Jew­ish Text

The Guide to the Per­plexed: A New Translation

Moses Mai­monides; Lenn E. Good­man and Phillip I. Lieber­man, trans.

  • Review
By – May 27, 2024

This is part of a com­bined review for A Guide to The Guide to the Per­plexed: A Reader’s Com­pan­ion to Mai­monides’ Mas­ter­work.

Lenn Good­man and Phillip Lieber­man’s The Guide to the Per­plexed and its com­pan­ion vol­ume, A Guide to the Guide to the Per­plexed, offer invalu­able con­tri­bu­tions to the study of Maimonides’s clas­sic medieval work. Draw­ing on decades of schol­ar­ship, Good­man and Lieber­man pro­vide an acces­si­ble and com­pre­hen­sive trans­la­tion of the Guide, which was first penned in Ara­bic in 1191. Writ­ten in the form of a let­ter and addressed to a stu­dent named Rab­bi Joseph, son of Rab­bi Judah, the text set out to help read­ers nav­i­gate the ten­sions between phi­los­o­phy and sci­ence on the one hand and faith on the oth­er. Ever since, the Guides claims — about the work­ings of God, causal­i­ty in the uni­verse, the mean­ing behind the com­mand­ments in Judaism, the nature of prophe­cy, and bib­li­cal and tal­mu­dic nar­ra­tives — have served as sources of study and debate. 

Good­man and Lieber­man main­tain Maimonides’s casu­al tone by inte­grat­ing mod­ern col­lo­qui­alisms along­side philo­soph­i­cal rumi­na­tions (“that is their view in a nut­shell,” I know you will balk at this at first”). They sup­ple­ment the author’s words with valu­able foot­notes. Their mas­tery of Greek and Islam­ic phi­los­o­phy allows them to unpack Mai­monides’s ref­er­ences and allu­sions. The authors incor­po­rate numer­ous oth­er dis­ci­plines as well, includ­ing arche­ol­o­gy and mod­ern evo­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry. For exam­ple, two foot­notes dis­cuss Pla­to’s Repub­lic, Augustine’s City of God, the bib­li­cal book of Isa­iah, and Search­ing for a Dis­tant God by Jew­ish stud­ies schol­ar Ken­neth Seeskin. 

Good­man and Lieber­man’s writ­ing, like Mai­monides’s own, bal­ances lyri­cism and deep knowl­edge. Com­ment­ing on the philosopher’s analy­sis of the mul­ti­ple mean­ings of the Hebrew word tzur (“rock”), Good­man and Lieber­man bring up Moses’s descrip­tion of the Rock whose work is per­fect.” The Torah’s call­ing God a rock here is anoth­er mixed metaphor,” the authors write, con­fess­ing the inad­e­qua­cy of any fig­ure point­ing toward God’s absolute­ness. As such images self-decon­struct and decon­struct one anoth­er, their dis­so­lu­tion reveals the poet/​prophet’s keen aware­ness of the lim­its of language.”

In the Read­er’s Com­pan­ion, Good­man pro­vides an exquis­ite­ly eru­dite and suc­cinct biog­ra­phy of Mai­monides. He offers a detailed sum­ma­ry of the polit­i­cal, reli­gious, and philo­soph­i­cal winds of the rabbi’s time, as well as a review of the Guide’s major themes and the schol­ar­ly argu­ments sur­round­ing it. It is essen­tial read­ing for any­one look­ing to ful­ly under­stand the Guide and its author.

Good­man and Lieber­man’s project demon­strates the impact of a hot­ly debat­ed, sem­i­nal work of reli­gious phi­los­o­phy that is still read by thou­sands today. It’s a book that sets out to con­firm that, as Good­man puts it, rea­son and sci­ence will not con­flict with the truths God teach­es in the Torah.”

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions