Moses Maimonides’ Treatise on Resurrection
An Inquiry into its Authenticity
By Lea Naomi Goldfeld
Ktav Publishing House, 1986, 167 pages
Maimonides made it very clear in his work called Chelek that he felt that the intellect goes to the world to come as soon as a person dies and remains there for eternity. He states that this is a blissful experience and it would make no sense for the intellect to want to be reunited with its body. He also wrote in his Mishneh Torah that “In the hereafter neither a body nor a body shape exists, but the souls of the righteous without bodies.”
Nevertheless, people who wanted to believe in resurrection stated that Maimonides, who they recognized as a brilliant man, did so as well. They based their contention upon two supposed facts. First, Maimonides included resurrection in his list of thirteen principles of Judaism. Second, a book appeared that claimed that it was composed by Maimonides, called Treatise on Resurrection, which has Maimonides say that he believed in resurrection.
There are two problems with these proofs. The first supposes that Maimonides accepted all of the thirteen principles. Actually, as many scholars have recognized, including Isaac Abarbanel, Maimonides only thought that the first four dealing with God, and the fifth under certain circumstances, were true. He wrote the others for the general population who needed to believe in them to feel good.
The second, as Lea Naomi Goldfeld proves in her book, Treatise on Resurrection, is a fraud. Goldfeld mentions many scholars who considered the book a forgery. Shem Tov ben Yosef Shem Tom (died in 1440), for example, rejected the Treatise and said Maimonides “did not believe in a physical resurrection.”
Goldfeld discusses the origin of the concept of resurrection in Judaism. Among other things, she points out that the notion is not in the Hebrew Bible. Judaism took the idea from the Greeks. Although mentioned in the Talmud, the Spanish
philosopher Joseph Albo (15th century) states that the term in the Talmud denotes “the reward of the soul and its life in the world of souls” not bodies.
She shows that the Treatise could not have been written by Maimonides because Maimonides was a careful and clear
writer, and the writing in the Treatise is confused and composed in an unusual, sometimes bizarre, uncharacteristic style.
Some of the statements even contradict Maimonides’ views in his other books on other subjects. Additionally, many deductions made in the book are not logical, a mistake Maimonides would never have made. Furthermore, no one living during Maimonides lifetime knew about the Treatise and the Treatise seems to know about the controversy that grew up about Maimonides’ writing after his death, while those who were involved in the controversy after his death knew nothing about the Treatise. Most significantly, Maimonides’ son Abraham wrote a lengthy discussion about his father’s view on resurrection and didn’t mention the Treatise, which he certainly would have done if he knew that his father changed his mind on the subject.
In sum, as Maimonides’ contemporary and antagonist Rabbi Abraham ben David wrote in his glosses on Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 8:2, “The words of this man seem to me to be similar to one who says that there is no resurrection for bodies, only souls.”