Neue Einheit  -  Internet Statement 2003-24


Provisional translation  


Hartmut Dicke                      

  About the Origin of Judaism

                          - Development and Significance


   Among the questions of cultural history, the question about the origin of Judaism undoubtedly occupies a fundamental position. First, because this phenomenon of more than 3.000 years has exerted a sustained influence upon the whole history of the Mediterranean region as well as upon Europe, and via the latter also upon the entire development of the world; second, because it is at the same time source also to the two largest religions and the ethical views spread by them. These religions, however, Judaism included, have incorporated a whole host of experiences from the times of early history, but also transformed them in a very specific way corresponding to the early systems of rule at the time of their origin. They have contributed to the moulding of thinking. From all of that it follows as a matter of course that Judaism bears within itself a fundamental social question as to its  origin and substance.

  Already since the 17th century single plates of ancient history were discovered, of the old Egyptians, the Mesopotamian peoples and even the Hittites. [1]  But it was not before the 19th century, along with the development of capitalism and internationalisation, with the spreading of the bourgeois rule, that the old documents were systematically envisaged and here was the start to analyse the old cultures which also played a central role in the origin and the spreading of Judaism as well as of a number of other religions.
   In 1822 Champollion [2] succeeded in deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphic script, thus making a decisive step for the research on the old societies prior to the Greeks and Romans. Already in the 18th century there had been beginnings for the deciphering of the cuneiform script, but also in this realm the decisive step was achieved by systematisation only during the 19th century. The analysis of the Mesopotamian cuneiform documents proved particularly gratifying, as in Mesopotamia everyday life was already being documented on cuneiform plates, thousands of which were found during the excavations.

   In 1887 one even found the cuneiform script archive in El Amarna, the site of excavation of a former capital of Egypt, Akhet-Aton, which had a very revolutionary and important, albeit short role to play; this was the diplomatic archive of the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom in Egypt which maintained an intensive correspondence with the peoples of Mesopotamia, above all the Babylonian empire, the Hittite empire, and  with minor potentates as well. The three states were the ”world powers” of then in the whole ”Middle East” sphere, they struggled for hegemony, led numerous wars against each other, but also had an intense commercial exchange. The analysis of these findings made it possible to do quite a detailed research of the 2nd millenium BC. This, however, is the period before the Jewish religion in its fixed moulding of the Old Testament originated.
   Since about 1840 we have excavations in the modern systematic meaning. Decade after decade they provided a more complete picture of the times of early history. And it was realized that already this 2nd and even the 3rd millenium BC in Mesopotamia had a system of economic contracts, money, a system of laws, literature and poetry, even the beginnings of a systematized philosophy, it was realized how the religious belief had developed in the course of centuries. Already around the turn to the 20th century a host of documents for the descent of the single religious ritual acts were available, the bible was analysed for its single authors, chronologies were determined, and analyses of the alterations carried through.
   Even more important was the discovery that a number of biblical motives had existed already long ago in the old culture and centuries later had been altered by the authors of the Old Testament. Thus the story of the genesis of the world and the story of man made of the earth, the motive with the snake, the Flood and the story of Noah's ark are to be found in these much older Mesopotamian documents. And what about Christianity, then? It was to turn out that many of the ideas had their precursors in Egypt or in Jewish groupings long before Christ. In brief, the religions could be analyzed, this was already clear at the outbreak of the 1st World War.
   During the war the excavations by international teams were continued.  During the twenties one came to further sensational finds in the Egyptian history. Furthermore the history of the Palestinian intermediate region (i.e. between the great powers) could be analysed n always greater detail, and the particulars about the tribes mentioned in the Bible could be described.
   All these researches were not liked very much by the church nor by the Jewish orthodoxy, not to mention Islam, because they took the halo away from the entire basis of the religions. The church voiced frankly or indirectly against these researches, feeling that this knowledge dissolved its teaching. The Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, were the product of the literary,  to be more precise:  the politically dominated literary activity of the Jewish priesthood, as well as of the literary rewriting of earlier texts. This research must not be underestimated, it is also an essential post for the scientific penetration of the human development and our world, so of our modern philosophy of life.
   There were also clerics who participated in the examination of the texts, like the Protestant theologian Ernst Sellin, who in detailed detection work followed contradictions in the development of the early texts of the Bible and the world of experience of the Jewish people in its emergence. The explanation of the religion occupied a big space in the research on  the intellectual development of man during  the twenties till even the thirties. [3]

   Among those who took up these researches was also Sigmund Freud, an author who otherwise hardly emerged with historical analyses or researches but stands for the "psychoanalysis" thus founded by himself.
   Sticking to these researches he undertook a work which stands out against all his other works, the attempt to put the self-imposing most important results and discoveries concerning Egypt into a context.
   This is "Moses and Monotheism", a work which was bound to be discussed intensely among experts, but is much less known in the broad public, and in this book it is primarily chapter II, which in contrast to virtually all other works by Freud represents a kind of historical outline or historical reconstruction. The first chapter adds an introduction to it. Freud himself stresses the remark that this account is a development of a hypothesis by which he attempted to correspond as much as possible to the certain clues and to reach a well-knit picture. Freud published this document after several years of  preparation at first in single parts in Vienna in 1937, and in exile in 1939 as a coherent complete work. The 2nd World War starting soon afterwards hindered the necessary subsequent discussion, although these publications immediately led to the most intense reactions. Part 3, the final section of the whole work, highlights in turn Freud’s own theory of religion, attempting to verify the  account mentioned before. Already in 1912 he had produced the study in religious history titled "Totem and Taboo", which incorporated elements, typical for the author, from the hypothetical system of groups and hordes into the explanation of early religion. He now tried to connect this.

   The reference to Sigmund Freud requires a commentation here, though, because of the position his other documents, the so-called psychoanalysis, take in the debate since the end of the 19th century. What did Freud and his supporters find as starting point in the sciences, when they began?
   Beyond the teachings of the 17th and 18th centuries a further stage of knowledge about the social development had already been reached. A new degree of consistency of knowledge had been attained in the questions of the development of society, similarly to the natural sciences. Karl Marx succeeded in developing an already very well-knit view about the development of the economic bases, the social institutions and the superstructure. Soon even the bourgeois world couldn’t be imagined any more without his teaching, after initial attempts to hush it up.  Also bourgeois sociologists now pretended to use the methodology of analyzing the social world from its own contradictions .

   Against this background we have to assess the Freudian theory of "psychoanalysis". It radically excludes the social factors, represents man as a product of isolated drives and makes an isolated way of looking at things the principle, which sometimes really importunately leads to the single individual’s self-inspection.This  must be taken as a kind of opposition against the existing social knowledge. We can't assume that Freud and his comrades-in-arms hadn't heard of the - at that time new - social theories, nothing at all speaks for such a thesis in the case of a man as educated as Sigmund Freud. It is the opposition - to say it directly - of people who refuse themselves to a certain knowledge and simultaneously develop new knowledge on such sectors which haven't found such a strong scientific examination yet, in order to build up opposite positions in this way.
   Why, so, should we deal with this work under these conditions? On the one hand, it is necessary because new areas are mentioned here  - what Marxism develops about the cultural elements from the early days is not at all finished yet. On the other hand, it is just an exceptional development so that it cannot at all be passed over in the analysis of the emergence of religion and in particular of Judaism.

   Starting point for Freud’s personal development is the bourgeois medicine which has always been most closely connected to the rule, which has been understood as a factor of power within the state.
   While Marxism and besides it also other social theories like for example Max Weber’s thus spread all over Europe, Freud postulated his "psychoanalysis". Freud very strongly represents ignorance vis a vis the social context. If one has in mind that the whole intellectual world and the political struggle revolved just around this innovation at that time, one cannot assume that Freud didn't take note of it. He ignored it demonstratively. In its place there appear views which portray the drives as the dominant force of man, actually in a virtually constant, invariable form, standing outside of the development and formation of society. They stand outside of his conscience or above his ego, that is to say above his identity.  This countered directly the thirst for emancipation of that time, for gaining more and more knowledge about mankind’s development, which expressed itself in all of the theories of development of society and nature. All the same, one must notice that this theory, although it suffers from a complete one-dimensionality, did tie at certain points and open questions. That way Freud wrote the above-mentioned book "Totem and Taboo", which in certain theses tied at several teachings about early history and the development of religion. The how of his approach to these questions, however, must interest us here because he connected that with certain theses he developed later.
   So "Moses and Monotheism" takes an extraordinary position within his work. The core section, the second chapter about the (possible or probable) Egyptian descent of Mose, is no "psychoanalytical" article but a historical treatise, an attempt to give indications for an explanation of Judaism. Freud almost apologizes for his historical explanations, in the end of the chapter, and argues that this is necessary for his further expositions. The exceptional position of this little book becomes clear also from the debates it causes. In the meantime, there already is a large number of books intensely discussing the theses of this book, primarily in the English-speaking area. And a number of authors confirm that this book, whether negative or positive, has a very important role in the reflexion of Judaism itself.

   Ilse Grubrich-Simitis may figure here as an example, the editor of Freud’s works. She is a determined defender of the "psychoanalysis", among other things author of a book "Back to Freud's Teachings ". Against the work in question she is fuming, she would like to declare it a "daydream", the product of a Freud getting older, who due to the circumstances of his life wasn’t the master of himself any longer.[4] What she’d like best was to make this work disappear.
   Freud, however, had worked on this very topic for at least 6 years and actually put his whole remaining energy into it. On the contrary, in this document one feels that the author does his best to formulate his thoughts as precisely as possible. He repeats the accounts several times, always setting them out anew. Although no historian and no archeologist by profession, he very carefully tries to do justice to the different existing pieces of knowledge, and also attempts to follow contradictions in his own argumentation. It was an important satisfaction to him that he finally, few months before his death, could publish the whole writing in his London exile.

   So,  there already were attempts ahead of Freud to formulate these historical connections, and there was Freud’s own book of 1912. But here Freud went on much further. He tried to put the thing in a logical, historical cohesion and to explain Judaism, being able now to count on a whole host of indications.

   He started from the point that the exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Mose, as described in the Bible, was based on actual events and that Mose - this name is Egyptian already by descent - was a supporter of  the particular "reform" pharaoh Ikhnaton, or a supporter of a comparable direction. Ikhnaton was a pharaoh who operated a short-time but intensive revolution in the Egyptian state, which declared war on the completely corruption-dominated business of the old Amun priesthood and introduced a new, almost naturalistic cult of the solar disc Aton. His original name was Amenhotep IV, he changed his name into Achenaten, written with us mostly as Ikhnaton.
   This break was based on concrete changes in the Egyptian society. The old social conditions found themselves confronted with an international world through the wars [5] and through the trade. Egypt relativized itself and took up new ideas, it is possible to talk about a kind of universalism; the old totem world of gods which had governed Egypt for 1500 years was, in the field of ideas, in the way of this renewal.  Soon after Echnaton’s death the old forces in Egypt seize power again und pursue a bitter restauration. In Freud’s account, the Egyptian Mose as supporter of a new school of thought at a time when it was already fought by the Egyptian rule approaches the – historically confirmed – Hebrew tribes in Egypt in order to attempt there to put the new teachings into practice. Under the conditions in Egypt, which now are hostile against the revolutionary teachings, he is looking for the exodus. Freud is able to cite a number of indications for this hypothesis, and above all he can conclusively explain a number of phenomena of Judaism.
   He develops his opinions about a possible or even probable course of events.

