The Unexamined Paradoxes of Freud’s “Moses and Monotheism”

April 9 2018

In Moses and Monotheism, his famous investigation of the origins of Judaism, Sigmund Freud contends that Moses was actually an Egyptian, who taught monotheism to the Jews who then murdered him and repressed the memory of this murder (although traces of the crime are preserved in the Bible and in the Jewish psyche). While much ink has been spilled in analyzing Freud’s work, few, according to Lawrence Kaplan, have noticed its striking internal contradictions; these, in Kaplan’s view, are the key to making sense of what Freud was up to:

Freud in Moses and Monotheism sets forth three exceptionally controversial historical claims: Moses was an Egyptian, the Israelites murdered him, and there were actually two Moseses, an Egyptian Moses and a Midianite Moses. And yet, although Freud never explicitly repudiates any of these claims, a close reading of his text shows that he silently drops all of them. Moses was an Egyptian: gone. The Israelites murdered Moses: gone. There were two Moseses: gone.

That Freud wrote Moses and Monotheism near the end of his life, after the Nazi rise to power and as he himself began to reread the Bible . . . and to rethink the nature of the Jewish psyche, is crucial for understanding Freud’s intellectual biography. . . . As we get further into Moses and Monotheism, it turns out that its real goal is to suggest a historical scenario that would explain the Jewish psyche. . . . More specifically, he wished to understand the emergence of what might seem to be the paradoxical, but in his eyes undeniable, combination of Jewish self-confidence and Jewish guilt. The repression of the memory of their savior’s murder served to account for Israelite guilt. And the fact that this savior, the Egyptian Moses, had chosen the Israelites helped Freud to account for the emergence of Jewish self-confidence. . . .

But, in Kaplan’s reading, Freud actually gives two contradictory accounts of the Exodus story:

[I]n Freud’s first account, the one everyone knows, it is the repressed memory of the murder of Moses, who becomes a father only when he is murdered, that is the source of Jewish guilt. However, in Freud’s second account, at the close of his book, it is the repressed hostility that the Jewish people felt toward [the live] Moses, who from the very beginning appeared as an “adored and feared” father in the eyes of his “dear children,” that serves as the source of their guilt.

In the first account it is the election of the “Semitic” Israelites by the Egyptian Moses that gives rise to their sense of self-confidence, while the repressed memory of Moses’ murder triggers their guilt. But in the second account it is the appearance of Moses, the father, together with his teachings about God the Father and the ambivalent feelings these trigger that, at one and the same time, elicit both Jewish self-confidence and Jewish guilt. This is, at least as psychoanalysis, a plausible claim, and it requires none of the historical pyrotechnics of Freud’s more famous story.

A deep and striking narrative irony, then, lies at the very heart of Moses and Monotheism. . . . [I]n the course of discussing “the problem of how the special character of the Jewish people arose,” Freud changes the book’s storyline radically, dropping the claims about Moses the Egyptian governor and his being murdered by the very people he liberated and replacing them with his new picture of Moses, the admired and dreaded “mighty prototype of a father” who, though he was rejected by his “dear children” and served as the object of their (unconscious) “murderous hatred,” was never literally murdered by them.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Moses, Sigmund Freud

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine