Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Philosophical/Theological Reflection: Maimonides and Being Like Elohim

In his Guide for the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides (also called Rambam, an acronym for his full name with title) briefly explores what happened in the Genesis 3 account of man's rebellion. This is sometimes called The Fall. I think there are some fascinating nuggets from the Rambam. What I find especially compelling is how we can use these writings and principles to help us better understand the human condition and the need for redemption. What happened and why is always a great explanatory context for the εὐαγγέλιον of Jesus the Messiah.

First, Rambam explores what Gen. 3:5 means in more detail. The Hebrew Elohim is used "...and ye shall be like God [Elohim]." The meaning of Elohim is contextually dependent and could mean God (Yahweh), angels, judges, and the rulers of countries. In this passage, Ramban argues that it should be understood as "and ye shall be like princes." It is not clear to me if this refers specifically to earthly princes or possibly to spiritual creatures having domain/jurisdiction over certain geographies. The latter interpretation of bene Elohim in the Scriptures is controversial in some ways but seems plausible to me (Heiser's work on this topic is tremendous). So, what the author of Genesis tells us is that man was tempted to be like princes or royalty, some station about their own. Rambam's reading is that they were not necessarily tempted to be like Yahweh the Most High, but still something above or beyond their nature or station. What we have is a rupture of rectitude.  

Next, Rambam returns to a point he has made earlier about what it means for man to be made in the image of God. This primarily involves the capacity for intellectual perception, the exercise of which does not employ the senses. The intellect judges what is true and false. Rambam distinguishes the true and false from right and wrong. The former are necessary truths, and the latter are moral or apparent truths. The function of man's intellect before his rebellion was to discern between the truth and the false. At this time, there was no intellection of apparent truths, no weighing of good or bad (in the moral sense, not the metaphysical sense, as I take it). After man gave in to his passions, he was punished by "the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed." After the 'fall', man no longer has a faculty exclusively dedicated to judging the true and the false, the highest truths. Man is now mired in lesser or lower truths, those concerning the good and the bad. In his felicity, man did not occupy his mind with anything but God and divine truth. Now, man is occupied with what is proper and improper, and his passions interfere with the correct judgment of these.

After God announces the punishment, man realizes he will now be occupied with something lesser. He will be like elohim, thinking about the good and the bad instead of the true. Thus, man realizes he is naked and should have clothing. The combination of giving over to the passions and contemplation of right and wrong raises this awareness. Man finds things wrong he did not previously find as wrong. For they were not wrong in the absolute sense, but in the relative sense after losing part of the highest intellectual faculty. I think this means to be banished from the presence of God involves losing (or forfeiting) the faculty of being able to perceive or experience the fullness of God. The punishment for seeking lower goods was to receive those lower goods. Man changed his aim away from God, and God sent man away toward this other aim. The alteration of his thoughts and intentions toward what was forbidden is punished with getting just those things. Rambam says this was "measure for measure," consistent with proportional justice. 

Further, in his banishment, man becomes more like non-intellectual creatures. He must toil for his food and eat by the sweat of his brow. Man trades the heavenly meal for the earthly meal, abundance is given up in lieu of mere sustenance. 

With the preceding in mind, the failure of the intellectual creature to hold fast to truth and reason, we can better understand why St. John tells us about the Logos coming to make things new again (John 1:1-3, 14). The Logos becomes flesh to reunite us with God, to bring us back to paradise. He comes to fix the rupture, to restore us to proper rectitude of inellect. In the Logos we are made, and by the Logos we return to Him.

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