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The Moses Complex in Modern Jewish Literature.

THE PUBLICATION OF JAN ASSMANN'S MOSES THE EGYPTIAN (1997) has provided the grounds for a revitalization of the study of images of Moses in subsequent culture and, more specifically, the images of Moses in Modern Jewish Literature. (1) The book's subtitle, The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism, encapsulates Assmann's two major concerns: first, how the memory of Egypt has affected western monotheism and much of western culture; second, the theoretical relationship between history and memory, or, more precisely, the memory of history, formulated by Assmann in a coinage of his own: Mnemohistory. Energizing his investigation is another, more latent topic: the history of antisemitism which Assmann, a German reared in post-Nazi Germany, struggles to understand.

As an Egyptologist, Assmann regards the historical memory of Moses, for which we have no (extra-Biblical) evidence, as a reflex of the revolutionary Amarna period and more specifically, the seminal but later suppressed figure of Akhenaten. He posits as "the Mosaic distinction" the eradication of pagan religion by the monotheistic impulse which regards idolatry as a form of madness, the past that must be rejected. In the map of memory, a legacy of the Bible to western civilization, Israel and Egypt are irreconcilable enemies. Only with Renaissance interest in Hermeticism, and subsequent scholarly developments of the eighteenth century crowned by post-Napoleonic philological investigations by Champollion and others, was the historical Egypt reconstructed. The history of Egypt is thus counterpoised to the Biblical memory of Egypt. Assmann argues that the discovery of historical Egyptian truths, i.e., the historical reality of ancient Egypt, deconstructs "the Mosaic distinction." In applying what he calls Mnemohi story, he analyzes the mythical elements in tradition and discovers their hidden agenda. For him, Moses the Egyptian rather than Moses the Hebrew, is the mediating figure of positive importance for humankind.

Assmann's argument is, of course, far more complicated than this, but what I have presented in brief should suffice as the background to our meditations on the image of Moses presented by several distinctive and seminal figures in modem Jewish history. Out of a wide array of possible imaginings of Moses, I have picked four, clustered in two pairs of close contemporaries. All are totally different one from the other and in ensemble, present the wide arc of varieties of Jewish attitudes and ideologies in the modern period. I use the image of Moses as a touchstone to assess the perspectives and agenda of the writers who imagine Moses. The career of Moses is inextricably bound to two of the seminal memory events in Jewish history: the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Sinai; one cannot conceive of Jewish history as received and taught without them. The writers who interest me sense this and, in one way or another, identify with Moses: they see themselves as the Moses of their generation. This self-imagining as Moses I call "the Moses Complex," and though this term echoes Freud, I do not regard the Moses complex as an inhibiting yet necessary stage in the development of humanity like the Oedipus complex, but rather as an incentive for certain individuals to imagine their place in the history of the Jewish people.

The first pair of writers are two close contemporaries at the end of the eighteenth century, both living on the threshold of modernity, but each almost unknown outside the Jewish world even though they exerted a powerful influence on subsequent generations, each in his own way. They are, first, the leading maskil (enlightener) Naftali Hertz Wessely (1725-1805) who lived in the northern trading cities: Hamburg, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Berlin and, second, the Hasidic mystic, Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1810), who spent most of his days, except for a journey to Palestine in 1798-99, in relative small market towns in the Ukraine. The second pair are two imposing personalities both born in the same year, 1856: the founder of cultural Zionism, Asher Ginzburg (Ahad HaAm) (1856-1921) and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1940). The analysis of the images of Moses that obsessed these four figures produces a rich spectrum of perspectives on Jewish cultural life over the past two centuries. I would argu e, finally, that one cannot truly understand the complexity of ideological positions in contemporary Israel without a consideration of the tendencies reflected in these four writers.

Naftali Hertz Wessely and Moses

Wessely, though punctiliously pious and observant in all respects, a man who devoted most of his intellectual efforts to Biblical exegesis in one form or another, became one of the most influential representatives of enlightenment in the Jewish world. Though personally close to Moses Mendelssohn during the first ten years of his long residence in Berlin (1774-1804), and though he wrote the third volume of Mendelssohn's modern commentary, the Bi'ur, Wessely was always very hesitant about full participation in the burgeoning drive to Enlightenment as it found expression in the periodical HaMeassef. (2) And yet, despite his basic conservatism, he earned a reputation as a pioneer in the creation of modern Hebrew literature and Jewish education because of several of his publications, primarily the six-volume epic poem on the life of Moses, entitled Shire Tiferet (Songs of Glory) (1789-1802). Before turning to his poem on Moses, it is important to characterize the overall tendency of several of his other publicatio ns since they fill out a comprehensive picture of his inherent literary inclinations, for, as we shall see, Wessely has a peculiarly hybrid intellect; he was both cautiously conservative, yet boldly innovative at the same time.

Wessely was intrigued by the apocryphal book, The Wisdom of Solomon, which he read in Luther's translation and ultimately translated into an elegant Biblicized style thus setting the model for subsequent translations of other Apocryphal books which were mostly unknown to the Jewish reading public. Since the days of Azariah de Rossi in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, no Jewish author had exhibited any interest in the Apocrypha. Both in his translation and in his other exegetical work, he employed philological techniques unusual for Jewish scholars: he attempted to derive the literal meaning of the texts from the semantics of the individual words. While this seems to be a minor advance, the employment of grammatical analysis of semantics was no less innovative in his world than was the interest in the Apocrypha. Wessely appeared as a threatening radical when he published the article, Divre Shalom ve'Emet (Words of Peace and Truth) (1782) welcoming the Tolerantz Patent promulgated that year b y Josef II of Austria granting limited civil rights to Jews. In espousing the ideas that Jews should establish modern schools in which German and general studies such as history, geography, mathematics, and foreign languages would be taught; that the curriculum should be rationalized; and that text studies be based on an accurate knowledge of grammar and lexicography, Wessely incurred the wrath of most of the leading Rabbinic authorities of the period. Only the rabbis of Trieste, Gorizia, Ferara, and Venezia supported him, and only in Trieste was a school established based on these pedagogic principles. We have no evidence that Wessely read contemporary German works of hermeneutics (one thinks of the immediate predecessors to Schleiermacher), but one cannot escape the fact that he was groping his way towards a linguistically based hermeneutic.

Wessely's epic poem on Moses, Shire Tiferet, shares the hybridity of his above-mentioned publications. (3) At first, the narration of the Moses narrative in poetic form does not seem to break new ideological ground. Moses is still the great hero of the Exodus and Sinai; Pharaoh is still portrayed as the despicable enemy, set on persecuting the Jews; one still sees an Egypt of the Hebrew Bible without any of the new historical knowledge already available in Germany at that period. (4) And yet, there is much new here, both in the verse narration and in the specific characterization of Moses.

Wessely's literary model seems to have been Klopstock's poetic life of Jesus, "Der Messias" (1748-1773). He might also have been inspired by Herder's Geist der Ebraeischen Poiesie (1782/83), an investigation of the aesthetics of Biblical poetry which deals not only with linguistic and formal matters, but also expresses great admiration for the prophets and Moses, in particular. Influenced, perhaps by Klopstock, Herder wonders "that among so many heroic poems in our language on subjects of Hebrew history, we have yet none in which Moses is the hero." Much like Klopstock's "Der Messias," Wessely's Shire Tiferet (called in its German subtitle: "Die Mosiade") is a lengthy poem tedious to the modern reader. And yet, the poem was extremely influential among Hebrew readers and poets throughout much of the nineteenth century and is not devoid of redeeming poetic features. The pure alexandrines flow easily and allow for easy reading as do the rhymes. The Hebrew, primarily Biblical, is not gnarled by the exigencies of Arabic metrics as was much of Hebrew poetry before Wessely's epic. The narrative of Moses' career as God's leader of the People of Israel is told consecutively in poetry, perhaps for the first time. The original Biblical narrative, after all, is interrupted by all sorts of digressions: the laws and descriptions of the tabernacle in Exodus; the sacrificial cultic laws in Leviticus; lengthy speeches in Deuteronomy and parts of Numbers. The domination of narrative is not a minor artistic step forward. There are dramatic scenes that are fairly well handled: the repeated confrontations with Pharaoh; the crossing of the Red Sea (over ten pages in Canto 13); the revelation on Sinai (in Canto 18) where even the individual Ten Commandments are rendered in poetic strophes which often interpret them by adding post-biblical rabbinic materials. Even here, Wessely's artistry is impressive. He expands the two word Hebrew Sixth Commandment, "Lo tirtzah" ("You Shall not Murder"), to a fourteen-line strophe beginning with:

