07 August 2011

Yerushalmi on Freud on Moses

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, a former professor of Jewish History at Columbia, in NYC, passed away in 2009.  Back in 1993, though,  he wrote FREUD'S MOSES, a discussion of Sigmund Freud's theory on the buried (historically and psychoanalytically buried) origins of monotheism. 

In one brief passage in that book, he states Freud's theory in a more straightforward manner than Freud ever managed to.  I'll reproduce that here. 

"Monotheism is not of Jewish origin but an Egyptian discovery.  The pharaoh Amenhotep IV established it as his state religion in the form of an exclusive worship of the sun-power, or Aton, thereafter calling himself Ikhnaton.  The Aton religion ... was characterized by the exclusive belief in one God, the rejection of anthropomorphism, magic, and sorcery, and the absolute denial of an afterlife.  Upon Ikhnaton's death, however, his great heresy was rapidly undone, and the Egyptians reverted to their old gods.  Moses was not a Hebrew but an Egyptian priest or noble, and a fervent monotheist.  In order to save the Aton religion from extinction he placed himself at the head of an oppressed Semitic tribe living in Egypt, brought them forth from bondage, and created a new nation.  He gave them an even more spiritualized, imageless form of monotheistic religion and, in order to set them apart, introduced the Egyptian custom of circumcision.  But the crude mass of former slaves could not bear the severe demands of the new faith.  In a mob revolt, Moses was killed and the memory of the murder repressed.  The Israelites went on to form an alliance of compromise with kindred Semitic tribes in Midian whose fierce volcanic deity, named Yahweh, now became their national God.  As a result, the God of Moses was fused with Yahweh and the deeds of Moses ascribed to a Midianite priest also called Moses.  However, over a period of centuries the submerged tradition of the true faith and its founder gathered  sufficient force to reassert itself and emerge victorious.  Yahweh was henceforth endowed with the universal and spiritual qualities of Moses' god, though the memory of Moses' murder remained repressed, reemerging only in a very disguised form with the rise of Christianity."

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.