Moses in the Thought of Freud:
An Ambivalent Interpretation
THE year 1956 marked the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Sigmund Freud, a man whose long life spanned almost half of the 19th century and over a third of the 20th. His essential modernity leads us to overlook how much of his life was spent in an age which most contemporaries cannot remember, and to ignore the historical factors that may have played a role in the development of psychoanalysis. It is one of the major paradoxes of contemporary psychoanalytic thought that whereas it places so much of its emphasis upon the analysis of “origins,” it seems to be without origins itself.
We believe that the primary key to the understanding of Freud is contained in his concern with Moses. In his autobiography Freud tells us, “My early familiarity with the Bible story (at a time almost before I had learnt the art of reading) had, as I recognized much later, an enduring effect upon the direction of my interest.” We have two essays on Moses by Freud. One of these is “The Moses of Michelangelo,” a discussion of Michelangelo’s famous statue, and the other the book, Moses and Monotheism. That there may be something especially significant in connection with these two essays is indicated by the fact that in both instances Freud hesitated to reveal his identity as their author. ‘The Moses of Michelangelo” was published anonymously in the periodical Imago in 1914. After writing it between the Christmas of 1913 and New Year’s Day of 1914, he finally allowed it to appear, but anonymously, remarking, “Why disgrace Moses by putting my name to it? It is a joke, but perhaps not a bad one.”
About the Author