Moses and Monotheism Critical Context - Essay

Sigmund Freud

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Freud’s ideas about Moses crystallized in the ominous atmosphere of Hitler’s triumph in Germany. Yet anti-Semitism was nothing new to Freud. He had lived with its Viennese manifestations all of his life, all the while taking defiant pride in his Jewishness. Notwithstanding his deep religious skepticism, it mattered intensely to him that he was a Jew. What exactly did being a Jew mean to him? Freud’s perspective on Jewish identity and survival was conditioned by the critical view of religion that was an enduring theme in his work. In Totem und Tabu: Einige Ubereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wildren und der Neurotiker (1913; Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics, 1918), Freud maintained that religious beliefs and practices had originated in guilt for the primal crime of the murder of the father, and in Die Zukunft einer Illusion (1928; Future of an Illusion, 1957), he concluded that religion is a collective neurosis which must give way to the healthy outlook of scientific rationalism. In these works, however, Freud had dealt either with primitive religions or with Christianity; in Moses and Monotheism, he proposed to analyze Judaism from the same critical perspective. Two factors converged in the selection of Moses as the center of this analysis. First, Freud strongly identified with Moses, seeing himself as the embattled founder of a movement whose ungrateful followers,...

(The entire section is 439 words.)