Gersonides on Imitatio Dei and the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge

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In this essay it is shown that Gersonides adopted an apparently unique view according to which one imitates God through the study, and especially, teaching of science. One fulfills the obligation of imitatio Dei by imparting to others the perfection which we have ourselves achieved. Furthermore, for Gersonides completion in the sciences is, in theory, possible. But it will never actually come about if scientists do not collaborate. Such collaboration--the passing on of information and insight gleaned by one generation to the next--is another way in which human beings imitate God. Calling for cooperation in the pursuit of truth is part of a wider tradition. Anchoring that call, however, in the philosophic and halakhic obligation to imitate God may well have been a uniquely Gersonidean idea. Gersonides' ideas are clarified when compared with those of Maimonides. For Maimonides one imitates God by seeking one's own intellectual perfection and guiding the behavior of others; for Gersonides, by seeking the intellectual perfection of other beings. Philosophically, then, Maimonides and Gersonides differ on the nature of imitatio Dei. Their halakhic positions differ as well: for Maimonides one fulfills the command to walk in God's ways by obeying the demands of Jewish law; for Gersonides one fulfills that command by helping others advance along the route to intellectual perfection. In this context, then, Maimonides' philosophical and halakhic positions are distinct while those of Gersonides are identical.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-296
Number of pages22
JournalThe Jewish Quarterly Review
Issue number3/4
StatePublished - Apr 1995


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