y Alan G. Hefner
This article is based on Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, especially adopting Freud’s hypothesis that Moses was Egyptian. The article will not detail Freud’s argument or present counter arguments, to see these, the reader can view the original work of Freud. It is here significant to say that Freud does mention counter arguments to his hypothesis and refutes them. The objectives of this article are to present Freud’s hypothesis, and to show how it demystifies some of the enigmas surrounding the Biblical character of Moses.
To fully comprehend Freud’s hypothesis one must acknowledge the foundation upon which it is based. The foundation is from the 1909 work of Otto Rank, Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden, which was written and titled under Freud’s influence. The work deals with the fact “that almost all important civilized peoples have early woven myths around and glorified in poetry their heroes, mythical kings and princes, founders of religions, of dynasties, empires and cities-in short, their national heroes. Especially the history of their birth and of their early years is furnished with phantastic traits, the amazing similarity, nay, literal identity, of those tales, even if they refer to different, completely independent peoples, sometimes geographically far removed from one another, is well known and has struck many an investigator.”
From such an assumption the construction of the “average myth” was formulated. The summary of the conditions formulating myths is as follows: The son is born of royalty, usually of a king. The conception is impeded by difficulties, such as abstinence or temporary sterility, or the parents practice intercourse in secrecy because of prohibitation or other external obstacles. During the mother’s pregnancy, or earlier, an oracle or a dream warns the father of the child’s birth containing a grave danger for his safety. As a consequence the father takes steps to dispose of the child, either by ordering the child to be killed or exposing the grave danger; in most case the infant is placed in a basket and delivered to the waves. The child is saved and reared by animals or poor people. When fully grown, the child rediscovers his true identity after many heroic adventures, wrecks vengeance upon his father, and is recognizes by his people in order to attain his rightful fame and greatness.
According to this summation of the general characterization of the formulation of a myth the son almost always is either killed or abandoned by his rightful heirs. But in the case of Moses, the situation appears to be reversed. His adopted father is the Pharaoh of Egypt, and his real parents were the exiled Jews. In his work, previously stated, Freud amply describes the details surrounding the name of Moses, from both scriptural and historical standpoints, and concludes the name is Egyptian.
When concluding that the name of Moses is Egyptian Freud proceeds to argue a two-family myth theory. As usually stated, the son is born into a noble family, designated the real family; he then is abandoned by his real family and adopted, taken in, by a poorer family, designated the fictitious family, that raises him. However, at first glance, this model does not fit the Biblical Moses. In he Biblical Moses instance, the child was rescued by the noble family for his safety; Moses is thought to have come from the poorer family. The poorer family placed the child in the water not to get rid of him, as the myth usually has it, but to save him. But, according to the mythology of the myth Moses would not be heroic from this position; the hero must reclaim his rightful position. If Moses remained a Jew he has nothing to gain, there can be no rise in status, and the legend is ineffective. Although a tiny fragment is effective, the baby remains alive despite of the various external forces against his survival. Incidentally, a similar story surrounded Jesus, only Herod replaced the Pharaoh.
To proceed with his hypothesis Freud investigates the reason that Egyptian exiled Jews readily followed Moses. If Moses was Egyptian then why would the Jews follow him? Freud suggests that Moses was a distinguished Egyptian figure, such as a prince, priest or high official, who forced himself on the group as their leader. Freud admits that such a situation, an important Egyptian leading a tribe of immigrants out of Egypt, does not seem very plausible which is why most historians ignored it even though the recognized the name of Moses as Egyptian. As Freud also states, the time in which these events occurred is so remote that it is even hard to confirm whether Moses was a historical person or legendary figure because there is nothing to go on except the Holy Books and written Hebrew traditions, neither source can be substantiated, but most historians agree that Moses did live and the Exodus from Egypt, led by him, did occur.
