Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Quick Book Review: Moses + Monotheism by Freud

What is real, what is myth and what is religion? Life seems to mash up all three. We write myths into our little lives. Do you really know how your parents' early years as a couple went or do you just know the myth of how they met, the religious experience that was their wedding ceremony and the religion that is the steady marriage? Myths are important, as is religion, because they speak to us. A person can project their persona into the mythical figure. A person can feel kinship or a sense of identity through the mythical journey. A people can build a religion out of an historical figure that is turned into a mythical being. That gets a little on the edge of what is polite to discuss. people rarely like to address the mythology woven through their group's origins or beliefs. Almost a hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud was taking a hammer to his own culture's most sacred man.

Sigmund Freud's "Moses and Monotheism" looks at a possible origin for the Jewish faith in Egypt. Freud's theory is that Moses was an Egyptian of nobility or hooked up with the Pharaoh Akhenaten who had scrapped the multigod theology for a monotheism. Short summary: During a period of trouble after Akhenaten's death, Moses brought his followers out of Egypt, they wandered the desert, they killed him and eventually they came to realize the power of his teaching. They glorified his memory through a merging with another group that prayed to Javeh, blending Egyptian Moses with another Moses who was of the Javeh crowd. Moses origin was created, and if you consider the normal course of hero mythology, the idea that he went from poor family to noble family makes sense when the poor family practices a religion that the storyteller follows. Freud wrote this late in his career. He has some passages where he compares this group thought concept with individual neurosis. He works through the idea, and this is a fun and interesting thought experiment. I'd rather read the 176 pages of this work than 700+ pages of academic minutia that seems a bit too scared to say something risky or different. Some scholars doubt this theory, and others are somewhat supportive. Side note on Freud, but I love his little footnotes, where he usually pokes at himself or reveals some little clue to his thoughts that do not relate to the book's focus. As with some other Freud's other work, he is working with pre-history or early human thought. While some of it sounds like 2am college rambling sessions, it's fun to create a theory and play with it. I'm a history and mythology nerd, so this might appeal to me more than most people, but this book is still a quick, interesting read.

Part of my motivation for reading this book is that I have a theory for the potential motivation behind the start of Christianity. That is a post for another day.

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