Thursday, May 19, 2011

Loud farts in Moses' interior chariot of epistemology, soundtracked by U2, The Cure and Michael Been

Thanks to  the idefatigable  (a word Joel Green..the indefatigable one himself..introduced me to decades ago, to describe F.F. Bruce) St. Mike Morrell, apostolic and optimystic resourcer, who tipped me off to the concept of  "chariot meditation,"  in the context of a review of Chilton's "Rabbi Jesus":

Chilton sheds some much-needed light onto the possible spiritual and devotional practices of Jesus, including ‘meditation on the Chariot’ – an ecstatic practice based on Ezekiel 1 that was apparently popular among mystical Judaism in his day. Chilton puts this as a major devotional/trance practice of John the Baptist and Jesus; NT Wright says that the Chariot meditation was a significant practice of Paul of Tarsus, and what he was in all likelihood doing whilst on the Damascus road when he had his visionary experience of Christ. I want to know more..!   (link)
I wanted to know more, too too.  So before tracking down the Chilton book, or the Wright  video that he linked (it may show up on this version, too) I googled   (Google is almost omniscient) "chariot meditation," and quickly found it traced to   Moses Maimonedes,  who I have also been wanting to know more about, especially due to my interest in medieval Spanish/Iberian (and/or Sephardic) Judaism  (see  José Faur's 'In the shadow of history: Jews and conversosdawn of modernity" )

This "Second Moses"  (I know, in the Christian tradition, someone Else usually takes that title) is no small, nonseminal thinker, though most have never heard of him:
"There is a saying that the history of Jewish doctrine goes runs from 'Moses to Moses'; the second of which is Moses Maimonides...  from Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses."

So I broke down and bought his classic book (and began blogging it here in the holy presence of the Third Moses here at St. Arbuck's..uh, see "Moses spoke to me today"), and found that it was intended  (ostensibly) to introduce chariot meditation to a single disciple/talmid of MM, as a means of midwifing him into the liminal space between intellectual knowing of God through reason/apologetics and the deeper level knowing/relationship with God that is trans-rational, surrational (maybe post-rational) and thus mystical but still   epistemologically Aristotelian...or not.

Just as Faur suggested that  Spanish Jews and conversos at the dawn of modernity  eventually gave birth to scientific modernity/ rationalism,  it has been suggested (by David Taffel, see below) that  MM and his Spanish-Jewish context/background   preceded, prefigured, even precursed  the Renaissance (a delightful pun on that word "precursed" is intended and important to where we're headed: was Renaissance/modernity blessing and/or curse?  BTW, ask Mark DeRaud  ("Mark DeRaud video in: Reformation, art/images, and the convergence of Pentecostalism/Orthodoxy")
if even the Reformation perpetuated modernity).

By the way, I may or may not get around to chariot meditation per se (But when I eventually run with it, I am guessing I will feel His pleasure) . Or it could be that MM is making the case that everything is chariot meditation..

Taffel, in his introduction to MM's "The Guide to the Perplexed":


The Guide for the Perplexed  is the literary masterpiece of Moses Maimonides, perhaps the greatest Jewish thinker of the middle ages if not of all time. The work's historical importance is insured merely by the fact that it was the primary conduit through which the rationalism of Aristotle's philosophy was transmitted from medieval Arabic high culture to Christian theologians such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. In this way Aristotle was reintroduced into the Western culture to which he had been lost for almost a millennium, and it was through the rediscovery of Aristotle that the first seeds of Renaissance humanism and early modern scientific optimism were sown. But the historical, philosophical, and spiritual importance of The Guide for the Perplexed is so extensive and diverse as to be nearly immeasurable. It is one of the rare perfect jewels of world spiritual literature, a profound and timeless statement of man's relation to himself, to God, and to society. Yet it is simultaneously, as Maimonides acknowledges in his introduction, an intellectual labyrinth, permeated by contradiction. It offers modern readers, like their medieval predecessors, a stiff challenge: do you have the tenacity to penetrate the interrelated paradoxes of The Guide for the Perplexed, the mind, and the universe in order to join the fortunate few who have glimpsed the ultimate truths of existence
          -Taffel,  introduction to MM's "The Guide to the Perplexed"

Laurence Wood in his incredible, genre-defying ( is it devotional?  is it theology? Is it psychology?  Yes!) "Truly Ourselves, Truly the Spirit's," asserts that the theologies of all theologians (that would include everyone..even Rob Bell (:...., but especially the classic "official" theologians Wood studies: Tillich et al) are inevitably influenced/tainted by the background and baggage of the theologian.  This is not just a "tell me about your mother, Bultmann" approach, but much more).  So I do believe MM's backstory (as well as his unique juncture in history)  is telling as to where he winds up theologically/philosophicallly/epistemologically/metaphysically (and perhaps sheds light on his centrality of chariot meditation:
Maimonides lived an eventful life in a time of widespread upheaval. Born Moses ben Maimon in Cordova, Spain, in AD 1135 to a distinguished local rabbi and his scandalously lower-class wife, he ultimately left his homeland, due to oppression, and began a journey, punctuated by temporary residencies in Morocco, Palestine, and Alexandria, that would end in Egypt. Maimonides became widely regarded as a legendary figure during his lifetime.

In his youth, Cordova was a flourishing and tolerant center of Islamic culture and its heady blend of Aristotelian philosophy, the latest in the arts and sciences, and a highly comfortable lifestyle infused the thriving Jewish community that Maimonides would later recall with nostalgia. But the freedom of Jews to worship as they pleased was not destined to last. In 1148, the fanatical Islamic sect the Almohades, which demanded of its Jews conversion or exile, conquered Cordova. At first the Maimon family remained in Cordova, outwardly acting as converts to Islam while privately practicing the Jewish faith. But this proved an increasingly insecure way of life, and Moses' family ultimately left its homeland and began a journey, punctuated by temporary residencies in Morocco, Palestine, and Alexandria, that would end in Fostat, Egypt. Amazingly, Maimonides continued studying throughout this period of transience and even wrote the majority of his first monumental study of Jewish law, Commentary on the Torah. His life, however, had changed into one of persistent hardship. Shortly after settling in Fostat, his father died. Several years later, his beloved half-brother, who operated the family's jewelry business alone so that Maimonides could devote his talents exclusively to his studies, died in a shipwreck that consumed the family's entire savings. Maimonides - now nearly forty years old - suddenly became responsible for his and his brother's households and required a financially viable career. Though eligible for support by his community in exchange for his services as rabbi, Maimonides chose to practice medicine - a field he had mastered solely to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. His reputation as an excellent doctor spread quickly, and in 1187 he was appointed court physician by the vizier of the sultan, Saladin.

Despite his time-consuming new obligations, Maimonides continued studying and writing. In 1180, he completed an unimaginably comprehensive synthesis of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah. Many contemporary Jewish authorities believed Maimonides overstepped the boundaries of acceptable commentary in this controversial work by presuming to settle, under his own authority, questions that only prophets were qualified to answer definitively. Nevertheless, given the paucity of noteworthy Jewish thinkers in the Islamic and Christian regions of Europe, North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean, few could argue with the fact that Maimonides' authority was becoming increasingly secure. His advice was sought by laypeople and religious leaders throughout the region, and ultimately he was officially named "nagid," or leader of the Egyptian Jewish community. Severely overworked for the remainder of his life, Maimonides continued writing prolifically, answering countless religious and legal inquiries, compiling medical treatises that would remain definitive for centuries, and, in 1190, publishing the summation of his philosophical and religious studies, The Guide for the Perplexed. But his health inevitably declined under the strain of his endless official duties. In later life he suffered from exhaustion and a weak heart, and, in 1204, he died a frail old man.
-Taffel,  introduction to MM's "The Guide to the Perplexed"

My first thoughts on a brief plunge into the book..

Though  it is initially challenging to grasp the flow/intuit the narrative arc (a la U2's "No Line on the Horizon" and its related concert leitourgia)..even content...of the book, due to the chapters being titled only by number, a spiritaneous thunbing through  eventually led me to the penultimate (actually third from the end, what's the word for that?) chapter, which serves in a sense as a summary and microcosm..interpretive key, and much more (which, perhaps in the U2 analogy is the much-maligned song "Unknown Caller," hidden in the album as the equivalent of MM's  unfindable..perhaps on purpose..chapter 51, and unfortunately dropped from tour setlist due to fans wanting hits and not meat) Then  I found that the preface, says as much ..

Chapter 51 begins: "The present chapter. . .is a kind of conclusion. . .it will explain in what manner those worship God who have obtained a true knowledge concerning God; it will direct them how to come to that worship which is the highest aim man can attain.." Maimonides' famous allegory follows: A king is in his palace, and all his subjects are partly in the country and partly abroad. Of the former, some have their backs turned towards the king's palace, and their faces in another direction; and some are desirous and zealous to go to the palace. . .but have not yet seen even the face of the wall of the house. Of those that desire to go to the palace, some reach it, and go round about in search of the entrance gate; others have passed through the gate, and walk about in the ante-chamber, and others have succeeded in entering into the inner part of the palace, and being in the same room with the king in the royal palace. But even the latter do not immediately on entering the palace see the king, or speak to him; for, after having entered the inner part of the palace, another effort is required before they can stand before the king - at a distance or close by - hear his words or speak to him. Maimonides proceeds to explain the spiritual capacities of each group named, but what interests us here is the description of those who finally "stand before the king." Of them Maimonides states: "those who have succeeded in finding a proof for everything that can be proved, who have a true knowledge of God, so far as a true knowledge can be attained. . .have reached the goal."

These quoted passages are pregnant with the implications of Maimonides' fusion of Aristotelian rationalism with Judaism. To begin to understand how to enter the company of "the king" is to begin to unlock the secrets of The Guide for the Perplexed.

For Maimonides, knowledge gained through Aristotle's philosophy does not lead away from true knowledge of God. Rather, it assists one in delineating the limits of possible rational knowledge concerning God and thereby helps one recognize the false or metaphorical nature of most religious ideas. The cornerstone of Maimonides' integration of Aristotelian rationalism and biblical Judaism is their shared affirmation of the truth of monotheism. Using several arguments, Aristotle claimed to have proven rationally that there was one first cause of the universe (i.e., God). Maimonides leaves these proofs essentially unchallenged, but when it comes to Aristotle's characterizations of God and his activities, Maimonides claims Aristotle runs afoul of reason. Maimonides accepts Aristotle's view that God must be a simple unity and, therefore, that nothing positive can be affirmed of Him, because in affirming His possession of various qualities, one implicitly denies His simplicity and unity. From this it follows, Maimonides argues, that Aristotle's positive characterization of God as passive and impersonal violates his own restrictions on meaningful language usage. In this way Maimonides establishes the possibility that the actively creative and personal God of Jewish revelation - rather than the abstract God of Greek philosophy - belongs atop Aristotle's rational system of thought.

A consistent thread running throughout Maimonides' treatment of this and many other themes in The Guide for the Perplexed is his insistence, following Aristotle, that reason provides secure knowledge only of mathematics and earthly things apprehended by our senses. We can logically extrapolate from this knowledge ideas concerning metaphysical reality, but these are merely speculative possibilities. Reason, for Maimonides, demonstrates its own limits, and this fact is of the greatest religious importance because a rational understanding of both the truths of religion and the limits of reason is essential to grasping the necessity of revelation for the advancement of human morality and spirituality. Rational thought, according to Maimonides, is the primary means whereby God prepares man to receive His inspiration. Thus the man who perfects his intellect through the pursuit of a rational proof "for everything that can be proved" prepares himself to receive as much of God's truth as possible - truth that is identical with the deep meaning of the Bible once the latter's symbolism has been rationally decoded.

Solving the puzzle of The Guide for the Perplexed thus means recognizing that it is more than a book. It is an instrument of contemplation meant to function as a pathway to the highest rational knowledge concerning God and thereby as a preparation for the reception of divine inspiration and the experience of the presence of the Lord. In this light the advice Maimonides gives his readers in chapter 51 becomes clear: "When you have arrived by way of intellectual research at a knowledge of God and his works, then commence to devote yourself to Him, try to approach Him and strengthen the intellect, which is the link that joins you to Him.. [R]educe the hours which you spend in other occupations and during which you are not striving to come near unto Him. This instruction suffices for the object of this treatise." In other words, the goal of The Guide for the Perplexed is to enable readers to approach God by facilitating their cultivation of their capacity for reason. If Maimonides has achieved his extraordinarily ambitious objective with this work, then continually reading, rereading, and contemplating the philosophical arguments and logical dilemmas of The Guide for the Perplexed should be sufficient to bring one into "the inner palace" and the presence of "the king." The book's enduring influence testifies to the fact that throughout history at least some readers have found this to be so.

