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Moses and Monotheism Paperback – January 12, 1955

4.3 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"To deny a people the man whom it praises as the greatest of its sons is not a deed to be undertaken lightheartedly--especially by one belonging to that people," writes Sigmund Freud, as he prepares to pull the carpet out from under The Great Lawgiver in Moses and Monotheism. In this, his last book, Freud argues that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman and that the Jewish religion was in fact an Egyptian import to Palestine. Freud also writes that Moses was murdered in the wilderness, in a reenactment of the primal crime against the father. Lingering guilt for this crime, Freud says, is the reason Christians understand Jesus' death as sacrificial. "The 'redeemer' could be none other than the one chief culprit, the leader of the brother-band who had overpowered the father." Hence the basic difference between Judaism and Christianity: "Judaism had been a religion of the father, Christianity became a religion of the son." Freud's arguments are extremely imaginative, and his distinction between reality and fantasy, as always, is very loose. If only as a study of wrong-headedness, however, it's fascinating reading for those who want to explore the psychological impulses governing the historical relationship between Christians and Jews. --Michael Joseph Gross

From the Inside Flap

Freud's speculations on various aspects of religion where he explains various characteristics of the Jews in their relations with the Christians.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (January 12, 1955)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394700147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394700144
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.5 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Earl C. Suitor on June 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an important read for anyone interested in the Egyptian/Israelite interface polemic. Not because Freud's hypothesis is correct necessarily, but because he was, to the best of my knowledge, the first person to bring up the Akhenaten Aten worship (which was the first known monotheism) and try to connect it to the monotheistic worship of YHWH by the Israelites. I think his ideas in this book are not supported well. They are interesting hypotheses, but that is all. Several other books on the subject include Moses and Akhenaten by Osman and The Mystery of the Copper Scroll of Qumran by Feather. I believe some of the observations made in the latter are more valid than either Freud's book or Osman's. I am an amateur biblical/religious scholar and believe there is a connection between the two religions but it is very complex and not fully understood yet. I believe the first fallacy in Freud and Osman's books is to think that the early Israelite religion was monotheistic. It was not. It was henotheistic. That is to say acknowledged other gods but held one god above the others. Reading The Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud and other ancient Near Eastern works carefully will show this to be true. I believe that the Israelite religion only became monotheistic after the Babylonian Exile (6th C. BCE) and that perhaps the monotheism of the Zoroastrian Persian King Cyrus may have been a more immediate influence. I will not ramble on...... sorry! The book is an interesting read and an interesting hypothesis, but I would not hang my history on it. There have been many new discoveries since this book was written that make this subject of research more rich, complex and interesting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading through the many wonderful reviews here, one gets the picture of what it is with this book: love it or hate it, believer or skeptic, even telling people the gist of the thesis and the story (the book is magnificently both), this work never fails to evoke a strong reaction. Look at the reviews. What is evident is that the book is truly provocative - rare for any book - no less a slight, speculative work of less than 200 pages, written somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century. Who would really care? But as you can see from this representative sample, people do.

Despite the ongoing controversy regarding, increasing skepticism towards, and perhaps dismissal of his major ideas, Freud still engages us as one of the most influential thinkers of the past century, and this work, which, surprisingly, may come to be regarded as his masterpiece (it is a masterpiece - do not doubt that), written as he was dying of cancer of the jaw and fleeing from the Nazis (Freud was Jewish - and among all the things that it is, the book is his response to that singular experience), is his signal contribution to religious studies.

The story is that:

1) Moses was an Egyptian, likely of royal birth, that he learned monotheism from the renegade Egyptian monarch, Akenaton, who, during his brief and probably aborted reign, unsuccessfully attempted to displace the long-standing polytheism and its attendant institutions with a unitary sole deity - a sun god - not represented in any form or art .

2) - That he may have been the proprietor or governor of a fringe province, the Biblical "land of Goshen" with a population of Hebraic or Semitic descent, to whom he taught the new religion. At some point during the exodus, Moses was murdered by his followers.
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Format: Paperback
Freud's Last Act

Who founded Judaism and monotheism is indeed a tricky but nevertheless intriguing question? Tom Cahill, in his wonderful and lyrical piece "The Gift of the Jews," lists monotheism as an important Jewish contribution to civilization. On the other hand, Dr. Frances Cress Welsin, in the Isis Papers, and others of her Africanist cohorts, suggest that Judaism -- as well as Christianity -- are but off-shoots of well-established Egyptian myths, rituals and religions.

While it is one thing for free-lance interlopers on either side of this issue to speculate on these matters, it is quite another when the father of modern psychology himself, Sigmund Freud, does so -- even if it is done as his last professional act.

Using his earlier work, Totem and Taboo as the psychological foundation and backdrop, Freud in his final book, spins out a not altogether unconvincing tale that Moses was an Egyptian Prince who was killed by his sons, and that monotheism was the necessary cultural invention and outcome that ultimately prevented the cycle of fratricide from continuing.

It is a fascinating read even if not up to Freud's normal high standards of analytical rigor. Despite its speculative nature, this thesis has global implications for contemporary religion, the Western worldview, and for how our current structure of morality was established and continues to work. Five stars
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This is my favorite nut book of all time, principally because it was written by THE most original thinker of the 20th century.
A conspiracy book by a mediocre paranoid is par for the course; but one written by a genius of the first order is bound to be outstanding.
To fully understand M&M one has to be somewhat conversant with Totem and Taboo, and Freud reiterates those basic premises here as well. Briefly they are as follows:
The origin of society begins with a tribe in which the dominant male gets all the women, including his sisters and Mommy.
His sons are understandably upset at being left out of the fun and complain, so Dad kills or castrates them. Or makes the mistake of being lenient and simply drives them off.
The sons, unable to find females of their own, band together go back and murder dad. Then, of course, they eat his body.
There being too many sons (and feeling repressed guilt at killing their old man) they make taboos against incest thus establishing the rule of law.
(Bet you didn't know this was the origin of Magna Carta, et al).
This keeps the gene pool safe from inbreeding but leads to all sorts of guilt feelings which get acted out politically-- not the least of which is a worshipping of Mommy, which leads to LHM -a Literal Historical Matriarchy.
(And to think feminists dislike Freud)
Next, they get fed up with being bossed about by Mom (and who wouldn't?) so they re-establish the patriarchy; only this time they stick to the rule of law, because they can't afford further fraticidal bloodshed and they invent polytheism to boot.
But deeply repressed father hatred looms within, which leads to the final step: monotheism, in which God is an avenging Father who must be appeased before he starts castrating again. . .
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