I seem to recall that in the Guide to the Perplexed, the Rambam says that when Ezekiel's vision speaks of four heavenly spheres (according to the Rambam's interpretation), it was because during Ezekiel's time, it was believed that there were only four spheres.

However, in the Rambam's time it was accepted that there were in fact nine spheres. Therefore, the Rambam says that Ezekiel was having a prophecy according to his contemporary scientific knowledge, even though it was mistaken.

Today, I searched all over the Guide, in all the likely places (where he speaks about the spheres, where he speaks about prophecy, where he speaks of Ezekiel's vision), and could not find where the Rambam says this.

Does anybody know where this is, or if it even exists? Maybe in my memory I am confusing somebody else with the Rambam? Please help me here.

  • 1
    It wouldn't be surprising to see God speaking to people in a language they can understand judaism.stackexchange.com/a/804/759 – Double AA Mar 2 at 16:25
  • 1
    He doesn't quite say what you're asking. In II:9 he explains how it is possible to categorize the nine spheres into only four (sun, moon, planets and fixed stars). He tells you to keep this in mind. Then in III:3-4 he draws equivalences between Ezekiel's four beasts and the spheres, relying on you remembering from earlier that it is legitimate to talk of four spheres. – Joel K Mar 2 at 16:47
  • Thanks Joel K. I did look at those places. It is possible that was the source of my false memory. Or maybe it was in one of the classical commentaries to the Moreh (I only have Kapach at home). – dlp Mar 2 at 16:55
  • Some modern scholars do interpret Maimonides as believing that Ezekiel's science was mistaken. Maybe you came across something like this thetorah.com/article/… – Joel K Mar 2 at 17:16
  • The rationalist Maimonides understood the term maaseh merkavah in Ezekiel's vision as metaphysics. – Turk Hill Mar 3 at 0:31

Perhaps you are referring to the following?

Ralbag in his commentary to Genesis 15:4 writes that Ezekiel in his prophecy experienced the spheres as making noise, in accordance with his mistaken belief that they do in fact make noise. Ralbag attributes this to Rambam.

והנה מספר הכוכבים לא היה נודע בימי אברם ולזה הראהו המדמה בעת הנבואה ענין ריבוי הכוכבים למשל הריבוי המופלג אשר ייעד אותו ה' יתעלה שיהיה בזרעו וכזה תמצא שראה יחזקאל בעת הנבואה שיהיה לגלגלים קולות מצד מה שהיה מאמין מזה הענין כמו שזכר הרב המורה כי לא יחוייב שיהיו לנביא כל הדעות האמיתיות בענין סודות המציאות

This is probably a reference to Guide for the Perplexed 2:8 where Rambam writes that the Sages mistakenly believed that the spheres make noise, until it was proven otherwise:

IT is one of the ancient beliefs, both among the philosophers and other people, that the motions of the spheres produced mighty and fearful sounds. They observed how little objects produced by rapid motion a loud, shrilling, and terrifying noise, and concluded that this must to a far higher degree be the case with the bodies of the sun, the moon and the stars, considering their greatness and their velocity. The Pythagoreans believed that the sounds were pleasant, and, though loud, had the same proportions to each other as the musical notes. They also explained why these mighty and tremendous sounds are not heard by us. This belief is also widespread in our nation. Thus our Sages describe the greatness of the sound produced by the sun in the daily circuit in its orbit. The same description could be given of all heavenly bodies. Aristotle, however, rejects this, and holds that they produce no sounds. You will find his opinion in the book The Heavens and the World (De Cœlo). You must not find it strange that Aristotle differs here from the opinion of our Sages. The theory of the music of the spheres is connected with the theory of the motion of the stars in a fixed sphere, and our Sages have, in this astronomical question, abandoned their own theory in favour of the theory of others. Thus, it is distinctly stated, "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel." It is quite right that our Sages have abandoned their own theory: for speculative matters every one treats according to the results of his own study, and every one accepts that which appears to him established by proof.

(Friedlander translation)

  • Although this is not exactly what I was asking (number of spheres), this Ralbag is more explicit than the Abarbanel I found about a prophet being able to have a "mistake" in his vision. – dlp Mar 3 at 15:07

After looking around in the classical commentators, I found the Abarbanel seems to say this about the Rambam. It is in two places in the Abarbanel: At the end of the classic Lvov edition of the Guide (5626), there is a piece from the Abarbanel where he disputes the Rambam's interpretation of Ezekiel's vision. It is also in the Abarbanel's commentary on Ezekiel (Chap 1), where he also disputes the Rambam's interpretation.

Among his arguments is the fact that according to the Rambam's interpretation, Ezekiel was mistaken in several matters. Such as the number of spheres, the order of the spheres, and whether the spheres make sounds.

Regarding the number of spheres, he writes that the Rambam is going according to what he says in II:9 of the Guide, that the ancients believed in four spheres, and Ezekiel's vision was according to that view. (See Shem Tov on II:9 who seems to say similarly.)

Regarding the other problems, the Abarbanel says that the Rambam held the "vision" wasn't really a vision but a scientific discourse.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .