More on the Image and Likeness in Moses Maimonides

Back in September I posted The Difference Between Image and Likeness in Genesis, which discussed both Orthodox and Jewish concepts of Genesis 1:26.  Recently I received a series of Twitter messages from Y Sher as follows:

You understood Maimonides distinction between Image (Tzelem) and Likeness (Dmuth), he seems to equate both to man’s divine capacity for intellectual apprehehension. Any thoughts?

That, of course, is exactly what he does:

As man’s distinction consists in a property which no other creature on earth possesses, viz., intellectual perception, in the exercise of which he does not employ his senses, nor move his hand or his foot, this perception has been compared-though only apparently, not in truth — to the Divine perception, which requires no corporeal organ. On this account, i.e., on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form. (Guide for the Perplexed, I, 1)

Maimonides’ central point, however, was that the relationship between man and God re the image and likeness was of an incorporeal nature.  To argue otherwise would lead one to the conclusion that God had a body.  This discussion may seem abstruse until one considers that the Mormons hold to precisely the opposite, i.e., that the fact that man is made in the image and likeness of God, and that man has a body, leads one to conclude that God does also.  What that does is upend Genesis 1:26 and posit that God is made in man’s image, which in turn makes it easier for Mormons to think that they themselves could become gods.  This is part and parcel with the Mormons’ campaign to debase deity, which I discuss in my piece Half a Million Roubles. Is It Enough?.

Turning to the Orthodox distinction between image and likeness, I think it’s fair to say that the terms image (zelem) and likeness (demut) in Hebrew are complementary to one another in this context, and that the distinction that the Orthodox make in this case is reading more into the text than the Hebrew allows.  That in turn brings up a host of other issues, including the inspiration of the Septuagint and the whole Patristic methodology of scriptural interpretation.  But Patristic Biblical exegesis, in more cases than contemporary interpreters and academics are wont to admit, is like a cat who jumps up on a slick counter or tabletop: the slide across and the falling off of the edge don’t look very graceful, but the cat usually manages to hit the floor on all four feet.  The Orthodox way of getting to this point may not be the swiftest, but it’s a big improvement over the Reformed insistence that a creature created in God’s image and likeness is so incapable of making the return journey that it takes the involuntary choice of God (involuntary for the human being, that is) to turn this voyage into a reality.

One thought on “More on the Image and Likeness in Moses Maimonides”

  1. If I remember correctly, Maimonides describes “Image” as the incorporeality of “intellect” separate(?) or conjoined-to(?) body (ie: the essence) and “likeness” as the “ways.” Similar to and related to the distinction made by Maimonides when he discusses the topic of Moses asking to see God’s face and being given the answer that he can only know the ways.

    I like to think of “Image” is the ultimate ideal of the Self and “Likeness” as the process or motion toward this ideal.

    I’m not exactly sure about how orthodox Jews interpret these key terms, but I like to think that their strict observance to oral and written tradition is to ultimately come to know “the image” and behave in the “likeness” of God.

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