Studies in Rational Religion
By David R. Blumenthal
Bar Ilan University Press, 2006, 260 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - February 19, 2010
David R. Blumenthal is a professor of Judaic studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He is one of several esteemed scholars who contend that Moses Maimonides was not a pure rationalistic philosopher but a mystic, or, more precisely, a philosophic mystic. His view is that a person needs to first understand subjects philosophically and then they can move on to a post-philosophic, post-intellectual, post-cognitive religious experience. In other words, a human's ultimate goal is not understanding, as many maintain Maimonides taught, but a religious experience. People need to aim for this religious experience, and not stop when they think that they have an understanding of the universe and its laws.
Blumenthal's book is a collection of ten essays made up of four parts. The first part presents Blumenthal's thesis that "one must learn the neoaristotelian (sometimes, neoplatonic) body of knowledge…in order to ascend from this world to the supernal world and, from there, to the realm of the divine." Put differently, "contact with the divine…requires a strict philosophic, intellectual preparation."
The second section discusses Maimonides and argues that Maimonides felt that the ultimate end of man is to have a mystical union with God. As others who share his view, he points to, among other writings, the Guide of the Perplexed 3:51, where the sage speaks of contemplation.
The third section contains a similar evaluation of a fifteenth century Yemenite thinker who Blumenthal also calls a philosophic mystic. The fourth section contains two chapters that discuss various ideas about philosophic mysticism, including a discussion on the founder of the Reconstructionist Jewish Movement Mordecai M. Kaplan, who he identifies as a modern philosophic mystic. There is also one chapter on the subject in Hebrew.