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Bergmann, M.S. (1999). Moses and Civilizations: The Meaning Behind Freud's Myth: Robert A. Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, 268 pp., $32.50.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1411-1414.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1411-1414

Freud Studies

Moses and Civilizations: The Meaning Behind Freud's Myth: Robert A. Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, 268 pp., $32.50.

Review by:
Martin S. Bergmann

Like many other social scientists, Robert A. Paul, the author of Moses and Civilizations, believes that Freud's Totem and Taboo (1912-1913) and Moses and Monotheism (1939) have not been taken seriously. Psychoanalysis has done well without reference to these two books, and for Freud's admirers they are an embarrassment, providing another cudgel with which to beat him. Unlike other writers, however, Paul believes that “by rectifying certain missteps” of Freud the value of these books can be salvaged.

Freud's account of the primal horde is modified by the author into four defining moments. The first is the reign of the benevolent senior male of which Jacob is the prototype. This male does not deny his sons their adulthood or the use of women. The benevolent senior male is followed by the illegitimate senior male, who is eager to possess all women and to slay the male children. It is against this infanticidal male that the typical hero rebels. The hero is followed by an innocent leader, who atones through martyrdom for the guilt that the hero-avenger has incurred by committing parricide.

Moses is the prototype of the hero. He becomes the leader of the band of oppressed brothers. He kills the infanticidal pharaoh by drowning him in the Red Sea, and, instead of emulating him and perpetuating the brutal rule of the senior male, he establishes a rule of law. This transformation takes place on Mount Sinai, when the Ten Commandments are given and the Biblical law is established. If Israel will obey the law, God will protect it from his wrath. Being circumcised and obeying the law absolves the Israelites of the crime of parricide. In the author's view, it is Mosaic law that accomplishes the incest taboo, which Freud thought the parricidal brothers accomplished after the murder of the primal father.

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