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Millar, D. (2001). A Psychoanalytic View of Biblical Myth. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 82(5):965-979.

(2001). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 82(5):965-979

A Psychoanalytic View of Biblical Myth

David Millar

The author looks at some ways in which certain biblical myths tell a story, a story about loss—loss of freedom, of the homeland, of God's favour, ultimately loss of the good object—and about guilt for these losses. He describes in the post-exilic myth of the Old Testament and the Jesus myth of the New Testament a pattern in which, he argues, there is a ‘retreat’ from the depressive anxieties that seem to be troubling the group, with loss and guilt becoming mediated through a rigidified defensive organisation that holds out the promise that it will make this loss and guilt easier to bear. Guilt, worthlessness, badness and fallibility are split off and projected into a near foreign group blamed for loss, while within the group's own boundary there is an identification with righteousness and power. The author describes the post-exilic myth and the Jesus myth as what he terms ‘hardened myths’ that embody a belief in an idealised privileged identity in which exclusive group possession of the good object is asserted. The analysis of such hardened myths reveals a shared belief in the efficacy of group idealisation. The author links the formation of these hardened myths with what we know about how individuals manage actual loss, and argues that (for the group as for the individual) the myths express collusion with the moral authority of an idealised and very punitive superego. The paper ends with a very brief suggestion that, analogously, hardened myths may be relevant in other cultural and social milieux, especially, perhaps, the troubled relations of some psychoanalytic groups to one another.

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