Moses and Monotheism -Full text Part 1









First published 1 939 



PARTS I and II of this book were published in 
German in Imago in 1937; Part III has not 
previously appeared in print. 

I am indebted to Mr. James Strachey and Mr. 
Wilfred Trotter for kindly reading through this 
translation and for making a number of valuable 
suggestions. I have also had the advantage of 
consulting the author on some doubtful points. 

K.J: ' 











1. The Historical Premisses 95 

2. Latency Period and Tradition - 107 

3. The Analogy - - - 116 

4. Application - - - 129 

5. Difficulties - - - - 148 




1. Summary - - - - - 163 

2. The People of Israel - - 166 

3. The Great Man - - - 169 

4. The Progress in Spirituality - 176 

5 . Renunciation versus Gratification 182 

6. The Truth in Religion - 193 

7. The Return of the Repressed - 197 

8. The Historical Truth - - - 201 

9. The Historical Development - 207 


INDEX - - - 219 


Part I 

To deny a people the man whom it praises as 
the greatest of its sons is not a deed to be under- 
taken light-heartedly especially by one belong- 
ing to that people. No consideration, however, 
will move rne to set aside truth in favour 
of supposed national interests. Moreover, the 
elucidation of the mere facts of the problem may 
be expected to deepen our insight into the 
situation with which they are concerned. 

The man Moses, the liberator of his people, who 
gave them their religion and their laws, belonged 
to an age so remote that the preliminary question 
arises whether he was an historical person or a 
legendary figure. If he lived, his time was the 
thirteenth or fourteenth century B.C.; we have 
no word of him but from the Holy Books and 
the written traditions of the Jews. Although 
the decision lacks final historical certainty, the 
great majority of historians have expressed the 
opinion that Moses did live and that the exodus 
from Egypt, led by him, did in fact take place. 


It has been maintained with good reason that 
the later history of Israel could not be understood 
if this were not admitted. Science to-day has 
become much more cautious and deals much 
more leniently with tradition than it did in the 
early days of historical investigation. 

What first attracts our interest in the person of 
Moses is his name, which is written Mosche in 
Hebrew. One may well ask: Where does it 
come from ? What does it mean ? As is well 
known, the story in Exodus, Chapter ii, already 
answers this question. There we learn that the 
Egyptian princess who saved the babe from the 
waters of the Nile gave him his name, adding the 
etymological explanation: because I drew him 
out of the water. But this explanation is obviously 
inadequate. " The biblical interpretation of the 
name ' He that was drawn out of the water 5 " 
thus an author of the Judisches Lexikon 1 "is folk 
etymology; the active Hebrew form itself of the 
name (Mosche can at best mean only ' the 
drawer out 5 ) cannot be reconciled with this 
solution." This argument can be supported by 
two further reflections : first, that it is nonsensical 
to credit an Egyptian princess with a knowledge 
of Hebrew etymology, and, secondly, that the 
water from which the child was drawn was most 
probably not the water of the Nile. 

1 Judisches Lexikon, founded by Herlitz und Kirschner, Bd. IV, 
1930, Jiidischer Verlag, Berlin. 


On the other hand the suggestion has long been 
made and by many different people that the name 
Moses derives from the Egyptian vocabulary. 
Instead of citing all the authors who have voiced 
this opinion I shall quote a passage from a recent 
work by Breasted, 1 an author whose History of 
Egypt is regarded as authoritative. "It is 
important to notice that his name, Moses, was 
Egyptian. It is simply the Egyptian word ' mose ' 
meaning * child/ and is an abridgement of a 
fuller form of such names as ' Amen -mose ' 
meaning c Amon-a-child 5 or ' Ptah-mose, 5 mean- 
ing c Ptah -a -child, 5 these forms themselves being 
likewise abbreviations for the complete form 
* Amon-(has-given)-a child 5 or Ptah -(has -given) - 
a -child. 5 The abbreviation ' child 5 early became 
a convenient rapid form for the cumbrous full 
name, and the name Mose, c child, 5 is not un- 
common on the Egyptian monuments. The father 
of Moses without doubt prefixed to his son 5 s name 
that of an Egyptian god like Amon or Ptah, and 
this divine name was gradually lost in current 
usage, till the boy was called ' Mose. 5 (The final 
s is an addition drawn from the Greek translation 
of the Old Testament. It is riot in the Hebrew, 
which has ' mosheh 5 ). 55 I have given this 
passage literally and am by no means prepared 
to share the responsibility for its details. I am 
a little surprised, however, that Breasted in 

1 The Dawn of Conscience, London, 1934, p. 350. 


citing related names should have passed over the 
analogous theophorous names in the list of 
Egyptian kings, such as Ah-mose, Thut-mose 
(Thothmes) and Ra-mose (Ramses). 

It might have been expected that one of the 
many authors who recognized Moses to be an 
Egyptian name would have drawn the con- 
clusion, or at least considered the possibility, 
that the bearer of an Egyptian name was himself 
an Egyptian. In modern times we have no 
misgiving in drawing such conclusions, although 
to-day a person bears two names, not one, and 
although a change of name or assimilation of it 
in new conditions cannot be ruled out. So we 
are not at all surprised to find that the poet 
Chamisso was of French extraction, Napoleon 
Buonaparte on the other hand of Italian, and 
that Benjamin Disraeli was an Italian Jew as 
his name would lead us to expect. And such an 
inference from the name to the race should be 
more reliable and indeed conclusive in respect 
of early and primitive times. Nevertheless to the 
best of my knowledge no historian has drawn this 
conclusion in the case of Moses, not even one of 
those who, like Breasted, are ready to suppose 
that Moses " was cognizant of all the wisdom of 
the Egyptians." l 

What hindered them from doing so can only 
be guessed at. Perhaps the awe of Biblical 

1 Loc. cit. 9 p. 334. 


tradition was insuperable. Perhaps it seemed 
monstrous to imagine that the man Moses could 
have been anything other than a Hebrew. In 
any event, what happened was that the recogni- 
tion of the name being Egyptian was not a factor 
in judging the origin of the man Moses, and that 
nothing further was deduced from it. If the 
question of the nationality of this great man is 
considered important, then any new material for 
answering it must be welcome. 

This is what my little essay attempts. It may 
claim a place in Imago 1 because the contribution 
it brings is an application of psycho-analysis. 
The considerations thus reached will impress only 
that minority of readers familiar with analytical 
reasoning and able to appreciate its conclusions. 
To them I hope it will appear of significance. 

In 1909 Otto Rank, then still under my influ- 
ence, published at my suggestion a book entitled : 
Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden. 2 It deals with 
the fact " that almost all important civilized 
peoples have early on woven myths around and 
glorified in poetry their heroes, mythical kings 
and princes, founders of religions, of dynasties, 
empires and cities in short their national heroes. 
Especially the history of their birth and of their 
early years is furnished with phantastic traits; 

1 See Glossary. 

2 Funftes Heft der Schriften zur angewandten Seelenkunde, Fr. 
Deuticke, Wien. It is far from my mind to depreciate the value 
of Rank's original contributions to this work. 


the amazing similarity, nay, literal identity, of 
those tales, even if they refer to different, com- 
pletely independent peoples, sometimes geo- 
graphically far removed from one another, is well 
known and has struck many an investigator. 55 
Following Rank we reconstruct on the lines of 
Galton's technique an "^average myth 55 that 
makes prominent the essential features of all these 
tales, and we then get this formula. 

" The hero is the son of parents of the highest 
station, most often the son of a king. 

" His conception is impeded by difficuJties, 
such as abstinence or temporary sterility; or else 
his parents practise intercourse in secret because 
of prohibitions or other external obstacles. During 
his mothers pregnancy or earlier an oracle or a 
dream warns the father of the child 5 s birth as 
containing grave danger for his safety. 

" In consequence the father (or a person 
representing him) gives orders for the new-born 
babe to be killed or exposed to extreme danger; 
in most cases the babe is placed in a casket and 
delivered to the waves. 

" The child is then saved by animals or poor 
people, such as shepherds, and suckled by a 
female animal or a woman of humble birth. 

" When full grown he rediscovers his noble 
parents after many strange adventures, wreaks 
vengeance on his father and, recognized by his 
people, attains fame and greatness. 55 


The most remote of the historical personages 
to whom this myth attaches is Sargon of Agade, 
the founder of Babylon about 2800 B.C. From the 
point of view of what interests us here it would 
perhaps be worth while to reproduce the account 
ascribed to himself: 

" I am Sargon, the mighty king, King of 
Agade. My mother was a Vestal; my father I 
knew not; while my father's brother dwelt in 
the mountains. In my town Azupirani it lies 
on the banks of Euphrates my mother, the 
Vestal, conceived me. Secretly she bore me. She laid 
me in a basket of sedge, closed the opening with 
pitch and lowered me into the river. The stream did 
not drown me, but carried me to Akki, the 
drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, in 
the goodness of his heart lifted me out of the 
water. Akki, the drawer of water, as his own son he 
brought me up. Akki, the drawer of water, made 
me his gardener. When I was a gardener Istar 
fell in love with me. I became king and for forty- 
five years I ruled as king. 5 ' 

The best known names in the series beginning 
with Sargon of Agade are Moses, Cyrus and 
Romulus. But besides these Rank has enumerated 
many other heroes belonging to myth or poetry 
to whom the same youthful story attaches either 
in its entirety or in well recognizable parts, such as 
(Edipus, Kama, Paris, Telephos, Perseus, Heracles, 
Gilgamesh, Amphion, Zethos and others. 


The source and the tendency of such myths are 
familiar to us through Rank's work. I need only 
refer to his conclusions with a few short hints. 
A hero is a man who stands up manfully against 
his father and in the end victoriously overcomes 
him. The myth in question traces this struggle 
back to the very dawn of the hero's life, by having 
him born against his father's will and saved in 
spite of his father's evil intentions. The exposure 
in the basket is clearly a symbolical representa- 
tion of birth ; the basket is the womb, the stream 
the water at birth. In innumerable dreams the 
relation of the child to the parents is represented 
by drawing or saving from the water. When the 
imagination of a people attaches this myth to a 
famous personage it is to indicate that he is 
recognized as a hero, that his life has conformed 
to the typical plan. The inner source of the myth 
is the so-called " family romance " of the child, 
in which the son reacts to the change in his inner 
relationship to his parents, especially that to his 
father. The child's first years are governed by 
grandiose over-estimation of his father; kings 
and queens in dreams and fairy tales always 
represent, accordingly, the parents. Later on, 
under the influence of rivalry and real disappoint- 
ments, the release from the parents and a critical 
attitude towards the father sets in. The two 
families of the myth, the noble as well as the 
humble one, are therefore both images of his own 


family as they appear to the child in successive 
periods of his life. 

It is not too much to say that these observations 
fully explain the similarity as well as the far- 
spread occurrence of the myth of the birth of the 
hero. It is all the more interesting to find that 
the myth of Moses 5 birth and exposure stands 
apart; in one essential point it even contradicts 
the others. 

We start with the two families between which 
the myth has cast the child's fate. We know that 
analytic interpretation makes them into one 
family, that the distinction is only a temporal 
one. In the typical form of the myth the first 
family, into which the child is born, is a noble and 
mostly a royal one; the second family, in which 
the child grows up, is a humble and degraded 
one, corresponding with the circumstances to 
which the interpretation refers. Only in the 
story of (Edipus is this difference obscured. The 
babe exposed by one kingly family is brought up 
by another royal pair. It can hardly be an 
accident that in this one example there is in the 
myth itself a glimmer of the original identity of 
the two families. The social contrast of the two 
families meant, as we know, to stress the heroic 
nature of a great man gives a second function 
to our myth, which becomes especially significant 
with historical personages. It can also be used 
to provide for our hero a patent of nobility to 


elevate him to a higher social rank. Thus Cyrus 
is for the Medes an alien conqueror; by way of 
the exposure myth he becomes the grandson of 
their king. A similar trait occurs in the myth of 
Romulus : if such a man ever lived he must have 
been an unknown adventurer, an upstart; the 
myth makes him a descendant of, and heir to, 
the royal house of Alba Longa. 

It is very different in the case of Moses. Here 
the first family usually so distinguished is 
modest enough. ^He is the child of Jewish 
Leyites. But the second family the humble one 
in which as a rule heroes are brought up is 
replaced by the Royal house of Egypt; the 
princess brings him up as her own son. This 
divergence from the usual type has struck many 
research workers as strange. E. Meyer and others 
after him supposed the original form of the myth 
to have been different. Pharaoh had been warned 
by a prophetic dream 1 that his daughter's son 
would become a danger to him and his kingdom. 
This is why he has the child delivered to the 
waters of the Nile shortly after his birth. But the 
child is saved by Jewish people and brought up 
as their own. " National motives " in Rank's 
terminology 2 had transformed the myth into the 
form now known by us. 

However, further thought tells us that an 

1 Also mentioned in Flavius Josephus's narration. 

2 Loc. tit., p. 80, footnote. 


original Moses myth of this kind, one not diverg- 
ing from other birth myths, could not have 
existed. For the legend is either of Egyptian or 
of Jewish origin. The first supposition may be 
excluded. The Egyptians had no motive to 
glorify Moses; to them he was not a hero. So 
the legend should have originated among the 
Jewish people; that is to say, it was attached in 
the usual version to the person of their leader. 
But for that purpose it was entirely unfitted; 
what good is a legend to a people that makes 
their hero into an alien ? 

