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THE LEGEND OF THE APOSTASY OF MAIMONIDES 539 



THE LEGEND OF THE APOSTASY OF MAIMONIDES. 

That Maimonides at an early period of his career, in order to save 
his life, professed Mohammedanism, is an assertion which has found 
favour with some eminent Jewish writers, such as Gratz, who even 
accuses those who doubt it of " critical imbecility." In spite of this 
many have done their best to disprove the charge, and the arguments 
that can be urged against it have probably been stated most forcibly 
by Dr. Friedlander in the excursus which is appended to his Intro- 
duction to the English translation of the Moreh. The latest monograph 
on this subject is probably that by H. Kalian, called Hat Moses 
Maimonides dem Krypto-Mohammedanismus gehuldigt ? (M-Sziget, 1 899). 
I cannot find that this writer adds anything but rhetoric to what has 
been said before many times; but he advocates the cause represented 
by Friedlander warmly. That the story told by Mohammedan writers 
of Maimonides' temporary apostasy was untrue seemed to me to 
follow from the fact that Islam has no mercy for renegades. Tabari 
(iii. 1434, anno A. H. 242, A. D. 856) gives us a characteristic case of 
their treatment. "In this year the Caliph put to death a certain 
'Utarid, a Christian who had turned Moslem, and having remained 
a Moslem many years, apostatized. He was summoned to repent, 
but refused to return to Islam, and was executed." Hence, if 
Maimonides had really become a Moslem, he would have had to 
remain one, or else change his identity. 

This difficulty was felt by those who brought the charge, and they 
tried to meet it. In the story told by Al-Kifti, Maimonides is 
acquitted on the ground that his conversion had been forced. But 
Mohammedan law would not countenance such an excuse. A Moslem 
who has been forced to join another religion may plead force majeure 
(Mihaj al-Talibin, ed. Berg., Ill, 207), but not a convert to Islam. 
The unpublished Biographical Dictionary of Safadi (Bodleian MS. 
Arch. Seld.) contains another suggestion for meeting this difficulty, 
which may be examined. 

"When Maimonides came from the West he prayed the Tarawih 
prayers out of the Koran with the people of the boat, it being the 
month of Ramadan. He came to the Egyptian territory and went to 
Damascus. There the Kadi Muhyi'1-din Ibn Al-Zaki happened to be 
ill; Maimonides attended him, and took great pains with the case. 
The Kadi was grateful, and wished to remunerate him. Maimonides, 

N n % 



540 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

however, swore a solemn oath that he would take nothing from him. 
Presently he bought a house, and asked the Kadi to antedate the 
contract by five years. The Kadi, seeing no harm that could arise, 
readily granted this request. He accordingly attested the contract 
with the false date. Maimonides presently went to Egypt, where he 
entered the service of Al-Kadi Al-Fadil. Some of his fellow passengers 
on the boat then came and said : ' This man came with us from the 
West, and prayed the Tarawih prayers with us in such and such 
a year.' Maimonides produced the contract, saying : ' I was in 
Damascus long before that year, and bought a house there, and here 
is the writing of the Kadi Muhyi'1-din Ibn Al-Zaki.' Al-Kadi Al-Fadil 
recognized the writing of Ibn Al-Zaki, and saw that the deed was 
properly attested as having been drawn up at the earlier date. So 
the case was quashed, all through Maimonides' acuteness.'' 

