During the Dark Ages, under Barbarian rule, much of the Greek philosophical literature of Antiquity was lost to the western world. This included any comprehensive knowledge of the works of Aristotle within scholarly Judaism and Christianity.
With the conquest of Spain in 711 AD, Muslims defeated the Barbarians and established what became their western capital in Europe at Cordoba, Spain. Jewish thinkers up until the 12th century lived largely in lands governed by Muslims. It is indicated that there was much interaction between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious thinkers and philosophers who coexisted in Muslim lands at this time.
Cordoba contained the Emir’s library, with more than 400,000 volumes, supposedly more books than all of Christian Europe combined, that were preserved and brought from the eastern world to Spain, the Muslim capital in the west. Included was the Greek philosophical literature of antiquity and the works of Aristotle.
Moses, the son of Maimon, was born at Cordoba on March 30, 1135. There is little known concerning the early period of his life. His mother and father were hopeful that perhaps he would enter theological studies and become a Rabbi. It is likely that The Tanak and The Talmud probably formed the basis of his early studies, but there was so much more that Mohammedan Spain, and especially Cordoba and its library, afforded him for the acquisition of a much broader knowledge base.
His youth was beset with trouble and anxiety; his studies of science and philosophy were frequently disturbed by wars raging between Mohammedans and Christians, and also much internal strife and warring between the several Mohammedan sects.
After writing several theological pieces, Moses Maimonides continued to show progress in his theological studies. After having compiled a religious guide – Mishneh Torah – based on revelation and tradition, he found it necessary to prove that the principles there set forth were confirmed by philosophy. This task he accomplished in his Dalalat al-hairin, “The Guide for the Perplexed,” composed in Arabic and written in Hebrew characters.
The Guide was welcomed by many in the Jewish community of the Muslim world, but it also met with much criticism, on account of the unconventional views held by Maimonides concerning angels, prophecy and miracles. It became more problematical because Maimonides had stated that Aristotle’s proof for the Eternity of the Universe had satisfied him and he found no disagreement with it. The Biblical account of the Creation, he felt, could be reconciled with Aristotle’s doctrine.
In a similar fashion to Philo’s work, long before Maimonides, he had also tried courageously in his writings to effect a reconciliation between reason and revelation. He was 70 years old when he died in the year 1204. As a tribute to Moses Maimonides, his Jewish contemporaries adopted a saying which remained popular into the succeeding generations... “From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses.”
Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the most eminent Christian theologian of the Middle Ages, would be born about 20 years after the death of Moses Maimonides. In large part, he would draw certain principles from “Guide for The Perplexed” in writing his “Summa Theologica.” Both Maimonides’ and Aquinas’ works were theological treatments that utilized Aristotle’s philosophy.
One of my conclusions is that early Jewish writings had more of an affect on the development of modern Christianity than most Christians realize. We often think of only the affect and the impact that the Hebrew Old Testament had on the Christian New Testament. Furthermore, modern-day Judaism and Christianity both might possibly owe a joint debt to Islam for their development from the Middle Ages into the modern period. First of all, because the Muslim library at Cordoba had preserved the recopied works of the Greek philosophies of antiquity, including Aristotle’s, when, during the Dark Ages, they had been lost to the western world.
Secondly, Averroes, a Muslim, was born 12 years before Moses Maimonides in Cordoba. His name is not familiar to many, I’m sure, but without his commentaries on the works of Aristotle in Mohammedan Spain in the Middle Ages, it is entirely possible that there would not have been either a “Guide For The Perplexed” for Moses Maimonides to write for Judaism or a “Summa Theologica” for Thomas Aquinas to write for Christianity (although Aquinas primarily used another translation of Aristotle). In their writings, both men refer to Averroes as “The Commentator,” just as they call Aristotle, “The Philosopher.” Both men’s works were largely based on the Greek philosophy of Aristotle as they attempted to reconcile his works with revelation. And you thought it was just politics that made for strange bedfellows.
Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274, ext. 822, at www.Xlibris.com or your local bookstore. E-mail Mike Hickey at Mikehic@nii.net.
Read Michael Hickey’s short poem online at