Moses and Monotheism

by Sigmund Freud

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Moses and Monotheism (German: Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion) is a 1939 theoretical and philosophical book written by famed Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. As the title suggests, the book presents Freud’s contentious hypothesis on Monotheism, and establishes a contemplative theory about Moses’s identity. Because it discusses the meaning and origin of religion as well, Moses and Monotheism is also classified as a social psychology book, and even a comparative religious treatise.

Many readers and analysts, especially Freud’s contemporaries, considered the book to be quite controversial, as it put the Bible’s word into question. In it, Freud boldly argues that Moses was not only raised into Egyptian aristocracy, but he was also born into Egyptian aristocracy. He was also one of the first theorists to mention the Akhenaten Aten worship in literature, which is actually considered the first monotheistic religion in the world; one which Moses, apparently, followed.

Freud also discusses the origin of the religion of Aten, and theorizes how it might be connected to the social, cultural and mythological development of Judaism and Christianity. Because of this controversial narrative, Moses and Monotheism was translated into English a few months after its first publication.

Freud believes that instead of leading all of the Israelites into freedom and the Promised Land, as the Bible suggests, Moses led only his close friends and followers. Later, they turned against him and murdered him, and joined a Midianite tribe that worshiped a God named Yahweh. After some time, they began to regret killing Moses, which is what, essentially, led the Jews to create Judaism. Many analysts consider this theory to be absurd and ridiculous, while some agree with Freud, saying that his analysis is very thorough and persuasive.

In the end, Freud argues that religion in general, and all religious thoughts and sentiments are, in fact, a symptom of neurosis, which is reflective of his atheist views. Thus, many religious readers have criticized the book, saying it represents religion in a negative connotation. Nonetheless, Moses and Monotheism received a lot of positive reviews as well, mainly because of its speculative and thought-provoking narrative.

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