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  • Die Konzeption des Messias bei Maimonides und die fruehmittelalterliche islamische Philosophie (Maimonides' concept of the Messiah and early medieval Islamic philosophy)
  • Esther Seidel, Independent Scholar
Die Konzeption des Messias bei Maimonides und die fruehmittelalterliche islamische Philosophie (Maimonides' concept of the Messiah and early medieval Islamic philosophy). By Francesca Yardenit Albertini. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009. Pp. xxiv + 472.

Francesca Albertini's voluminous study, Die Konzeption des Messias bei Maimonides und die fruehmittelalterliche islamische Philosophie, wishes to put a fresh emphasis on the link between Maimonides' concept of the Messiah and his ideal of the leader as a political figure. For Maimonides, Albertini argues, the arrival of the Messiah will be realized only through human effort and appropriate behavior: it is man who bears responsibility for this event through his moral actions. The Messiah, on the other hand, as the leader of the community, seeks to implement the new order in society through which Divine Law will be established and followed precisely. Hence, the Messiah's arrival is not an apocalyptic, eschatological event as understood by Christians. Instead, it marks a new era of restoration of the Law, which alone guarantees a well-ordered society as the necessary precondition for knowing God (p. 7).

This wide study demands the reader's full concentration for a number of reasons: the style of writing, although it covers much ground, is compact, and the amount of historical and philosophical material (e.g., Aristotle's eudaimonia, shariʿa and fiqh in Islamic law, principles of faith in early Kara'ite writing, Plato's philosopher king, and prophecy and politics in Alfarabi), not to mention the changing religious conceptual contexts and nuances of meaning, all feature in different chapters to elucidate the main theme, but the leitmotif is not always clearly visible.

While the reader may derive benefit from various chapters, in particular the one on early Islamic thought and its influence on Jewish Kara'ite thought and Maimonides' own thinking, shorter summaries and relevant conclusions would have provided some welcome guidance through this expansive study. Also, "Muʾtazil" has been clumsily translated into German (I suggest: "der, der sich absetzt" rather than "zurücksetzt"), and the whole case for reason and rational debate within Islam could have been put more strongly. Nowhere is there a recognition that it was precisely Islamic thought that forced Jewish thinkers into taking a more rational approach themselves with regard to their own belief.

In addition to the issue of convoluted presentation, another more urgent concern is the subject matter itself and how it has been studied and depicted here. Albertini herself recognizes some of the difficulties. She points out that Maimonides himself made no clear differentiation between the terms "Messiah," "Messianism," and "Messianic Age" (p. 427), and perhaps more worryingly—in view of her own stated aim in this study—that Maimonides focused his attention precisely not on the Messiah's political role, but on the significance of the Messiah's announcement of the new period in time (ibid.), by which he meant a period when human beings dedicate themselves to acquiring knowledge of God (p. 430). [End Page 723]

Although Albertini acknowledges the latter as Maimonides' aim, she continues throughout her study to emphasize the practical and political against his rational outlook. And yet, she admits herself, there is "a danger—proportional to ignorance—to put too much emphasis on the messianic age, which for Maimonides produces wrong ideas of God" (p. 430).

How, then, are we to interpret Maimonides' own discomfort with the notions above referring to the Messiah and notions such as "bodily resurrection," and how does Albertini explain Maimonides' own hesitancy to address these concepts conclusively? Some of the answers to these questions lie in Albertini's assertion of a fundamental division in Maimonidean scholarship represented by two camps of interpreters (p. 276). The first group prefers to judge each work produced by Maimonides as a separate entity, written at a given time and under particular circumstances, so that it allows them to take into account Maimonides' own development in character and personality. The second group of interpreters, among whom Albertini places herself, makes a claim to Maimonides as a "systematic thinker" and purports...


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