Phillip I. Lieberman

Criminal Law and Punishment in Guide to the Perplexed III:41. Maimonides’ Precedents and His Intentions

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In Part III, Chapter 41 of his Guide to the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides presents a précis of criminal law and punishment for crime as outlined in the Bible. Maimonides deduces four principles from the biblical material that by his account describe the relationship between crime and punishment – (1) gravity of the crime; (2) frequency of the offense; (3) temptation; and (4) ease of stealthy or secret commission. His discussion of these principles is noteworthy in that it focuses on biblical law itself, whereas much of Maimonides’ discussion of law views the Bible through the lens of rabbinic literature; and it is also remarkable in that these principles do not derive from any identifiable source in rabbinic literature. In this paper, I discuss these principles and propose a possible source for their derivation (Aristotle’s Rhetoric and medieval Arabic commentaries on the Rhetoric), and I show thematic connections between Maimonides’ focus on explaining biblical law in this section of the Guide and his focus on explaining biblical language in Part I of the same work.


  • Maimonides
  • Bible
  • Criminal Law
  • Averroes
  • Aristotle


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