Mann, Reik and Moses
To the Editor:
Edward Grossman [“Moses for Moderns,” April] could have spared himself the tempting speculation on what Thomas Mann might have been able to do with Moses if he had had the time to try. In fact, he did try. Together with other prominent authors (Franz Werfel, Bruno Frank, Jules Romains, André Maurois, and Sigrid Undset, among others), Mann contributed to a collection of short novels which appeared in 1943 in New York under the title, The Ten Commandments: Ten Short Novels of Hitler’s War Against the Moral Code. The collection opens with Mann’s Moses novel, Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. The German version, simply titled Das Gesetz (“The Law”), appeared in Stockholm in 1944. The most outstanding of the German-language reprints, edited with comments and full documentation by Käte Hamburger, is Thomas Mann: Das Gesetz. Dichtung und Wirklichkeit (Ullstein Buch No. 5017, 1964).
The above does not diminish but rather adds to my respect for Mr. Grossman as a sensitive critic of Thomas Mann’s genius. Mr. Gross-man thinks of Moses as “too large, important, serious, intimidating a figure” to have been treated by Thomas Mann with the same narrative technique he applied to his trilogy, Joseph and His Brothers. In contrast to his Joseph story, Mann’s Moses, to use Käte Hamburger’s terminology, turned out to be a “paraphrase” rather than a descriptive novel.
To the Editor:
In connection with Edward Grossman’s discussion of Theodor Reik in “Moses for Moderns,” let me share with your readers the following exchange.
On November 21, 1959, Reik wrote to me: “I am flirting with the idea of a book, Moses the Murderer. Essential thesis: Moses killed an Egyptian and was killed (see Hosea). The mystery of his death in the Bible. According to the lex talionis: he who sheds blood. . . .”
On November 25, I replied: “I beg of you not to write . . . Moses the Murderer, unless you want to make sure that not a single Jew will touch it, let alone read or buy it. The title is horrid, as if Julius Streicher’s pen had not dried up yet. First of all, an occasional killing in defense of an innocent person is not murder. You know better than I do that Freud’s theory has not been accepted. We must rely on biblical and post-biblical Jewish sources. . . The quotation from Hosea is pure guesswork. In Jewish tradition Moses is known as “Moses our Teacher.” . . . We do not call anybody by the epithet “the murderer”; Haman is known as “Haman the wicked”; Antiochus, “the madman.” Please reconsider. Do not alienate [y]our own people. . . .”
Reik’s answer, dated November 25, 1959: “I have decided to drop the plan of the Moses book, following your advice.”