So, between the preface, and chapter 51, some initial working wrestling questions,
and  random (?) rabbitholes::

1)>>>MM writes to a single student  to get him unstuck  (as this is before The Cure were born, or he could have just given him the song download) from segueing from philosophical/intellectual/Atistotelian apologetics/epistemology/discipleship and its bounded setness into the requisite transitional thin place where "epistemology  of love" (ah, more shades of NT Wright,as well as sounds of Michael Been/The Call)  facilitates the  deeper centered set experiential walk with Goid... into the  inner realms and rooms  of "inner place",  One cannot help but intertext to Teresa's "interior castle" (written, notably by another Spaniard; and more notably a few centuries post-Maimonedes...hmm, make not to see of she was influenced by MM)...or on  much more pop-evangelical culture  (and Anglo)  note, "My Heart, Christ's Home.")
2>>>Is the "reason" component of the Wesleyan quadrilateral the key epistemological  entry point into actualizing prevenient grace?  He would seem to assume that it suffices as the "link," but not past teh ppoint of conversion.  At that point, grace/knowledge of God is epistemologically activated by mystical/practical outworking of tha grace by communion with Giod which bleeds into
missional service.

BTW, on the quadrilteral, Stcve Seamands would often hold up a coathanger in tehology class, to represnt (re-present) the muc-misunderstood quadrilateral: it's not an equilateral, but Scripture overhangs, and underneath it are the other three components..inclucing reason (see page 6 here).  If Pentecostalism highlights experience, than potentially that becomes the overhang.  So, if MM emphasizes reason  (though an enlightened Aristotelian reason which leaves room for revelation as source) as entry point, do we wind up in the trap of fallen reason reigning  epistemology and hermeneutic?

MM basically makes the case that Aristotle wasn't Aristotelian enoough,  that if he followed the light he had (from reason, based in revelation) be would have"gotten" what MM discovered: that reason gets us to the doorway of the palace/castle and kicks in the centered-setness required for us to know God from that point on.

Again, from Taffel:

A consistent thread running throughout Maimonides' treatment of this and many other themes in The Guide for the Perplexed is his insistence, following Aristotle, that reason provides secure knowledge only of mathematics and earthly things apprehended by our senses. We can logically extrapolate from this knowledge ideas concerning metaphysical reality, but these are merely speculative possibilities. Reason, for Maimonides, demonstrates its own limits, and this fact is of the greatest religious importance because a rational understanding of both the truths of religion and the limits of reason is essential to grasping the necessity of revelation for the advancement of human morality and spirituality. Rational thought, according to Maimonides, is the primary means whereby God prepares man to receive His inspiration. Thus the man who perfects his intellect through the pursuit of a rational proof "for everything that can be proved" prepares himself to receive as much of God's truth as possible - truth that is identical with the deep meaning of the Bible once the latter's symbolism has been rationally decoded....

...Nonetheless, the two grew close, and when Ibn Aknin was forced to relocate before completing his course of instruction, Maimonides worried that his student had mastered enough philosophy to question his religious beliefs, but not enough to recognize that the highest truths of philosophy and religion are compatible. "Perplexed" by apparent opposition between the truths of reason and revelation, Ibn Aknin would, Maimonides feared, become alienated from Judaism. Thus Maimonides composed The Guide for the Perplexed "to enlighten a religious man who. . .has been successful in his philosophical studies" and "finds it difficult to accept as correct the teaching based on the literal interpretation of the Law." The book quickly aroused widespread interest and mixed reactions, but Maimonides was apparently unmoved by the attention or criticism. He was satisfied that the readers for whom the book was intended would "derive much benefit from every chapter."  (Taffel) 
>>>3)Metaphor may be the only means of converting  gnosticism and subverting hypermysticsm..and as a bomus, deconstrucing modernity and reconstructing modernity.

