Nahmanides on the Polis: Reading Exegesis and Kabbala as Political Theory

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Abstract: The biblical commentary of Moses Nahmanides (1194–1270) reflects a mature grasp of the evolution of political and legal structures. This paper traces his view of the political evolution of society from Adam and Eve to Nimrod, identified as the first monarch who pioneers tyranny, subjugation, and colonialism. Abraham and Moses then present corrective archetypes of new political leaders whose humility subverts the exploitive corruption that has become endemic to sovereignty. Nahmanides’ kabbalistic Weltanschauung, which views Israel’s legal and political institutions as microcosmic models of the cosmic divine polis, is also critical for his appreciation of the state’s political machinations.

Biography: James A. Diamond is the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Waterloo. He earned a degree in law from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Master of Laws degree from New York University School of Law, and a PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto in 1999 focusing on medieval Jewish thought. He was a Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University Institute for Research in Jewish Law in Jerusalem from 1980-81. He has published widely in journals including Jewish Studies QuarterlyJewish Quarterly Review, Journal of Jewish Thought and PhilosophyMedieval Philosophy and TheologyProoftexts, and Harvard Theological Review. He has authored two books titled Maimonides and the Hermeneutics of Concealment: Deciphering Scripture and Midrash in the Guide of the Perplexed (Albany: SUNY Press, 2002) and Converts, Heretics, and Lepers: Maimonides and the Outsider (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007) both of which garnered the Canadian Jewish Book Award in Jewish scholarship. The latter was designated a Notable Selection by the Jordan Schnitzer Award Committee in Jewish Thought and Philosophy. He recently co-edited a volume titled Emil L. Fackenheim: Philosopher, Theologian, Jew (Brill, 2008), has presented papers at conferences across the United States, Europe and Israel and was formerly the Director of the Friedberg Genizah Project.

Volume 4, Number 1 (Winter 2009) pp. 56-79