"Observe: just as your image is the image of God, So the image of God is your neighbor's image..." Hence, You shall not murder. (translation by the author)

The personage of Moses is, to be sure, Wessely's most important creation: it is a fusion of the traditional Jewish Moses with the reasonableness of Nathan from Lessing's play "Nathan der Weise" produced in 1779, just about the time when Wessely began work on his epic. He is portrayed as the reliable intermediary between God and his people, firm in his opposition to Pharaoh and all other "sinners," but striking in his rationality. In general, the poem consistently identifies Torah, God's law for which Moses is the steward and interpreter, with wisdom, Hokhmah, as it is in the Apocryphal" Wisdom of Solomon," a book so central in Wessely's development. Moses is thus really a projection of Wessely's version of the desired enlightened Jew; he both instructs his people in the ways of God's law, identified as we have said, with wisdom, and leads them in their perilous way out of Egypt through the trials of the desert to a new life based on God's renewed covenant well understood and fully agreed to by the people.

Since the figure of Moses predicates the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai, one must ask: What does this Exodus represent, and what is the nature of this Revelation? In the case of Wessely, the Exodus is not from any specific regime of bondage or from the exile looking forward to a return to Eretz Yisrael, the ancestral homeland. The Egyptians are still portrayed as cruel persecutors and Moses does deliver his people from this bondage, but there is little talk of going to a promised Land. The Revelation is not a new revelation, but rather a reinforcement of traditional norms and beliefs. Wessely's Moses repeatedly instructs his people in the greatness of God, his love for his people, the gift of the Torah always rendered in terms of wisdom. By the time one reaches the aftermath of the Revelation at Sinai in Canto 18, the Israelites are fully imbued with this renewed knowledge of God and his Torah and eagerly assent to a renewal of the Covenant. Wessely's Moses is thus the rational instructor who leads his pe ople into a world of rational illumination.. The didacticism of the poem, often objected to by its later critics, is, nonetheless, integral to the portrayal of its hero, Moses.

The Moses of Nahman of Bratzlav

Turning from Wessely to Nahman of Bratzlav, we not only move a thousand miles to the east, to the Ukraine, but from the world of Enlightenment Berlin to Hasidic, mystical Podolia. While many Jews in such trading centers as Berlin, Hamburg, and Amsterdam sought accommodation with western culture, in Eastern Europe where most European Jews lived, the new movement, Hasidism, involved an intensification of piety inspired by charismatic leaders, the most famous of which was Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760). By the 1820S the two camps, the maskilim (Enlighteners) and the Hasidim were bitter enemies. The maskilim considered Hasidim as the epitome of medieval obscurantism; the Hasidim considered the Maskilim as the vanguard of apostasy and blasphemy. If the 1782 Edict of Toleration of Josef II was a major event for a Berlin Jew like Wessely, however pious he might have been, it was either ignored or feared by the followers of the Besht (Baal Shem Toy) who were numerous by the end of the eigh teenth century. For them, the essence of life was the performance of religious commandments infused with a new sense of devotion inspired by the dissemination of Kabbalistic ideas among the more educated pietists of the Ukraine and Eastern Galicia.

Prominent among the third generation of Hasidic masters, called Rebbes or Zaddikim, was Nahman of Bratzlav (1772-1810), a grandson of the Besht himself. (5) While Nahman never succeeded in attracting a large following during his life, after his death his disciples collected and disseminated his tales, his sermons, and the stories about him preserved in both Hebrew and Yiddish, a rich and varied literature which became, as it were, a surrogate for the presence of the charismatic leader himself. This intriguing, often fantastic literature has fascinated both pious Hasidim and secular writers for many generations, and they have been reprinted and translated repeatedly. For in these tales and sermons, we find the most intimate concerns of one of the most conflicted pious men of all times.

Following the Hasidic tradition which was based, in turn, in Kabbalistic renderings of rabbinic midrashim and exegesis, the figure of Moses looms large in the Bratzlav books. (6) This is not the Moses of Wessely, the teacher who leads his people out of the darkness of Egyptian bondage to a life of rational light within the observance of the Torah. This is Moses, the prophet, the mystic, the embodiment of the redemptive urges of all Jews. In fact, this Moses is said to embrace within his spiritual essence all the souls of all Jews. This is the Moses who has had intimate encounters with God, the Moses of Exodus 33:20 if., who comes as close as any human being could to the presence of God. It is precisely this ability to draw close to God, to unite with his holy spirit, that infuses the image of Moses with numinous energy.