Exhibit A, Eugene Peterson:

"gnostics delight in secrecy. They are prototypical insiders. They think that access to the eternal is by password and that they know the password. They love insider talk and esoteric lore. They elaborate complex myths that account for the descent of our spiritual selves into this messy world of materiality, and then map the complicated return route. They are fond of diagrams and the enlightened teachers who explain them. Their sensitive spirits are grieved by having to live surrounded by common people with their sexual leers and stupid banana-peel jokes and vulgar groveling in the pigsty of animal appetite. Gnostics who go to church involuntarily pinch their noses on entering the pew, nervously apprehensive that an insensitive usher will seat a greasy sinner next to them. They are however enabled to endure by the considerable compensation of being ‘in the know’ (gnostic means ‘the one who knows’). It is a good feeling to know that you are a cut above the common herd, superior to almost everyone you meet on the street or sit beside in church.
It is inevitable that gnostics will boycott the creation theater and avoid its language as much as possible, for metaphor is an affront to their gossamer immaterialities and inner-ring whispers, a loud fart in the salon of spirituality.” (
"Answering God: The Psalms as Tools For Prayer": 75-76)
Like Maimonides' student, Ibn Aknin, readers today wish to know immediately the most profound truths Maimonides possessed. Thus they may be discouraged to read that The Guide for the Perplexed is written in such a way "that the truths should be at one time apparent, and at another time concealed." They may also be displeased to find Maimonides' admission that the contradictions in the book are purposeful and, given the topic, necessary. Such readers may justifiably wonder how to approach this renowned and influential work if it is intentionally obscure.

One way is to take a cue from Maimonides' own statements. In his introduction he writes, "if a person, who has attained a certain degree of perfection, wishes to impart to others. . .the knowledge which he has acquired. . ., he is utterly unable to be. . .systematic.. For this reason, great theological scholars gave instruction in all such matters only by means of metaphors and allegories." In this light it seems significant that Maimonides places near the end of his work an allegory, the striking nature of which has caused the passage containing it to be ranked among his most famous. A brief examination of the chapter containing this allegory will illuminate the main themes of The Guide for the Perplexed and offer a preliminary insight into the interrelated message and function of Maimonides' great intellectual cipher.

Wow, if moving from "systematic" to "metaphor"  (and systemic) isn't a word for today's church, what is?

Ironically, the structure of the book may be brilliantly designed to subvert structure itself, and in a way that is (gnot) not gnostic, enabling  a  more biblical "let the reader understand"  approach to finding the "secret":
he Guide for the Perplexed was written in clear and, for the most part, non-technical Arabic. Maimonides' prose is forceful and direct. Nevertheless, the work is puzzling. Simply reading it like any book, from beginning to end, is insufficient to give one an understanding of it. As one makes one's way through the chapters, one finds an account of the complimentary truths of philosophy and Judaism, but one also encounters contradictions that seem to go unresolved. After finishing the book, the dilemmas raised in the reader's mind begin to point to a different way of understanding the book's topics than the one explicitly presented. These topics seem designed to shake loose from their moorings in the book's structure and to realign in an alternative order that the book implies but never articulates. The reason for this is that Maimonides believed the highest wisdom could not be imparted to everyone alike. The majority, he thought, would never devote sufficient effort to understanding it and would likely abuse what little they grasped. Maimonides felt no disdain for the general public - he spent his mature life in its service - he merely believed his knowledge could only benefit the majority if it was aimed at their level. Thus The Guide for the Perplexed is written so that the casual reader will get something genuinely useful from the letter of the text while seekers of the highest wisdom will find it hidden between the lines (Taffel)
The secret's out!

Finally, for the two readers still left, have fun with this book.
Set it to music.  Maybe nigun is  metaphor  is  chariot meditation.
("Rabbi Chazat Bono is hungry, so he pulls a nigun".
It's all Jewish to me.

(More on MM here, Wiki on the book here, analysis here (PDF alert)...and looks like for now, the whole book is readable on Google Books here

And thank Mike Morrell by giving him some link love ...

Oh, BTW...this has all been Chariot Meditation, indeed..though most Google links connect one to gnostic, Kabbalistic sites... Guess they haven't thoroughly read the first two Moseses.. (:

Rabbi Adam would say "OY!"

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