This is a very circumstantial story ; it is unfortunate that Safadi 
does not say whence he got it. It is, however, utterly false. Ibn 
Al-Zaki became Kadi of Damascus in the third month of the year 
A.H. 588 ; this is attested by Al-Kadi Al-Fadil himself (Ibn Khallikan, 
Cairo, 1299, I, 592), and since Al-Kadi Al-Fadil was at Damascus in 
that year (ibid., II, 539), he had good opportunities of knowing. 
But Al-Fadil himself died in A. H. 590 ; if therefore Maimonides had 
brought him a document antedated by five years with the signature 
of Ibn Al-Zaki as Kadi, he must have known it to be a forgery. 
Moreover, Maimonides was in Egypt in 563 {Letters, ed. Lichtenberg, 
I, 30 d), whence the story clearly contains an anachronism of twenty- 
eight years ! If we imagine Safadi's authority to have confused the 
Kadi Muhyi'1-din of Damascus with the Kadi Muhyi'1-din of Aleppo, 
who became Kadi there in 555 or 556 (Ibn Khallikan, I, 599), we are 
confronted with another difficulty. Maimonides, in a passage to 
which attention was first called perhaps by Munk, and which has 
been copied by succeeding writers, dates his voyage very exactly, and 
says he reached Acre on Sivan 3, 4925. This date is translated by 
Chwolson (L. B. des Orients, 1846, 342-351) as May 16, A.d. 1165. 
Ramadan in that year began on July 1 ; how then could Maimonides 
have joined in the Tarawih prayers of Ramadan on a voyage which 
ended a month and a half before Ramadan commenced ? 

The elements of truth which the anecdote contains are that Ibn 
Zaki was a friend of Al-Kadi Al-Fadil, that the former was Kadi of 
Damascus, and that Al-Fadil was a patron of Maimonides. Otherwise 
it is a fiction of which the purpose is to explain how Maimonides, 
being a renegade from Islam, could rise to eminence at the court of 
a pious Mohammedan. Since Ibn Al-Zaki was not Kadi of Damascus 
till 588, when he was thirty-eight years of age, the story must be as 
late as the year 600, and we shall probably be right in supposing it 



THE LEGEND OF THE APOSTASY OF MAIMONIDES 54I 

to have originated after Maimonides' death. The reason why the 
voyage was selected as the scene of the apostasy is probably the fact 
that Maimonides is known to have left his native land in order to 
avoid having to embrace Islam. If therefore he was a Moslem neither 
in his native country nor in his adopted country, when can he have 
been one ? Evidently on the journey between the two. The month 
of Ramadan and the Tarawih were probably selected as a particularly 
characteristic form of Mohammedan worship. Moreover, it is probable 
that the ordinary ceremonies were often neglected on board; Ibn 
Ehallikan (II, 49) mentions it as an unusual circumstance that 
a saintly passenger happening to be on a vessel forced his fellow 
passengers to say their prayers. The ceremonies of Ramadan would 
probably be more regularly observed. 

The ruse of getting a deed antedated may be either an invention 
of the author of the anecdote, or a real ruse employed by some one 
on some occasion. It strikes one as a peculiarly expensive device. 

It seemed worth while to publish this anecdote with a complete 
refutation of it, in order to show how little the charge against 
Maimonides bears examination when details are given. Some one 
to whom the honour of Maimonides was dear asked for details, and 
they were provided. Since the details are certainly fictitious, it is 
reasonable to suppose the charge itself fictitious. It was probably 
started originally by some less favoured physician who envied 
Maimonides' success at the Ayyubids' court. 

Dr. Friedlander devotes much of his artillery to discrediting the 
Iggereth Ha-shemed, but not all his weapons seem to me to hit the 
mark. That the work is a translation from the Arabic surely follows 
from the use of the phrase DIMnn pro "13*1? (ed. Lichtenberg, II, 13 c) 
with the sense "to speak concerning the sages,'' which is evidently 
a literal rendering of the Arabic pn , S "concerning," of which 
examples are given by Dozy, Supplement, I, 306 b, and which is indeed 
a very ordinary expression. The employment of the word 7123 for 
"penalty" (14c BtflJ>fl ^13JD TOJ) is surely proof of the same; the 
Arabic "Ifl which properly means " boundary " is also regularly used, 
for " a penalty which is definitely determined by the law " (Dozy, I, 
255 a). The rest of the evidence brought to prove that the Epistle is 
not - by Maimonides assuredly contains much that is subjective ; and 
since the writer claims to be one whose advice would be asked on 
such a matter, he must have been a person of importance. The fact 
of his taking a lenient view of the act of pronouncing the Mohammedan 
profession of faith, and thinking the matter one not worth dying for, 
surely need not prove that he had himself followed that course. 

D. S. Mabgoliouxh.