The Moses myth as we know it to-day lags 
sadly behind its secret motives. If Moses is not 
of royal lineage our legend cannot make him into 
a hero ; if he remains a Jew it has done nothing 
to raise his status. Only one small feature of the 
whole myth remains effective : the assurance that 
the babe survived in spite of strong outside forces 
to the contrary. This feature is repeated in the 
early history of Jesus, where King Herod assumes 
the role of Pharaoh. So we really have a right 
to assume that in a later and rather clumsy 
treatment of the legendary material the adapter 
saw fit to equip his hero Moses with certain 
features appertaining to the classical exposure 
myths characteristic of a hero, and yet unsuited 
to Moses by reason of the special circumstances. 

With this unsatisfactory and even uncertain 
result our investigation would have to end, 


without having contributed anything to answering 
the" question whether Moses was Egyptian, were 
there not another and perhaps more successful 
way of approaching the exposure myth itself. 

Let us return to the two families in the myth. 
As we know, on the level of analytic interpreta- 
tion they are identical. On a mythical level they 
are distinguished as the noble and the humble 
family. With an historical person to whom the 
myth has become attached there is, however, a 
third level, that of reality. One of the families is 
the real one, the one into which the great man 
was really born and in which he was brought up. 
The other is fictitious, invented by the myth in 
pursuance of its own motives. As a rule the real 
family corresponds with the humble one, the 
noble family with the fictitious one. In the case 
of Moses something seemed to be different. And 
here the new point of view may perhaps bring 
some illumination. It is that the first family, 
the one from which the babe is exposed to danger, 
is in all comparable cases the fictitious one; the 
second family, however, by which the hero is 
adopted and in which he grows up is his real one. 
If we have the courage to accept this statement 
as a general truth to which the Moses legend also 
is subject, then we suddenly see our way clear. 
Moses is an Egyptian probably of noble origin 
whom the myth undertakes to transform into a 
Jew. And that would be our conclusion! The 


exposure in the water was in its right place; to 
fit the new conclusion the intention had to be 
changed, not without violence. From a means of 
getting rid of the child it becomes a means of its 

The divergence of the Moses legend from all 
others of its kind might be traced back to a 
special feature in the story of Moses 5 life. Whereas 
in all other cases the hero rises above his humble 
beginnings as his life progresses, the heroic life 
of the man Moses began by descending from 
his eminence to the level of the children of 

This little investigation was undertaken in the 
hope of gaining from it a second, fresh argument 
for the suggestion that Moses was an Egyptian. 
We have seen that the first argument, that of his 
name, has not been considered decisive. 1 We 
have to be prepared for the new reasoning the 
analysis of the exposure myth not faring any 
better. The objection is likely to be that the 
circumstances of the origin and transformation of 
legends are too obscure to allow of such a con- 
clusion as the preceding one, and that all efforts 
to extract the kernel of historical truth must be 

1 Thus E. Meyer in Die Mosessagen und die Leviten, Berliner 
Sitzber. 1905: " The name Mose is probably the name Pinchas in 
the priest dynasty of Silo . . . without a doubt Egyptian. This 
does not prove however that these dynasties were of Egyptian 
origin, but it proves that they had relations with Egypt." (p. 651 .) 
One may well ask what kind of relations one is to imagine. 


doomed to failure in face of the incoherence and 
contradictions clustering around the heroic person 
of Moses and the unmistakable signs of tenden- 
tious distortion and stratification accumulated 
through many centuries. I myself do not share 
this negative attitude, but I am not in a position 
to confute it. 

If there was no more certainty than this to be 
attained why have I brought this enquiry to the 
notice of a wider public ? I regret that even my 
justification has to restrict itself to hints. If, 
however, one is attracted by the two arguments 
outlined above, and tries to take seriously the 
conclusion that Moses was a distinguished 
Egyptian, then very interesting and far-reaching 
perspectives open out. With the help of certain 
assumptions the motives guiding Moses in his 
unusual undertaking can be made intelligible; 
in close connection with this the possible motiva- 
tion of numerous characteristics and peculiarities 
of the legislation and religion he gave the Jewish 
people can be perceived. It stimulates ideas of 
some moment concerning the origin of mono- 
theistic religion in general. But such important 
considerations cannot be based on psychological 
probabilities alone. Even if one were to accept it 
as historical that Moses was Egyptian, we should 
want at least one other fixed point so as to protect 
the many emerging possibilities from the reproach 
of their being products of imagination and too 


far removed from reality. An objective proof of 
the period into which the life of Moses, and with 
it the exodus from Egypt, fall would perhaps have 
sufficed. But this has not been forthcoming, and 
therefore it will be better to suppress any infer- 
ences that might follow our view that Moses was 
an Egyptian. 


Part II 

IN Part I of this book I have tried to 
strengthen by a new argument the suggestion that 
the man Moses, the liberator and law-giver of 
the Jewish people, was not a Jew, but an Egypt- 
ian. That his name derived from the Egyptian 
vocabulary had long been observed, though not 
duly appreciated. I added to this consideration 
the further one that the interpretation of the 
exposure myth attaching to Moses necessitated 
the conclusion that he was an Egyptian whom a 
people needed to make into a Jew.VAt the end of 
my essay I said that important and far-reaching 
conclusions could be drawn from the suggestion 
that Moses was an Egyptian; but I was not 
prepared to uphold them publicly, since they were 
based only on psychological probabilities and 
lacked objective proof. The more significant the 
possibilities thus discerned the more cautious is 
one about exposing them to the critical attack of 
the outside world without any secure foundation 
like an iron monument with feet of clay. No 



probability, however seductive, can protect us 
from error; even if all parts of a problem seem 
to fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, 
one has to remember that the probable need not 
necessarily be the truth and the truth not always 
probable. And, lastly, it is not attractive to be 
classed with the scholastics and talmudists who 
are satisfied to exercise their ingenuity uncon- 
cerned how far removed their conclusions may 
be from the truth. 

Notwithstanding these misgivings, which weigh 
as heavily to-day as they did then, out of the 
conflict of my motives the decision has emerged 
to follow up my first essay by this contribution. 
But once again it is only a part of the whole, and 
not the most important part. 

If, then, Moses was an Egyptian, the first gain 
from this suggestion is a new riddle, one difficult 
to answer. When a people of a tribe 1 prepares 
for a great undertaking it is to be expected that 
one of them should make himself their leader or 
be chosen for this role. But what could have 
induced a distinguished Egyptian perhaps a 
prince, priest or high official to place himself at 

1 We have no inkling what numbers were concerned in the 


the head of a throng of culturally inferior immi- 
grants, and to leave the country with them, is 
not easy to conjecture. The well-known contempt 
of the Egyptians for foreigners makes such a 
proceeding especially unlikely. Indeed, I am 
inclined to think this is why even those historians 
who recognized the name as Egyptian, and 
ascribed all the wisdom of Egypt to him, were not 
willing to entertain the obvious possibility that 
Moses was an Egyptian. 

This first difficulty is followed by a second. We 
must not forget that Moses was not only the 
political leader of the Jews settled in Egypt, he 
was also their law -giver and educator and the 
man who forced them to adopt a new religion, 
which is still to-day called Mosaic after him. 
But can a single person create a new religion so 
easily ? And when someone wishes to influence 
the religion of another would not the most 
natural thing be to convert him to his own ? 
The Jewish people in Egypt were certainly 
not without some kind of religion, and if 
Moses, who gave them a new religion, was an 
Egyptian, then the surmise cannot be rejected 
that this other new religion was the Egyptian 

This possibility encounters an obstacle: the 
sharp contrast between the Jewish religion 
attributed to Moses and the Egyptian one. 
The former is a grandiosely rigid monotheism. 


There is only one God, unique, omnipotent, 
unapproachable. The sight of his countenance 
cannot be borne; one must not make an image 
of him, not even breathe his name. In the 
Egyptian religion, on the other hand, there is 
a bewildering mass of deities of differing impor- 
tance and provenance. Some of them are per- 
sonifications of great natural powers like heaven 
and earth, sun and moon. Then we find an 
abstraction such as Maat (Justice, Truth) or a 
grotesque creature like the dwarfish Bes. Most 
of them, however, are local gods from the time 
when the land was divided into numerous 
provinces. They have the shapes of animals as 
if they had not yet overcome their origin from 
the old totem animals. They are not clearly 
differentiated, barely distinguished by special 
functions attributed to some of them. The hymns 
in praise of these gods tell the same thing about 
each of them, identify them with one another 
without any misgivings in a way that would 
confuse us hopelessly. Names of deities are 
combined with one another, so that one becomes 
degraded almost to an epithet of the other. Thus 
in the best period of the " New Empire " the 
main god of the city of Thebes is called Amon-Re 
in which combination the first part signifies the 
ram-headed city-god, whereas Re is the name of 
the hawk -headed Sun -God of On. Magic and 
ceremonial, amulets and formulas, dominated 


the service of these gods, as they did the daily 
life of the Egyptians. 

Some of these differences may easily derive 
from the contrast in principle between a strict 
monotheism and an unlimited polytheism. Others 
are obviously consequences of a difference in 
intellectual level; one religion is very near to the 
primitive, the other has soared to the heights of 
sublime abstraction. Perhaps it is these two 
characteristics that occasionally give one the 
impression that the contrast between the Mosaic 
and the Egyptian religion is one intended and 
purposely accentuated: for example, when the 
one religion severely condemns any kind of 
magic or sorcery which flourishes so abundantly 
in the other ; or when the insatiable zest of the 
Egyptian for making images of his gods in clay, 
stone and metal, to which our museums owe so 
much, is contrasted with the way in which the 
making of the image of any living or visionary 
being is bluntly forbidden. 

There is yet another difference between the 
two religions, which the explanations we have 
attempted do not touch. No other people of 
antiquity has done so much to deny death, has 
made such careful provision for an after-life; in 
accordance with this the death -god Osiris, the 
ruler of that other world, was the mosj; popular 
and indisputable of all Egyptian gods.^The early 
Jewish religion, on the other hand, had entirely 


relinquished immortality; the possibility of an 
existence after death was never mentioned in any 
place. And this is all the more remarkable since 
later experience has shown that the belief in a 
life beyond can very well be reconciled with a 
monotheistic religion. 

We had hoped the suggestion that Moses was 
an Egyptian would prove enlightening and 
stimulating in many different respects. But our 
first deduction from this suggestion that the new 
religion he gave the Jews was his own, the 
Egyptian one has foundered on the difference, 
nay the striking contrast, between the two 


A strange fact in the history of the Egyptian 
religion, which was recognized and appraised 
relatively late, opens up another point of view. 
It is still possible that the religion Moses gave to 
his Jewish people was yet his own, an Egyptian 
religion though not the Egyptian one. 

In the glorious Eighteenth Dynasty, when 
Egypt became for the first time a world power, 
a young Pharaoh ascended the throne about 
1 375 B.C., who first called himself Amenhotep (IV) 
like his father, but later on changed his name 
and not only his name. This king undertook 


to force upon his subjects a new religion, one 
contrary to their ancient traditions and to all 
their familiar habitsXIt was a strict monotheisn*, 
the first attempt of its kind in the history of the 
world as far as we know and religious intoler- 
ance, which was foreign to antiquity before this 
and for long after, was inevitably born with the 
belief in one God. But Amenhotep's reign lasted 
only for seventeen years; very soon after his 
death in 1358 the new religion was swept away 
and the memory of the heretic king proscribed. 
From the ruins of his new capital which he had 
built and dedicated to his God, and from the 
inscriptions in the rock tombs belonging to it, we 
derive the little knowledge we possess of him. 
Everything we can learn about this remarkable, 
indeed unique, person is worthy of the greatest 
interest. 1 

Everything new must have its roots in what was 
before. The origin of Egyptian monotheism can 
be traced back a fair distance with some cer- 
tainty. 1 In the School of the Priests in the Sun 
Temple at On (Heliopolis) tendencies had for 
some time been at work developing the idea of an 
universal God and stressing His ethical aspects. 
Maat, the Goddess of truth, order and justice, 
was a daughter of the Sun God Re. Already 

1 Breasted called him " The first individual in human history." 

2 The account I give here follows closely J. H. Breasted's History 
of Egypt, 1906, and The Dawn of Conscience, 1936, and the corre- 
sponding sections in the Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. II. 


under Amenhotep III, the father and predecessor 
of the reformer, the worship of the Sun God was 
in the ascendant, probably in opposition to the 
worship of Amon of Thebes, who had become 
over prominent. An ancient name of the Sun- 
God Aton or Atum was rediscovered, and in this 
Aton religion the young king found a movement 
he had no need to create, but one which he could 

Political conditions in Egypt had about that 
time begun to exert a lasting influence on 
Egyptian religion. Through the victorious sword 
of the great conqueror Thothmes III Egypt had 
become a world power. Nubia in the south, 
Palestine, Syria and a part of Mesopotamia in 
the north had been added to the Empire. This 
imperialism was reflected in religion as Universal- 
ity and Monotheism. Since Pharaoh's solicitude 
now extended beyond Egypt to Nubia and Syria, 
Deity itself had to give up its national limitation 
and the new God of the Egyptians had to become 
like Pharaoh the unique and unlimited sovereign 
of the world known to the Egyptians. Besides, 
it was natural that as the frontiers extended 
Egypt should become accessible to foreign 
influences ; some of the king's wives were Asiatic 
princesses, 1 and possibly even direct encourage- 
ment of monotheism had penetrated from 

