Does Rambam really hold of the Theory of Attributes?
After 18 shiurim of Rambam’s negative theology, Rabbi Triebitz asks the question as to whether Rambam is really fooling us. He claims to reject the Muslim and Christian theory of attributes of G-d, and claims that anyone who attributes any positive qualities to G-d is not so different from one who believes in the trinity. Yet in chapters 68 and 69 Rambam clearly attributes three positive qualities to G-d.
Rabbi Triebitz reads extensively from ; Harry A. Wolfson, “The Muslim Attributes and the Christian Trinity,” Harvard Theological Review 49 (1956) which I haven’t managed to find online, or scan onto the website. If anyone has access to it and is able to share it with others please contact me or post a comment with a link.
Rabbi Triebitz points out that Section I Chapter 69 is a violation of everything that Rambam has said until this point. Here he claims that not only that G-d’s thought is His essence, but also that G-d and man are similar in their thought. This apparently contradicts the entire concept of negative theology.
Rabbi Triebitz explains both the question and gives his explanation of an answer.
It seems from Rambam (according to Rabbi Triebitz’s reading) that the concept of G-d and the theology which is alluded to in the tetragramaton does not appear in Chumash at all. Apparently the concept of negative theology and (according to Rambam) true monotheism was entirely word of mouth until the time of the second Beis Hamikdash.
A very interesting, if somewhat radical and scary, shiur.
Rambam explains the loss of tradition of Negative Theology, using the Cohanim and their knowledge of the 4,12 and 42 letter names of G-d as a paradigm. Rabbi Triebitz goes on to make what he says is his most radical claim about the nature, function and purpose of Moreh Nevuchim. Now I understand why some people think Moreh Nevuchim is a dangerous book – not for the weak of faith!
All names of G-d are descriptions except for the tetragramaton which is the name of G-d. Rabbi Triebitz reads through Chapter 61 of Moreh Nevuchim and sets up a real cliff hanger for next week. He points out the apparent contradictions within Rambam, and when he seems to contradict his own rules of negative theology.
Rabbi Triebitz also refers to Chapter 71 of Moreh Nevuchim, which either explains or confuses the issues (depending on your point of view).
Chapter 61 of Moreh Nevuchim is a pivotal chapter coming between the chapters explaining negative theology and the chapters which deal with the history of negative theology and the verses in the Torah that seem to contradict negative theology. Rabbi Triebitz discusses the apparent contradiction between the Rambam’s claim that the Torah writes in a way that looks as though it is using positive terminology to describe G-d – because the Jews were so steeped in idolatry when they left Egypt – and his claim that even accidental belief in any positive aspects of G-d is heresy.
Warning: This shiur may harm your prayer. Listen at your own risk!
Rabbi Triebitz continues with chapter 59 of Moreh Nevuchim and addresses the fundamental issue of how to pray to a G-d who cannot be described or thought about. How are we supposed to relate to the G-d of negative theology.
The answers that the Rambam gives are interesting and surprising.