This difficult assumption is immediately followed by another one. Part of the difficulty in this second assumption lies in the fact the Moses became not only this group political leader but its lawgiver and educator as well. From this man these people adopted a new religion which even today is called Mosaic after him; meaning he gave them a religion, but what religion? The exile Jews had their own religion, and many, as will be shown later, adopted Egyptian ways. Therefore, these Jews in Egypt were certainly not without some sort of religion, and if Moses gave them a new religion it was certainly one he believed himself, being Egyptian, it must have been a new Egyptian religion.
This seemingly apparent contradiction begins to set the timeframe of Freud’s hypothesis. The contradiction appears to be between a Jewish and an Egyptian religion; initially the first would seem monotheist while the latter would appear polytheist, but as revealed the religion which Moses gives the people is both Egyptian and monotheist. Such a transformation in the Egyptian did occur within the XVIII Dynasty, when Egypt became a world power for the first time. The person seeking this transformation was the young pharaoh who ascended the throne about 1375 BC and took the name of Amenhotep (IV) (see Aton) like his father; however, he later changed his name. His name was not the only change he made, the young king forced a new religion upon his people; a religion that was contrary to the ancient traditions and familiar habits. This was the first known attempt in antiquity where monotheism emerged and produced religious intolerance.
It must be said, however, that the basis for this new religion had previously been laid. In the School of Priests in the Sun Temple at On (Heliopolis) there were ongoing tendencies to develop the idea of a universal god which stressed his ethical aspects; a model was perhaps Maat, daughter of Re, the goddess of truth, order, and justice. Under Amenhotep III, predecessor and father of the reformer, the worship of the sun god was in ascendant, probably in opposition to the worship of Amon (or Amum) at Thebes, who had become over-prominent. Under the new pharaoh, the religion of Aton developed; the name taken from Aton or Atum, the ancient name of the sun god.
This was the period in which Egypt exerted great influence since its authority extended from Nubia, in the south, through Palistine, Syria, and to Mesopotamia, in the north. The victorious sword of the conqueror Thothmes III brought such imperialism about. Therefore, the religion of the conqueror settled upon the conquered territory; the vast territory was gripped in the monotheism of the sun god. The Pharaoh never denied his ascension to the On cult but wrote, probably himself, hymns to Atom. He went even further by adding something new which turned into monotheism the doctrine of a universal god; this was the statement in one of his hymns: “O Thou only God, there is no other God than Thou.”
A religious transformation such as this, as can be seen by religious and historical events happening centuries later, does not occur by itself. Usually other events coincide. It can almost certainly be concluded that during Amenhotep’s reign this religion was strengthened so as to attain greater clarity, consistency, harshness, and intolerance. This was probably met by opposition from the priests of Amom protesting against the reforms of the king.
Adding further to the tension, the pharaoh changed his name to Ikhnation, or Akhnation, which means “God is satisfied.” His purpose for doing this was because during the six years of his reign he not only eliminated the hated god Amon from his name, but also from inscriptions bearing the name of his father, Amenhotep III. Soon after changing his name the king left Thebes and built a new capital lower down the river which he called Akhetation, Horizon of Aton, now called Tell-el-Amarna.
The reign of Amenhotep IV was not long, and his demise is shaded in mystery. His persecution was directly foremost against Amon, but it affected others as well. Throughout the Empire temples were closed, ecclesiastical property seized, and a search was made to find all inscriptions of the word “gods” which were changed to “God.” The Aton religion had little or no appeal to the ordinary people; it was probably limited to those surrounding Ikhnation.
Surely the vengeance of the suppressed priests and the discontented people found a free outlet after the pharaoh’s death. Details durin this period are sketchy, but his son-in-law Tutamkhaton was forced to return to Thebes and substitute Amom in his name for Aton. Anarchy probably reigned until General Haremhab restored order in 1350 BC. When the glorious XVIII Dynasty ended its conquests of Nubia and in Asia were lost, and the people resorted back to their former religious beliefs.
