Insights of medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides on figurative language and symbolic exegesis in his book The Guide for the Perplexed. The Baha'i Faith is mentioned in the Introduction; some interpretations are similar to concepts from the Iqan.
The Anatomy of Figuration:
Maimonides' Exegesis of Natural Convulsions in Apocalyptic Texts (Guide II.29)
“The Anatomy of Figuration: Maimonides’ Exegesis of Natural Convulsions in Apocalyptic Texts (Guide II.29).” Sephardic Heritage Update, Newsletter Special: Maimonides Resources, pp. 6–20. (“A Publication of the Center for Sephardic Heritage, published January 6, 2020 online, with introduction by editor, David Sasha (pp. 6–7), and by Christopher Buck (“Author Introduction,” p. 7).)
2020 publication (not peer-reviewed) of 1990 graduate school paper. [“Text of Oral Presentation. Submitted to Professor Andrew Rippin, Religious Studies 601.01: Interpretation of Scripture (Department of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, 19 March 1990).”]
David Shasha has asked me to write a brief introduction to “The Anatomy of Figuration: Maimonides’ Exegesis of Natural Convulsions in Apocalyptic Texts (Guide II.29),” published in this special issue of Sephardic Heritage Update.
This was a graduate paper written at the University of Calgary, and submitted on March 19, 1990, for a graduate seminar, “Interpretation of Scripture.” Eliezer Segal, now Professor Emeritus of Classics and Religion, read and commented on a draft of my paper. Professor Siegel later served as one of the three faculty members on my thesis advisory committee. At my defense (January 1991), Professor Siegel referred to my thesis (later published, in 1995, as Symbol & Secret) as a “dissertation.”
My interest in Maimonides, the great medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher, was part of my broader interest in figurative language and symbolic exegesis. Although I have not been involved in Jewish studies formally, my latest work in that area is a chapter, “Jewish Myths and Visions of America,” in my 2015 book, God & Apple Pie: Religious Myths and Visions of America (with an introduction by J. Gordon Melton, Distinguished Professor of American Religious History, Baylor University). This chapter focuses on Jewish prayers for the American government.
For my research, I relied heavily on the work of Jonathan Sarna, one of the foremost historians of American Judaism. I should also mention that I presented a paper at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on December 18, 2000, which I began by offering a Baha’i perspective on Judaism—based on a statement by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 58 (which I slightly modified to focus on Judaism), as follows:
“Unequivocally and without the least reservation, it [the Bahá’í Faith] proclaims [Judaism] to be divine in origin, identical in [its] aims, complementary in [its] functions, continuous in [its] purpose, indispensable in [its] value to humankind.”
It’s my position that “Faiths should be friends.” And so it is a great honor to have this paper published in this special issue of “Sephardic Heritage Update.” I hope that my esteemed readers will enjoy this paper!
Christopher Buck, PhD, JDEXCERPTS
Apocalyptic Symbolism: Natural Convulsions as Spiritual Events
Symbolism in Mantological Texts: Fishbane observes that Qumran pesher derives its exegetical techniques in part from an ancient and rich Near Eastern mantological inheritance:
“All of the images seen in visions, dreams, and omens have a symbolism which must be decoded, even those dreams whose meaning is immediately understood (cf. Genesis 37).”
Maimonides developed a philosophical hermeneutic whereby eschatological imagery made symbolic sense, once relieved of the burden of sheer impossibility as demanded by a literal reading.
Below is a synopsis of how cosmic eschatological imagery has been exegetically interpreted by Maimonides:
Cosmic Symbols/Referents in Guide 11.29
Sun: Sunset at high noon in Amos 8:9–10: destruction of Samaria. Seven-fold increase in the sun’s magnitude in Isaiah 30:26: good fortune of the dynasty brought about by Hezekiah.
Moon: Bloody moon of Joel 3:3–5: destruction of Sennacherib before Jerusalem.
Stars: Black stars of Ezekiel 32:7–8: defeat of Pharaoh by Nebuchadnezzar.
Heaven: Covered heaven of Ezekiel 32:7–8: ruin of the kingdom of Egypt. New heavens of Isaiah 65:15–19: Jerusalem and her people rejoicing. Vanishing heavens of Isaiah 51:3–6: defeat of Sennacherib.
Earth: Earth waste and void in Jeremiah 4:23: destruction of Jerusalem. Cleft earth of Psalm 60:10: weakness of religious community during Joab’s expedition against Edom. New earth of Isaiah 65:15–19: joyful Jerusalem. Earth crumbled to pieces in Isaiah 24:17–20: terror throughout the land of Israel.
Mountains: Molten mountains of Micah 1:3–4: the ruin of Samaria. Vanishing mountains of Isaiah 54:10: departure of great potentates from Israel. Mountains melted by blood in Isaiah 34:3–5: destruction of Edom.
Sea: Shaken sea of Haggai 2:6–7: fall of the kingdom of Medes and Persians. Sea in pain of Psalm 77:17: drowning of the Egyptians.