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The ethnic community of the Jews had twice been dependent on a foreign influence. First, in ancient times, the master, whom they killed, adopted the revolutionary vision of a reformist pharaoh; this earlier foreign origin can be placed in the framework of a decisive emancipation, a positive development; it was rejected at the time of the murder. Yahweh was just one among many.

Psychology of religion

The Hebrews accepted a brutal and vindictive deity; they allowed themselves—or were forced—to adopt crude and shocking beliefs. We might assume that this time they lived with evil as the antidote to purification.


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This second initiation constituted another phase; it was the beginning of a later awakening that restored the triumphant figure of the monotheism they had previously rejected. The savior reappeared, and prevailed, when Yahweh was eliminated. Latency, the long period of forgetting that Freud considered an important factor, matured in this rebalancing.

Here was a counterweight. The Jews took possession of this uncompromising force, a reformed religion, which now bore no trace of the religion they had once abjured. Its denial was thus a necessary phase in the sequence of a freely rewritten epic. It was a new Sinai, and it was in this truly cathartic mood that they reached Canaan, the Promised Land. The impact of this phase was not limited to freeing a people from debased superstitions; it also transferred to them the logical and moral rigor that monotheism represented.

Freud on Interpretation: The Ancient Magical Egyptian and Jewish Traditions by Robert W. Rieber

So it was no longer a question of imposing one religion as superior to another. Religion had become universal, as its content had been rediscovered and re-interpreted. It no longer depended on belief, unless it confused belief with the reign of the mind. People go through all the phases of a common experience. The intellectual implantation of a truth took place in the past, if only for a short time, and was followed by a rejection that brought about a long period of alienation and repression.


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The migrant people had already traced its boundaries on the ground, and later by exceeding the limits of their entitlements; these limits were intellectual, but they could be transferred to the natural world. The old Moses had imposed it on the Hebrews. Under these circumstances, its meaning changed; for the Hebrews it was linked to the high point of the monotheism propagated by Akhenaten. A reminder of this legacy, the rite confirmed the foreigners as chosen people, endowed now with a distinctive and privileged status.

The universality of which they were the guardians transcended the geographic reality of Palestine.

The outcome, fixed and almost absolute, was based on a historical construction. The questions raised in reality found their answers there. In the logic of a scientist like Freud, the spiritual belongs to the realm of knowledge. In section 7, Freud takes stock of his study, going beyond its historical aspect. He accords the highest rank to knowledge of the power of tradition, and associates it with the influence of great men.

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The importance accorded to intellectual needs, illustrated by monotheism, comes next, and finally in contrast, the study of the ideas on which religions rely to exercise their power SE The first two parts appeared in Vienna in the review Imago ; the third, which returns to the same topic, adds comments, and completes the content, was written in London in ; the book was published in The surpassing of religion evolved in two stages: a product of history, it led to science, which spread without any let-up in the permanent struggle against the most violent—and, one has to fear, the most natural—opposition.

Freud died without knowing about concentration camps. He may have foreseen them; some find it useful to entertain the possibility. The Jews escaped from the god Yahweh; they escaped through an intellectual act in which emancipation was inscribed.

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It was the manifestation of a counter-faith. We cannot stop evil, it pervades our world; but neither can we stop science, which combats and analyzes evil. This counter-faith was not revealed; rather, it was a substitute for a revelation in this rewriting of religious history. It reformed a theology. The approach to reading texts in the service of history was modernized at the end of the nineteenth century; the new approach was based essentially on distinguishing among textual layers.

The subject matter was limited to documents that could be transferred into a historical framework. In the Homeric poems, as in the Bible, it is not the letter of the text itself that mattered; the content was supposed to reflect the history of a people. The process constituted an archaeology of literary creation: it entailed excavating the strata as one might do on a dig at an ancient site, and then fitting them all together. What was Freud doing on the scientific scene of his day?

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What was he doing in Moses and Monotheism? He shared the desire to use texts to uncover and reconstruct history; they provided supporting evidence and revealed some key indications. There was no room for a hermeneutics of the text itself in his work; there was no author. The text does not speak, does not express itself. It provides elements for a reconstitution.

There is no need to focus on the literal meaning, nor indeed on the genesis of narratives and their origin, nor on the chronological redistribution of episodes, which preoccupied the critical sciences of his day philology, psychoanalysis, history , which were themselves in a historicizing phase. The narrative that has been passed down to us conceals the underlying story, one that is plausible and closer to real life, which we must rediscover. These are two moments in history, one of which has been lost. In opposition to the text, Freud promotes the sober results of contemporary research.

Historical construction replaces textual analysis. It rests on hypotheses that lend themselves to discussion. History belongs to the people; by way of the Bible it provides the material for a new rational projection, one that psychoanalysis can only accept or confirm, or at least make plausible. This was the procedure with medieval epics, where it was agreed that they recalled events that had actually taken place, even though we are not familiar with them. We extrapolate them from the literary reorganization that transformed them with each new use.

The narrative we read is supposed to reveal tendencies, but with no knowledge of the facts transcribed, we have no way of understanding them SE The truth lies elsewhere. A twofold modernity was making its way onto the scene. Philology was accompanied by a certain anthropology and by psychology. The former, external to psychoanalysis, was essentially based on the work of the Cambridge school, represented by Jane Harrison, J. Frazer, and others. The other modernist basis is secondary in this book; it consists of proofs derived from clinical exploration.

In fact, the anthropological framework allowed Freud to project psychological knowledge, acquired from individuals and their neuroses, onto a universal collective, based on the study of ritual and beliefs. Freud speaks of analogy. In general, he relies on his imagination, and it brings him no more than a probability; he then succeeds in confirming that probability by interpreting the documentation. But imagination comes first. It is important to classify the readings according to these divergent interests.

However, Freud uses the earlier work above all as a methodological reference. The experiences of analysis in fact accompany the research into an unfamiliar domain; they support it without being confused with its practice. There is nothing new in the book that expands knowledge gained elsewhere from clinical study. A second trend focuses instead on the application of anthropological discoveries, an external dimension that Freud had included in his earlier research for Totem and Taboo. The historical construction is closely linked to that situation.

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A third orientation places the focus on Judaism; it considers that the Jewish question and the upsurge in anti-Semitism form the real content of the book. Some of these studies emphasize the religious aspect. Others derive more directly, and in my opinion quite rightly, from the situation in Europe during the s.

The relation to psychoanalysis in Moses and Monotheism is problematic. The rationale certainly relies on clinical experience, always by means of an analogical relation between the concepts of the masses and the individual, a relation that is hard to master, as Freud himself acknowledges. We might say that the whole construction of the book and the very course of its demonstrations proceed without psychoanalysis, or at least could do so in theory.

It is true that he refers above all to his most anthropological work, Totem and Taboo , which is in some ways the most speculative. In the new work, he is dealing with a timely topic that is separate; it offers no new knowledge, no confirmation in the area of his clinical research. Psychoanalysis is put in parentheses, so to speak. Freud speaks in his own name in a relationship that history has imposed on him, still in keeping with his work but as an addition. Grubrich-Simitis takes no account of the political situation at the time.

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Thirdly, she suggests that the book is basically a self-analysis, similar to the one in The Interpretation of Dreams. However, that driving force accounts for the lack of completion. All the arguments in the book are formulated intermittently and repeatedly, revealing even in their haste a strong concern for precision.

They touch on Judaism, and particularly on anti-Semitism.