For Freud’s hypothesis to possess any validity, that Moses was an Egyptian and the new religion which he gave the Jews was Egyptian, a syncretism of religions or religious beliefs had to occur. There was amply time for this to happen, for as Freud states the Mosaic religion, in its final form, that is known was fixed by the Jewish priests after the Exile some eight hundred years later.
Freud describes the subtle indications which suggest this syncretism probably occurred. The first is the similarity between the Egyptian word “Aton” (or Atum), the Syrian “Adonis,” and the Hebrew Adonai. This does not seem purely coincidental, but might be the result of a primeval unity in language and meaning; thus making it suitable to translate the Jewish formula: “Hear, O Israel, our God Aton (Adonai) is the only God.”
A distinguishing trait shared between the religion of Aton and that of the Jews was the absence of a belief in an afterlife. In the religion of Aton the death god Osiris, ruler of the other world who had been popular with the people, was completely dismissed. Likewise, the early form of the Jewish religion never mentioned the possibility of immortality, or the existence of life after death. Freud states that when discovering this fact that he was awed. But upon his examination of both religions the fact became compatible. Ikhnation wanted the religion of the strictest monotheism; therefore, the worship of Osiris would naturally be eliminated. If, therefore, the initial form of the Jewish religion was derive from the religion of Aton there would naturally be no belief in life after death. This would be another indication that the possible syncretism of the religions occurred.
Another indication is the practice of circumcision. In the Bible the practice for Jews is of great importance as it extends back to the covenant which God made with Abraham, one of the patriarchs. According to scriptures, which Freud does not mention, is just a token of the covenant; however circumcision does not assume a sacramental nature thus conveying God’s sanctifying influenced onto his people, but remains a token of the relationship between God and the people provided by the covenant. If Freud had mentioned this condition his arguments would have been even stronger; the practice of circumcision, being demanded by the God, forced the people into obeying the one God; and, circumcision had no sacramental value because there was no belief in an afterlife.
However, Freud did mentioned the time when God was wroth with Moses for neglecting the practice, and threatened to slay him as a punishment. In order to save her husband from the wrath of God, Moses’ wife, a Midianite, performed the surgery. Freud claimed this incident is among the distortions which helped to emphasize the importance of circumcision among the Jews. However, he continues, Herodotus states the custom of circumcision had been long practiced in Egypt for reasons of cleanliness, and this statement has been confirmed by the examination of mummies and by drawings on walls of caves. No other known people of the eastern Mediterranean followed this custom; the assumption is, with almost certainty, the Semites, Babylonians, and Sumerians were not circumcised. The Biblical history itself says the inhabitants of Canaan were uncircumcised.
Freud states this concern surrounding the practice of circumcision further emphasizes that Moses was Egyptian. He reasons that if Moses was a Hebrew it would have been illogical for him to force such a practice upon the people whom he was leading from the country. The continuation of the practice would keep awake the memory of Egypt which the people desperately desired to forget, and undermine their future independent and self-confident existence which Moses actually achieved.
The remaining question is why was this Egyptian custom of circumcision later adopted by the Jews as their own, needless to say, a very religious important practice. The answer is still another part of Freud’s hypothesis. Hypothetically the beginning of the Exile started after Ikhnation’s death, at the beginning or during the anarchical period which followed. Freud’s assumes that Moses was perhaps of nobility, a distinguished gentleman, or even a governor of some boarder providence within the pharaoh’s inner circle, and also a believer of the religion of Aton. Being conscious of his personal abilities and status, Moses saw his future within Egypt did not looked too bright. If Moses was governor of a providence such as Gosen, were certain Semitic tribes had settled, while still holding his religious convictions and hoping to keep his political ambitions alive, he might have adopted these people as his own because most Egyptians were reverting back to their former polytheistic religion. Moses then took these people as a substitute under his leadership and led them out of Egypt. With his religious convictions as well as his reputation at stake, Moses certainly would not want to depart his homeland with people thought to be inferior to those of his native land; therefore, it can be assumed that he, who almost certainly can be thought to have been circumcised himself, would demand that his people be circumcised; he wished to mark them as a “holy nation,” as so stated in the Bible, and, in his mind, the mark also made them equal to Egyptians. Also, for him, the mark would help prevent his people from mingling with other foreign people whom they met during their wanderings, just as it kept Egyptians away from foreigners. It is thought that throughout future centuries the fact that circumcision had been an Egyptian custom forced upon them by Moses was at first hidden and then forgotten by the Jewish people. However, centuries later Jews look upon circumcision as a mark of distinction, making them different.
