The Inexhaustible Metaphor of Light: Illuminating the Fault Lines Between Crescas and Maimonides
Moses Maimonides’ (1138-1205) Guide of the Perplexed, and his later philosophical and theological arch-nemesis Hasdai Crescas’ (circa 1340-1412) Light of the Lord, are works of philosophical theology intended in a core sense as primers on how to properly understand God’s revealed word. Since metaphor and allegory are the primary instruments of philosophical exegesis my paper focuses on light as a root metaphor which illuminates an array of the challenges Crescas mounts against Maimonides. Their different uses of light imagery capture what is the core issue that informs the opposition between them across the theological spectrum. For Maimonides reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth and, ipso facto, of the Torah’s meaning, while for Crescas reason is subordinate to the supra-rational truth of the Torah which alone resolves a faith that is ‘perplexed’. Light as a metaphor for truth is one of the images that most strikingly captures the impassable divide between Maimonides and Crescas and is an excellent illustration of light’s profound versatility Hans Blumenberg has shown it to manifest over the course of the history of philosophy. Maimonides incorporates Greek notions of intellect and knowledge as light while Crescas sought to repatriate light to its origins in God and His revelation. For example, what anticipates Crescas’ entire critique of Maimonides’ thoroughgoing rationalism is his early overturning of Maimonides’ hierarchy of light which grades people in terms of its length and intensity ascending from a darkness that does not even qualify as a level of existence to its peak of “unceasing light”. Crescas immediately subverts Maimonides’ hierarchy of light with one grounded in divine grace free to discriminate as to who will be its recipient. What is sight for Maimonides is blindness for Crescas.
Diamond, James A.. "The Inexhaustible Metaphor of Light: Illuminating the Fault Lines Between Crescas and Maimonides." Journal of Textual Reasoning 13, no. 1 (2022): 39-67. https://doi.org/10.21220/cwvh-b515.
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