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Moses and Monotheism isn’t a book for most people. It is written in turgid German and translated into turgid English and deals in the most fantastic way with historically obscure events. Sigmund Freud wrote it near the end of his life, a life which had been dedicated to exploring the depths of the human mind using  inscrutable methods. In this book he transfers his psychological techniques of projecting his own imaginations onto the skimpiest of historical facts. At the beginning and ending of each section he makes extended apologies for his admittedly difficult-to-follow lines of reasoning, and then he plunges ahead into what most would call psychotic dream sequences.

The main theme is to project his late nineteenth-century psychological techniques of exploring human personality development onto the historical development of the personality of the Jewish people. He states such sequences as: early trauma – defense – latency – outbreak of neurosis – that he had created for explaining individual psychological problems, and then applies those personal ideas to the Hebrews as a whole people, beginning with their unpleasant departure from Egypt about 1340 BCE. This departure occurred because the new and revolutionary monotheistic religion had been forced upon the existing Egyptian religious clergy by the Pharaoh Amenhotep, who had increased his god-king position by renaming himself Ikhnaton. The last part of his name, the word Aton, means our word God. Thus, roughly speaking, Ikhnaton means God’s son and now God incarnate. The Egyptian clergy was disenfranchised and displeased, and after various shenanigans Ikhnaton was gone, his heir Tutankhamen was put on the throne and soon eliminated too. Whereupon a general Haremhab took over and restored order, in which the old clergy reconstituted their former power. The followers of the new monotheistic religion who preferred to maintain that belief were asked, probably at sword point, to leave Egypt. On the concluding page Freud, having applied similar logic to Moses and then Jesus, concludes:

Only a part of the Jewish people accepted the new doctrine. Those who refused to do who are still called Jews. Though this decision they are still more sharply separated from the rest of the world than they were before. They had to suffer the reproach from the new religious community- which besides Jews included Egyptians, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, and lastly also Teutons- that they had murdered God. In its full form this reproach would run: “They will not admit that they killed God, whereas we do and are cleansed from the guilt of it.”  Then it is easy to understand what truth lies behind this reproach. Why the Jews were unable to participate in the progress which this confession to the murder of God betokened (in spite of all its distortion) might well be the subject of a special investigation. Through this they have, so to speak, shouldered a tragic guilt. They have been made to suffer severely for it. (page 176)

Freud wrote this strange paragraph while in living as a refugee in England, having fled from Hitler and his Nazis from his home in Vienna. It is an incredible conclusion to a book written by a Jew at the beginning of the holocaust.

If you choose to read Moses and Monotheism do so with great caution.

 

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