Freud definitely establishes the time period as being after Ikhmation’s death when the country was in turmoil. It had to be a turbulent period or the distinguished Moses, as previously explained, would not have felt the need to leave Egypt. Also, there is the necessity to establish Moses’ authority with the Jewish people. Accounts of Jewish tradition, probably the aggadah as well as the Bible, serve to do this for Freud. One legend is that when Moses was three years old he grabbed the Pharaoh’s crown and put it on hid head; the king startled by the omen sought counsel of his sages. There are other stories in the Bible as well of how Moses killed the overseer for ill-treating a Jewish workman, and his outrage when returning from Mount Sinai and seeing the people worshipping the golden calf. These episodes show Moses to be a man of respect and not to be reckoned with. They also explain why the Israelites were allowed to depart from Egypt without incident, meaning, not as scripture describes with the help of God, but with the authority of Moses.
Freud mentions another trait of Moses Biblically described, which is he was to have been “slow of speech.” This is frequently interpreted as that Moses suffered a speech impediment of some sort. He is said to have called on Aaron, his brother, to assist him in discussions with the Pharaoh. Again, this just may be legend. According to Freud there might be another explanation. Moses might have, at first, spoke another language so not to have been able to speak to these Semitic Neo-Egyptian people without the aid of an interpreter, which would be another indication that he was Egyptian.
Following other historical resources, as Freud does, Moses is said to leave Egypt and settle for sometime in the region of Meribat-Qades, an oasis abundant with springs and well in the country south of Palestine between the eastern end of the Sinai Peninsula and the western end of Arabia. It was here, not in Egypt, that the Jewish people adopted a new religion, possibly adopting the worship of the god Jahve (Freud does not indicate it but this deity probably evolved into Yahweh) from an Arabic tribe of Midianites living in the area, and other neighboring tribes who worshipped this god too. Jahve was a volcano god; therefore, this specifies the place where the new religion was adopted since there are no mountains or volcanoes in Egypt, the only active volcanic record on that period is on the western border of Arabia. Despite the Biblical description of the God, historical Jahve was described as “an uncanny, bloodthirsty demon who walks by night and shuns the light of day.
Hypothetically, there is some connection between Freud’s theory and Biblical text; Moses becomes mediator between Jahve and the people; even though, in the Bible Moses, after murdering the Egyptian task master, flees to another area and becomes a shepherd for a priest Jethro, and later marries his daughter. According to the Biblical version Jethro would be the priest of Jahve, and relayed the god’s instruction to Moses.
When reading the last paragraph, one might ask if something had been left out of the description; the character seems to have changed. The Moses of Midian is no longer the distinguished Moses of Egypt, but a meek shepherd leading a tribe of people, following the instructions of a priest, and obeying a demonic God. Apparently, the two Moses differ in similar fashion as the universal god Aton and the local Jahve differ.
Here Freud’s hypothesis seems to come to an abrupt stop and appears to dissipate; but, further evidence is found to continue it. Ernst Stellin, in 1922, found in the book of the Prophet Hosea (the second half of the eighth century) unmistakable traces of a tradition to the effect that the founder of their religion, Moses, met a violent end in a rebellion of his stubborn and refractory people; and the religion which he had instituted had been abandoned. Such findings were not restricted to Hosea, but were found in the writings of other Prophets as well, and seemed to form the basis for the expectations of the Messiah. It might be said that the people who had brutally murdered their leader, king and god, hoped he would return from the realm of the dead to lead them and others into a land of eternal bliss. As is known this hope surfaces centuries later associated with another Founder of a religion.
