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Yerushalmi, Y.H. (1989). Freud on the 'Historical Novel': From the Manuscript Draft (1934) of Moses and Monotheism. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 70:375-394.

(1989). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 70:375-394

Freud on the 'Historical Novel': From the Manuscript Draft (1934) of Moses and Monotheism

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi


Despite Freud's explicit statements on his intentions in writing Moses and Monotheism, there has been a growing tendency to interpret the work as a coded document of his inner life. Moreover, it has been known for some time that the original subtitle of the book had been: 'Ein historischer Roman' ('A Historical Novel'). This phrase in itself would seem to validate a reading of the book as a kind of personal fiction, especially since the German Roman can also easily be associated with the 'Family romance' (Familienroman).

This paper argues on a number of levels that before subjecting the book to psychoanalytic exegesis every effort should be made to understand its conscious intentionality. Focusing on the abortive subtitle, the core of the paper is a close examination of the original manuscript draft of Moses and Monotheism, completed in 1934. From Freud's introduction, published here for the first time, it becomes clear that he employed the subtitle merely to indicate his own awareness that he had not found sufficient independent historical data to fully corroborate his reconstruction. In this sense, however, he claimed that modern biblical scholars are also historical novelists. They, no less than he, must resort to speculation, the only difference lying in the modes employed and the explanatory power of the results.

Finally, the paper considers Freud's position on the problem of 'art' versus 'science' generally and his own self-perception in this regard.

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