   During or after the march through the Sinai this exodus meets another tribe of Hebrews, ethnically related to the first one but standing on a completely different level as compared to the tribes and families which had probably spent several generations in Egypt. Here the sources lie for a second figure of Moses, which in fact and not at all unobtrusive is to be found in the Old Testament. He represents a tribal religion resident east of the Jordan rift and the gulf of Akaba, which doesn't fit to the original Mose at all. Here an original God Jahwe is introduced who is a kind of furious volcanic deity which puts the fear of God into friend and enemy. The Midianite prophet dates from this source. This figure is overlaid for Mose and put in his place in the later accounts.[6]  Freud, following the considerations of another scholar of religious studies, assumes that the original Egyptian Mose has been murdered by the members of the trek led by himself. As causes for that Freud sees possible character traits, like domineeringness, and the fundamental problem for an enlightener to cope with such a tribe still full of primordial ideas like the Hebrews of then. This leads to a kind of trauma.
   The old teaching, though, at first suffocated, comes through again and again because it contains something which is fundamental and leads into the future. It is the fundament of Judaism, whereas simultaneously a superimposed different teaching also is showing itself in Judaism, it is an usurpation. Freud explains this in his view, clearly one feels through his social opinions. But he catches a certain core of the account here which interests us. For example, he writes:

„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). 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 hinself. 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 [7] onward, Moses’ deed of liberation was put down to his account; but he had to pay dear for this usurpation. The shadow of the god whose place he had taken became stronger than himself; at the end of the historical development there arose behind his being that of the forgotten Mosaic god. None can doubt that it was only the idea of this other god that enabled the people of Israel to surmount all their hardships and to survive until our time.” [8]

   Concerning the use of the religious concepts in these quotations one must always realize that social questions were, at least very often, treated in a religious form in the early time.

   These theses by which Freud tries to decode Judaism are verified at a whole number of the historical phenomena. Freud finally goes also into the emergence of antisemitism or rather antijudaism, and in doing so gives some elements for the explanation of Christianity, too. It goes without saying that these historical explanations didn't remain without a yell. Both the church and the Jewish clergy were decided against this analysis. Freud didn’t survive it for a long time. He died in the London exile three months after the publication at the age of 83.

   Unfortunately, it has to be noted that these important achievements of the analysis of religion, of materialism, did not  on the whole meet the corresponding appreciation and continuation after the 2nd World War, although the excavations and researches in ancient history like also the investigation of the Stone Age had made tremendous progress. This must be explained by the political changes after 1933 and after 1945. The USA, its foundations being strongly co-determined by religious groups, are afraid of these uncoverings, and in the Federal Republic of Germany, too, in which the churches have a grounding in the state, among others, there is an interest to keep this development of human knowledge and enlightenment under the lid.



   The connection between Judaism and the Mesopotamian culture is obvious. For one hundred years an extensive literature has been developed about this subject. Particularly in the story of the genesis (1st book Mose, the genesis) the predecessorship of Mesopotamian legends and myths is recognizable. The Sumerian garden Eden of the early days could have handed in the example to the ”paradise” with its unfolding of systematic horticulture and wealth, the development of knowledge. Prosperity and class society  as well as struggles with usurpers from abroad finally developed, who for the time being put an end to the construction and shifted it in northern zones. The history of the Flood has been known there for a long time and appears in more than one document.

   Abraham, the progenitor of Judaism according to the biblical legend, came from Mesopotamia, from the city of Ur, as it is told, a Sumerian foundation. It is handed down that he immigrated via the northern region of Mesopotamia into the region of today’s Palestine. This region was contested by several powers, an Egyptian dominance already existed in its south, Phoenician cities ruled in the north, and the Hittites with their hegemony ran into that one of the Egyptians who dominated the parts more to the south.

   The Sumerian culture also has created the earliest known corpora or collections of laws which for their part were further developed in the codex Hammurabi. There are numerous parallels between this law and the laws of the Old Testament, but also clear differences especially with regard to the ethical realm.

   The  whole of Mesopotamia goes through an eventful history with alternating empires, in the course of which the upper stratum becomes harder and harder. The Mesopotamian culture has at least in the beginning a very uninhibited attitude to sexuality which also is connected very directly with the religious rites. The matriarchy, although superseded long ago, still lives on in the religious ideas, the temple prostitution is regularized in a bureaucratic way which corresponds to the class system of the state. It must be assumed that the further development and dehumanization of the bureaucratic and slavocratic power in this region, which finally passes to the rule of the Assyrian empire, produced every form of degeneration and despicable villainy against the labouring masses in these states.
   The dissociation from this country of origin, the dissociation from this decadence is discernible in the Abramite tribe, i.e. in its literary representation, which came to us in the history of the patriarchs. This story as it is in the Bible today was recorded by priests in much later time. They have clearly written their ideology into the Bible and added later elements. These endeavours for a renewal, for a new starting point are still recognizable as the substance.  The stories may have been transcribed, but it is out of touch with reality to assume that they haven’t had any actual background themselves; this applies just the same to the Egyptian exodus which forms the hub, the cardinal point of the entire Old Testament.
   And it was not the past alone from which the dissociation took place, but also from the varieties of the ”fertility” cults which ruled in the new homeland, Canaan. The somewhat later Phoenicians, for example, who got famous as daring seafarers, discoverers and inventors in the whole world, were still on a backward level with respect to the cults. It isn’t  improbable that elements were taken from them simultaneously. The overcoming  of the ”sacrifice of the first child” within mankind itself, the story of Isaac, occupies such a central place in the early history not without reason.[9] In the Phoenician foundation Carthage (near today’s Tunis), which played a dominant role in the western Mediterranean, the first son was offerred as a sacrifice still at the times of the struggles against the Romans, a good 1000 years later. The history of the preliminary development of Judaism in the representation of the Bible is a fight with these cultures.