Freud is not certain of the adequacy of the interpretation of Stellin’s findings but he uses them anyway to further his hypothesis. Other historical evidence clearly shows that Qades definitely was not the place where the exiled Jews coming out of Egypt adopted their knew religion; Qades proved to be the place where they met other related, tribal Jews living within the region; therefore, their acceptance of the new religion and murdering of Moses occurred earlier. Freud suggests that the people met at Qades about two generations after the Exodus begun, this would account for the Biblical description of the forty years of wondering in the wilderness. With the meeting of these two related peoples, after time, there was a compromise-a compromise between the religion of Aton and that of Jahve. The people from Egypt got to retain part of their religion, except the murder of Moses was denied or concealed, while those already in the area retained part of their Jahve religion. As previously mentioned the Moses of Egypt transforms into the Moses of Midian, and then eventually replaces the priest Jethro. The practice of circumcision is retained, but in order to divorce it from the original Egyptian custom, Jahve, claimed to be the God of the patriarchs, is said to have commanded it of Abraham, and got on Moses for not having the operation so his Midianite wife quickly performed it. Jahve, the volcano god, was transformed into a God of grandeur. This was achieved by the degrading of Moses. In Midian, Moses no longer was the needed leader as he had been in Egypt, therefore, the deed of freeing the people was attributed to Jahve, or God; and this was signified by Moses, who became the mediator between God and the people, receiving the Ten Commandments.
Freud comments that it is truly astonishing that in spite of all the Biblical revisions the true nature of the original god (Jahve) is yet revealed. A rude, narrow minded local god, violent and blood-thirsty, who promise to lead his adherents into “a land flowing with milk and honey,” and encouraged them to rid the country of its present inhabitants “with the edge of the sword.” One is not certain whether this god’s religion was strictly monotheism, denying the character of God to other deities, but in his evolution through his people he is thus depicted as evidenced by “Thou shall have no other gods before me… for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous, God…” in the Ten Commandments. Probably the reason for the remaining original character of the Deity is the belief that one’s personal god is more powerful than any other.
Here Freud compares the fate of Moses to the fate of Ikhnation. They both proved to be tyrannical, forcing religions upon the people which did not meet their needs, and the people murdered them and overthrew the religions. The Egyptians overthrew the religion of Aton, which was alien to them and did not meet their needs, and took back their polytheist religion, while the Jewish people not able to accept the highly spiritualized religion which Moses forced upon them attempted to find what satisfied their needs and eventually developed the Jewish religion into its present form. Both leaders, Freud mentions, met the fate facing all despots.
Very little is known of the character of the Egyptian Moses, if one assumes Freud’s hypothesis, except for the Biblical contradictory characterization of Moses. He is amply depicted as masterful, hot-tempered, and even violent; yet he is said to be most patient and meek. One would think only an exceptional character could possess these traits, or the description is of two different personalities. The latter assumption would fit in with Freud’s hypothesis; these are descriptions of the Egyptian Moses and the Moses of Midian; while the former assumption would be that Moses was an exceptional person as portrayed in the Bible.
