Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
IT has already been fully explained that man is naturally a social being, that by virtue of his nature he seeks to form communities; man is therefore different from other living beings that are not compelled to combine into communities. He is, as you know, the highest form in the creation, and he therefore includes the largest number of constituent elements; this is the reason why the human race contains such a great variety of individuals, that we cannot discover two persons exactly alike in any moral quality, or in external appearance. The cause of this is the variety in man's temperament, and in accidents dependent on his form; for with every physical form there are connected certain special accidents different from those which are connected with the substance. Such a variety among the individuals of a class
does not exist in any other class of living beings; for the variety in any other species is limited; only man forms an exception; two persons maybe so different from each other in every respect that they appear to belong to two different classes. Whilst one person is so cruel that he kills his youngest child in his anger, another is too delicate and faint-hearted to kill even a fly or worm. The same is the case with most of the accidents. This great variety and the necessity of social life are essential elements in man's nature. But the well-being of society demands that there should be a leader able to regulate the actions of man; he must complete every shortcoming, remove every excess, and prescribe for the conduct of all, so that the natural variety should be counterbalanced by the uniformity of legislation, and the order of society be well established. I therefore maintain that the Law, though not a product of Nature, is nevertheless not entirely foreign to Nature. It being the will of God that our race should exist and be permanently established, He in His wisdom gave it such properties that men can acquire the capacity of ruling others. Some persons are therefore inspired with theories of legislation, such as prophets and lawgivers: others possess the power of enforcing the dictates of the former, and of compelling people to obey them, and to act accordingly. Such are kings, who accept the code of lawgivers, and [rulers] who pretend to be prophets, and accept, either entirely or partly, the teaching of the prophets. They accept one part while rejecting another part, either because this course appears to them more convenient, or out of ambition, because it might lead people to believe that the rulers themselves had been prophetically inspired with these laws, and did not copy them from others. For when we like a certain perfection, find pleasure in it, and wish to possess it, we sometimes desire to make others believe that we possess that virtue, although we are fully aware that we do not possess it. Thus people, e.g., adorn themselves with the poems of others, and publish them as their own productions. It also occurs in the works of wise men on the various branches of Science, that an ambitious, lazy person sees an opinion expressed by another person, appropriates it, and boasts that he himself originated it. The same [ambition] occurs also with regard to the faculty of prophecy. There were men who, like Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah (1 Kings xxii. ii, 24) boasted that they received a prophecy, and declared things which have never been prophesied. Others, like Hananiah, son of Azzur (Jer. xxviii. 1-5), claim the capacity of prophecy, and proclaim things which, no doubt, have been said by God, that is to say, that have been the subject of a divine inspiration, but not to them. They nevertheless say that they are prophets, and adorn themselves with the prophecies of others. All this can easily be ascertained and recognized. I will, however, fully explain this to you, so that no doubt be left to you on this question, and that you may have a test by which you may distinguish between the guidance of human legislation, of the divine law, and of teachings stolen from prophets. As regards those who declare that the laws proclaimed by them are their own ideas, no further test is required: the confession of the defendant makes the evidence of the witness superfluous. I only wish to instruct you about laws which are proclaimed as prophetic. Some of these are truly prophetic, originating in divine inspiration, some are of non-prophetic character, and some, though prophetic originally, are the result of plagiarism. You will find that the sole
object of certain laws, in accordance with the intention of their author, who well considered their effect, is to establish the good order of the state and its affairs, to free it from all mischief and wrong: these laws do not deal with philosophic problems, contain no teaching for the perfecting of our logical faculties, and are not concerned about the existence of sound or unsound opinions. Their sole object is to arrange, under all circumstances, the relations of men to each other, and to secure their well-being, in accordance with the view of the author of these laws. These laws are political, and their author belongs, as has been stated above, to the third class, viz., to those who only distinguish themselves by the perfection of their imaginative faculties. You will also find laws which, in all their rules, aim, as the law just mentioned, at the improvement of the material interests of the people: but, besides, tend to improve the state of the faith of man, to create first correct notions of God, and of angels, and to lead then the people, by instruction and education, to an accurate knowledge of the Universe: this education comes from God; these laws are divine. The question which now remains to be settled is this: Is the person who proclaimed these laws the same perfect man that received them by prophetic inspiration, or a plagiarist, who has stolen these ideas from a true prophet? In order to be enabled to answer this question, we must examine the merits of the person, obtain an accurate account of his actions, and consider his character. The best test is the rejection, abstention, and contempt of bodily pleasures: for this is the first condition of men, and a fortiori of prophets: they must especially disregard pleasures of the sense of touch, which, according to Aristotle, is a disgrace to us: and, above all, restrain from the pollution of sensual intercourse. Thus God exposes thereby false prophets to public shame, in order that those who really seek the truth may find it, and not err or go astray; e.g., Zedekiah, son of Maasiah, and Ahab, son of Kolaiah, boasted that they had received a prophecy. They persuaded the people to follow them, by proclaiming utterances of other prophets: but all the time they continued to seek the low pleasures of sensual intercourse, committing even adultery with the wives of their companions and followers. God exposed their falsehood as He has exposed that of other false prophets. The king of Babylon burnt them, as Jeremiah distinctly states: "And of them shall be taken up a curse by all the captivity of Judah, which are in Babylon, saying, The Lord make thee like Zedekiah, and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire. Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours' wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them" (Jer. xxix. 22, 23). Note what is meant by these words.