   This process of dissociation certainly did not happen with one stroke, on the contrary, the struggle with the surrounding tribes had to be resumed again and again. It also is in question whether the monotheism of the Jews was created with a blow here. This is improbable.
   Such immigrants from the Mesopotamian area have existed, and the relatively central position of this area, the rivalry of the great powers there, by which they restricted each other, was a favorable precondition for the newly penetrating tribes. This was also the situation in which parts of this new tribe reached to Egypt and settled down there. One of Abraham’s descendants managed to reach highest positions in Egypt according to the Joseph tale. This is possible. It coincides chronologically approximately with the Hyksos’ period, the 2nd Intermediate Period, in which foreign conquerors ruled in Egypt for two centuries, since the own central Egyptian rule of the Middle Kingdom had caved in.

   The monotheism of the Jews has precursory developments also in other areas. Also in Mesopotamia an increasing internalization of the religion, a getting rid of the cults of nature can be obeserved, explainable by the increased level of knowledge of the society.

   Here a new ethics, a higher relation to sexuality was developed, a higher demand of man on himself, which will form an essential element of the cohesion of the coming societies.
   At first the development of Judaism looks rather small, ”paltry” if you will, in comparison with what Egypt or Babylon represent. But the elements which were born here – even though not only here – were bound to prove to be of greatest importance.
   Compare this ethical development for example with that of large parts of old America (before the discovery), with its excessive sacrificial cults which dictated the stagnation to society. India, too,  has undergone a completely different development in this field, it forms a counterexample for the Mediterranean-European development. What initially developed there among the Jews couldn’t be perfect, we are going to treat, via the questions raised here, the contradictoriness in the further development itself.
   With the arrival of the Egyptian epoch in the development of Judaism, a new basic element, founded on these early preliminary stages, is added, which ties to these initial developments.



   From the beginning it was clear that the Egyptian experience plays a fundamental role in Judaism, because this occupies a large portion in the Pentateuch itself. The contradictoriness of the account, the interruptions and repetitions in the text apparently composed of several revisions, all of that was conspicuous.  But with the Egyptian world of gods, as it dominated there for millenia, the Israelite religion seemed to have nothing to do, as it was absolutely different; there rather were certain common points with Christianity to be discovered with regard to the emphasized ”hereafter”-ideology of the Egyptians. With the discovery of the Amarna period, which is some decades prior to Mose’s exodus from Egypt, new possibilities were up for the debate. As it soon was stated at the excavations and reconstructions, a religion was present here which showed some essential common approaches with the biblical tradition of the Pentateuch. The first assumptions that the ideology of the Amarna period, the epoch of the worship of Aton, could have to do something with the emergence of Judaism, are discussed very soon after the excavations between 1900 and 1910. The scholar of religious studies Eduard Meyer proceeds against such theses already in 1906,  and  in one of the first relevant books by Arthur Weigall about Ikhnaton [10] such a connection is indicated.
   About the most well-known representatives of the epoch, Ikhnaton or Nofretete, many people have already learned, but it is not at all part of the general knowledge which contents are linked to this epoch and when it took place. A short overview is therefore given here.

   The Egyptian history starts approximately around the time 3200 B.C., from the preceding cultures ruling there it rises to an extraordinary level in a short time. One of the impulses for the sudden advancement is formed by the union of the two Kingdoms, of the Nile delta (Lower Kingdom) and of the strung-out Nile valley above the delta (Upper Kingdom), into one state, approximately around 3100 BC. The reason for the quite sudden emergence of this advanced civilization isn’t completely clear yet. Some authors also suppose the penetration by a conquering people from the Mesopotamian area in which, at that time, there were already forms of advanced civilization, but this is not at all certain. One can assume with certainty that the fundamental progress in the control of the natural forces, in the skills of craftsmanship, in the development of the script, and primarily the ability of the systematic usage of the Nile floods for agriculture were a decisive point. The union undoubtedly released enormous forces of synergy in the entire new state.
   It has as well to be kept in mind according to today’s stand of  knowledge that neither Egypt nor Mesopotamia represent the beginnings of culture. Today’s stand of the excavations shows that the age of metallurgy goes back thousands of years also in Central Europe like also in the Mediterranean area. Already in these epochs a division of labor and a long distance trade developed. The early Egyptian culture, which is still over a long time dominated by stone-work and copper, later the bronze, also ties to it. What is even more, the development of craftsmanship in the processing of stone and bones goes back deep into the younger Paleolithic Age, as we know today. The cultural directions are diverging already here, and the Egyptian culture ties to certain ones among them.
   The Egyptian culture clearly shows African influences via Upper Egypt; on the other hand it is undoubted that influences came from the areas of today’s Palestine and Mesopotamia already in the ”pre-history” of Egypt at the time of the ”Negade cultures”.[11] The development during the time from approx. 3200 to 2700 BC, that is the period from the development of the kingdom’s unification up to the first peak of the time of the pyramids in the Old Kingdom, is altogether an epoch of radical change, altering life politically and culturally as well as from the side of the technical developments. A uniform Kingdom takes shape with the first dynasty around 3000. Another thesis which concerns the influence of the considerably older archaic culture in the area of today’s Sahara desert must finally be taken into account. This culture was still existing around 6000 BC, when this area was still with plenty of water. With the desertification due to climatic change, the people retired to the remaining water zones, thus also into the Nile valley.[12]