Nahum of Bratzlav not only revered this Moses, but actually insisted that he was an incarnation, as it were, of Moses. While all other Zaddikim, his contemporaries, might be pious masters, he was the Zaddik of the Generation, the Zaddik "in the aspect (or incarnation) of Moses." And when he listed the great spiritual leaders of the Jewish people he produced the following dazzling dynasty: Moses; R. Shimeon b. Yohai (the putative author of the Zohar); Solomon Luria, the ARI, the towering mentor of Safedic Kabbalah; the Baal Shem Toy, the so-called founder of Hasidism; and, finally, R. Nahman of Bratzlav himself. These seemingly extravagant claims were intensified after 1805-06, a period of feverish messianic activity during which Nahman apparently believed that he was selected to be the Messiah. It was only logical after all, that the person who embodied the soul of Moses who, in turn, embodied all souls in his redemptive being, should imagine that he was, indeed, the Messiah. And though events Nahman anticipa ted never took place and he more or less abandoned his messianic dreams, the aura remained with his disciples and continues down the generations until today. The Bratzlav Hasidim in the thousands make an annual pilgrimage to the grave of their Zaddik in Uman in the Ukraine since they believe that Messianic stirrings emanate from that grave: the bones of Nahman, after all, are, in a sense, the bones of Moses.

While the two concepts of Moses, that of Wessely and that of Nahman of Bratzlav suggest positions that are unbridgeable, one actually does find common ground in the identification of the writer with the figure of Moses which entails a sense of personal mission, some sort of redemptive act for the people of Israel. After all, Jewish history which has spawned messiahs can also spawn Moseses.

Ahad HaAm

A more modem self-styled Moses we find in the founder of cultural Zionism, Asher Ginzberg, better known by his pen name "Ahad HaAm" (1856-1927). (7) Reared in a Hasidic family in the Ukraine, Ahad HaAm became a maskil in his adolescence, as did many of his contemporaries, but still maintained, albeit in secularized form, the unique sense of self and his mission to save his people. This acute sense of purpose is conveyed in essay after essay beginning with his first publication in Odessa in 1889. By this period, following the pogroms of 1881-82, much of East European Jewry had become politically active since they realized that the life of piety and prayer was not going to solve the problems of their dire political and economic existence in the Tsarist Empire. Among the options suggested was a rudimentary type of Zionism calling for some sort of return to the ancestral homeland of the Jews. Ginzberg joined the pre-Herzlean Zionist movement known as Hibbat Zion established in Odessa in 1882 but soon became dissa tisfied with both its leadership and its vague goals. He joined a semi-secretive society of Jewish intellectuals called Bnei Moshe (The Sons of Moses) founded on 7 Adar, 1889, the birthday or jahrzeit of Moses according to Jewish tradition. He became very active in these circles and many of his early essays grew out of the intense discussions held there. In his essays he argued that the Jewish people in their present state of spiritual and moral decline was incapable of concerted political action, particularly a planned migration to Palestine, and that it needed years of spiritual renewal. Note the analogy between the need of the Israelites to spend forty years in the desert under Moses' leadership before they could enter the promised land and Ahad HaAm's argument that a long period of spiritual rejuvenation was necessary for the modem secular Zionist. As for leadership of so momentous an enterprise, the reader could easily deduce that the only proper leader was Asher Ginzberg himself. If the people needed a modern Moses to take them out of their slavery and exile, he was that Moses.

Ahad HaAm (Asher Ginzberg), of course, would never outwardly claim the Moses mantle. Though aspiring to the position of the charismatic Hasidic rebbe, transformed, to be sure to the secular world, he was never suited for such a role: he was retiring even reclusive, though quietly ambitious and cunning. When for instance, he published in 1892 one of his famous essays "Priest and Prophet," using the rather conventional dichotomy between these institutional types, it is clear that he saw himself as the prophet, not the public functionary, but the chosen spokesman of the eternal truth, and therefore scorned for his chosenness. When Theodore Herzl appeared on the scene in 1896-97 with his dynamic political Zionism, Ahad HaAm, naturally rejected him since, he claimed, the community was not yet prepared for such bold political action; it needed years of rejuvenation. To be sure, behind the objective critique lurked deep resentment of this usurpation of leadership. There could be only one leader of the new Exodus, an d that had to be Asher Ginzberg, even though he was really incapable of the political organization necessary for the task.

