CASRN420/720, PH409/609 & STH TX879

Michael Zank, PhD
Associate Prof. of Religion
147 Bay State Road, Room 407
Hours: MWF 12-2

A study of major aspects of the thought of Maimonides. Primary focus on the Guide of the Perplexed, with attention to its modern reception in works by Baruch Spinoza, Hermann Cohen, Leo Strauss, and others.

Note for Fall 2009
Since this class meets only Mondays and in addition to starting two weeks into September, our semester is further shortened by Yom Kippur falling on a Monday, we will need to try and make up a few sessions. We will schedule at least one additional three-hour meeting to make up for the loss of time.

Required course books (on order at B&N@BU)
Maimonides - Guide of the Perplexed, V.One, ISBN 9780226502304

Maimonides - Guide of the Perplexed, V. Two, ISBN 9780226502311

Cohen - Ethics of Maimonides, ISBN 9780299177645

Strauss – Philosophy and Law, ISBN 9780791419762

Strauss – Persecution and the Art of Writing, ISBN 9780226777115

About this course
This is a seminar for advanced undergraduate and graduate students. There will not be any formal lectures. Students need to do assigned readings in advance of class meetings and do in-class presentations as needed to advance class discussions. These will be assigned ad hoc and may pertain to the exposition of the class readings or other material. The point of the seminar is to jointly develop an approach to reading Maimonides’ Guide, a medieval text, in light of its modern reception but without slavishly following established approaches or disciplines of reading. The purpose is to get a sense of the text, its history of reception, its literary character, of the history of its interpretation, and the problems entailed in reading such a text today. All of this requires active participation, thoughtful reading and discussion and the willingness to “read around” if necessary to advance our quest.

A selected bibliography will be discussed at the beginning of the semester. This will serve as an orientation and starting point of student research.

In addition to class participation and presentations (40%) you will write a research paper (undergraduates: 15 pages; graduate students: no fewer than 25 and no more than 35 pages, excepting bibliography).  This paper is due on the first day of the final exam period. Grading criteria will be discussed in class, as will be suggested topics.

Reading schedule

Mon, Sept 14  Maimonides and the Guide of the Perplexed: author, work, and reception. Reading: Read at least two different textbook or encyclopedia introductions to the life and work of Maimonides. (See bibliography for suggestions.) From the Guide: Epistle Dedicatory and Introduction (Pines transl., pp. 1-20).

Mon, Sept 21 The Guide of the Perplexed: An Overview
Reading: Leo Strauss, “How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed” (Guide Vol. One, xi-lvi).

Mon, Sept 28 (Day of Atonement. No class)

Mon, Oct 5 On the anthropomorphism of the Bible and how to deal with it
Reading: Guide I, 1-36 (note: this refers to Guide part I, chapters 1 through 30, not to volume and page numbers).

Tue, Oct 13 On the anthropopathism of the Bible and how to deal with it. Reading: Guide I, 37-50

Mon, Oct 21 Divine attributes. Reading: Guide I, 51-70

Mon, Oct 26 Createdness of the world. Reading: Guide II, 71-76

Mon, Nov 2  On prophecy and the law. Reading: Guide II, 29-48, III 25-35

Mon, Nov 9            Spinoza and Maimonides
                        Reading: Selections from Ethics and Theological Political Treatise (TBA)

Mon, Nov 16            Cohen on Spinoza and Maimonides
                        Reading: Cohen, Ethics of Maimonides

Mon, Nov 23            Strauss on Cohen, Spinoza, and Maimonides
                        Reading: Strauss, Philosophy and Law

Mon, Nov 30            Strauss on the Guide
Reading: “The Literary Character of the Guide of the Perplexed” (in Persecution and the Art of Writing) and Zank, “Arousing Suspicion Against a Prejudice: Leo Strauss and the Study of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed” (pdf).

Mon, Dec 7 Maimonides on Human Perfection. Reading: Guide III, 51-54