1 Perhaps even Amenhotep's beloved spouse Nofertete. 


Amenhotep never denied his accession to the 
Sun Cult of On. In the two hymns to Aton, which 
have been preserved to us through the inscriptions 
in the rock tombs and were probably composed 
by him, he praises the sun as the creator and 
preserver of all living beings in and outside 
Egypt with a fervour such as recurs many 
centuries after only in the psalms in honour of 
the Jewish god Jahve. But he did not stop at this 
astonishing anticipation of scientific knowledge 
concerning the effect of sunlight. There is no 
doubt that he went further: that he worshipped 
the sun not as a material object, but as a symbol 
of a Divine Being whose energy was manifested 
in his rays. 1 

But we do scant justice to the king if we see in 
him only the adherent and protector of an Aton 
religion which had already existed before him. 
His activity was much more energetic. He added 
the something new that turned into monotheism 
the doctrine of an universal god : the quality of 
exclusiveness. In one of his hymns it is stated in 

1 Breasted, History of Egypt, p. 360: " But however evident the 
Heliopolitan origin of the new state religion might be, it was not 
merely sun-worship; the word Aton was employed in the place 
of the old word for ' god ' (nuter), and the god is clearly dis- 
tinguished from the material sun." " It is evident that what the 
king was deifying was the force by which the Sun made itself 
felt on earth " (Dawn of Conscience, p. 279). Erman's opinion of a 
formula in honour of the god is similar : A. Erman (Die JEgyptische 
Religion, 1905). " There are . . . words which are meant to 
express in an abstract form the fact that not the star itself was 
worshipped, but the Being that manifested itself in it." 


so many words: " Oh, Thou only God! There 
is no other God than Thou. 55 1 And we must not 
forget that to appraise the new doctrine it is not 
enough to know its positive content only; nearly 
as important is its negative side, the knowledge of 
what it repudiates. It would be a mistake, too, 
to suppose that the new religion sprang to life 
ready and fully equipped like Athene out of 
Zeus 5 forehead. Everything rather goes to show 
that during Amenhotep's reign it was strength- 
ened so as to attain greater clarity, consistency, 
harshness and intolerance. Probably this develop- 
ment took place under the influence of the violent 
opposition among the priests of Amon that raised 
its head against the reforms of the king. In the 
sixth year of Amenhotep's reign this enmity had 
grown to such an extent that the king changed 
his name, of which the now proscribed name of 
the god Amon was a part. Instead of Amenhotep 
he called himself Ikhnaton. 2 But not only from 
his name did he eliminate that of the hated God, 
but also from all inscriptions and even where he 
found it in his father's name Amenhotep III. 
Soon after his change of name Ikhnaton left 
Thebes, which was under Amon's rule, and built 
a new capital lower down the river which he 

1 Idem, History of Egypt, p. 374. 

2 I follow Breasted's (American) spelling in this name (the 
accepted English spelling is Akhenaten). The king's new name 
means approximately the same as his former one : God is satisfied. 
Compare our Godfrey and the German Gotthold. 


called Akhetaton (Horizon of Aton). Its ruins 
are now called Tell-el-Amarna. 1 

The persecution by the king was directed fore- 
most against Amon, but not against him alone. 
Everywhere in the Empire the temples were 
closed, the services forbidden, and the ecclesias- 
tical property seized. Indeed, the king's zeal 
went so far as to cause an inquiry to be made into 
the inscriptions of old monuments in order to 
efface the word " God " whenever it was used 
in the plural. 2 It is not to be wondered at that 
these orders produced a reaction of fanatical 
vengeance among the suppressed priests and the 
discontented people, a reaction which was able 
to find a free outlet after the king's death. The 
Aton religion had not appealed to the people; 
it had probably been limited to a small circle 
round Ikhnaton's person. His end is wrapped in 
mystery. We learn of a few short-lived, shadowy 
successors of his own family. Already his son-in- 
law Tutankhaton was forced to return to Thebes 
and to substitute Amon in his name for the god 
Aton. Then there followed a period of anarchy, 
until the general Haremhab succeeded in 1350 
in restoring order. The glorious Eighteenth 
Dynasty was extinguished; at the same time their 

1 This is where in 1887 the correspondence of the Egyptian 
kings with their friends and vassals in Asia was found, a cor- 
respondence which proved so important for our knowledge of 

2 Idem, History of Egypt, p. 363. 


conquests in Nubia and Asia were lost. In this 
sad interregnum Egypt's old religions had 
been reinstated. The Aton religion was at 
an end, Ikhnaton's capital lay destroyed and 
plundered, and his memory was scorned as that 
of a felon. 

It will serve a certain purpose if we now note 
several negative characteristics of the Aton 
religion. In the first place, all myth, magic and 
sorcery are excluded from it. 1 

Then there is the way in which the Sun God is 
represented: no longer as in earlier times by a 
small pyramid and a falcon, but and this is 
almost rational by a round disc from which 
emanate rays terminating in human hands. In 
spite of all the love for art in the Amarna period, 
not one personal representation of the Sun God 
Aton has been found, and, we may say with 
confidence, ever will be found. 2 

Finally, there is a complete silence about 
the death god Osiris and the realm of the 
dead. Neither hymns nor inscriptions on graves 

1 Weigall (The Life and Times of Akhnaton, 1923, p. 121) says that 
Ikhnaton would not recognize a hell against the terrors of which 
one had to guard by innumerable magic spells. " Akhnaton flung 
all these formulas into the fire. Djins, bogies, spirits, monsters, 
demigods and Osiris himself with all his court, were swept into 
the blaze and reduced to ashes." 

8 A. Weigall, I.e., p. 103, " Akhnaton did not permit any 
graven image to be made of the Aton. The true God, said the 
king, had no form; and he held to this opinion throughout his 


know anything of what was perhaps nearest 
to the Egyptian's heart. The contrast with the 
popular religion cannot be expressed more 
vividly. 1 


We venture now to draw the following con- 
clusion: if Moses was an Egyptian and if he 
transmitted to the Jews his own religion then it 
was that of Ikhnaton, the Aton religion. 

We compared earlier the Jewish religion with 
the religion of the Egyptian people and noted 
how different they were from each other. Now 
we shall compare the Jewish with the Aton 
religion and should expect to find that they were 
originally identical. We know that this is no easy 
task. Of the Aton religion we do not perhaps 
know enough, thanks to the revengeful spirit of 
the Amon priests. The Mosaic religion we know 
only in its final form as it was fixed by Jewish 
priests in the time after the Exile about 800 years 
later. If, in spite of this unpromising material, 
we should find some indications fitting in with 
our supposition then we may indeed value them 

1 Erman, /.., p. 90: " Of Osiris and his realm no more was to 
be heard." Breasted, Dawn of Conscience, p. 291: "Osiris is 
completely ignored. He is never mentioned in any record of 
Ikhnaton or in any of the tombs at Amarna." 


There would be a short way of proving our 
thesis that the Mosaic religion is nothing else 
but that of Aton, namely, by a confession of 
faith, a proclamation. But I am afraid I should 
be told that such a road is impracticable. The 
Jewish creed, as is well known, says: " Schema 
Jisroel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echod." If the 
similarity of the name of the Egyptian Aton (or 
Atum) to the Hebrew word Adonai and the 
Syrian divine name Adonis is not a mere accident, 
but is the result of a primaeval unity in language 
and meaning, then one could translate the 
Jewish formula: Hear, oh Israel, our god Aton 
(Adonai) is the only God. I am, alas, entirely 
unqualified to answer this question and have 
been able to find very little about it in the 
literature concerned, 1 but probably we had 
better not make things so simple. Moreover, we 
shall have to come back to the problems of the 
divine name. 

The points of similarity as well as those of 
difference in the two religions are easily discerned, 
but do not enlighten us much. Both are forms of 
a strict monotheism, and we shall be inclined to 
reduce to this basic character what is similar in 
both of them. 'Jewish monotheism is in some 

1 Only a few passages in Weigall, I.e., pp. 12, 19: " The god 
Atum, who described Re as the setting sun, was perhaps of the 
same origin as Aton, generally venerated in Northern Syria. A 
foreign Queen, as well as her suite, might therefore have been 
attracted to Heliopolis rather than to Thebes." 


points even more uncompromising than the 
Egyptian, for example, when it forbids all visual 
representation of its God. The most essential 
difference apart from the name of their God 
is that the Jewish religion entirely relinquishes 
the worship of the sun, to which the Egyptian one 
still adhered. When comparing the Jewish with 
the Egyptian folk religion we received the 
impression that, besides the contrast in principle, 
there was in the difference between the two 
religions an element of purposive contradiction. 
This impression appears justified when in our 
comparison we replace the Jewish religion by that 
of Aton, which Ikhnaton as we know developed 
in deliberate antagonism to the popular religion. 
We were astonished and rightly so that the 
Jewish religion did not speak of anything beyond 
the grave, for such a doctrine is reconcilable with 
the strictest monotheism. This astonishment 
disappears if we go back from the Jewish religion 
to the Aton religion and surmise that this feature 
was taken over from the latter, since for Ikhnaton 
it was a necessity in fighting the popular religion 
where the death god Osiris played perhaps a 
greater part than any god of the upper regions. 
The agreement of the Jewish religion with that of 
Aton in this important point is the first strong 
argument in favour of our thesis. We shall see 
that it is not the only one. 
Moses gave the Jews not only a new religion; 


it is equally certain that he introduced the custom 
of circumcision. This has a decisive importance 
for our problem and it has hardly ever been 
weighed. The Biblical account, it is true, often 
contradicts it. On the one hand, it dates the 
custom back to the time of the patriarchs as a 
sign of the covenant concluded between God and 
Abraham. On the other hand, the text mentions 
in a specially obscure passage that God was 
wroth with Moses because he had neglected this 
holy usage and proposed to slay him as a punish- 
ment; Moses' wife, aMidianite, saved her husband 
from the wrath of God by speedily performing 
the operation. These are distortions, however, 
which should not lead us astray; we shall explore 
their motives presently. The fact remains that 
the question concerning the origin of circumcision 
has only one answer: it comes from Egypt. 
Herodotus, " the Father of History, 55 tells us that 
the custom of circumcision had long been 
practised in Egypt, and his statement has been 
confirmed by the examination of mummies and 
even by drawings on the walls of graves. No 
other people of the Eastern Mediterranean has 
as far as we know followed this custom; we can 
assume with certainty that the Semites, Baby- 
lonians and Sumerians were not circumcised. 
Biblical history itself says as much of the inhabi- 
tants of Canaan; it is presupposed in the story 
of the adventure between Jacob 5 s daughter and 


the Prince of Shechem. 1 The possibility that the 
Jews in Egypt adopted the usage of circumcision 
in any other way than in connection with the 
religion Moses gave them may be rejected as 
quite untenable. Now let us bear in mind that 
circumcision was practised in Egypt by the 
people as a general custom, and let us adopt for 
the moment the usual assumption that Moses was 
a Jew who wanted to free his compatriots from 
the service of an Egyptian overlord, and lead them 
out of the country to develop an independent 
and self-confident existence a feat he actually 
achieved. What sense could there be in his 
forcing upon them at the same time a burden- 
some custom which, so to speak, made them into 
Egyptians and was bound to keep awake their 
memory of Egypt, whereas his intention could 
only have had the opposite aim, namely, that his 
people should become strangers to the country 
of bondage and overcome the longing for the 
" fleshpots of Egypt " ? No, the fact we started 

1 When I use Biblical tradition here in such an autocratic and 
arbitrary way, draw on it for confirmation whenever it is con- 
venient and dismiss its evidence without scruple when it contra- 
dicts my conclusions, I know full well that I am exposing myself 
to severe criticism concerning my method and that I weaken the 
force of my proofs. But this is the only way in which to treat 
material whose trustworthiness as we know for certain was 
seriously damaged by the influence of distorting tendencies. 
Some justification will be forthcoming later, it is hoped, when we 
have unearthed those secret motives. Certainty is not to be gained 
in any case, and, moreover, we may say that all other authors 
have acted likewise. 


from and the suggestion we added to it are so 
incompatible with each other that we venture to 
draw the following conclusion: If Moses gave 
the Jews not only a new religion, but also the 
law of circumcision, he was no Jew but an 
Egyptian, and then the Mosaic religion was 
probably an Egyptian one, namely because of 
its contrast to the popular religion that of Aton 
with which the Jewish one shows agreement in 
some remarkable points. 

As I remarked earlier, my hypothesis that 
Moses was not a Jew but an Egyptian creates a 
new enigma. What he did easily understand- 
able if he were a Jew becomes unintelligible in 
an Egyptian. But if we place Moses in Ikhnaton's 
period and associate him with that Pharaoh, 
then the enigma is resolved and a possible motive 
presents itself, answering all our questions. Let 
us assume that Moses was a noble and distin- 
guished man: perhaps indeed a member of the 
royal house, as the myth has it. He must have 
been conscious of his great abilities, ambitious 
and energetic; perhaps he saw himself in a dim 
future as the leader of his people, the governor 
of the Empire. In close contact with Pharaoh he 
was a convinced adherent of the new religion, 
whose basic principles he fully understood and 
had made his own. With the king's death and 
the subsequent reaction he saw all his hopes and 
prospects destroyed. If he was not to recant the 


convictions so dear to him then Egypt had no 
more to give him; he had lost his native country. 
In this hour of need he found an unusual solution. 
The dreamer Ikhnaton had estranged himself 
from his people, had let his world empire crumble. 
Moses 5 active nature conceived the plan of found- 
ing a new empire, of finding a new people, to 
whom he could give the religion that Egypt 
disdained. It was, as we perceive, an heroic 
attempt to struggle against his fate, to find com- 
pensation in two directions for the losses he had 
suffered through Ikhnaton's catastrophe. Perhaps 
he was at the time governor of that border 
province (Gosen) in which perhaps already in 
" the Hyksos period " certain Semitic tribes had 
settled. These he chose to be his new people. 
An historic decision. 1 

He established relations with them, placed 
himself at their head and directed the Exodus 
" by strength of hand." In full contradistinction 
to the Biblical tradition we may suppose this 
Exodus to have passed off peacefully and without 
pursuit. The authority of Moses made it possible, 

1 If Moses were a high official we can understand his being 
fitted for the r61e of leader he assumed with the Jews. If he were 
a priest the thought of giving his people a new religion must have 
been near to his heart. In both cases he would have continued his 
former profession. A prince of royal lineage might easily have 
been both : governor and priest. In the report of Flavius Josephus 
(Antiqu. jud.) , who accepts the exposure myth, but seems to know 
other traditions than the Biblical one, Moses appears as an 
Egyptian field -marshal in a victorious campaign in Ethiopia. 


and there was then no central power that could 
have prevented it. 