   So a whole lot of factors come together  which made the ”cultural explosion” in Egypt after the time of 3100 possible. The fusion of different cultural factors, but also favorable conditions in the Nile’s valley and delta for improving oneself in the struggle with nature and to reach a social wealth, are decisive. Firstly a uniform control, uniform legislation and land surveying developed in the economy of water and agriculture, but this process, the centralization of the earlier chieftain’s positions into a comprehensive despotism and the development of a form of state which at that time was progressive, is not the only factor.. There also exists a social organization from the base at the mastery of the water-supply and distribution. The systematic usage of the Nile floods and of the resulting opportunity for an agricultural overproduction meant above all also the social collective organization of the people, which formed the main trump of Egypt. Furthermore these factors have consequences in the development of sciences; land surveying, then architecture reach a peak previously not known . The priests of the school of Heliopolis (biblical name: On) are simultaneously the leading mathematicians and astronomers in the society, who develop ambitious projects.  

   We must make a leap in this place now. There is not enough space to summarize the complete history of Egypt even in the shortest form here. Egypt develops in this way until the rise of the New Kingdom 1400 years later. Twice Egypt has been heavily shaken by social disturbances in the meantime, the social class struggle shows also here, in the bureaucratic Egyptian society. The Kingdom as a united state breaks up, and foreign conquerors seize power. One talks about the two Intermediate Periods. After the first as well as after the second Intermediate Period the royal house of Theben takes the initiative and again achieves from its seat the unification of the Kingdom.

   As already explained, Egypt experiences a new, not yet known heyday in the New Kingdom after the second Intermediate Period. In this epoch Egypt appears as an imperial great power, and it is challenged itself by other large empires which compete with Egypt in the area of Palestine. The worldwide connections as well as the wars which Egypt must wage far abroad lead to an expansion of the intellectual horizon. An enormous wealth from other countries flows together in Egypt, aside the wealth from its own production. The Iron Age, which proceeding from Asia Minor already has entered other regions, finally takes hold in Egypt itself. Although the Egyptian society continues to draw from its own dynamism of development, has strong internal driving forces due to its long history, it internationalises and modernizes itself at the same time. This is the combination which makes the extraordinary epoch of the 18th dynasty and finally Ikhnaton possible.

   The direction of Ikhnaton, which at first appears as a unique phenomenon, is not at all the result of the personal attitude of a single pharaoh, radical changes have taken place and developed contradictions in the Egyptian society. The school of Heliopolis, which ties to the early phase of the Egyptian history described above (pyramid builders), is regarded as a driving force at the changes which are connected with Ikhnaton’s name. Generally speaking, we must bid the idea farewell that these changes are the product of a small group of potentates ”from above”. History teaches that sometimes such leading members of a royal house pick up the currents, which have developed below the surface, and transform them into their personal initiative, sometimes lend a special character to them, too.

   The development of a powerful international and internal trade, as well as an upswing of the skilled crafts characterize the New Kingdom of the 18th dynasty. Next to the old-established officials, to the traditional families, new rising strata are forming, precursors of the bourgeoisie, if you want it this way. Already under the father Amenhotep III. this new current breaks through, he himself leaves also externally the traditions, doesn’t marry a ”sister spouse” as prescribed to the pharaohs (conservation of the old blood relationships of the prehistoric times!) but such a ”bourgeois one”, Teje, who herself is bound to belong to the most well-known female characters of Old Egypt.
   The greatest power in Egypt has since long ago been wielded by the priesthood of Amun which  has been playing a dominant role approximately since the Middle Kingdom, that is already for one thousand years. They represent the old deities of nature and totem, among which Amun has gained the profile of the first one. These priests with their gigantic temple estates and their connections with the old system of officials simultaneously represent the conservative element of Egypt. They represent the old conditions and at the same time enrich themselves out of the new imperial and international developments. It comes to the fight between these old forces and the new ones, the expression of which become Ikhnaton and his wife Nofretete.

   Ikhnaton suppresses the priesthood of Amun as of the 4th year of his power, has their temples torn down. But it is even more important that a new cult is being created, which reveals a new approach to the world. The complete divine world of the hundreds of totemistic deities, often half animal, half man, is abolished and the exclusive cult around the solar disc Aton is introduced in its place. It is a kind of naturalistic monotheism which is introduced for the first time here. The new cult opens the thinking into the direction of the mastering of nature and of the mastering of the actual human life. The art suddenly represents the everyday life of the royal family. Also something quite new: the queen Nofretete is herself one of the first political advocates of these innovations. She herself takes part in the political fight actively.
   The best known document of this cult is the so-called Ode to the Sun, which is ascribed to Ikhnaton himself, really a unique document of a new, forward-looking world view. Many authors who go into the Amarna period describe Ikhnaton’s teaching as an anticipation of the enlightenment, that is of ideas of the 18th century! Ikhnaton had the common New-Egyptian language installed as the written language, a quite essential measure for the life of the country. He centralized the complete political and religious power in his hands, though, an important matter in the struggle with the theocracy.
   The period of Ikhnaton, however, lasts for only 17 years, the whole Amarna epoch together with his successors for only about 35 years. The break happened abruptly, it included only the upper und the middle stratum of society, as far as it is known. The rural masses had only insignificantly been reached by these innovations. Finally there are indications that already during Ikhnaton’s reign cutbacks were made, and it came to disagreements within the new direction. The old elements were bound to appear also in the own ranks again, there was  hardly a mass basis, all of that offered target for the counter-reaction. The shaking up starts under the successors, the second successor, Tut-Ench-Aton, is forced already as a child to accept the name Tut-Ench-Amun again.
   In the intense discussion about the evaluation of Ikhnaton, a number of authors arrive at disparaging judgements out of this development. In their opinion Ikhnaton has acted arbitrarily and has failed in the end. But one cannot blame him for that, of course, because one can hardly expect of a man of the 14th century BC that he would have Hegelian dialectics or only the philosophical methodology of a Descartes, or the developmental theory at his disposal.

