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Honoring the Divine as Virtue and Practice in Maimonides

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Honoring the divine is central to Maimonides' ethical and religious phenomenology. It connotes the recognition of radical divine incommensurability and points to the hard limits of human ability to know God. Yet it also signals the importance of philosophical speculation within those limits, indicating the intellectual and ethical telos of human life. For Maimonides, to honor or show kavod to God is closely related to the meaning of the divine glory (also known as kavod) that Moses demands to see in Exodus 33. Moses' demand to see the kavod is usually interpreted as a quest for some visible sign of God's presence or, at least, for a created light whose existence could testify to the authenticity of Moses' prophecy. Maimonides is alone among early interpreters in treating Exodus 33 as a parable of the philosophical quest to apprehend divine uniqueness, which leads first to negative theology and then to imitatio Dei. This article argues that the theme of divine kavod links Maimonides' philosophical, literary, and even medical concerns with his practical religious teaching, and connects the Guide of the Perplexed with his other legal and interpretive works. Maimonides' consistent fascination with Exodus 33 helps to organize his reflections on human perfection, ethics, and the relationship between idolatry and everyday religious language, distinguishing him from dominant trends in both Judaeo-Arabic and later kabbalistic thought.

Affiliations: 1: Emory University


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