Moses and Monotheism
Cover of the 1939 first edition
|Original title||Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion|
Published in English
Moses and Monotheism (German: Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion) is a 1939 book about monotheism by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. It shocked many of its readers because of Freud's suggestion that Moses was actually born into an Egyptian household, rather than being born as a Hebrew slave and merely raised in the Egyptian royal household as a ward (as recounted in the Book of Exodus). It is Freud's final original work and it was completed in the summer of 1939 when Freud was, effectively speaking, already "writing from his death-bed."
The book consists of three essays and is an extension of Freud's work on psychoanalytic theory as a means of generating hypotheses about historical events, in combination with his obsessive fascination with Egyptological scholarship and antiquities. Freud hypothesizes that Moses was not Hebrew, but actually born into Ancient Egyptian nobility and was probably a follower of Akhenaten, "the world's earliest recorded monotheist."
The biblical story of Moses is reinterpreted by Freud in light of new findings at Tel-El-Amarna. Archaeological evidence of the Amarna Heresy, Akhenaten's monotheistic Aten cult, had only been discovered in 1887 and the interpretation of that evidence was still in an early phase. Freud's monograph on the subject, for all the controversy that it ultimately provoked, was one the first popular accounts of these findings.
In Freud's retelling of the events, Moses led only his close followers into freedom (during an unstable period in Egyptian history after Akhenaten's death ca. 1350 BCE), that they subsequently killed the Egyptian Moses in rebellion, and still later joined with another monotheistic tribe in Midian who worshipped a volcano god called Yahweh.
Freud supposed that the monotheistic solar god of the Egyptian Moses was fused with Yahweh (the Midianite volcano god), and that the deeds of Moses were ascribed to a Midianite priest who also came to be called Moses. Moses, in other words, is a composite figure, from whose biography the uprising and murder of the original Egyptian Amarna-cult priest has been excised.
Freud explains that centuries after the murder of the Egyptian Moses, the rebels regretted their action, thus forming the concept of the Messiah as a hope for the return of Moses as the Saviour of the Israelites. Freud claimed that repressed (or censored) collective guilt stemming from the murder of Moses was passed down through the generations; leading the Jews to neurotic expressions of legalistically religious sentiment to disperse or cope with their inheritance of trauma and guilt. In many respects, the book reiterates the theogony that Freud first argued in Totem and Taboo, as Freud acknowledges in the text of Moses & Monotheism on several occasions. For example, he writes:
“[This] conviction I acquired when I wrote my book on Totem and Taboo (1912), and it has only become stronger since. From then on, I have never doubted that religious phenomena are to be understood only on the model of the neurotic symptoms of the individual, which are so familiar to us, as a return of long forgotten important happenings in the primeval history of the human family, that they owe their obsessive character to that very origin and therefore derive their effect on mankind from the historical truth that they contain."
Moses and Monotheism was first published in 1939. It appeared in English translation the same year.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote that Freud's suggestion that Moses was an Egyptian "delivered a shock to many of his admirers". According to Campbell, Freud's proposal was widely attacked, "both with learning and without." Campbell himself refrained from passing judgment on Freud's views about Moses, although he considered Freud's willingness to publish his work despite its potential offensiveness "noble". The theologian Rowan Williams concluded that Freud's accounts of the origin of Judaism are "painfully absurd", and that Freud's explanations are not scientific but rather "imaginative frameworks".
The philosopher Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and the psychologist Sonu Shamdasani write that in Moses and Monotheism Freud applied to history "the same method of interpretation that he used in the privacy of his office to 'reconstruct' his patients' forgotten and repressed memories."
From the point-of-view of scholarly consensus amongst Egyptologists, the book is a provocative novelty containing many solid scholarly citations, many undisputed facts, alongside many tantalizing speculations some of which seem likely but unprovable, while others seem unlikely or indulgent.
- Assmann, Jan (1998). Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism Harvard University Press.
- Certeau, Michel de (1988). The Fiction of History: The Writing of Moses and Monotheism. [1975.] The Writing of History, pp. 308–354. (Translated by Tom Conley.) Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN 0-231-05574-9
- Chaney, Edward (2006). 'Egypt in England and America: The Cultural Memorials of Religion, Royalty and Religion', Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines, eds. M. Ascari and A. Corrado. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.
- Chaney, E, 'Freudian Egypt', The London Magazine (April/May 2006), pp. 62–69.
- Chaney, E, 'Moses and Monotheism, by Sigmund Freud’, 'The Canon', THE (Times Higher Education), 3–9 June 2010, No. 1,950, p. 53.
- Edmundson, Mark (2008). The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days Bloomsbury United States ISBN 978-1-59691-430-8
- Ginsburg, Ruth; Pardes, Ilona (2006). New Perspectives on Freud's Moses and Monotheism. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
- Paul, Robert A. (1996). Moses and civilization: The meaning behind Freud’s myth. ISBN 0-300-06428-4
- Rice, Emanuel (1990). Freud and Moses: The Long Journey Home. Albany, New York: State University of New York.
- Rice, Emanuel (1999). Freud, Moses, and the Religions of Egyptian Antiquity: A Journey Through History Psychoanalytic Review, 1999 Apr; 86(2):223–243. PMID 10461667
- Yerushalmi, Y. H. (1991). Freud's Moses. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Freud, Sigmund (1939). Moses and Monotheism. Hogarth Press. pp. 13-15, 56–57, 66–67, 70–71, 80–81, 88, 97.
- "Bible Gateway passage: Exodus 2 - New International Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
- Technically speaking, work on Freud's Outline of Psycho-Analysis continued after his completion of the last portion of his Moses & Monotheism manuscript, but this was just a reiteration and condensation of earlier works. See reference No. 4 below for citation.
- Gay, Peter, 1923-2015. (1988). Freud : a life for our time (1st ed.). New York: Norton. pp. 532–548. ISBN 0-393-02517-9. OCLC 16353245.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "Sigmund Freud's fascination with Egypt". Apollo Magazine. 13 August 2019. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
- Reading Freud's reading. Gilman, Sander L. New York: New York University Press. 1994. pp. 266–287. ISBN 0-8147-3051-5. OCLC 28114291.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Brier, Bob. "Akhenaten, The Heretic Pharaoh." Lecture 21 of Great Courses History of Ancient Egypt.
- For example, the inventory of the temple fragments was not completed until 1967 and its digital reconstruction is still ongoing. Winfield Smith, .Ray"The Akhenaten Temple Project" Expedition Magazine 10.1 (1967): n. pag. Expedition Magazine. Penn Museum, 1967 Web. 05 Jan 2020 <http://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/?p=1779> https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/the-akhenaten-temple-project/
- "Jahve" according to Freud's transliteration in Moses & Monotheism (see ref 1).
- Yerushalmi, Yosef (1991). Freud's Moses: Terminable and Interminable. Yale University Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 0-300-04921-8.
- "Psychoanalysis of Myth - Sigmund Freud - Moses and Monotheism". www.stenudd.com. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
- Campbell, Joseph (1965). The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. London: Secker & Warburg. pp. 125–127.
- Williams, Rowan (1983), "Freudian Psychology", in Alan Richardson; John Bowden (eds.), A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, London: SCM Press, p. 220, ISBN 0-334-02208-8
- Borch-Jacobsen, Mikkel; Shamdasani, Sonu (2012). The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 978-0-521-72978-9.
- Moses and Monotheism text at archive.org