Moses and Monotheism, 1939, by Sigmund Freud
Freud was quite interested in Jewish history. At his time, persecution and hatred for the Jewish people was quite common. Being a pioneer in the field of psychoanalysis, he set out to investigate the origins of the Jewish people. Among his most astonishing claims was that Moses was not of Jewish. For one, the name Moses is not of Jewish origin and can be traced back to ancient Egyptians. The book is an attempt to apply psychoanalysis to the field of history. An extension on his earlier works such as Totem and Taboo. In keeping with his suggestion about the primal father, Freud argues that a small band of individuals, which Moses led out of Egypt during a time of great civil war, conspired against him and eventually killed him.
In his book, Freud argues that the tribe of Israel from this original sin of the murder of the tribes founding father. However, when his followers murdered Moses, they were overcome by a deep sense of remorse and guilt. Later on, as this small band of individuals were wondering through the desserts, they came upon monotheistic tribe. They combined with this tribe but their collective memory of Moses never died. Consequently, the Jewish people invented the coming of a Messiah. According to Freud, the concept of a Messiah was nothing more than a desire for reconnecting with their ancient father figure "Moses". Freud argues that this feeling of overwhelming shame has been passed down in the Jew's racial memory for generations and has driven him to develop a strong conviction for religion.
To explain the Jewish story of the adoption of Moses, Freud draws on the concept of family romance. Freud argues that individuals have a primal desire to race their bloodline back to royalty. This is because it makes them feel good about themselves. According to Freud, Moses' real family was the royal family of Egypt. The band of individuals who Moses escaped with from Egypt created the story of the adoption of Moses. In addition, they also invented Moses' tribe of Levi. These fanciful tales were because of their deep desire to develop a deep connection with Moses' who they looked up to with ambivalence.
In the second section of the book, Freud set out to explain how the Jewish religion was developed. In his book, Freud explains that the Egyptian god Aton was in fact the original god of Moses. However, the god Aton was not wholly accepted by the polytheistic priests of ancient Egypt who had a deep connection to the people. The god Aton was created during the reign of the pharaoh named Akhenaton. His dream of creating a monotheistic god however crushed to the ground when he died. The polytheistic priests of the Amon order immediately reestablished themselves and the god Aton was lost to history. However, some in the royal family, which Moses came rom were not pleased with this. They attempted a rebellion but were ultimately defeated and hence they fled to the desert. Freud points to the practice of circumcising young children in Jewish culture, very little mention of life after death and the strict adherence to a single god as similarities between Jewish religion and that of Aton worshippers. After is attempts at power were thwarted by the priests, Moses became frustrated and led his band of loyal followers out in the desert where they could practice their religion in peace. However, it is important to note that this was a conjecture created by Freud and has no basis in real evidence.
Freud farther analyzes Jewish folklore to find truth for his conjecture. He had the advantage of having first-hand experience seeing as he was born Jewish. Freud concludes that this band of royal followers was first adherent to the rules of Moses' religion. However, at some time their beliefs from their polytheistic past came into conflict with the religion of Moses. Consequently, when Moses died, most of his religion was abandoned. They returned to their polytheistic and almost completely forgot about Moses and Aton. However, in their nomadic lifestyle, they came upon a people who had also escaped the civil unrest that had gripped ancient Egypt. However, this people practiced the worship of a mountain god who they called Yahweh. The newfound god was very demanding of the people of Israel in terms of ritual sacrifice. The people began to follow this god and even built places of worship, which they named temples in honor of Him. However, not all the religious practices of Moses' all-loving, all-powerful god were lost. For instance, the practice of circumcising young children was retained. They managed to spread this practice to their adopted tribe and adopted their host's name for god. Over time, the suppressed memory of Moses due to shame began to reemerge. In order to avoid dealing with the fact of the murder of their primal father, the Jewish people invented stories about Moses mysterious disappearance. Over time, the people integrated the stories of Moses to the newfound god Yahweh. As time progressed, combined with the psychology of family romance, Jews magnified the volcano into an all-powerful god and of course, they placed themselves at the center of his adoration.
Later in his work, Freud claims that the story of Jesus was another fanciful invention of the Jews. In his work, he claims that the nailing of Jesus to the cross was a way for humanity and Jews to try to deal with this sense of guilt. This guilt rose from the murder of Moses. Freud claims the original sin was actually the murder of the primal father. Freud further draws on his earlier work claiming that the Holy Communion was the totem feast described in his earlier work Totem and Taboo'.
Freud seems to have based most of his work on the premise of Judeo-Christian religion. However, there are many other religions in the world, which do not conform to Freud's theories. Nevertheless, Freud's work does provide for an interesting read. His work, especially concerning human sexuality, revenge and deep-seated guilt does tend to resonate with human beings, even if just at a basic level. However, his work on monotheism has generated little interest from the world's leading scholars. Perhaps there is a need to investigate Freud's work if humanity ever hopes to understand itself and religion; it has been the source of so much conflict and bloodletting the world over.