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Zeligs, D.F. (1973). Moses and Pharaoh: A Psychoanalytic Study of their Encounter. Am. Imago, 30(2):192-220.

(1973). American Imago, 30(2):192-220

Moses and Pharaoh: A Psychoanalytic Study of their Encounter

Dorothy F. Zeligs, EDF

There is a quality of awesomeness about the personality and accomplishments of Moses that tends to place him, in popular fantasy, beyond the realm of mortal man, dangerously close to the Divinity itself. Yet we are repeatedly reminded both in the Scriptures and in post-biblical legend, not only of his human origins but of his human failings. This seemingly contradictory image of Moses has an understandable psychological basis.

I shall try to show that within the psyche of Moses a conflict existed between two forces that pulled him in opposite directions. On the one hand, there was a strong wish for omnipotence, with the accompanying sense of being special, while on the other, were deep and painful feelings of inadequacy. We shall see that this struggle finds repeated but disguised expression in the biblical text, as though inadvertently revealed through the words of the hero himself. He could quite openly plead his slowness of speech, but more hidden within him were the longings for a sense of power that would make him feel Godlike.

Earlier Indications of Conflict

The presence of these conflictful tendencies can be detected in the life of Moses starting from early days. In a previous study (38) I interpreted the story of his rescue from the Nile River and adoption by the daughter of Pharaoh (II: 1-10) as expressing a daydream of the youthful Moses, projected back to infancy, in which he reveals discontent with his own situation in life, stemming, in part, from oedipal feelings, and tries to improve his lot in a typical family romance fantasy (9; 35).

A familiar extra-biblical legend portrays the child Moses in the royal palace, reaching up, one day, from his foster-mother's arms and removing the crown from Pharaoh's head, placing it upon his own.

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