. Aiming to redress this imbalance, this study identifies Maimonides’ substantial contributions to that interpretive movement, assessing its achievements in cultural context. Like others in the rationalist Geonic-Andalusian school, Maimonides’ understanding of Scripture was informed by Arabic learning. Drawing upon Greco-Arabic logic, poetics, politics, physics and metaphysics, as well as Muslim jurisprudence, he devised sophisticated new approaches to key issues that occupied other exegetes, including a variety of interpretive cruxes, the reconciliation of Scripture with reason, a legal hermeneutics for deriving halakhah (Jewish law) from Scripture, and the nature of interpretation itself.

"It is a valuable contribution to the entire study of medieval biblical exegesis and will undoubtedly serve as the basis of all subsequent discussions of Maimonides' hermeneutics."
Daniel J. Lasker, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
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Biographical Note

Mordechai Z. Cohen, Ph.D. (1994) in Bible, Yeshiva University, is Professor of Bible and Associate Dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University. He has published extensively on Jewish Bible interpretation, including Three Approaches to Biblical Metaphor (Brill, 2003).

Review Quotes

"With its indexes, appendices and bibliography, Cohen’s work makes an important contribution to Jewish
intellectual history and to biblical scholarship. It will appeal to the specialist and is an essential text for an
academic Judaica collection."

Randall C. Belinfante, Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews (2012) Vol. 2, No. 1

"It is a valuable contribution to the entire study of medieval biblical exegesis and will undoubtedly serve as the basis of all subsequent discussions of Maimonides' hermeneutics."

Daniel J. Lasker, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Table of contents

INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER 1: THE GEONIC-ANDALUSIAN HERITAGE
CHAPTER 2: ZĀHIR AL-NASS IN MAIMONIDES’ SYSTEM
CHAPTER 3. RATIONALE FOR THE COMMANDMENTS
CHAPTER 4: MASHAL AS HERMENEUTICAL MODEL
CHAPTER 5: HALAKHIC EXEGESIS AND MUSLIM JURISPRUDENCE
CHAPTER 6. MAIMONIDES’ RULE OF PESHAT PRIMACY
CHAPTER 7: TRANSFORMATION OF THE PESHAT PRINCIPLE
CHAPTER 8: INTEGRATING HALAKHAH AND PESHAT
CHAPTER 9: COORDINATING PESHAT AND ZĀHIR
CHAPTER 10: THE GATES OF TA’WĪL AND INTERPRETIVE CREATIVITY
CONCLUSION: MAIMONIDES IN THE EXEGETICAL CONSTELLATION
APPENDIX A: MEANING AND TRANSLATION OF THE PESHAT PRINCIPLE
APPENDIX B: THE TERM PESHAT IN MAIMONIDES’ OTHER WRITINGS
APPENDIX C: IBN EZRA’S LIST OF EXAMPLES IN YESOD MORA

Readership

All those interested in Jewish Bible interpretation, peshat (“the plain sense”), halakhah (Jewish law), legal hermeneutics, the harmonization of Scripture and reason, and the inter-relation of Jewish and Arabic learning.

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