(Abstract Bodies) Balls or Columns or Cubes (Resurrection) (Maimonides)

human body

With characteristic confidence, Maimonides is here arguing against what he assumes is the false, nay absurd, notion that human souls would have bodies in the world to come. He thinks the world to come is entirely without nature and natural needs like nourishment and procreation. For Maimonides, bodies must have a biological purpose. But I would like to stay with the image of abstract bodies raised by him, geometrical bodies, as it were. “For the Lord,  blessed be He, would not let anything exist without a purpose and would not create anything except for a reason. God forbid that his perfect actions be compared to the actions of idol worshipers: they have eyes but they see not, they have ears but they hear not. So is God, may He be exalted, in the opinion of those (misbelievers), in that He creates bodies, that is to say organs which do not at all serve any other purpose.” That should be the end of it, but then Andalusian philosopher leaves his readers with this little kick. “Perhaps to those (misbelievers), the people in the world to come do not have organs but nevertheless have physical bodies; or perhaps they are hard balls or columns or cubes.” Perhaps indeed, but according to Maimonides, “such speculations are really ludicrous: Oh that ye would altogether hold your peace, and it would be your wisdom” (Maimonides, Treatise on Resurrection, translation by Fred Rosner, Ktav, p.34).

About the physical resurrection of the dead, Maimonides is perfectly consistent. In the Guide, he hangs what we would today call religion on the miracle of creatio ex-nihilo. He builds up that argument on the basis of what he and the best of the science of his day thought was the eccentric movements of astral bodies, which did not seem to conform to principles of strict necessity. The freedom of those movements confirm, he thought, the existence/action of a free and creative God. In the Treatise on Resurrection, he argues that once one accepts the miracle of creatio ex-nihilo, all the other miracles in Scripture follow suit. They are “possible,” even if they do not follow by way of strict proof and modal necessity. The very possibility of miracle  is sufficient basis for reasonable “belief,” if not knowledge per se (ibid, 44-5).

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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