Maimonides' Cure of Souls

Medieval Precursor of Psychoanalysis

By David Bakan, Dan Merkur, and David S. Weiss

Subjects: Religion, Jewish Philosophy, Judaica, Psychology, Psychology Of Religion
Paperback : 9781438427461, 201 pages, July 2010
Hardcover : 9781438427454, 201 pages, October 2009

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Table of contents

List of Abbreviations
1. The Will to Illness
Aristotelian Premises of Maimonides’ Psychology,
Aristotelian Forms, Actualization, Al-Farabi’s Political
Philosophy, Maimonides’ Behavioral Therapy, Sin
Causes Ignorance, Repentance, Conclusions

2. Worship of the Heart
The Commandments of Monotheistic Beliefs and
Affects, Maimonides’ Curriculum, Maimonides’
Intellectualist Mysticism, The Rational Character of
Maimonides’ Intellectualist Mysticism, The Mystical
Character of Maimonides’ Rationalism, Maimonides’
Practice of the Presence of God, The Therapeutic
Effects of Meditation, Conclusions

3. Imagination and the Interpretation of Prophecy
Imagination and Anthropomorphism, Intellectualist
Mysticism and Prophecy, Dreams and Visions of
Prophecy, The Psychology of Imagination, The Place of
Imagination in the Interpretation of Scripture, The
Prophecies of Abraham, Confirmation from Ezekiel,
4. Perplexity and the World to Come
Maimonides’ Esotericism, The World to Come, The
Thirteen Foundational Principles of the Law, The Four
Who Entered Paradise, Monistic Mystical Union,

5. Secrets of the Law
Arayot, The Account of the Beginning, Maimonides on
Sexuality, The Account of the Chariot, Conclusions

6. Maimonides’ Psychotherapy Client Population
7. Convergences of Maimonides and Freud
Freud’s Access to Maimonides, Dream Interpretation,
The Privileged Place of Sexuality, Sociocultural Conflict
Model, Theories of Pathology and Therapy, Psychic
Reality, Understanding on One’s Own, The Unconscious,
Views of Judaism, Prophetic Ambition, Conclusions


Explores the unacknowledged psychological element in Maimonides’ work, one which prefigures the latter insights of Freud.


Is Moses Maimonides an unacknowledged ancestor of the psychoanalytic movement? In this book, David Bakan, Dan Merkur, and David S. Weiss look at the great medieval Jewish philosopher's prescription for the cure of souls and its psychological significance. In the Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides, who was also a physician, describes the soul's illness: when sinners rationalize evil as good, they limit their capacities to reason, imagine, and behave well, which also produces physical symptoms. The cure depends on repentance in love and fear of God that is attained through philosophical knowledge, the interpretation of dreams and visions, and mystical contemplation. The authors look at the Aristotelian background of Maimonides' psychology, Maimonidean mysticism, his beliefs about prophecy and sexuality, and what is known of Maimonides' client population. A final chapter discusses Maimonides and Freud, noting that many distinctive features of the cure of souls are shared by Freud's original formulation of psychoanalysis. Indeed, the many points of convergence suggest Freud's direct or indirect contact with Maimonides' legacy.

David Bakan (1921–2004) was Professor Emeritus of Psychology at York University and the author of several books, including Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition. Dan Merkur is Research Reader in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto and a psychoanalyst in private practice in Toronto. He is the author of several books, including Crucified with Christ: Meditations on the Passion, Mystical Death, and the Medieval Invention of Psychotherapy, also published by SUNY Press. David S. Weiss is a Ph. D. Psychologist and a rabbi. He is the President of Weiss International, a leadership consulting firm; an Affiliate Professor at the University of Toronto; and the author of several books, including Beyond the Walls of Conflict.


"This book is fascinating … So much has been written on Maimonides and so much has been written on Freud. This book is a definite contribution to that effort. " — Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

"…a genuine collaborative effort. " — H-Net Reviews (H-Judaic)

"…provide[s] new insights into Rambam's thoughts … a good choice for academic collections supporting graduate programs in philosophy and psychology. " — AJL Newsletter

"Maimonides' Cure of Souls recovers lost strands in Western thought, including the integration of intellectualism and a religious perspective, and the mystical and esoteric traditions that probably nurtured Freudian thought. " — PsycCRITIQUES