The clearest portrayal of his self-image as Moses is to be found in his 1904 essay, "Moshe" ("Moses") which elicited sharp reactions when it appeared. Some considered it blasphemous; others saw it as an act of hubris, a not too well concealed identification with the Biblical figure. In this essay, he depicts the biography of Moses of memory (cf. Assmann): how Moses appears in the Bible and exegetical literature. He stresses Moses' prophetic gift and his amazing leadership qualities. A prophet, he is the relentless advocate of the absolute truth and unflinching righteousness. He demonstrated his passionate support of justice among the gentiles in his early years in Midian, but returns to bring deliverance to his own people in their Egyptian bondage. Moses, however, is deeply disappointed in his people who are forever fickle, and in the compromising leadership of his brother Aaron. He is appalled by the people's dejection at the report brought back by the spies sent out to scout out the Holy Land. He realizes t hat this people must die in the wilderness since they are spiritually unprepared for the effort necessary to enter Canaan. The reference to Ahad HaAm's own contemporaries is transparent. As for Moses himself, he, too, cannot enter the promised Land since, according to Ahad HaAm, he would have to administer a settled society where compromises of daily life would be necessary. Moses, the prophet, could not live a life of compromise.

The essay is a self-portrait within a specific historical context. Ginzberg (Ahad HaAm) clearly realized that he had been supplanted as a potential leader of the Jewish people by such figures as Herzl, Nordau, Ussishkin, and Weizmann. In depicting the noble and tragic features of the Biblical Moses, he was both criticizing his opponents and claiming that he, like Moses, was doomed not to enter the Promised Land because both of them were unable to compromise their lofty ideals. By moving his self-portrait to the cosmic plane of Biblical history in a type of political midrash, he revealed that he thought the stakes were of historical import, and that he, indeed, was the proper Moses for the modern period.

Freud and Moses

When we move from the realm of Jewish political activism in Ahad HaAm, to the universalizing world of science and psychiatry in Sigmund Freud, we might imagine that for Freud the image of Moses assumes less importance than it did for Wessely, Nahman of Bratzlav, or Ahad HaAm, all deeply involved in specifically Jewish concerns. Freud, after all, was, as he called himself, "a Godless Jew," and was not actively involved in Jewish social or political life. And yet, recent research has convinced us of two salient facts: first, Freud's Jewish background was far richer than previous research, or Freud himself, would admit; second, Freud's entire career was marked by the antisemitism of Vienna. (8) He was painfully conscious that his academic advancement was retarded because he was a Jew and that he had to struggle throughout his life against the notion that psychoanalysis was a "Jewish science" that might be derogated and discarded as such. Boyarin, furthermore, argues that several key passages in Freud's writings can be properly understood only as latent defenses against prevalent notions that Jews are effeminate and cowardly, hence his attempt to imagine himself as a manly Protestant type, to discover "a manliness at the origins of his Jewishness, Moses, and the Bible" (257). In the past few decades, as Freudian psychoanalysis has been widely discredited, his essays have become a type of modern scripture attracting numerous interpretations, and Freud, himself, looms as a paradigm of the modern Jew with all his complexities.

These factors animated such passages as "My Son, the Myops" in The Interpretation of Dreams (S.E., vol.4, 194), but I concentrate now only on the two obvious meditations on the Moses theme: "The Moses of Michelangelo," completed on January 1, 1914 though based on his 1912 visit to Rome, and Moses and Monotheism, written from 1934 on, and published in 1938-39, in reaction to the rise of Nazism. Both these works have spawned many interpretations and I can only here sketch the issues involved.

Freud's interpretation of Michelangelo's Moses bears the signs of both his struggle with his powerful reaction to the statue in 1912, and his attempt to make sense of it. (9) His first reaction was that the seemingly disdainful angry glance of Moses was directed at the idol-worshipping mob, including the spectator, Sigmund Freud. Further study persuaded him that Michelangelo had reinterpreted the original Biblical scene of the Golden Calf, and the Moses we see is not the furious Old Testament prophet, but a new Moses, shaped by Renaissance ideas of civilization, i.e., the containment of anger and the aspiration to the "highest intellectual achievement,"--a Moses fit to be placed on the tomb of Julius the II. And yet, Freud himself concludes his analysis with an expression of his doubts about his own interpretation: "Perhaps he (Michelangelo) has not completely succeeded in his statue of Moses, if his design was to trace the passage of a violent gust of passion in the signs left by the ensuing calm."