Perhaps the duration of Moses’ rule is Biblically described as the “wandering in the wildness.” One might imagine the quarrels, fights, and wrangling which took place and culminated in the violent murder that was kept secret. No doubt people were wavering under Moses leadership and falling away from the new religion which seems to be partially described in the description of the worshipping of the golden calf. One wonders why Freud does not expand this incident more fully because the events surrounding it could very well pinpoint the time of the murder. As Freud points out, the incident definitely does not place the acceptance of the new religion at Qades, but at the foot of Mount Sinai-Horeb, a mountain displaying signs of volcanic eruption. When Moses returned from the mountain, according to the Bible, he saw the people worshipping the image of the golden calf and went into a tyrannical rage. When he the people dancing about the calf his anger flared and he smashed the tablets which God gave him upon the mountain. Moses’ act of breaking the tablets has to be has to be seem symbolically as “he has broken the law,” which is inscribed to Moses himself to impute his angry indignation. Then he smashed the calf, burned it in fire, ground it to pieces, scattered it upon water which he forced the children of Israel to drink.
Then Moses told the sons of Levi, who remained loyal to him, to go with swords to go throughout the camp killing each man and his brother, companion, and neighbor. And on that day about three thousand were killed. To an objective person this probably the time and placed of the murder of Moses. A major indication seems to be the there is no Biblical description of any resistance, meaning that almost three thousand people are going to allow themselves to be killed without at least some defending themselves and fighting back. Many reading the Bible, unless they believe the scripture is the literal word of God, should have some trouble believing this because these ancient people would have the instinct of survival and would attempt to save themselves unless they were not the ones being attacked; this might prove an excellent disguise for hiding the killing of a leader. Perhaps, this is the first instance of the act of the killing of the king.
It is interesting that the Bible specifies that the sons of Levi, eventual Levites, aided Moses with the killing of the people. Freud mentions that Moses was a Levite, and Biblically Aaron was too and goes onto become chief priest. It seems that the Levites were not necessarily priests, but a caste whose members held high priestly positions. As previously indicated, Aaron was possibly an interpreter between Moses and the people, meaning, at first, he knew their language and was possibly closer to them than Moses. Therefore, with further speculation, is would be logical the people would go to Aaron in Moses’ absence as the Bible says, or, if they were disgruntled with Moses’ leadership. To speculate further, if Aaron sided with the people, as the Bible suggests, he might natural give them a godly symbol to worship that they were accustomed to. Using this hypothetical speculation, one might surmise that the calf was symbolic of another Egyptian deity, not Aton, which caused Moses’ fierce anger.
It should be noted that Freud is not along in his suspicion for the cause of the people’s frustration and disgruntlement against Moses. Rabbi Telushkin writes in his Jewish Literacy concerning the golden calf incident, “But I suspect there is more involved here than the mere panic at Moses’ disappearance. The religious legislation he (Moses) had imposed on then since the Exodus may have struck many Israelites as too severe and restrictive. The implication of (Exodus) 32:6–‘and the rose to make merry’–is that the people engage in orgy” (Telushkin 57-58). The Rabbi certainly confirms Freud’ assessment of Moses’ authoritarian nature even though one would suspect that he would not agree with Freud’s hypothesis that Moses was an Egyptian.
When speaking of Aaron, the Rabbi also substantiates previous suspicions that he was closer to the people than Moses. “The Torah hints that the people mourned his death more intensely than that of Moses…Seemingly, Aaron had a much gentler nature than his brother. When the Israelites sinned, Moses raged at them. Aaron, however, did not fight them. When they told him that they want a Golden Calf to worship…he helped them fashion it-although he later denied personal responsibility to his outraged brother. Aaron’s acquiescence was so peculiar that one senses that the Torah is concealing as much as it is revealing about him. Indeed, some of the most important events of his life remain unexplained” (Telushkin 58).
The two preceding paragraph seem to substantiate that Freud had probable cause for his hypothesis. No doubt, being a Jew himself, he was acquainted with the Torah, or the Bible as his work refers to. Furthermore, being the man of knowledge that he was, Freud must had studied his material carefully before commencing his work; and his possible detection of these omissions in the Bible, or Torah, only strengthened his cause. However, Freud’s hypothesis cannot be held without suspicion. When examining the hypothesis one finds that Freud seems to credit certain scriptures as being true which enhance his theory.