   The military usurper Haremhab finally seizes power and starts to restore the old power completely. This leads up to the next dynasty. He and his successors try to radically weed out this complete epoch from the consciousness. The buildings of this epoch are razed and destroyed. The public chronology has the beginning of Haremhab’s rule coincide with the end of the rule of Amenhotep III., that is to say, the state bureaucracy and the priesthood having come to power again, have  the period Ikhnaton-Nofretete declared non-existing and treat it like that.
   This means this epoch was ordained to be forgotten, and its stone documents had to disappear. Behind such an ordinance, of course, a ban, a strict instruction is hiding not to speak at all any more about a certain matter. And this ban also allows conclusions, it expresses that one had to deal with a current the resurgence of which one had to be afraid of, and therefore measures had to be taken.

   The book by Erik Hornung ”Ikhnaton” [13] is a very well-known more recent publication to this topic. It is an interesting compendium, representing the most different opinions and the development of the discussion about this period of history. But there also is a number of short-circuited verdicts which must be doubted.

”How did it come to this total oblivion? Ikhnaton’s revolution hasn’t gone down forcibly. One strode over it to new shores, one simply forgot it, even if it continued to have a further effect in undercurrents. King Haremhab used to be regarded as the liquidator of the Amarna period, but it seems that only Sethos I. and Ramses II. have actively turned against Ikhnaton and his immediate successors. ”


”There weren’t any martyrs of the new religion, there was not even a reason to persecute it because it has survived Ikhnaton only by few years. What followed was total oblivion, after a short, vague memory of the ‘sinner of Achetaton ‘. ” (p.13) [our own transl.]

   This is quite an improbable representation anyway. How does the author come to know that, then? It cannot be expected that the later opponents set down anything about supporters of the new direction in stone documents.
   It plays down the contradictions, disregarding that here two sides proceeded with repression against each other. Ikhnaton, in spite of his position as pharaoh, could not easily succeed with his ”reform” but had to counteract the decided pressure of the old forces which just remained a factor of power due to their leading position of almost thousand years.
   Such a direction like Ikhnaton’s wasn’t the result of a single person but it was born out of the necessities of the epoch. Therefore the social forces which produced it could not disappear completely when it was politically overcome. The conclusion stated by the author here isn’t stated without a political relation to the thesis concerning us here.

   At 300 BC, one thousand years later, the historian Manetho, a priest, drew up a chronology of the Egyptian pharaohs, and he describes that leprous people  and Hyksos (foreign conquerors of the second Intermediate Period) had ruled over Egypt in this epoch. Even at that time still the harsh reaction! The direction, however, must have counted on tens of thousands of supporters and activists, where have they gone to? Were all of them murdered or ”turned”, to use a new expression? The events in Egypt must have stirred the souls of numerous people among the intellectually most developed ones, the collapse must have led to serious disappointments. It was possible to destroy the stones and the evidences from buildings, but not the consequences in the heads. The following 19th dynasty, the so-called Ramessides, although they embody the reaction, must nevertheless adopt many of the ideas also in the art, despite going-back to the traditional style. They deflect in the direction of conquest abroad, a procedure which isn’t unusual in history either.
   Has this direction also had effects on the Jewry which stayed in Egypt at that time in the form of tribes? After all, one has since long ago dated the epoch of Mose around 1250 BC; these events, however, lay around 1340. And Mose does not only carry one of the most frequent Egyptian names, he also stems from Egypt. The question about a connection is therefore quite logical.
   This very question has been asked by the historians and archeologists, almost as long as there is the research on Amarna.
   Already Eduard Meyer came to the conclusion in his book:

”In the proper religion, belief in gods and cult, I am not able to discover an Egyptian element anywhere; the living conditions and the opinions being based on them were too different for this. Therefore there is not any greater contrast than between the pantheistic mystery deity of the Egyptian culture, appearing in innumerable names and shapes, and the strictly personal God of the Semites and in particular of Israel, between Chuenaten’s [= Ikhnaton’s] solar monotheism and the exclusive Yahweh of the prophets. Who is looking for borrowings here knows neither the Egyptian nor the Israelite religion.” [14] [our own transl.]

   We see here at first that already in 1906 there must have been a discussion about the point concerning us. And this reply has been used as a counterargument again and again since then. It overlooks one thing anyway: if these traditions were transferred by an exodus with quite a long migration and a superseding by other groups, then it must be assumed that this influence was able to hold out only in some fundamental elements. One cannot expect the  Aton cult, the way  it existed in Egypt, to appear again in some Aton solar disc. Already the amalgamation of one or few Egyptians with a trek of several thousand Israelites must lead to considerable concessions. The rites and ways of thinking are subsequently further adapted by the majority of the population in the course of  decades and centuries. They must in fact offer essential things in order to remain preserved at all in certain decisive points.