Freud never reveals why he was so overwhelmed by the statue and his silence is revelatory. There are two possible reasons for his fear of the disdainful, angry look on Moses' face. First, Moses might be scolding him for abandoning the faith of his father and worshipping the idols of European culture symbolized by Rome, the Church, and the artistry of Michelangelo. The visit to Rome he describes with such terror took place, we should remember in 1912, the year of the publication of Totem and Taboo; the primal parricidic scene and the guilt it generates certainly explain this terror. Second, in Moses' anger he might see his own anger at Carl Gustav Jung, who had recently betrayed his trust in him and left Freud's psychoanalytic circle. This anger might have tempted him to break the Tablets of the Law, here the basic principles of psychoanalytic theory. He interpreted Michelangelo's rendition as a Christian or Renaissance reinterpretation of Moses: the containment of anger was induced by the realization that ins cribed in the Tablets was a precious new revelation which he, alone, was capable of bringing to humanity. The essay moving from savage anger to containment of fury is Freud's working out of his complex anxieties of the period. That Moses could be at the same time both a representative of his father and a projection of himself at the same time should not surprise us; overdetermination is one of the insights gained in Freud's psychoanalytic theory.

The fury and its containment is central not only in Freud's analytic theory, but in the conventional descriptions of the differences between Judaism and Christianity. The God of the Hebrew Bible represents savage fury, while the God of the New Testament, contained passion and mercy. Moses, who is the lawgiver, hence the representative of normative Torah Judaism is the central figure in the schism between Judaism and Christianity, a point certainly not lost on Freud while gazing upon the statue of Moses prepared by Michelangelo, one of Freud's most admired artists, for the tomb of Julius II, one of the most forceful Popes of the Renaissance.

The use of the Moses figure to work out profound and complex psychological problems is even more extensively deployed in Moses and Monotheism (Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion, 1934-39). The book purports to be--but is not--an extensive scientific research into the figure of Moses as the founder of the Jewish religion and, reflecting the anxieties of the times, an exploration of the roots of antisemitism. While based on recent biblical scholarship (Meyer, Sellin) the book, originally conceived as a novel to parallel, perhaps, Thomas Mann's Joseph stories, would not have existed without the energizing ideas of Freud's Totem and Taboo (1912): the primal murder of the domineering father, the repression of the memory of this murder, guilt and the return of the repressed. Moses, in Freud's "family novel" was an Egyptian prince (v. Assmann) who adopted Atenism, the revolutionary monotheistic religion introduced by Ikhnaton. Upon the latter's death and the return of paganism to Egypt, Moses chose to i mpose his new religion upon the Hebrews whom he then led out of Egypt. Since, however, the rules of his religion were harsh and demanding, the Hebrews killed him. Generations later, the Hebrews left Egypt and found in Midian, near Horeb, another leader named Moses, a priest of the fierce volcano God called Adonai.

The murder of Moses, following the pattern described in Totem and Taboo, looks both backward and forward: backwards to the original primal murder of the father; forward to the development of Judaism which owes its power to sustain its high ethical posture throughout history precisely to the return of the repressed memory of the murder in subtle, often latent forms, with all the attendant guilt. Freud's ingenious interpretation of the Moses narrative has no basis in history, but it is proferred to present Moses as the father of the Jewish nation and to explain the high ethical aspirations which elicit the eternal enmity of the Gentiles, the hatred called antisemitism. Yerushalmi finds in this intricate, essentially ahistorical construction of Freud, an attempt to define and assert his Jewishness, a psychological, inherited character of the modern, non-religious Jew.

If we follow the method we have employed in analyzing the Michelangelo article, by identifying Moses as either Freud's father or his self-image, we arrive at a revealing conclusion. First, since Moses does represent the authority of traditional Judaism, i.e., the Torah, he is again to be identified with Freud's father. By arguing that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman and the religion he espoused was really borrowed from Atenism, Freud totally undermines the authority of the religion as a familial, tribal, or national phenomenon. Following Boyarin, we would say it is originally non-Jewish, hence masculine and virile. Second, if Moses is indeed a projection of Freud's self-image as the founder of the new religion, psychoanalysis, he should not be a Hebrew, but rather an Egyptian so that one could never claim that psychoanalysis was a "Jewish Science." The founder of this new religion, Moses, should, indeed, be murdered by the Hebrews since he demanded of them higher ethical standards than they could ever bear. Th e transference of the prevalent harsh criticism of psychoanalysis-including the burning of Freud's books in Germany in the early days of Nazism--from the Gentiles to the jews themselves, is a convenient defense mechanism: note that in Freud's historical analysis, it is the Jews, not the Gentiles, who murdered Moses.

