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Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles: From Elite To Popular Culture

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Chapter Summary

The target audience of any theological-philosophical text was always particularly small in the Middle Ages-as in any other period. In parallel with the philosophical text, intended for the initiated few, a large body of halakhic and moral literature was written also for the consumption of a more popular audience. In defining the thirteen principles, especially those concerning God, creation, prophecy and messianism, Maimonides summarized, simplified and edited ideas which appeared (to a great extent) in a much more elaborate manner in his more philosophic writings. In the principles (numbers one and four), Maimonides adopted, so it seems, the normative traditional position of voluntary creation ex nihilo. Today, many orthodox Jews still consider the revisions to be Maimonides' own original phrasing, or at least his true intentions. It is certainly one of the great ironies of Jewish history that the thirteen principles-in their reworked and abbreviated version-became the standard for orthodoxy.

Keywords: God; halakhic literature; Maimonides' thirteen principles; theological-philosophical text



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