Mai­monides: The Life and World of One of Civ­i­liza­tion’s Great­est Mind

Joel L. Kraemer
  • Review
By – January 3, 2012
Mai­monides (1138? – 1204) is uni­ver­sal­ly rec­og­nized as a sem­i­nal medieval philoso­pher and renowned physi­cian. That bare­ly hints at the dra­mat­ic course of his life or the extra­or­di­nary scope of his activ­i­ties. Born in Cor­do­ba, he fled Moslem reli­gious per­se­cu­tion to Fez, Moroc­co, and from there as well, via Cru­sad­er Acre, to Cairo. There he was a physi­cian in Saladdin’s court and Jew­ish com­mu­nal leader. Still, he pub­lished pro­lif­i­cal­ly, not only foun­da­tion­al Juda­ic trea­tis­es, but also ground­break­ing med­ical texts, and volu­mi­nous Respon­sa to queries from through­out the Jew­ish world. Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Pro­fes­sor Joel Krae­mer skill­ful­ly sifts through con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous accounts, even from some of Rambam’s per­son­al papers, includ­ing work­ing drafts, res­cued from the Cairo Genizah, seek­ing the most accu­rate por­tray­al of his life and times. 

His age was one of intel­lec­tu­al fer­ment and high cul­ture. Though well inte­grat­ed into the Islam­ic world econ­o­my, Jew­ish life was every­where pre­car­i­ous, extor­tion and oppres­sion, includ­ing forced con­ver­sion, ever threat­en­ing. As Krae­mer demon­strates, that zeit­geist is much reflect­ed in Mai­monidean thought, with its Hil­lelian approach to Jew­ish law and sys­tem­at­ic effort to rec­on­cile reli­gion, phi­los­o­phy, and sci­ence. Gen­er­al read­ers will find much here to savor. Abbre­vi­a­tions, rab­binic texts, expan­sive end notes.
Richard D. Wilkins is a clin­i­cal data pro­cess­ing con­sul­tant in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try. He has served in a vari­ety of vol­un­teer lead­er­ship posi­tions in the Syra­cuse, N.Y. Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and has been wide­ly pub­lished in Jew­ish and gen­er­al media.

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