According to our construction the Exodus from 
Egypt would have taken place between 1358 and 
1350, that is to say, after the death of Ikhnaton 
and before the restitution of the authority of the 
state by Haremhab. 1 The goal of the wandering 
could only be Canaan. After the supremacy of 
Egypt had collapsed, hordes of war -like Arameans 
had flooded the country, conquering and pillag- 
ing, and thus had shown where a capable people 
could seize new land. We know these warriors 
from the letters which were found in 1887 in the 
archives of the ruined city of Amarna. There 
they are called Habiru, and the name was passed 
on no one knows how to the Jewish invaders, 
Hebrews, who came later and could not have 
been referred to in the letters of Amarna. The 
tribes who were the most nearly related to the 
Jews now leaving Egypt also lived south of 
Palestine in Canaan. 

The motivation that we have surmised for the 
Exodus as a whole covers also the institution of 
circumcision. We know in what manner human 
beings both peoples and individuals react to 
this ancient custom, scarcely any longer under- 
stood. Those who do not practise it regard it as 

1 This would be about a century earlier than most historians 
assume, who place it in the Nineteenth Dynasty under Merneptah : 
or perhaps a little less, for official records seem to include the 
interregnum in Haremhab's reign. 


very odd and find it rather abhorrent; but those 
who have adopted circumcision are proud of the 
custom. They feel superior, ennobled, and look 
down with contempt at the others, who appear 
to them unclean. Even to-day the Turk hurls 
abuse at the Christian by calling him "an un- 
circumcised dog. 55 It is credible that Moses, who 
as an Egyptian was himself circumcised, shared 
this attitude. The Jews with whom he left his 
native country were to be a better substitute for 
the Egyptians he left behind. In no circum- 
stances must they be inferior to them. He wished 
to make of them a " Holy People 55 so it is 
explicitly stated in the Biblical text and as a 
sign of their dedication he introduced the custom 
that made them at least the equals of the Egypt- 
ians. It would, further, be welcome to him if 
such a custom isolated them and prevented them 
from mingling with the other foreign peoples they 
would meet during their wanderings, just as the 
Egyptians had kept apart from all foreigners. 1 

1 Herodotus, who visited Egypt about 450 B.C., gives in the 
account of his travels a characteristic of the Egyptians which 
shows an astounding similarity with well-known features of the 
later Jewish people. " They are in all respects much more pious 
than other peoples, they are also distinguished from them by many 
of their customs, such as circumcision, which for reasons of 
cleanliness they introduced before others; further, by their 
horror of swine, doubtless connected with the fact that Set wounded 
Horus when in the guise of a black hog; and, lastly, most of all by 
their reverence for cows, which they would never eat or sacrifice 
because they would thereby offend the cow -horned Isis. There- 
fore no Egyptian man or woman would ever kiss a Greek or use 



Jewish tradition, however, behaved later on as 
if it were oppressed by the sequence of ideas we 
have just developed. To admit that circumcision 
was an Egyptian custom introduced by Moses 
would be almost to recognize that the religion 
handed down to them from Moses was also 
Egyptian. But the Jews had good reasons to 
deny this fact; therefore the truth about circum- 
cision had also to be contradicted. 


At this point I expect to hear the reproach that 
I have built up my construction which places 
Moses the Egyptian in Ikhnaton's era, derives 
from the political state the country was in at that 
time his decision to protect the Jewish people, 
and recognizes as the Aton religion the religion 
he gave to his people or with which he burdened 
them, which had just been abolished in Egypt 
itself that I have built up this edifice of 

his knife, his spit or his cooking vessel, or eat of the meat of an 
(otherwise) clean ox that had been cut with a Greek knife. . . . 
In haughty narrowness they looked down on the other peoples 
who were unclean and not so near to the gods as they were." 
(After Erman, The Egyptian Religion, p. 181, etc.) 

Naturally we do not forget here the parallels from the life of 
India. Whatever gave, by the way, the Jewish poet Heine in the 
nineteenth century the idea of complaining about his religion as 
" the plague trailing along from the valley of the Nile, the sickly 
beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians " ? 


conjectures with too great a certainty for which no 
adequate grounds are to be found in the material 
itself. I think this reproach would be unjustified. 
I have already stressed the element of doubt in 
the introduction, put a query in front of the 
brackets, so to speak, and can therefore save 
myself the trouble of repeating it at each point 
inside the brackets. 

Some of my own critical observations may 
continue the discussion. The kernel of our thesis, 
the dependence of Jewish monotheism on the 
monotheistic episode in Egyptian history, has 
been guessed and hinted at by several workers. 
I need not cite them here, since none of them has 
been able to say by what means this influence 
was exerted. Even if, as I suggest, it is bound up 
with the individuality of Moses, we shall have 
to weigh other possibilities than the one here 
preferred. It is not to be supposed that the over- 
throw of the official Aton religion completely 
put an end to the monotheistic trend in Egypt. 
The School of Priests at On, from which it 
emanated, survived the catastrophe and might 
have drawn whole generations after Ikhnaton 
into the orbit of their religious thought. That 
Moses performed the deed is quite thinkable, 
therefore, even if he did not live in Ikhnaton's 
time and had not come under his personal 
influence, even if he were simply an adherent or 
merely a member of the school of On. This 


conjecture would postpone the date of the 
Exodus and bring it nearer to the time usually 
assumed, the thirteenth century; otherwise it 
has nothing to recommend it. We should have 
to relinquish the insight we had gained into 
Moses 5 motives and to dispense with the idea of 
the Exodus being facilitated by the anarchy 
prevailing in Egypt. The kings of the Nineteenth 
Dynasty following Ikhnaton ruled the country 
with a strong hand. All conditions, internal and 
external, favouring the Exodus coincide only in 
the period immediately after the death of the 
heretic king. 

The Jews possess a rich extra -biblical literature 
where the myths and superstitions are to be found 
which in the course of centuries were woven 
around the gigantic figure of their first leader and 
the founder of their religion and which have both 
hallowed and obscured that figure. Some frag- 
ments of sound tradition which had found no 
place in the Pentateuch may lie scattered in that 
material. One of these legends describes in an 
attractive fashion how the ambition of the man 
Moses had already displayed itself in his child- 
hood. When Pharaoh took him into his arms and 
playfully tossed him high, the little three-year- 
old snatched the crown from Pharaoh's head and 
placed it on his own. The king was startled at 
this omen and took care to consult his sages. 1 

1 The same anecdote, slightly altered, is to be found in Josephus. 


Then, again, we are told of victorious battles he 
fought as an Egyptian captain in Ethiopia and, 
in the same connection, that he fled the country 
because he had reason to fear the envy of a 
faction at court or even the envy of Pharaoh 
himself. The Biblical story itself lends Moses 
certain features in which one is inclined to believe. 
It describes him as choleric, hot-tempered as 
when in his indignation he kills the brutal over- 
seer who ill-treated a Jewish workman, or when 
in his resentment at the defection of his people he 
smashes the tables he has been given on Mount 
Sinai. Indeed, God himself punished him at long 
last for a deed of impatience we are not told 
what it was. Since such a trait does not lend 
itself to glorification it may very well be historical 
truth. Nor can we reject even the possibility that 
many character traits the Jews incorporated into 
their early conception of God when they made 
him jealous, stern and implacable, were taken 
au fond from their memory of Moses, for in truth 
it was not an invisible god, but the man Moses, 
who had led them out of Egypt. 

Another trait imputed to him deserves our 
special interest. Moses was said to have been 
" slow of speech " that is to say, he must have 
had a speech impediment or inhibition so that 
he had to call on Aaron (who is called his brother) 
for assistance in his supposed discussions with 
Pharaoh. This again may be historical truth and 


would serve as a welcome addition to the 
endeavour to make the picture of this great man 
live. It may, however, have another and more 
important significance. The report may, in a 
slightly distorted way, recall the fact that Moses 
spoke another language and was not able to 
communicate with his Semitic Neo-Egyptians 
without the help of an interpreter at least not 
at the beginning of their intercourse. Thus a 
fresh confirmation of the thesis: Moses was an 

It looks now as if the train of thought has come 
to an end, at least for the time being. From the 
surmise that Moses was an Egyptian, be it 
proven or not, nothing more can be deduced for 
the moment. No historian can regard the Biblical 
account of Moses and the Exodus as other than a 
pious myth, which transformed a remote tradi- 
tion in the interest of its own tendencies. How 
the tradition ran originally we do not know. 
What the distorting tendencies were we should 
like to guess, but we are kept in the dark by our 
ignorance of the historical events. That our 
reconstruction leaves no room for so many 
spectacular features of the Biblical text the ten 
plagues, the passage through the Red Sea, the 
solemn law -giving on Mount Sinai will not 
lead us astray. But we cannot remain indifferent 
on finding ourselves in opposition to the sober 
historical researches of our time. 


These modern historians, well represented by 
E. Meyer/ follow the Biblical text in one decisive 
point. They concur that the Jewish tribes, who 
later on become the people of Israel, at a certain 
time accepted a new religion. But this event did 
not take place in Egypt nor at the foot of a 
mount in the Sinai peninsula, but in a place 
called Meribat-Qades, an oasis distinguished by 
its abundance of springs and wells in the country 
south of Palestine between the eastern end of the 
Sinai peninsula and the western end of Arabia. 
There they took over the worship of a god Jahve, 
probably from the Arabic tribe of Midianites who 
lived near-by. Presumably other neighbouring 
tribes were also followers of that god. 

Jahve was certainly a volcano god. As we know, 
however, Egypt has no volcanoes and the 
mountains of the Sinai peninsula have never 
been volcanic; on the other hand, volcanoes 
which may have been active up to a late period 
are found along the western border of Arabia. 
One of these mountains must have been the 
Sinai -Horeb which was believed to be Jahve J s 
abode. 2 In spite of all the transformations the 
Biblical text has suffered, we are able to re- 
construct according to E. Meyer the orig- 
inal character of the god: he is an uncanny, 

1 E. Meyer: Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstdmme y 1906. 

2 The Biblical text retains certain passages telling us that Jahve 
descended from Sinai to Meribat-Qades. 


bloodthirsty demon who walks by night and shuns 
the light of day. 1 

The mediator between the people and the god 
at this birth of a new religion was called Moses. 
He was the son-in-law of the Midianite priest 
Jethro and was tending his flocks when he 
received the divine summons. Jethro visited him 
in Qades to give him instructions. 

E. Meyer says, it is true, that he never doubted 
there was a kernel of historical truth in the story 
of the bondage in Egypt and the catastrophe of 
the Egyptians, 2 but evidently he does not know 
where that recognized fact belongs and what to 
do with it. Only the custom of circumcision is he 
willing to derive from the Egyptians. He enriches 
our earlier discussion by two important sugges- 
tions. First, that Joshua asked the people to 
accept circumcision " to roll away the reproach 
of Egypt " ; and, secondly, by the quotation from 
Herodotus that the Phoenicians (which probably 
means the Jews) and the Syrians in Palestine 
themselves admitted having learned the custom 
of circumcision from the Egyptians. 8 But an 
Egyptian Moses does not appeal to him. " The 
Moses we know was the ancestor of the priests of 
Qades ; he stood therefore in relation to the cult, 
was a figure of the genealogical myth and not an 
historical person. So not one of those who has 
treated him as an historical person except those 

1 L.c., pp. 38, 58. 2 L.c., p. 49. 8 L.c., p. 449. 


who accept tradition wholesale as historical truth 
has succeeded in filling this empty shape with 
any content, in describing him as a concrete 
personality; they have had nothing to tell us 
about what he achieved or about his mission in 
history. 1 

On the other hand, Meyer never wearies of 
telling us about Moses' relation to Qades and 
Midian. " The figure of Moses so closely bound 
up with Midian and the holy places in the 
desert. 55 * " This figure of Moses is inextricably 
associated with Qades (Massa and Meriba) ; the 
relationship with a Midianite priest by marriage 
completes the picture. The connection with the 
Exodus, on the other hand, and the story of his 
youth in its entirety, are absolutely secondary 
and are merely the consequence of Moses having 
to fit into a connected, continuous story. 558 He 
also observes that all the characteristics contained 
in the story of Moses 5 youth were later omitted. 
" Moses in Midian is no longer an Egyptian and 
Pharaoh 5 s grandson, but a shepherd to whom 
Jahve reveals himself. In the story of the ten 
plagues his former relationships are no longer 
mentioned, although they could have been used 
very effectively, and the order to kill the Israelite 
first-born is entirely forgotten. In the Exodus 
and the perishing of the Egyptians Moses has no 
part at all; he is not even mentioned. The 

1 L.c., p. 451. 2 L.c. p. 49. 3 L.c. y p. 72. 


characteristics of a hero, which the childhood 
story presupposes, are entirely absent in the later 
Moses ; he is only the man of God, a performer of 
miracles, provided with supernatural powers by 
Jahve." * 

We cannot escape the impression that this 
Moses of Qades and Midian, to whom tradition 
could even ascribe the erection of a brazen serpent 
as a healing god, is quite a different person from 
the august Egyptian we had deduced, who dis- 
closed to his people a religion in which all magic 
and sorcery were most strictly abhorred. Our 
Egyptian Moses differs perhaps no less from the 
Midian Moses than the universal god Aton 
differed from the demon Jahve on his divine 
mountain. And if we concede any measure of 
truth to the information furnished by modern 
historians, then we have to admit that the thread 
we wished to draw from the surmise that Moses 
was an Egyptian has broken off for the second 
time; this time, so it seems, without any hope 
of its being tied again. 


A way unexpectedly presents itself, however, 
out of this difficulty too. The efforts to recognize 
in Moses a figure transcending the priest of 

! L.c., p. 47. 


Qades, and confirming the renown with which 
tradition had invested him, were continued after 
E. Meyer by Gressmann and others. In 1922 
E. Sellin made a discovery of decisive importance. 1 
He found in the book of the prophet Hosea 
second half of the eighth century unmistakable 
traces of a tradition to the effect that the founder 
of their religion (Moses) met a violent end in a 
rebellion of his stubborn and refractory people. 
The religion he had instituted was at the same 
time abandoned. This tradition is not restricted 
to Hosea : it recurs in the writings of most of the 
later prophets; indeed, according to Sellin, it 
was the basis of all the later expectations of the 
Messiah. Towards the end of the Babylonian 
exile the hope arose among the Jewish people 
that the man they had so callously murdered 
would return from the realm of the dead and lead 
his contrite people and perhaps not only his 
people into the land of eternal bliss. The 
palpable connections with the destiny of the 
Founder of a later religion do not lie in our present 

Naturally I am not in a position to decide 
whether Sellin has correctly interpreted the 
relevant passages in the prophets. If he is right, 
however, we may regard as historically credible 
the tradition he recognized: for such things are 

1 E. Sellin, Most und seine Bedeutung fuer die israelitisch-juediscfu 
Religionsgeschichte, 1922. 


not readily invented there is no tangible motive 
for doing so. And if they have really happened 
the wish to forget them is easily understood. We 
need not accept every detail of the tradition. 
Sellin thinks that Shittim in the land east of the 
Jordan is indicated as the scene of the violent 
deed. We shall see, however, that the choice of 
this locality does not accord with our argument. 
Let us adopt from Sellin the surmise that the 
Egyptian Moses was killed by the Jews and the 
religion he instituted abandoned. It allows us to 
spin our thread further without contradicting the 
trustworthy results of historical research. But we 
venture to be independent of the historians in 
other respects and to blaze our own trail. The 
Exodus from Egypt remains our starting-point. 
It must have been a considerable number that 
left the country with Moses ; a small crowd would 
not have been worth the while of that ambitious 
man, with his great schemes. The immigrants 
had probably been in the country long enough 
to develop into a numerous people. We shall 
certainly not go astray, however, if we suppose 
with the majority of research workers that only a 
part of those who later became the Jewish people 
had undergone the fate of bondage in Egypt. In 
other words, the tribe returning from Egypt 
combined later in the country between Egypt and 
Canaan with other related tribes that had been 
settled there for some time. This union, from 


which was born the people of Israel, expressed 
itself in the adoption of a new religion, common 
to all the tribes, the religion of Jahve; according 
to E. Meyer, this came about in Qades under 
the influence of the Midianites. Thereupon the 
people felt strong enough to undertake the 
invasion of Canaan. It does not fit in with this 
course of events that the catastrophe to Moses and 
his religion should have taken place in the land 
east of the Jordan it must have happened a long 
time before the union. 

It is certain that many very diverse elements 
contributed to the building up of the Jewish 
people, but the greatest difference among them 
must have depended on whether they had 
experienced the sojourn in Egypt and what 
followed it, or not. From this point of view we 
may say that the nation was made up by the 
union of two constituents, and it accords with this 
fact that, after a short period of political unity, 
it broke asunder into two parts the Kingdom of 
Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. History loves 
such restorations, in which later fusions are re- 
dissolved and former separations become once 
more apparent. The most impressive example 
a very well-known one was provided by the 
Reformation, when, after an interval of more 
than a thousand years, it brought to light again 
the frontier between the Germania that had been 
Roman and the part that had always remained 


independent. With the Jewish people we cannot 
verify such a faithful reproduction of the former 
state of affairs. Our knowledge of those times is 
too uncertain to permit the assumption that the 
northern Kingdom had absorbed the original 
settlers, the southern those returning from Egypt; 
but the later dissolution, in this case also, could 
not have been unconnected with the earlier 
union. The former Egyptians were probably 
fewer than the others, but they proved to be on 
a higher level culturally. They exercised a more 
important influence on the later development of 
the people because they brought with them a 
tradition the others lacked. 

Perhaps they brought something else, some- 
thing more tangible than a tradition. Among the 
greatest riddles of Jewish prehistoric times is that 
concerning the antecedents of the Levites. They 
are said to have been derived from one of the 
twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi, but no 
tradition has ever ventured to pronounce on 
where that tribe originally dwelt or what portion 
of the conquered country of Canaan had been 
allotted to it. They occupied the most important 
priestly positions, but yet they were distinguished 
from the priests. A Levite is not necessarily a 
priest; it is not the name of a caste. Our sup- 
position about the person of Moses suggests an 
explanation. It is not credible that a great 
gentleman like the Egyptian Moses approached 


a people strange to him without an escort. He 
must have brought his retinue with him, his 
nearest adherents, his scribes, his servants. These 
were the original Levites. Tradition maintains 
that Moses was a Levite. This seems a transparent 
distortion of the actual state of affairs: the 
Levites were Moses 5 people. This solution is 
supported by what I mentioned in my previous 
essay: that in later times we find Egyptian 
names only among the Levites. 1 We may suppose 
that a fair number of these Moses people escaped 
the fate that overtook him and his religion. 
They increased in the following generations and 
fused with the people among whom they lived, 
but they remained faithful to their master, 
honoured his memory and retained the tradition 
of his teaching. At the time of the union with 
the followers of Jahve they formed an influential 
minority, culturally superior to the rest. 

I suggest and it is only a suggestion so far 
that between the downfall of Moses and the 
founding of a religion at Qades two generations 
were born and vanished, that perhaps even a 
century elapsed. I do not see my way to deter- 
mine whether the Neo -Egyptians as I should 
like to call those who returned from Egypt in 
distinction to the other Jews met with their 

1 This assumption fits in well with what Yahuda says about the 
Egyptian influence on early Jewish writings. See A. S. Yahuda, 
Die Sprache des Pentateuch in ihren Beziehungen zum Aegyptischen, 1929. 


blood relations after these had already accepted 
the Jahve religion or before that had happened. 
Perhaps the latter is more likely. It makes no 
difference to the final result. What happened at 
Qades was a compromise, in which the part 
taken by the Moses tribe is unmistakable. 

Here we may call again on the custom of 
circumcision which a kind of " Leitfossil " 
has repeatedly rendered us important services. 
This custom also became the law in the Jahve 
religion, and since it is inextricably connected 
with Egypt its adoption must signify a con- 
cession to the people of Moses. They or the 
Levites among them would not forgo this sign 
of their consecration. They wanted to save so 
much of their old religion, and for that price they 
were willing to recognize the new deity and all 
that the Midian priests had to say about him. 
Possibly they managed to obtain still other con- 
cessions. We have already mentioned that Jewish 
ritual ordains a certain economy in the use of the 
name of God. Instead of Jahve they had to say 
Adonai. It is tempting to fit this commandment 
into our argument, but that is merely a surmise. 
The prohibition upon uttering the name of God 
is, as is well known, a primaeval taboo. Why 
exactly it was renewed in the Jewish command- 
ments is not quite clear; it is not out of the 
question that this happened under the influence 
of a new motive. There is no reason to suppose 


that the commandment was consistently followed; 
the word Jahve was freely used in the formation 
of personal theophorous names, i.e. in combina- 
tions such as Jochanan, Jehu, Joshua. Yet there 
is something peculiar about this name. It is 
well known that Biblical exegesis recognizes two 
sources of the Hexateuch. They are called J and 
E because the one uses the holy name of Jahve, 
the other that of Elohim ; Elohim, it is true, not 
Adonai. But we may here quote the remark of 
one writer: the different names are a distinct 
sign of originally different gods. 1 

We admitted the adherence to the custom of 
circumcision as evidence that at the founding of 
the new religion at Qades a compromise had 
taken place. What it consisted in we learn from 
both J and E; the two accounts coincide and 
must therefore go back to a common source, 
either a written source or an oral tradition. The 
guiding purpose was to prove the greatness and 
power of the new god Jahve. Since the Moses 
people attached such great importance to their 
experience of the Exodus from Egypt, the deed of 
freeing them had to be ascribed to Jahve; it had 
to be adorned with features that proved the 
terrific grandeur of this volcano god, such as, for 
example, the pillar of smoke which changed to 
one of fire by night, or the storm that parted the 
waters so that the pursuers were drowned by the 

1 Gressmann Mose und Seine ^eit^ 1913. 


returning floods of water. The Exodus and the 
founding of the new religion were thus brought 
close together in time, the long interval between 
them being denied. The bestowal of the Ten 
Commandments too was said to have taken place, 
not at Qades, but at the foot of the Holy Moun- 
tain amidst the signs of a volcanic eruption. This 
description, however, did a serious wrong to the 
memory of the man Moses; it was he, and not 
the volcano god, who had freed his people from 
Egypt. Some compensation was therefore due to 
him, and it was given by transposing Moses to 
Qades or to the mount Sinai -Horeb and putting 
him in the place of the Midianite priest. We shall 
consider later how this solution satisfied another, 
irresistibly urgent, tendency. By its means a 
balance, so to speak, was established : Jahve was 
allowed to extend his reach to Egypt from his 
mountain in Midia, while the existence and 
activity of Moses were transferred to Qades and 
the country east of the Jordan. This is how he 
became one with the person who later established 
a religion, the son-in-law of the Midianite 
Jethro, the man to whom he lent his name Moses. 
We know nothing personal, however, about this 
other Moses he is entirely obscured by the first, 
the Egyptian Moses except possibly from clues 
provided by the contradictions to be found in the 
Bible in the characterization of Moses. He is 
often enough described as masterful, hot-tempered, 


even violent, and yet it is also said of him 
that he was the most patient and sweet-tempered 
of all men. It is clear that the latter qualities 
would have been of no use to the Egyptian Moses 
who planned such great and difficult projects for 
his people. Perhaps they belonged to the other, 
the Midianite. I think we are justified in separat- 
ing the two persons from each other and in 
assuming that the Egyptian Moses never was in 
Qades and had never heard the name of Jahve, 
whereas the Midianite Moses never set foot in 
Egypt and knew nothing of Aton. In order to 
make the two people into one, tradition or legend 
had to bring the Egyptian Moses to Midian ; and 
we have seen that more than one explanation 
was given for it. 