   In order to demonstrate a point of common ground, let us take another very early work about this topic, the book by Weigall ”Ikhnaton” of 1910, which just like the epoch-making works by Breasted is often being treated with hostility today.[15]  Weigall attempts to get hold of common points between Judaism and the Amarna religion. In strong contrast to the complete previous Egyptian religion, the ”hereafter” does not actually play a role in the worship of Aton. In the old Egyptian cult everything aligned to the ”hereafter”. Not only that everybody with some standing affords a costly equipment for the ”hereafter”, it plays an important role in the entire thinking. – And it is a striking feature of Judaism that it does not deal with the hereafter. So one must ask the question: in which other religion of the Mideast does it play no-one or only a very minor role so that this one could be considered to be a forerunner? Another immediately striking point is the tradition of the circumcision among the Jews. Here a great agreement exists that it is of Egyptian origin.
   In such a simple way to dismiss the discussion about these points is not possible. The question arises whether several historical branches align their verdict with the question which whirl and which resistance would be stirred by certain theses. Although the discussion was simply dismissed by certain historians and egyptologists, it flared up time and again. At last once again clearly within the last 10-15 years. We quote Klaus Koch here:

”Has the Aton religion, which went down fast in Egypt, found succession elsewhere, namely in Israel? Since the archeologists rediscovered Amarna and Ikhnaton, the suspicion doesn’t want to cease that the religion of the Bible, aligned with the exclusive admiration of a God and creator, stems from the Egyptian heretic king.  The Israelite monotheism is traditionally connected to Mose. Isn’t he appointed as revealer when he and his national comrades just are in Egypt? Doesn’t he bear a typically Egyptian name and is said to have been raised by a daughter of the pharaoh? ‘Mose’ is the name of many Egyptians, the word means ‘who has been given birth by the God X ‘, compare royal names like Thutmose. – However enticing such a connection appears at first sight, it leads astray. Mose announces a mountain god from the southern desert, the Jahwae of Sinai, as the alone decisive power; he doesn’t care in this about the solar disc and its invigorating effect. Nothing, absolutely nothing at all in the biblical tradition about the exodus shows traits which are found also in the religion of Ikhnaton. So, any transition from the Egyptian heretic king to the pro-Israelite charismatic Mose cannot to be proved historically.” [16]  [our own transl.]

   The author doesn’t even have knowledge of the argumentation as it has been developed in the religious studies. Can one simply ignore the superseding which after all was developed as a thesis already long ago? This falls back behind what has been developed for one hundred years. About the Midianite Mose, about the combination of several components he has never learned,  although he is a specialized scholar? One must assume that he did not want to know anything about it.

   If one takes this hypothesis away, though, if one assumes that this Egyptian connection did not exist, then a number of basic points remain open in the explanation, in my opinion. The theses of a connection with the Egyptian culture and particularly with the revolutionary change in the 18th dynasty are therefore not at all to be simply dismissed.
   To Freud, dealing with this topic was so important because in this he saw a means for the explanation of the development of Judaism and even for its renewal. Therefore he invested such extraordinary efforts in it over years.
   The different position of this historical essay as compared to Freud’s other work has already been pointed to. If one has a look through his chapter III, one indeed recognizes that here he is modelling several things to fit his psychological ”forefather theory”.[17]  These are interesting details. It is nevertheless important that Freud here in his theory develops the contrasting sides within Judaism itself. The ”Egyptian hypothesis” serves him for the explanation. As said already, the contradiction arises already in the Pentateuch because there at least two, and to be more precise, two very contrasting Mose are written over one another. I call this the development of the contradiction of Judaism, which explains a host of further phenomena.
We really must deal with the following question: how does it come that in Judaism the highest standard, to be the blessing of all peoples, stands next to the claim which announces as the ”highest” guiding principle the most profane utilization of others. Judaism plays a fundamental role in the formation of the most basic cultural elements of the western hemisphere, which cannot at all be imagined without it, and on the other hand it contains elements itself which amount to a complete defamation and a running down of other nations.  This also leads to comprehending the rightist currents, antisemitism, which picks only the latter out of Judaism, and then the other way round uses the defamation of Judaism for simultaneously attacking the whole civilisation. It is not by chance that the most radical moulding of this direction, the so-called ”National Socialism”, ended in the virtual and actual cannibalism. This meant the attack on the civilization as such, the connection of modern technology with the most primitive, suicidal tribal ideology.

   And on the other hand,  when Freud published his work, a flood of hate confronted him just out of Judaism itself. In his book about Freud, the author Peter Gay [18] describes the reactions [19], which went so far that the writer of an anonymous letter expressed his regret that the Nazis hadn’t acted against Freud. The book polarized right from the start, in the same way the uncovering of the figure of Ikhnaton and his direction had already previously polarized the opinions.
   Also the positions which since then were developed primarily after the 2nd World War from the part of egyptology require an examination. Besides the examples already mentioned, further ones would have here to be named. A really modern and interesting compendium is the book by Hornung which was quoted above, but much of what it contains as facts and pieces of evidence to the effect that there have not been any connections to later developments like that of Judaism does not convince at all. A further well-known egyptologist, Jan Assmann, has written an extensive book ”Moses - the Egyptian” with an incredible host of materials, which simultaneously leaves much open, but nonetheless reveals a negative position. It gives in fact extensive material about how this issue is being treated. Rolf Krauss would have finally to be mentioned, who has written a really pugnacious book against the above-mentioned theses. I want to leave it at that in this scope.

   The analysis and decoding of Judaism which is grasped here is itself an approach for the cultural revolution, at least everywhere where Judaism or Christianity or Islam played or play an important role, and this is the case in many areas in the world.

