Rabbi Shlomo Riskin makes the following statement in his Sept. 27th, 2013 commentary on Bereishit in the Jerusalem Post:

Furthermore, Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, interprets all of the early biblical stories until the advent of Abraham as allegories, whose purpose is to convey moral lessons rather than historical fact.

Does this mean that Rambam didn't believe that anything up until the time of Abraham was literally true?

Is this a reasonable interpretation of Rambam's position as set out in the Guide?

  • dupe? judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29999/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 17:10
  • @DoubleAA Don't think it's a dupe. That question deals only with the six days of creation, this question deals with everything up until Abraham which is much broader. Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 17:39
  • No, I don't think it's a reasonable interpretation of RaMBa"M's views, although it's an understandable leap if you're only reading summaries of RaMBa"M's views.
    – Seth J
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 17:48
  • (But I have only learned M"N in bits and pieces, and not in its original language.)
    – Seth J
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 17:48
  • @SethJ I'm asking because this is being said by a well respected, main stream Orthodox Rabbi. I doubt he's "only reading summaries of RaMBa"M's views". I'm look for detailed reasons one way or the other that can be understood by someone who's not an expert in the Guide. Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 18:21

2 Answers 2


This is not an accurate presentation of the Rambam. While the Rambam does not accept a literal reading of the creation story (as cited here, and see here), nowhere does he extend this to "all of the early biblical stories until the advent of Abraham." For example, the Rambam was criticized for his view (Moreh Nevukhim 2:47) that only the people mentioned in the Torah had such long lives, not the others of the generation. If all is allegorical, there is no reason for him to have said this. See also Moreh Nevukhim 1:29 and especially 3:50, where the Rambam discusses the story of the flood, and of the Tower of Babel.

  • 3
    "If all is allegorical, there is no reason for him to have said this." Good vort.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 16:23

There are parts of Genesis prior to Abraham that Rambam does not interpret as allegories.

The most explicit example occurs in Guide for the Perplexed 3:50 where he makes it pretty clear that an actual person Adam existed and was created as the first man:

It is one of the fundamental principles of the Law that the Universe has been created ex nihilo, and that of the human race, one individual being, Adam, was created. (Friedlander translation)

  • (One) God created (one) man [Adam] in His image and likeness: this statement is primarily needed for theological support; whether it also expresses some general preference for biblical literalism is somewhat debatable.
    – user18041
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 5:20

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