I am quite prepared to hear anew the reproach 
that I have put forward my reconstruction of the 
early history of the tribe of Israel with undue and 
unjustified certitude. I shall not feel this criticism 
to be too harsh, since it finds an echo in my own 
judgement. I know myself that this reconstruc- 
tion has its weak places, but it also has its strong 
ones. On the whole the arguments in favour 
of continuing this work in the same direction 
prevail. The Biblical record before us contains 


valuable, nay invaluable, historical evidence. It 
has, however, been distorted by tendentious 
influences and elaborated by the products of 
poetical invention. In our work we have already 
been able to divine one of these distorting ten- 
dencies. This discovery shall guide us on our 
way. It is a hint to uncover other similar distorting 
influences. If we find reasons for recognizing the 
distortions produced by them, then we shall be able 
to bring to light more of the true course of events. 
Let us begin by marking what critical research 
work on the Bible has to say about how the 
Hexateuch the five Books of Moses and the 
Book of Joshua, for they alone are of interest to 
us here came to be written. 1 The oldest source 
is considered to be J, the Jahvistic, in the author 
of which the most modern research workers think 
they can recognize the priest Ebjatar, a con- 
temporary of King David. 2 A little later, it is 
not known how much later, comes the so-called 
Elohistic, belonging to the northern kingdom. 8 
After the destruction of this kingdom, in 722 B.C., 
a Jewish priest combined portions of J and E and 
added his own contributions. His compilation 
is designated as JE. In the seventh century 
Deuteronomy, the fifth book, was added, it being 
alleged that the whole of it had been newly found 

1 Encyclopedia Britannica, XI Edition, 1910, Art.: Bible. 

2 See Auerbach, Wuste und Gelobtes Land, 1932. 

3 Astruc in 1 753 was the first to distinguish between Jahvist and 


in the Temple. In the time after the destruction 
of the Temple, in 586 B.C., during the Exile and 
after the return, is placed the re-writing called 
the Priestly Code. The fifth century saw a 
definitive revision, and since then the work has 
not been materially altered. 1 

The history of King David and his time is most 
probably the work of one of his contemporaries. 
It is real history, five hundred years before 
Herodotus, the " Father of History." One would 
begin to understand this achievement if one 
assumed, in terms of my hypothesis, Egyptian 
influence. 2 The suggestion has even been made 
that early Israelites, the scribes of Moses, had a 
hand in the invention of the first alphabet. 3 How 
far the accounts of former times are based on 
earlier sources or on oral tradition, and what 

1 It is historically certain that the Jewish type was definitely 
fixed as a result of the reforms by Ezra and Nehemiah in the fifth 
century B.C., therefore after the Exile, during the reign of the 
friendly Persians. According to our reckoning approximately 900 
years had then passed since the appearance of Moses. By these 
reforms the regulations aiming at the consecration of the chosen 
people were taken seriously: the separation from the other tribes 
were put into force by forbidding mixed marriages; the Penta- 
teuch, the real compilation of the law, was codified in its definitive 
form; the re -writing known as the Priestly Code was finished. It 
seems certain, however, that the reform did not adopt any new 
tendencies, but simply took over and consolidated former sugges- 

2 Gf. Yahuda, l.c. 

3 If they were bound by the prohibition against making images 
they had even a motive for forsaking the hieroglyphic picture 
writing when they adapted their written signs for the expression 
of a new language. 


interval elapsed between an event and its fixation 
by writing, we are naturally unable to know. 
The text, however, as we find it to-day tells us 
enough about its own history. Two distinct forces, 
diametrically opposed to each other, have left 
their traces on it. On the one hand, certain 
transformations got to work on it, falsifying the 
text in accord with secret tendencies, maiming 
and extending it until it was turned into its 
opposite. On the other hand, an indulgent piety 
reigned over it, anxious to keep everything as it 
stood, indifferent to whether the details fitted 
together or nullified one another. Thus almost 
everywhere there can be found striking omissions, 
disturbing repetitions, palpable contradictions, 
signs of things the communication of which was 
never intended. The distortion of a text is not 
unlike a murder. The difficulty lies not in the 
execution of the deed but in the doing away with 
the traces. One could wish to give the word 
" distortion " the double meaning to which it 
has a right, although it is no longer used in this 
sense. It should mean not only " to change the 
appearance of," but also " to wrench apart, 35 
" to put in another place. 55 That is why in so 
many textual distortions we may count on finding 
the suppressed and abnegated material hidden 
away somewhere, though in an altered shape and 
torn out of its original connection. Only it is 
not always easy to recognize it. 


The distorting tendencies we want to detect 
must have influenced the traditions before they 
were written down. One of them, perhaps the 
strongest of all, we have already discovered. We 
said that when the new god Jahve in Qades was 
instituted something had to be done to glorify 
him. It is truer to say: He had to be established, 
made room for; traces of former religions had to 
be extinguished. This seems to have been done 
successfully with the religion of the settled tribes ; 
no more was heard of it. With the returning 
tribes the task was not so easy; they were deter- 
mined not to be deprived of the Exodus from 
Egypt, the man Moses and the custom of circum- 
cision. It is true they had been in Egypt, but they 
had left it again, and from now on every trace of 
Egyptian influence was to be denied. Moses was 
disposed of by displacing him to Midian and 
Qades and making him into one person with the 
priest who founded the Jahve religion. Circum- 
cision, the most compromising sign of the 
dependence on Egypt, had to be retained, but, in 
spite of all the existing evidence, every endeavour 
was made to divorce this custom from Egypt. 
The enigmatic passage in Exodus, written in an 
almost incomprehensible style, saying that God 
had been wroth with Moses for neglecting cir- 
cumcision and that his Midianite wife saved his 
life by a speedy operation, can be interpreted 
only as a deliberate contradiction of the significant 


truth. We shall soon come across another inven- 
tion for the purpose of invalidating a piece of 
inconvenient evidence. 

It is hardly to be described as a new tendency 
it is only the continuation of the same one 
when we find an endeavour completely to deny 
that Jahve was a new god, one alien to the Jews. 
For that purpose the myths of the patriarchs, 
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are drawn upon. 
Jahve maintains that He had been the God of 
those patriarchs; it is true and He has to admit 
this Himself they did not worship Him under 
this name. 1 

He does not add under what other name He used 
to be worshipped. Here the opportunity was taken 
to deal a decisive blow at the Egyptian origin of 
the custom of circumcision. Jahve was said to have 
already demanded it from Abraham, to have 
instituted it as sign of the bond between him and 
Abraham's descendants. This, however, was a 
particularly clumsy invention. If one wished 
to use a sign to distinguish someone from other 
people, one would choose something that the 
others did not possess certainly not something 
that millions could show. An Israelite, finding 
himself in Egypt, would have had to recognize 
all Egyptians as brothers, bound by the same bond, 
brothers in Jahve. The fact that circumcision 

1 The restrictions in the use of the new name do not become any 
more comprehensible through this, though much more suspect. 


was native to the Egyptians could not pos- 
sibly have been unknown to the Israelites who 
created the text of the Bible. The passage from 
Joshua quoted by E. Meyer freely admits this; but 
nevertheless the fact had at all costs to be denied. 
We cannot expect religious myths to pay 
scrupulous attention to logical connections. 
Otherwise the feeling of the people might have 
taken exception -justifiably so to the behaviour 
of a deity who makes a covenant with his patri- 
archs containing mutual obligations, and then 
ignores his human partners for centuries until it 
suddenly occurs to him to reveal himself again 
to their descendants. Still more astonishing is 
the conception of a god suddenly " choosing " a 
people, making it " his " people and himself its 
own god. I believe it is the only case in the 
history of human religions. In other cases the 
people and their god belong inseparably together; 
they are one from the beginning. Sometimes, it 
is true, we hear of a people adopting another god, 
but never of a god choosing a new people. 
Perhaps we approach an understanding of this 
unique happening when we reflect on the con- 
nection between Moses and the Jewish people. 
Moses had stooped to the Jews, had made them 
his people; they were his " chosen people/ 5 1 

1 Jahve was undoubtedly a volcano god. There was no reason 
for the inhabitants of Egypt to worship him. I am certainly not 
the first to be struck by the similarity of the name Jahve to the 
root of the name of another god : Jupiter, Jovis. The composite 


There was yet another purpose in bringing the 
patriarchs into the new Jahve religion. They had 
lived in Canaan; their memory was connected 
with certain localities in the country. Possibly 
they themselves had been Canaanite heroes or 
local divinities whom the immigrating Israelites 
had adopted for their early history. By evoking 
them one gave proof, so to speak, of having been 
born and bred in the country, and denied the 
odium that clings to the alien conqueror. It was 

name Jochanaan, made up in part from the Hebrew word Jahve 
and having a rather similar meaning to that of Godfrey or its 
Punic equivalent Hannibal, has become one of the most popular 
names of European Christendom in the forms of Johann, John, 
Jean, Juan. When the Italians reproduce it in the shape of 
Giovanni and then call one day of the week Giovedi they bring to 
light again a similarity which perhaps means nothing or possibly 
means very much. Far-reaching possibilities, though very in- 
secure ones, open out here. In those dark centuries which 
historical research is only beginning to explore, the countries 
around the eastern basin of the Mediterranean were apparently 
the scene of frequent and violent volcanic eruptions which were 
bound to make the deepest impression on the inhabitants. Evans 
supposes that the final destruction of the palace of Minos at 
Knossos was also the result of an earthquake. In Crete, as 
probably everywhere in the ^Sgean world, the great Mother 
Goddess was then worshipped. The observation that she was 
unable to guard her house against the attack of a stronger power 
might have contributed to her having to cede her place to a male 
deity, whereupon the volcano god had the first right to replace 
her. Zeus still bears the name of " the Earth -shaker." There is 
hardly a doubt that in those obscure times mother deities were 
replaced by male gods (perhaps originally their sons). Specially 
impressive is the fate of Pallas Athene, who was no doubt the 
local form of the mother deity ; through the religious revolution 
she was reduced to a daughter, robbed of her own mother, and 
eternally debarred from motherhood by the taboo of virginity. 


a clever turn: the god Jahve gave them only 
what their ancestors had once possessed. 

In the later contributions to the Biblical text 
the tendency to avoid mentioning Qades met 
with success. The site of the founding of the new 
religion definitely became the divine mountains 
Sinai-Horeb. The motive is not clearly visible; 
perhaps they did not want to be reminded of the 
influence of Midian. But all later distortions, 
especially those of the Priestly Code, serve another 
aim. There was no longer any need to alter in a 
particular direction descriptions of happenings of 
long ago; that had long been done. On the 
other hand, an endeavour was made to date 
back to an early time certain laws and institu- 
tions of the present, to base them as a rule on the 
Mosaic law and to derive from this their claim to 
holiness and binding force. However much the 
picture of past times in this way became falsified, 
the procedure does not lack a certain psycho- 
logical justification. It reflected the fact that in 
the course of many centuries about 800 years 
had elapsed between the Exodus and the fixation 
of the Biblical text by Ezra and Nehemiah the 
religion of Jahve had followed a retrograde 
development that had culminated in a fusion 
(perhaps to the point of actual identity) with the 
original religion of Moses. 

And this is the essential outcome: the fateful 
content of the religious history of the Jews. 



Among all the events of Jewish prehistory that 
poets, priests and historians of a later age under- 
took to portray there was an outstanding one the 
suppression of which was called for by the most 
obvious and best of human motives. It was the 
murder of the great leader and liberator Moses, 
which Sellin divined from clues furnished by the 
Prophets. Sellings presumption cannot be called 
fanciful; it is probable enough. Moses, trained 
in Ikhnaton's school, employed the same methods 
as the king; he gave commands and forced his 
religion on the people. 1 Perhaps Moses 5 doctrine 
was still more uncompromising than that of his 
Master; he had no need to retain any connection 
with the religion of the Sun God since the school 
of On would have no importance for his alien 
people. Moses met with the same fate as Ikhnaton, 
that fate which awaits all enlightened despots. 
The Jewish people of Moses was quite as unable 
to bear such a highly spiritualized religion, to 
find in what it offered satisfaction for their needs, 
as were the Egyptians of the Eighteenth Dynasty. 
In both cases the same thing happened: those 
who felt themselves kept in tutelage, or who felt 
dispossessed, revolted and threw off the burden 

1 In those times any other form of influence would scarcely have 
been possible. 


of a religion that had been forced on them. But 
while the tame Egyptians waited until fate had 
removed the sacred person of their Pharaoh, the 
savage Semites took their destiny into their own 
hands and did away with their tyrant. 1 

Nor can we maintain that the Biblical text 
preserved to us does not prepare us for such an 
end to Moses. The account of the " Wandering 
in the Wilderness " which might stand for the 
time of Moses' rule describes a series of grave 
revolts against his authority which, by Jahve's 
command, were suppressed with savage chastise- 
ment. It is easy to imagine that one of those 
revolts came to another end than the text admits. 
The people's falling away from the new religion 
is also mentioned in the text, though as a mere 
episode. It is the story of the golden calf, where 
by an adroit turn the breaking of the tables of the 
law which has to be understood symbolically 
(= "he has broken the law ") is ascribed 
to Moses himself and imputed to his angry 

There came a time when the people regretted 
the murder of Moses and tried to forget it. This 
was certainly so at the time of the coming 

1 It is truly remarkable how seldom we hear during the millenia 
of Egyptian history of violent depositions or assassinations of a 
Pharaoh. A comparison with Assyrian history, for example, must 
increase this astonishment. The reason may, of course, be that 
with the Egyptians historical recording served exclusively official 


together at Qades. If, however, the Exodus were 
brought nearer in time to the founding of their 
religion in the oasis, and one allowed Moses 
instead of the other founder to help in it, then 
not only were the claims of the Moses people 
satisfied, but the painful fact of his violent 
removal was also successfully denied. In reality 
it is most unlikely that Moses could have par- 
ticipated in the events at Qades, even if his life 
had not been shortened. 

Here we must try to elucidate the sequence of 
these events. We have placed the Exodus from 
Egypt in the time after the extinction of the 
Eighteenth Dynasty (1350). It might have 
happened then or a little later, for the Egyptian 
chroniclers included the subsequent years of 
anarchy in the reign of Haremhab, the king who 
brought it to an end and who reigned until 1315. 
The next aid in fixing the chronology and it is 
the only one is given by the stele of Merneptah 
(1225-1215), which extols the victory over 
Isiraal (Israel) and the destruction of their seeds 
(sic). Unfortunately the value of this stele is 
doubtful ; it is taken to be evidence that Israelite 
tribes were at that date already settled in 
Canaan. 1 E. Meyer rightly concludes from this 
stele that Merneptah could not have been the 
Pharaoh of the Exodus, as one had previously 
been wont to assume. The Exodus must belong 

1 E. Meyer, I.e., p. 222. 


to an earlier period. The question who was 
Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus appears to 
me an idle one. There was no Pharaoh at that 
time, because the Exodus happened during the 
interregnum. But the Merneptah stele does not 
throw any light on the possible date of the fusion 
and the acceptance of the new religion in Qades. 
All we can say with certainty is that they took 
place some time between 1350 and 1215. Within 
this century we assume the Exodus to have been 
very near to the first date, the events in Qades 
not far from the second. The greater part of the 
period we would reserve for the interval between 
the two events. A fairly long time would be 
necessary for the passions of the returning tribes 
to cool down after the murder of Moses and for 
the influence of the Moses people, the Levites, to 
have become so strong as the compromise in 
Qades presupposes. Two generations, sixty years, 
might suffice, but only just. The date inferred 
from the stele of Merneptah falls too early, and 
as we know that in our hypothesis one assumption 
only rests on another we have to admit that this 
discussion shows a weak spot in the construction. 
Unfortunately everything connected with the 
settling of the Jewish people in Canaan is highly 
obscure and confused. We might, of course, use 
the expedient of supposing that the name in the 
Israel stele does not refer to the tribes whose fate 
we are trying to follow and who later on were 


united in the people of Israel. After all, the name 
of the Habiru (= Hebrews) from the Amarna 
time was also passed on to this people. 