Freud's Moses and Monotheism defies clear explication since it is fragmentary and exhibits the tense intellectual effort invested in solving difficult personal problems. As Boyarin argues-and Yerushalmi would agree-"[it] should be absolutely clear and obvious... that Freud is concerned not at all with Moses of the Bible, but with the situation of Jews in his own time" (257). Part of the overwhelming complexity of the book might be further clarified if we return to Ian Assmann's argument that historical Egyptology was cliametrically opposed to the memory of Moses first found in the Bible and later impressed upon Western Civilization until the early modem period. Unlike Ahad HaAm who seems to be blissfully unaware of the problematics introduced by the scholarly discovery of the historical Egypt (in all fairness it must be said that much of the information Freud used came from James Breasted, Robertson Smith, and Sellin, all published a bit later than Ahad HaAm's "Moshe"), Freud, his contemporary, is fully aware of these complications and actually exploits them to liberate himself from the tradition he had inherited from his father and childhood teachers. Using this information, Freud then created a new Moses tradition in which he, Sigmund Freud, a "psychological" rather than a religious Jew, subtly figures as the leader of a new, lofty spiritual force, psychoanalysis, that does away with all sorts of pernicious illusions--the modern equivalent of idolatry. Ironically, in a sense, however, Freud restores "the Moses distinction" (Assmann's term) which he seemingly seeks to eliminate in his book, but then assumes the mantle of Moses himself. In doing so, Freud follows--more than he could ever imagine--the tradition of Jewish writers like those discussed above: Wessely, Bratzlav, Ahad HaAm, in imagining himself, consciously or unconsciously, as some form of incarnation of Moses. Freud, too, could not escape "the Moses complex."


(1.) Jan Assmann. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).

(2.) For a recent study of Wessely's ambivalent ideological position see Edward Breuer, "Naphtali Herz Wessely and the Cultural Dislocations of an Eighteenth-Century Maskil," in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, edited by Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001), pp. 27-47.

(3.) The edition of Shire Tiferet I have used is the six-volume 1811 Prague edition. For the history of publication and other matters about Wessely see Yosef Klausner, Historiya she hasifrurt ha'ivrit hahadashah (Jerusalem: Hotsa'at Sefarim Ahi'asaf, 1952) Vol. I, pp. 103-150.

(4.) Much of this information was, to be sure, restricted to scholars such as Reinhold and to the secretive Masonic Lodges; it is highly unlikely that Wessely ever came across Schiller's essay, "Die Sendung Moses" ("The Legation of Moses," 1790) which deals with many of the ideas spawned by an increased awareness of the historical Egypt.

(5.) For a detailed, authoritative biography of Nahman of Bratzlav see Arthur Green, Tormented Master: A life of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (University: University of Alabama Press, 1979).

(6.) The classical Bratzlav passage on Moses is found in Sefer Likkute Muharan (Benei Brak, 1965), pp. 156-159, the homily "Bo el Par'oh."

(7.) For a comprehensive treatment of Ahah Ha'am see Steven J. Zipperstein, Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha'am and the Origins of Zionism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

(8.) Marthe Robert, From Oedipus to Moses: Freud's Jewish Identity (New York: Anchor Books, 1976.) Originally published in French as d'Oedipe a Moise: Freud et la conscience juive (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1974); Emanuel Rice, Freud and Moses: The Long Journey Home (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990); Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Freud's Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991); Bluma Goldstein, Reinscribing Moses: Heine, Kafka, Freud, and Schoenberg in a European Wilderness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) pp.66-136; Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), pp. 187-270; Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).

(9.) For a fuller analysis of this essay see Robert and Goldstein.

ARNOLD J. BAND is Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, Emeritus, at UCLA, and now serves as Braun Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature at Brandeis University. His published works include Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon (1968), and The Tales of Nahman of Bratslav, translation, introduction, and commentaries (1978). JPS is preparing a volume of his essays in its Distinguished Scholar Series. He founded jewish Studies at UCLA, and is a contributing editor of Judaism.
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Author:Band, Arnold J.
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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