An example of this is Freud’s arguments surrounding circumcision. He said the Jews disguised the practiced claiming it was commanded of them by Jahve, or God. In order to achieve this, the commandment was related to the patriarch Abraham. This was done to disguise the fact the custom was originally Egyptian and adopted. The story of Moses’ Midianite wife circumcising him made Freud suspect what he termed “the disguise.” Another possible explanation was that the practice was not performed while the people were in the wilderness, which is substantiated by it became the duty of Joshua, when entering Canaan, to perform the rite of circumcision upon the generation that had been born in the wilderness. The rite was performed immediately crossing the Jordan, at or near Gilgal (Joshua 5:2) (Unger 206). Also, it has been reported circumcision is practiced by the Muslims which possibly can be traced back to Ishmael and Abraham (Bowker 224). And, as previously mentioned, Freud might have described the golden calf incident in further detail to strengthen his hypothesis.
It must be noted that other Biblical research both substantiate and dismiss Freud’s hypothesis. When comparing the Egyptian Negative Confession in the Book of the Dead to the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments one finds similarities. As seen, the Egyptian statements are crouched as protestations of innocence: “I have not committed murder, I have not ordered murder to be committed, I have not treated anyone unjustly, I have not reduced the food offerings in the temples, I have not debased the bread of the gods…I have not had homosexual relations, I have not defiled myself, I have neither increased nor diminished measures (of capacity), I have never tampered with the balance,” etc. These statements, although similar to the commands and prohibitations of he Decalogue, show a lack of systematic order or selectivity regarding different type of sins which will cause man to be rejected by the judges of the Neither World. The Hebrew work, more than the Egyptian, stress a more humane treatment of man and animals. It is uncertain whether the Decalogue is the youngest of the two documents, but from the observation of it similar content its commands and prohibitations are thought to have been carefully selected from a larger work of apodictic law in the Book of the Dead (Albright 172-173). Before leaving this subject it should be mention that the goddess Maat, whom Freud associates with the Pharaoh Ikhnation who regularly described himself in inscriptions as “living in Maat” (truth, justice), was one of the deities judging the dead, and was considered integral to the success of the soul passing through the Hall of the Two Truths. This definitely does not confirm Moses was Egyptian but it does indicate some possible syncretism between the two religions.
The incident of the golden calf seems very archaic and even totally unintelligible in places because of possibly being edited in its present form after the original meaning had been lost. Particularly archaic is the description of the destruction of the young bull, which shares three steps in progressive annihilation with the destruction of Death by the goddess Anath in the Baal Epic of Ugarit-each account uses the same verbs, though in different order (Albright 43). If this is true, the episode of the golden calf was incorporated in the Bible from another source and the original meaning was lost, then Freud’s interpretation of the incident, displaying that the people were falling away from Moses’ leadership, comes into doubt. Since the original meaning cannot be known, the question remains, was Freud justified in using the incident to support his theory as he did. Here one would be tempted to say Freud needed to do better Biblical research, or interpret the event differently as it has been done above.
In summary, it was Freud’s contention that the two Gods, Aton and Jahve, become one just as the two Moses, the Egyptian and the Midian, became one. The people of Qades may have killed the Egyptian Moses, and worshipped the volcano-god Jahve, but throughout the centuries all of these events were forgotten. What emerged was Jahve, a global god, such as Aton who had been killed, that cared for people and along with him emerged again a strong Moses; together they produced the current Jewish religion with the help of the Prophets that helps its people. This raises the question, does a religion produce its people, or do the people produce the religion. Freud seems to have given his answer in his work concerning Moses: he was killed and resurrected into the Moses the people wanted.
Freud, Sigmund, Moses and Monotheism, New York, Vintage Books, 1955, pp. 3-65
Albright, William Foxwell, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1968
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997
Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph, Jewish Literacy, New York, William Marrow, 1991 [ISBN 0-688-08506-7] Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966