Whenever it was that the different tribes were 
united into a nation by accepting the same 
religion it might very well have been an occur- 
rence of no great importance for the history of 
the world. The new religion might have been 
swept away by the stream of events, Jahve would 
then have taken his place in the procession of 
erstwhile gods which Flaubert visualized, and of 
his people all the twelve tribes would have been 
" lost," not only the ten for whom the Anglo- 
Saxons have so long been searching. The god 
Jahve, to whom the Midianite Moses led a new 
people, was probably in no way a remarkable 
being. A rude, narrow-minded local god, violent 
and blood-thirsty, he had promised his adherents 
to give them " a land flowing with milk and 
honey " and he encouraged them to rid the 
country of its present inhabitants " with the edge 
of the sword. " It is truly astonishing that in 
spite of all the revisions in the Biblical text so 
much was allowed to stand whereby we may 
recognize his original nature. It is not even sure 
that his religion was a true monotheism, that it 
denied the character of god to other divinities. 
It probably sufficed that one's own god was more 
powerful than all strange gods. When the 
sequence of events took quite another course than 


such beginnings would lead us to expect there 
can be only one reason for it. To one part of the 
people the Egyptian Moses had given another 
and more spiritual conception of God, a single 
God who embraces the whole world, one as all- 
loving as he was all-powerful, who averse to all 
ceremonial and magic set humanity as its 
highest aim a life of truth and justice. For, 
incomplete as our information about the ethical 
side of the Aton religion may be, it is surely 
significant that Ikhnaton regularly described 
himself in his inscriptions as " living in Maat " 
(truth, justice). 1 In the long run it did not matter 
that the people, probably after a very short time, 
renounced the teaching of Moses and removed 
the man himself. The tradition itself remained 
and its influence reached though only slowly, 
in the course of centuries the aim that was 
denied to Moses himself. The god Jahve attained 
undeserved honour when, from Qades onward, 
Moses 5 deed of liberation was put down to his 
account; but he had to pay dear for this usurpa- 
tion. The shadow of the god whose place he had 
taken became stronger than himself; at the end 
of the historical development there arose beyond 
his Being that of the forgotten Mosaic God. 
None can doubt that it was only the idea of this 

1 His hymns lay stress on not only the universality and oneness of 
God, but also His loving kindness for all creatures; they invite 
believers to enjoy nature and its beauties. Gp. Breasted, The 
Dawn of Conscience. 



other God that enabled the people of Israel to 
surmount all their hardships and to survive until 
our time. 

It is no longer possible to determine the part 
the Levites played in the final victory of the 
Mosaic God over Jahve. When the compromise 
at Qades was effected they had raised their voice 
for Moses, their memory being still green of the 
master whose followers and countrymen they 
were. During the centuries since then the Levites 
had become one with the people or with the 
priesthood and it had become the main task of 
the priests to develop and supervise the ritual, 
besides caring for the holy texts and revising them 
in accordance with their purposes. But was not 
all this sacrifice and ceremonial at bottom only 
magic and black art, such as the old doctrine of 
Moses had unconditionally condemned ? There 
arose from the midst of the people an unending 
succession of men, not necessarily descended from 
Moses 5 people, but seized by the great and power- 
ful tradition which had gradually grown in dark- 
ness, and it was these men, the prophets, who 
sedulously preached the old Mosaic doctrine: 
the Deity spurns sacrifice and ceremonial; He 
demands only belief and a life of truth and 
justice (Maat) . The efforts of the prophets met 
with enduring success; the doctrines with which 
they re-established the old belief became the 
permanent content of the Jewish religion. It is 


honour enough for the Jewish people that it has 
kept alive such a tradition and produced men who 
lent it their voice even if the stimulus had first 
come from outside, from a great stranger. 

This description of events would leave me with 
a feeling of uncertainty were it not that I can refer 
to the judgement of other, expert, research workers 
who see the importance of Moses for the history of 
Jewish religion in the same light, although they 
do not recognize his Egyptian origin. Sellin says, 
for example: I " Therefore we have to picture 
the true religion of Moses, the belief he proclaimed 
in one, ethical god, as being from now on, as a 
matter of course, the possession of a small circle 
within the people. We cannot expect to find it 
from the start in the official cult, the priests 3 
religion, in the general belief of the people. All 
we can expect is that here and there a spark flies 
up from the spiritual fire he had kindled, that 
his ideas have not died out, but have quietly 
influenced beliefs and customs until, sooner or 
later, under the influence of special events, or 
through some personality particularly immersed 
in this belief, they broke forth again more strongly 
and gained dominance with the broad mass of 
the people. It is from this point of view that we 
have to regard the early religious history of 
the old Israelites. Were we to reconstruct the 
Mosaic religion after the pattern laid down in the 

1 Sellin, I.e., p. 52. 


historical documents that describe the religion of 
the first five centuries in Canaan we should fall 
into the worst methodical error. 55 Volz 1 expresses 
himself still more explicitly. He says : " that 
the heaven -soaring work of Moses was at first 
hardly understood and feebly carried out, until 
during the course of centuries it penetrated more 
and more into the spirit of the people and at last 
found kindred souls in the great prophets who 
continued the work of the lonely Founder." 

With this I have come to an end, my sole 
purpose having been to fit the figure of an 
Egyptian Moses into the framework of Jewish 
history. I may now express my conclusion in the 
shortest formula: To the well-known duality of 
that history two peoples who fuse together to 
form one nation, two kingdoms into which this 
nation divides, two names for the Deity in the 
source of the Bible we add two new ones : the 
founding of two new religions, the first one ousted 
by the second and yet reappearing victorious, 
two founders of religions, who are both called by 
the same name Moses and whose personalities 
we have to separate from each other. And all 
these dualities are necessary consequences of the 
first: one section of the people passed through 
what may properly be termed a traumatic 
experience which the other was spared. There 
still remains much to discuss, to explain and to 

1 Paul Volz: Mose, 1907, p. 64. 


assert. Only then would the interest in our 
purely historical study be fully warranted. In 
what exactly consists the intrinsic nature of a 
tradition, and in what resides its peculiar power, 
how impossible it is to deny the personal influence 
of individual great men on the history of the 
world, what profanation of the grandiose multi- 
formity of human life we commit if we recognize 
as sole motives those springing from material 
needs, from what sources certain ideas, especially 
religious ones, derive the power with which they 
subjugate individuals and peoples to study all 
this on the particular case of Jewish history would 
be an alluring task. Such a continuation of my 
essay would link up with conclusions laid down 
twenty-five years ago in Totem and Taboo. But 
I hardly trust my powers any further. 



Part III 



i. Written before March 1938 (Vienna) 

WITH the audacity of one who has little or nothing 
to lose I propose to break a well-founded resolu- 
tion for the second time and to follow up my two 
essays on Moses (Imago, Bd. XXIII, Heft i and 3) 
with the final part, till now withheld. When I 
finished the last essay I said I knew full well that 
my powers would not suffice for the task. I was, 
of course, referring to the weakening of the crea- 
tive faculties which accompanies old age, 1 but 
there was also another obstacle. We live in very 
remarkable times. We find with astonishment 
that progress has concluded an alliance with bar- 
barism. In Soviet Russia the attempt has been 

1 I do not share the opinion of my gifted contemporary Bernard 
Shaw that men would achieve anything worth while only if they 
could attain the age of 300 years. With the mere lengthening of 
the period of life nothing would be gained unless much in the 
conditions of life were radically changed as well. 



shall guard against doing anything that would 
serve his interests is more dangerous than the old 
one, with whom we have learned to live in peace. 
Psycho -analytic research is in any case the subject 
of suspicious attention from Catholicism. I do 
not maintain that this suspicion is unmerited. If 
our research leads us to a result that reduces 
religion to the status of a neurosis of mankind and 
explains its grandiose powers in the ^ame way as 
we should a neurotic obsession in our individual 
patients, then we may be sure we shall incur in 
this country the greatest resentment of the powers 
that be. It is not that I have anything new to say, 
nothing that I have not clearly expressed a quarter 
of a century ago. All that, however, has been for- 
gotten, and it would undoubtedly have some 
effect were I to repeat it now and to illustrate it 
by an example typical of the way in which re- 
ligions are founded. It would probably lead to our 
being forbidden to work in Psycho -Analysis. Such 
violent methods of suppression are by no means 
alien to the Catholic Church ; she feels it rather as 
an intrusion into her privileges when other people 
resort to the same means. Psycho -Analysis, how- 
ever, which has travelled everywhere during the 
course of my long life, has not yet found a more 
serviceable home than in the city where it was 
born and grew. 

I do not only think so, I know that this external 
danger will deter me from publishing the last 


part of my treatise on Moses. I have tried to 
remove this obstacle by telling myself that my 
fear is based on an over-estimation of my 
personal importance, and that the authorities 
would probably be quite indifferent to what I 
should have to say about Moses and the origin 
of monotheistic religions. Yet I do not feel sure 
that my judgement is correct. It seems to me 
more likely that malice and an appetite for 
sensation would make up for the importance I 
may lack in the eyes of the world. So I shall not 
publish this essay. But that need not hinder me 
from writing it. The more so since it was written 
once before, two years ago, and thus only needs 
re -writing and adding on to the two previous 
essays. Thus it may lie hid until the time comes 
when it may safely venture into the light of day, 
or until someone else who reaches the same 
opinions and conclusions can be told: " In 
darker days there lived a man who thought as 
you did." 

II. June 1938 (London) 

The exceptionally great difficulties which have 
weighed on me during the composition of this 
essay dealing with Moses inner misgivings as 
well as external hindrances are the reason why 
this third and final part comes to have two differ- 
ent prefaces which contradict, indeed even cancel, 


each other. For in the short interval between 
writing the two prefaces the outer conditions of 
the author have radically changed. Formerly 
I lived under the protection of the Catholic 
Church and feared that by publishing the essay 
I should lose that protection and that the practi- 
tioners and students of psycho-analysis in Austria 
would be forbidden their work. Then, suddenly, 
the German invasion broke in on us and Catholic- 
ism proved to be, as the Bible has it, " but a 
broken reed. 35 In the certainty of persecution 
now not only because of my work, but also 
because of my " race " I left with many friends 
the city which from early childhood, through 
78 years, had been a home to me. 

I found the kindliest welcome in beautiful, free, 
generous England. Here I live now, a welcome 
guest, relieved from that oppression and happy 
that I may again speak and write I almost said 
" think " as I want or have to. I dare now to 
make public the last part of my essay. 

There are no more external hindrances or at 
least none that need alarm one. In the few weeks 
of my stay I have received a large number of 
greetings, from friends who told me how glad 
they were to see me here, and from people un- 
known to me, barely interested in my work, who 
simply expressed their satisfaction that I had 
found freedom and security here. Besides all this 
there came, with a frequency bewildering to a 


foreigner, letters of another kind, expressing 
concern for the weal of my soul, and anxious to 
point me the way to Christ and to enlighten me 
about the future of Israel. The good people who 
wrote thus could not have known much about me. 
I expect, however, that when this new work of 
mine becomes known among my new compatriots 
I shall lose with my correspondents and a number 
of the others something of the sympathy they now 
extend to me. 

The inner difficulties were not to be changed 
by the different political system and the new 
domicile. Now as then I am uneasy when con- 
fronted with my own work; I miss the conscious- 
ness of unity and intimacy that should exist 
between the author and his work. This does not 
mean that I lack conviction in the correctness of 
my conclusions. That conviction I acquired a 
quarter of a century ago, when I wrote my book 
on Totem and Taboo (in 1912), and it has only 
become stronger since. From then on I have 
never doubted "that religious phenomena are to 
be understood only on the model of the neurotic 
symptoms of the individual, which are so familiar 
to us, as a return of long forgotten important 
happenings in the primaeval history of the human 
family, that they owe their obsessive character to 
that very origin and therefore derive their effect 
on mankind from the historical truth they contain. 
My uncertainty begins only at the point when I 


ask myself the question whether I have succeeded 
in proving this for the example of Jewish Mono- 
theism chosen here. To my critical faculties this 
treatise, proceeding from a study of the man 
Moses, seems like a dancer balancing on one toe. 
If I had not been able to find support in the 
analytic interpretation of the exposure myth and 
pass thence to Sellings suggestion concerning 
Moses 5 end, the whole treatise would have to 
remain unwritten. However, let me proceed. 

