"The Glory of God is Intelligence":
A Note on Maimonides
“The Glory of God Is Intelligence”:
A Note on Maimonides
In a series of four lectures at Brigham Young University on the role
of intellect in Judaism and the idea “that we serve God through the use
of our minds,”1 Jacob Neusner borrowed the university
motto for his title essay, “‘The Glory of God Is Intelligence': A Theology
of Torah-learning in Judaism.” Neusner correctly and perceptively called
attention to the parallel between the traditional Jewish emphasis on the centrality
of developing the mind and learning—specifically learning Torah—and
this seminal Latter-day Saint value, based on Joseph Smith’s statement in
Doctrine and Covenants 93:36, “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words,
light and truth.”2
Neusner explains the parallel as follows:
Religions say the same thing in different ways. Let us ask, when Judaism states, “The
study of Torah—revelation—outweighs all else,” and when The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says, “The glory of God is
intelligence,” what is it that the two affirm about the nature of the
human being and of God? The answer begins in the scripture Let us make man in our likeness.
Judaism maintains that that part of man which is like God is not the corporeal, but the spiritual, aspect
of man. Man is made in God’s image. And that part of man which is like God
is the thing which separates man from beast: the mind,
Neusner’s focus and discussion are, appropriately,
based on the ideas of classical rabbinic Judaism. In the Middle Ages, however,
we find an even closer parallel in the thought of Moses Maimonides (1138-1204).
His Guide of the Perplexed, which
aims at showing a student perplexed by the apparent contradictions between
philosophical, scientific truth and the Torah, arising from a literalist reading
of scripture and rabbinic tradition, opens with a discussion of the term zelem
(Genesis 1:26-27), usually translated as the “image” in which God created the human being.
In Maimonides’ analysis, zelem refers not to a physical
resemblance (for which there are other Hebrew words) but to “the natural
form, I mean to the notion in virtue of which a thing is constituted as a
substance and becomes what it is,”4
in other words its essential nature. Maimonides continues: “That which was meant in the
scriptural dictum, let us make man in our image, was the
specific form, which is intellectual apprehension, not the shape and
Even more remarkable is another statement by Maimonides, part of
which is almost exactly paralleled by Joseph Smith’s phrase. The Mishnah
á¸¤agigah 2:1 states: “Whoever has
no regard for the honor of his creator is worthy of not having come into the
world.” In his Commentary to the Mishnah,
Maimonides explains “the honor of his creator”:6
“This means whoever has no regard for his intellect, for the intellect is the glory of
God. (w’al-`aql hu kevod adonai).”7
In an earlier article, I discussed various similarities and differences
between Jews and Latter-day Saints.8 It seems to me that
the parallel between statements by Maimonides and Joseph Smith is an instructive
case in point. Jacob Neusner has written, also in a publication of Brigham
Young University,9 about rabbinic corporealist conceptions
of God, which, he maintains by comparative citations, are similar to Latter-day
Saint belief in a physical God.
Maimonides, of course,
vehemently argued to the contrary, as is immediately evident from his understanding
of the divine zelem in which humans were created as the essence or natural form and not
as a physical resemblance. The whole thrust of Maimonides’ work, both as a
rabbinic codifier of halakhah (Jewish law) and as a philosopher,
was to educate Jews away from corporealist beliefs and to sublimate biblical
and rabbinic anthropomorphisms as metaphor. The third of Maimonides’ “Thirteen
Principles” (found in his Judeo-Arabic Commentary to the Mishnah
and intended for a popular readership)10
is “the negation of corporeality from [God], namely that this One is not a
body.”11 The denial of any of these principles, Maimonides
claims, constitutes heresy and warrants removal from the Jewish community.
In his Code (written in Hebrew and also
intended for a popular readership), Maimonides categorized as a heretic (min)
a Jew, however pious in his or her observance of the Torah, who affirms that there is one God but that
God has a body.12 Later, in his Guide
of the Perplexed (written in Judeo-Arabic and explicitly intended only for the intelligentsia),
Maimonides asserted that a person who believes in a corporeal God is worse
than an idolater.13
Furthermore, Maimonides insisted not only that all biblical and rabbinic
anthropomorphisms are to be understood metaphorically, but that the rabbis
themselves affirmed and insisted on noncorporealist readings of these passages.
If Neusner is correct that the Talmudic rabbis believed in a corporeal
God,14 then Maimonides was a phenomenally successful ideological
revolutionary in the history of Judaism. If Maimonides is correct, that his
view was always the true (albeit esoteric) stance of the rabbis, then by his
own standards he was a great educator, but no ideological revolutionary.
The consistent and virtually universal Jewish affirmation today,
and for hundreds of years, of noncorporealist conceptions of God and metaphorical
understanding of biblical and rabbinic anthropomorphisms are testimony to
Maimonides’ success, one way or the other, in sublimating Jewish belief.
The remarkable parallel between the statements of Maimonides and
Joseph Smith—”Intellect is the glory of God” and “The
glory of God is intelligence,” respectively—is thus, once again,
an example of the fundamental similarities and differences between Jews and
Latter-day Saints. But the meaning, for virtually all Jews since Maimonides
(and many before him), radically differs from Latter-day Saint conceptions
1. Jacob Neusner, The Glory of God Is Intelligence:
Four Lectures on the Role of Intellect in Judaism (Provo, UT: BYU
Religious Studies Center, 1978), xii.
2. Revelation at Kirtland, Ohio, 6 May 1833.
3. Neusner, Glory of God, 2.
4. Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed,
trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 1:22.
5. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed,
6. My thanks to
my friend and learned colleague Professor Menachem Kellner for calling my
attention to this passage in Maimonides’ Commentary to the Mishnah
and for suggesting that I follow up on it. He has translated the Maimonidean passage in question in
his essay “Maimonides’ Commentary on Mishnah á¸¤agigah II.1:
Translation and Commentary,” in From Strength to Strength: Lectures
from Shearith Israel, ed. Marc D. Angel (New York: Sepher-Hermon
Press, 1998), 101-11.
7. Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah,
trans. Yosef Kafih (Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1964), 2:378, emphasis added.
In the Judeo-Arabic original, Maimonides uses the Hebrew phrase kevod adonai
for “the glory of God.” The Arabic `aql and Hebrew sekhel can
be translated as “intellect,” “intelligence,” or “reason.”
For a discussion of Maimonides’ use of the expression kavod, see Menachem Kellner,
Maimonides’ Confrontation with Mysticism (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish
Civilization, 2006), 189-98, 209-15.
8. Raphael Jospe, “Jews and Mormons: Similarities and
Differences,” in FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 401-21.
9. Jacob Neusner, “Conversation in Nauvoo about the
Corporeality of God,” BYU Studies 36/1 (1996-97):
7-30; also his “The Case of Leviticus Rabbah,” in By
Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion
of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, ed. John M. Lundquist
and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 1:332-88.
10. Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah,
Sanhedrin, chap. 10, 5:195ff. A partial English translation is found in Isadore
Twersky, ed., A Maimonides Reader (New York: Behrman House, 1972), 401-23.
11. For important studies of the “Thirteen Principles”
and of contemporary Jewish problems with them, see Menachem Kellner, Dogma
in Medieval Jewish Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986);
Kellner, Must a Jew Believe Anything? 2nd ed.(Oxford: Littman
Library of Jewish Civilization, 2006); and Marc B. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox
Theology: Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles Reappraised (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish
12. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Book of
Knowledge, Laws of Repentance 3:7.
13. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 1:36.
14. See Neusner, “Conversation in Nauvoo,”