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Bill Thayer

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David Yellin and Israel Abrahams

Coming to this part of my site, gentle reader, even more than to its other sections, you should not assume I know anything about the subject, alas; in fact this is a most unlikely item for me to have put online: I am not Jewish, have very little interest in religion and none whatever in philosophy, and my temperament is very different, almost to the point of incomprehension, from that of the great medieval scholar whose life is laid out here.

That said, walking one's Dog has got to be useful for something; and that's how I came upon this little volume, for sale on someone's lawn: leafing thru it quickly there, I thought it was simply written enough that I might actually read it and repair a hole in my knowledge. Back in my office, I discovered that Yellin and Abrahams' elegant, streamlined book has the critics onboard: it is both praised for its charm and cited for its handling of the subject (with David Yellin a foremost authority on Maimonides) — and I was surprised that it was online only as a rudimentary long PDF file, with all the attendant shortcomings.

Here it is, then, in proofread, linkable HTML, in chunks of manageable size. (If you just want a quick biographical sketch, the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica article Maimonides is also onsite.)

For technical details on how this site is laid out, see below, after the authors' preface and the Table of Contents.

 p. v  Preface

This volume, published under the joint auspices of the Jewish Publication Society of America and the Jewish Historical Society of England, forms the first of a series of books dealing with "Jewish Worthies." The aim of this series is to present biographies of famous Jews, with special regard to the general history of the periods at which they lived. Thus in the present book Saladin is almost as much the hero as Maimonides.

The book has been the result of a somewhat unusual form of collaboration. Mr. David Yellin, a short time back, published in Hebrew a biography of Maimonides, which seemed to many worthy of translation into English. But his collaborateur found that it was preferable to use Mr. Yellin's work in another way. Employing the Hebrew as his basis, he wrote, with Mr. Yellin's consent, a fresh biography in English, and the present volume is the result. It is in a very real sense the joint work of the two authors whose names appear on the title page.

The notes, which are intended for students, are all placed together at the end of the volume.

Thayer's Note: In this Web transcription, I found it more convenient for my readers to fold these endnotes into their respective webpages as footnotes.

The authors cordially thank the Rev. S. Levy, M. A., and Messrs. G. W. Kilner, M. A., and C. G. Montefiore M. A., for kindly reading the proofs.

 p. vii  Contents

Chapter I. Early Years in Cordova (1135‑1148)


Chapter II. The Unitarian Persecution (1148‑1159)


Chapter III. Life in Fez (1160‑1165)


Chapter IV. With Saladin in Cairo (1165‑1174)


Chapter V. The "Siraj" — Commentary on the Mishnah (1168)


Chapter VI. The Change of Dynasty


Chapter VII. The "Mishneh-Torah," or Religious Code (1180)


Chapter VIII. Friends and Foes


 p. viii  Chapter IX. The Holy War (1187‑1192)


Chapter X. "The Guide of the Perplexed" (1190)


Chapter XI. Last Years (1193‑1204)


Chapter XII. The Influence of Maimonides


Genealogical Table


Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here is that by the Jewish Publication Society of America, copyright 1903 and thus now in the public domain (details here on the copyright law involved).


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was very well proofread, with very few typographical errors. I marked the few corrections, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read what was actually printed. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (as in the author's Preface above); these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

The Hebrew text in the icon I use to indicate this subsite is the formal name of the author we call Maimonides:

משה בן מימון: Moshe ben Maimûn — Moses son of Maimon.

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Site updated: 23 Jun 10