Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Moses the Lawgiver, Michelangelo product

Twice Freud strayed away into a by-path off the high road of psychoanalytic investigation—once, many years ago, when he he wrote a study of aesthetics, and the second time in his eighties, when he undertook an inquiry into biblical history. Both times the prophet Moses was the object of his investigation. In the first instance it was Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, selected out of all the work produced by Michelangelo and from all the other creations of the plastic arts. Later it was Moses the law-giver, whose historic figure exercised a compelling effect on the spiritual vision of the creator of depth psychology.

Is this accidental? A man may accidentally meet another twice at the same spot, but it is not accidental when an old man returns to the place where once, in the full vigor of his manhood, a figure held him enthralled. What compelled the man who maintained that he was ignorant of the “oceanic feeling” of religious experience to approach the great religious founder and attempt to illuminate his spiritual aspect as well as the traits of his appearance? He said that religion was a neurosis; was he seeking the traits of neurosis in Moses? In not a single line has he given any indication of this. “I decided to put it away [the work], but it haunted me like an unlaid ghost.” (1) Something profoundly personal is hinted at in such a confession.

Freud’s work on Moses, the Egyptian, is not a psychoanalytical or psychological study. But we shall proceed in the manner of Freud when delivering over the author of a literary work to the tribunal of psychoanalysis.

Unless one follows the traditions which have been handed down, a reconstruction of the personality of Moses is not possible on the basis of the remainder of the available historical material. When such an attempt is made to mold anew a statue of this giant from the scraps of relevant history—to give not an analysis of the tradition, but a synthesis of the personality—then we have before us an artistic creation, just as Michelangelo’s prophet with the tablets is an artistic creation. But by referring to such a statue we should not attempt to make an analysis of what is hidden in the mythical past, but rather an analysis of the artist.

Whatever is alien to Freud in the traditional figure of Moses will be regarded in his inquiry as alien to Moses; whatever there is in the figure of Moses that fails to reflect Freud’s concept will be found in historical and exegetical excursions and bound up with the inquiry.

In analysis this is called projection. In order to project one’s inner world onto some personality of the outer world, some similarity must first be found. The associations which lead to this may be positive and also negative. Correspondingly, the associations will be colored by love or negatively charged with hate, everything depending on which unconscious impulses are being outwardly projected. The projections may be on occasion divided up into two personalities: one is taken over by the “good” ego, the other by the “evil” ego; one is idealized and the other hated. Everything which does not correspond to the good or evil ego will either remain unseen or be denied.

“Moses is an Egyptian.” How is this proved? Two explanations are given in the first of the three essays, which bears the title of “Moses an Egyptian.” One is historical and philological, the other is psychological and folkloristic. The first one is: “Moses” is an element of many Egyptian names, such as, for example, Ramses (Ra-mose), Thut-mose; Mose in Egyptian means child. Hence, Moses was an Egyptian.

A man who is not an Egyptologist enters on a difficult excursion in order to demonstrate that an Egyptian name is a proof of non-Hebrew descent, but the very man making this endeavor bears the name of Sigmund and is a Jew. Is he aware of the striking inadequacy of his proof? On the basis of such a demonstration, anyone by the name of Sigmund is a Teuton; therefore this demonstration may be rejected, for the same reason that a child of Jewish parents born in Moravia may be called Sigmund.

In a footnote on page 23, Freud cites Eduard Meyer: “The name Moses is probably . . . Egyptian. This does not prove, however, that these generations were of Egyptian origin, but it proves that they had relations with Egypt.” To this Freud appends a remarkable question: “One may well ask what kind of relation one is to imagine.”

The other, psychological, demonstration that Moses belonged to the Egyptian people is as follows: In many legends about the origin and adulthood of famous men of the past, a stereotype is retained: the hero is of exalted descent; even as a child he is recognized by his father as a future danger to him, is compelled to flee, and is rescued and brought up by poor people; when he is fully grown his noble descent comes to light. Such is the echo resounding through the folk-tales. Since, according to the legend, Moses was born among humble people of an oppressed race, and rescued and brought up by the king’s daughter, Freud associates himself with Eduard Meyer’s idea that the legend was falsified and must be set right; and he arrives at the contention that the historic Moses was of higher descent, of the royal house of Pharaoh, and possibly even the son of the Egyptian princess.

Freud undertakes a detailed psychological demonstration with reference to folkloristic research into the legends of various peoples and heroes—without noticing that the emendation cannot be equated with the legendary stereotype, if he himself does not regard Moses as a legendary prince but as a real one. The fictional element is the princely origin of the hero. It is true that on the basis of history it can be proved that a legendary hero was no prince by blood, but on the basis of a legend about a non-prince can a scientific proof be adduced that the hero was, nevertheless, an historical prince?

In the countless folktales the lowly origin of the hero is denied and a nobler one poetically ascribed to him. Accordingly, in revision and correction doubt must be cast upon the princely blood of the hero. If Moses had been named as the son of royal blood in the biblical tradition, then skepticism would be in place and a suspicion justified that the legend had undergone a conventional distortion. But Freud recognizes Moses as an historical prince by blood, and so it is he who composes the legend according to its usual stereotype. He would like to maintain that Moses was the son of a princess.(2) This anecdote is taken from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1900.

Freud quotes Rank: “As a result of ‘national motives’ the legend was reconstructed into the version we know.”

Freud is aware that the theory of Moses’ Egyptian descent lacks a strong foundation.

. . . Further thought tells us that an original Moses myth of this kind, one not diverging from other birth myths, could not have existed. For the legend is either of Egyptian or of Jewish origin. The first supposition may be excluded. The Egyptians had no motive to glorify Moses; to them he was not a hero. So the legend should have originated among the Jewish people; that is to say, it was attached in the usual version to the person of their leader. But for that purpose it was entirely unfitted; what good is a legend to a people that makes their hero into an alien? (p. 20)

The only thing left was to assume that “in a later, and rather clumsy treatment of the legendary material, the adapter saw fit to equip his hero Moses with certain features appertaining to the classical exposure myths characteristic of a hero.”

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