I begin by abstracting the results of my second 
the purely historical essay on Moses. I shall 
not examine them critically here, since they form 
the premisses of the psychological discussions 
which are based on them and which continually 
revert to them. 


i . The Historical Premisses 

The historical background of the events which 
have aroused our interest is as follows. Through 
the conquests of the Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt 
had become a world Empire. The new Im- 
perialism was reflected in the development of 
certain religious ideas, if not in those of the whole 
people, yet in those of the governing and in- 
tellectually active upper stratum. Under the 


influence of the priests of the Sun God at On 
(Heliopolis), possibly strengthened by suggestions 
from Asia, there arose the idea of a universal God 
Aton no longer restricted to one people and one 
country. With the young Amenhotep IV (who 
later changed his name to Ikhnaton) a Pharaoh 
succeeded to the throne who knew no higher in- 
terest than in developing the idea of such a God. 
He raised the Aton religion to the official religion 
and thereby the universal God became the Only 
God ; all that was said of the other gods became 
deceit and guile. With a superb implacability he 
resisted all the temptations of magical thought 
and discarded the illusion, dear particularly to 
the Egyptians, of a life after death. With an aston- 
ishing premonition of later scientific knowledge 
he recognised in the energy of the sun's radiation 
the source of all life on earth and worshipped the 
sun as the symbol of his God's power. He gloried 
in his joy in the Creation and in his life in Maat 
(truth and justice) . 

It is the first case in the history of mankind, 
and perhaps the purest, of a monotheistic religion. 
A deeper knowledge of the historical and psycho- 
logical conditions of its origin would be of 
inestimable value. Care was taken, however, 
that not much information concerning the Aton 
religion should come down to us. Already under 
the reign of Ikhnaton's weak successors everything 
he had created broke down. The priesthood 


he had suppressed vented their fury on his 
memory. The Aton religion was abolished; the 
capital of the heretic Pharaoh demolished and 
pillaged. In 13506.0. the Eighteenth Dynasty 
was extinguished; after an interval of anarchy 
the general Haremhab, who reigned until 1315, 
restored order. Ikhnaton's reforms seemed to be 
but an episode, doomed to be forgotten. 

This is what has been established historically 
and at this point our work of hypothesis begins. 
Among the intimates of Ikhnaton was a man who 
was perhaps called Thothrnes, as so many others 
were at that time; l the name does not matter, 
but its second part must have been -mose. He 
held high rank, and was a convinced adherent of 
the Aton religion, but in contradistinction to the 
brooding King he was forceful and passionate. 
For this man the death of Ikhnaton and the 
abolishing of his religion meant the end of all his 
hopes. Only proscribed or recanting could he 
remain in Egypt. If he were governor of a border 
province he might well have come into touch with 
a certain Semitic tribe which had immigrated 
several generations ago. In his disappointment 
and loneliness he turned to those strangers and 
sought in them for a compensation of what he 
had lost. He chose them for his people and tried 
to realize his own ideals through them. After he 

1 This, for example, was also the name of the sculptor whose 
workroom was discovered in Tell-el-Amarna. 



had left Egypt with them accompanied by his 
immediate followers he hallowed them by the 
custom of circumcision, gave them laws and 
introduced them to the Aton religion which the 
Egyptians had just discarded. Perhaps the rules 
the man Moses imposed on his Jews were even 
harder than those of his master and teacher 
Ikhnaton; perhaps he also relinquished the 
connection with the Sun God of On, to whom the 
latter had still adhered. 

For the Exodus from Egypt we must fix the 
time of the interregnum after 1350. The sub- 
sequent periods of time, until possession was 
taken of the land of Canaan, are especially 
obscure. Out of the darkness which the Biblical 
Text has here left or rather created the his- 
torical research of our days can distinguish two 
facts. The first, discovered by E. Sellin, is that 
the Jews, who even according to the Bible were 
stubborn and unruly towards their law-giver 
and leader, rebelled at last, killed him and threw 
off the imposed Aton religion as the Egyptians 
had done before them. The second fact, proved 
by E. Meyer, is that these Jews on their return 
from Egypt united with tribes nearly related to 
them, in the country bordering on Palestine, the 
Sinai peninsula and Arabia, and that there, in 
a fertile spot called Qades, they accepted under 
the influence of the Arabian Midianites a new 
religion, the worship of the volcano God Jahve. 


Soon after this they were ready to conquer 

The relationship in time of these two events to 
each other and to the Exodus is very uncertain. 
The next historical allusion is given in a stele of 
the Pharaoh Merneptah, who reigned until 1215, 
which numbers " Israel " among the vanquished 
in his conquests in Syria and Palestine. If we 
take the date of this stele as a terminus ad quern 
there remains for the whole course of events, 
starting from the Exodus, about a century 
after 1350 until before 1215. It is possible, 
however, that the name Israel does not yet refer 
to the tribes whose fate we are here following and 
that in reality we have a longer period at our 
disposal. The settling of the later Jewish people 
in Canaan was certainly not a swiftly achieved 
conquest; it was rather a series of successive 
struggles and must have stretched over a longish 
period. If we discard the restriction imposed by 
the Merneptah stele we may more readily assume 
thirty years, a generation, as the time of Moses l 
and two generations at least, probably more, 
until the union in Qades took place; 2 the interval 
between Qades and the setting out for Canaan 
need not have been long. Jewish tradition had 

1 This would accord with the forty years' wandering in the 
desert of which the Bible tells us. 

2 Thus about 1350-40 to 1320-10 for Moses, 1260 or perhaps 
rather later for Qades, the Merneptah stele before 1215. 


as I have shown in my last essay good reason to 
shorten the interval between the Exodus and the 
foundation of a religion in Qades ; our argument 
would incline us to favour the contrary. 

Till now we have been concerned with the ex- 
ternal aspects of the story, with an attempt to fill 
in the gaps of our historical knowledge in part 
a repetition of my second essay. Our interest 
follows the fate of Moses and his doctrines, to 
which the revolt of the Jews only apparently put 
an end. From the Jahvist account written down 
about IOOOB.C., though doubtless founded on 
earlier material we have learned that the union 
of the tribes and foundation of a religion in 
Qades represented a compromise, the two parts 
of which are still easily distinguishable. One 
partner was concerned only in denying the 
recency and foreignness of the God Jahve and 
in heightening his claim to the people's devotion. 
The other partner would not renounce memories, 
so dear to him, of the liberation from Egypt and 
the magnificent figure of his leader Moses; and, 
indeed, he succeeded in finding a place for the 
fact as well as for the man in the new representa- 
tion of Jewish early history, in retaining at least 
the outer sign of the Moses religion, namely 
circumcision, and in insisting on certain restric- 
tions in the use of the new divine name. I have 
said that the people who insisted on those 
demands were the descendants of the Moses 


followers, the Levites, separated by a few genera- 
tions only from the actual contemporaries and 
compatriots of Moses and attached to his memory 
by a tradition still green. The poetically elabor- 
ated accounts attributed to the Jahvist and to his 
later competitor the Elohist, are like gravestones, 
under which the truth about those early matters 
the nature of the Mosaic religion and the violent 
removal of the great man truths withdrawn 
from the knowledge of later generations, should, 
so to speak, be laid to eternal rest. And if we 
have divined aright the course of events, there is 
nothing mysterious about them; it might very 
well, however, have been the definite end of the 
Moses episode in the history of the Jewish people. 
The remarkable thing about it is that this was 
not so, that the most important effects of that 
experience should appear much later and should 
in the course of many centuries gradually force 
their way to expression. It is not likely that 
Jahve was very different in character from the 
gods of the neighbouring peoples and tribes; he 
wrestled with the other gods, it is true, just as 
the tribes fought among themselves, yet we may 
assume that a Jahve worshipper of that time 
would never have dreamt of doubting the exis- 
tence of the gods of Canaan, Moab, Amalek and 
so on, any more than he would the existence of 
the people who believed in them. The mono- 
theistic idea, which had blazed up in Ikhnaton's 


time, was again obscured and was to remain in 
darkness for a long time to come. On the island 
Elephantine, close to the first Nile cataract, 
discoveries have yielded the astonishing informa- 
tion that a Jewish military colony, settled there 
centuries ago, worshipped in their temples besides 
their chief god Jahu two female deities, one of 
whom was called Anat-Jahu. Those Jews, it is 
true, had been separated from the mother country 
and had not gone through the same religious 
development; the Persian government (in the 
fifth century B.C.) communicated to them the 
new ceremonial regulations of Jerusalem. 1 Re- 
turning to earlier times we may surely say that 
Jahve was quite unlike the Mosaic God. A ton 
had been a pacifist, like his deputy on earth 
or rather his model the Pharaoh Ikhnaton, who 
looked on with folded arms as the Empire his 
ancestors had won fell to pieces. For a people 
that was preparing to conquer new lands by 
violence Jahve was certainly better suited. More- 
over, what was worthy of honour in the Mosaic 
God was beyond the comprehension of a primitive 

I have already mentioned and in this I am 
supported by the opinion of other workers 
that the central fact of the development of Jewish 
religion was this: in the course of time Jahve 
lost his own character and became more and more 

1 Auerbach: W tiste und Gelobtes Land. Bd. II, 1936. 


like the old God of Moses, Aton. Differences 
remained, it is true, and at first sight they would 
seem important; yet they are easy to explain. 
Aton had begun his reign in Egypt in a happy 
period of security, and even when the Empire 
began to shake in its foundations his followers 
had been able to turn away from worldly matters 
and to continue praising and enjoying his 
creations. To the Jewish people fate dealt a 
series of severe trials and painful experiences, so 
their God became hard, relentless and, as it were, 
wrapped in gloom. He retained the character of 
an universal God who reigned over all lands and 
peoples; ''the fact, however, that his worship had 
passed from the Egyptians to the Jews found its 
expression in the added doctrine that the Jews 
were his chosen people, whose special obligations 
would in the end find their special reward. It 
might not have been easy for that people to 
reconcile their belief in their being preferred to 
all others by an all-powerful God with the dire 
experiences of their sad fate. But they did not 
let doubts assail them, they increased their own 
feelings of guilt to silence their mistrust and 
perhaps in the end they referred to " God's 
unfathomable will," as religious people do to 
this day. If there was wonder that he allowed 
ever new tyrants to come who subjected and ill- 
treated his people the Assyrians, Babylonians, 
Persians yet his power was recognized in that 


all those wicked enemies got defeated in their 
turn and their empires destroyed. 

In three important points the later Jewish God 
became identical with the old Mosaic God. The 
first and decisive point is that he was really 
recognized as the only God, beside whom another 
god was unthinkable. Ikhnaton's monotheism 
was taken seriously by an entire people; indeed, 
this people clung to it to such an extent that it 
became the principal content of their intellectual 
life and displaced all other interests. The people 
and the priesthood, now the dominating part of 
it, were unanimous on that point; but the priests, 
in confining their activities to elaborating the 
ceremonial for his worship, found themselves in 
opposition to strong tendencies within the people 
which endeavoured to revive two other doctrines 
of Moses about his God. The prophets' voices 
untiringly proclaimed that God disdained cere- 
monial and sacrifice and asked nothing but a 
belief in Him and a life in truth and justice. 
When they praised the simplicity and holiness of 
their life in the desert they surely stood under the 
influence of Mosaic ideals. 

It is time now to raise the question whether 
there is any need at all to invoke Moses' influence 
on the final shape of the Jewish idea of their 
God, whether it is not enough to assume a 
spontaneous development to a higher spirituality 
during a cultural life extending over many 


centuries. On this possible explanation, which 
would put an end to all our guessing, I would 
make two comments. First that it does not explain 
anything. The same conditions did not lead to 
monotheism with the Greek people, who were 
surely most gifted, but to a breaking up of poly- 
theistic religion and to the beginning of philo- 
sophical thought. In Egypt monotheism had 
grown as far as we understand its growth as 
an ancillary effect of imperialism ; God was the 
reflection of a Pharaoh autocratically governing 
a great world empire. With the Jews the political 
conditions were most unfavourable for a develop- 
ment away from the idea of an exclusive national 
God towards that of an universal ruler of the 
world. Whence then did this tiny and impotent 
nation derive the audacity to pass themselves off 
for the favourite child of the Sovereign Lord ? 
The question of the origin of monotheism among 
the Jews would thus remain unanswered or else 
one would have to be content with the current 
answer that it was the expression of their par- 
ticular religious genius. We know that genius 
is incomprehensible and unaccountable and it 
should therefore not be called upon as an 
explanation until every other solution has failed. 1 
Furthermore, there is the fact that Jewish 
records and history themselves show us the way 

1 The same consideration holds good for the remarkable case of 
William Shakespeare of Stratford. 


by stating emphatically and this time without 
contradicting themselves that the idea of an 
Only God was given to the people by Moses. 
If there is an objection to the trustworthiness of 
this statement, it is that the priests in their re- 
writing of the Biblical Text as we have it, ascribe 
much too much to Moses. Institutions, as well 
as ritualistic rules, undoubtedly belonging to 
later times, are declared to be Mosaic laws, with 
the clear intention of enhancing their authority. 
This is certainly a reason for suspicion, yet hardly 
enough for us to use. For the deeper motive of 
such an exaggeration is clear as daylight. The 
priests, in the accounts they present, desired to 
establish a continuity between their own times 
and the Mosaic period. They attempted to deny 
just that which we have recognized to be the 
most striking feature of Jewish religious history, 
namely, that there was a gap between the 
Mosaic law -giving and the later Jewish religion 
a gap filled in at first by the worship of Jahve and 
only later slowly covered over. Their presenta- 
tion denies this sequence of events with all the 
means in its power, although its historical cor- 
rectness is beyond all doubt, since throughout the 
peculiar treatment the Biblical Text has under- 
gone there remain more than enough statements 
in proof of it. The priests' version had an aim 
similar to that of the tendency which made the 
new god Jahve the God of the Patriarchs. If we

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