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Out of Egypt have I called the Father
on 15 March 2015
“Moses and Monotheism” is easily Sigmund Freud's strangest text…apart from all the others, LOL. It was written in installments over a longer period, and finally published as a single work in 1939. A curious fact that struck me when reading it is that the distance between Freud and Jung isn't as large as expected. Freud's theories also presuppose a kind of Lamarckian inheritance of psychic material, the idea that the psyche is an actual “energy”, and even a collective unconscious on both ethnic and species levels.
OK, and the difference between this and Jung is…?
Presumably that Freud viewed religion, including “his” Jewish religion, as a neurosis, while Jung viewed it as something positive (at least in the Neo-Gnostic version of Jung himself).
That being said, Freud's concrete speculations about Moses and monotheism are, to put it mildly, hard to believe. In Freud's scenario, there were actually two characters called “Moses”. The original Moses was an Egyptian priest and follower of the monotheistic sun cult of heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten. Freud points out that the name “Moses” sounds Egyptian (compare Ahmose, Tuthmosis, etc). After the death of Akhenaten, Moses converted the Israelite tribes living in Goshen to his sternly ethical monotheist religion, rebelled against the new “pagan” Pharaoh Horemheb, and led “his” people out of Egypt in the direction of Canaan. However, the Israelites were unused to the new demands imposed on them by the stern father-figure of Moses, and therefore killed him (!) In Midian, the Israelites met a new prophet, also called “Moses” in later traditions, who gave them an easier religion centered on the volcano deity Jahve, who was no different from the Baalim of the pagan peoples. However, the ideas of the original Moses gradually returned to the surface, in the form of the ethical-monotheistic preaching of the Prophets (Isaiah, etc). A completely new departure was made by Paul. His strange new claims about the Jews killing the Son of God, are really about the original murder of the quasi-divine father-figure Moses, symbolized by God the Father. Since salvation is attained through the blood of Christ, this means that the original father-murder has been “atoned”…or so the psyche imagines.
Freud's claims are easier to understand (although hardly easier to accept) if placed in context of his other ideas. Thus, Freud believed that every son simultaneously hates and fears his father, and secretly want to kill him (the Oedipus complex). What is true for the individual, is true for the entire human race (a version of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”). The most crucial event in human history was a kind of father murder, during which the subordinate male members of the primordial horde killed and cannibalized the alpha male. Later, the remorseful males attempt to expiate their sin by worshipping the dead father as a “god”, and symbolically eating his flesh and blood (compare the Christian eucharist). There are other similarities between the life-cycle of the individual and the history of the Jewish people. Thus, just like repressed material from early childhood might come back in adulthood after a prolonged period of “latency”, so the repressed ethical monotheism came back after a period of Jahvist-Baalist occultation. Presumably, Christianity is another resurfacing of repressed material, since the Christians “admit” their guilt in the primordial deicide/patricide.
What is less clear, frankly, is why we should fight such “neuroses” as ethical Jewish monotheism or Christianity, if they help us get in touch with our repressed better selves? As far as I understand, Freud was something of a “pessimist”, holding that humanity needs repression (of aggression, sexuality, etc) for civilization to be possible at all. This creates neuroses, but that's just tough. But why can't religion, if based on the “sun cult of Akhenaten” (which Freud seems to admire), also be a positive force, healing civilization from its discontents?
I can't help wondering what would have happened if Freud had reconciled himself with his own prodigal son, the fratricidal little “Aryan Christ” Jung…