- - - - - - - -

   By this treatise I have  attempted to give  an overview for the first. It delivers a frame for a number of planned  special expositions about  history. In the past, books were frequently prepared over a long time; I, though, cannot take decades for such a work, far too restless are the times. Since I am bound by my political work, I can only little by little explain the individual topics. The disclosure of the aim of the discourses also leaves the opportunity for feedback in the form of discussion and notes, which then again can be taken into account for the next stage of treatment.

May 11th, 2003


Written from June 2002 till spring 2003

© Hartmut Dicke, 2003 Berlin and Dortmund, all rights reserved, private passing on with the indication of the imprint permitted, every commercial or other professional distribution or public placing completely or in excerpts require the express written permission of the author. Linking permitted and desired.

Provisional translation
In spite of the endeavors we’ve taken in preparing the translation of this profound historico-cultural text, it is possible that we unwittingly made some mistakes . We are grateful for every piece of advice.  The translators


[1] Hittites
The Hittites are a group of peoples less well-known to the general historical knowledge, which have lived primarily in the area of what is called the Anatolian highland today. They suddenly appeared in the 2nd millennium with a great display of power. After a relatively short time they could compete with the Egyptian empire, which had already existed for a long time. They spoke an Indo-European language in different dialects, which are partly quite closely related to Latin. The early use of the iron is striking in their culture.

[2] Champollion, Jean Francois (1790-1832), was the first to completely decipher the Egyptian hieroglpyhs on the Rosette stone , starting from the assumption that the Coptic is a further development of the old Egyptian language. This stone had been found at  military construction work of Napoleon’s army in Egypt in 1799. It contained a longer text, parallel in Greek, hieroglyphic and demotic (Egyptian colloquial speech).

[3] The antisemites had, by the way, no esteem for this research. They needed Judaism as a bogey, a lightning conductor, because in reality they are against the modern society and all the more against the modern sciences. The rational conception of the world is a hostile object for all these directions. It is part of the scientific approach that one includes all sides of a thing as far as it is possible, that one tries to explain a development in its material roots.

[4] Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, ”Freuds Moses-Studie als Tagtraum. Ein biographischer Essay” Frankfurt/M., S. Fischer-Verlag, 1994 [”Freud’s Moses essay as a daydream. A biographical essay”]

[5] Egypt rose to be an international power in the 18th dynasty. Under Thutmosis I., it reached the Euphrates for the first time and got to know another very advanced civilization and river culture, which was equal to the Egyptian one.

[6] The Midianite sources of the Old Testament have been known for a long time, the most detailed representation is in a well-known book by Eduard Meyer (”Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstämme”, Halle, 1906)

[7] Qadesch-Maribat, place in southern Palestine at which a kind of conference of unification with a religious compromise is said to have taken place.

[8] ”Der Mann Mose und die monotheistische Religion”, Frankfurt/M., S.Fischer-Verlag, 1st edition 1975, since then repeatedly edited. The English translation by Katherine Jones was published under the title  "Moses and Monotheism” , Vintage Books, NY, 1967. The quotation is from p. 61/62.

[9] In the Isaac story ”God orders” Abraham to sacrifice his son;  when Abraham expresses his readiness for it,  the same God does without. The end of the human sacrifice is decided.

[10] Arthur Weigall, ”The Life and Times of Ikhnaton, Pharaoh of Egypt”, 1st edition 1910, German translation “Echnaton, König von Ägypten und seine Zeit” 1923, Basel, Switzerland

[11] Negade cultures
Negade or Naqada, village north of Karnak, place where more than 3000 graves were found, from which the development in the 4th millennium can be pursued over several dozens of steps. One distinguishes Negade I and Negade II.

[12] Walther Wolf, ”Die Welt der Ägypter”,  Stuttgart, Cottasche Buchhandlung, 5th ed. 1962, 1st ed.1954, p. 13

[13] Erik Hornung, ” Echnaton – Die Religion des Lichts ”, Artemis and Winkler, Zurich 1995 . There is also an English edition, “Akhenaten and the Religion of Light” tr. by D. Lorton, Cornell Univ. Press, 2000

[14] Eduard Meyer, ”Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstämme”, Halle, 1906, p. 449

[15] Weigall was indeed subject to a mistake in this book because he adhered to the opinion – common at that time - that Ikhnaton’s embalmed body had been found. This proved to be a mistake later. However, this doesn’t put into question other assessments, which are in fact worth mentioning.

[16] from: Klaus Koch ”Geschichte der ägyptischen Religion: von den Pyramiden bis zu den Mysterien der Isis”, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 1993, p. 348 f.

[17] forefather theory
One of Freud’s hypotheses, according to which a forefather has existed in the primeval horde, who dominated the other male representatives and monopolized the women. Finally the ”sons” overwhelm the forefather and remove him. This is described by Freud as a crime, which he simultaneously refers to as the beginning of the human culture. It it is an extremely primitive model of the primeval human society, for which accordingly there is no proof at all. Perhaps it is somewhat different if one takes it as a certain abstract scheme for processes within certain early social forms.
It is captivating, how much these theses of the ”psychoanalysis”, dashed off by Freud, differ from the historical theses about the development of Judaism, which were thought out again and again. This contrast becomes clear within ”Moses and Monotheism”, since the last chapter then goes over to the application of  the so-called ”forefather theory”.

[18] Peter Gay, ” ’A godless Jew ‘; Freud, Atheism and the Making of Psychoanalysis”, 1987 , Yale University press, New Haven & London.  German edition: “’Ein gottloser Jude’ - Sigmund Freuds Atheismus und die Entwicklung der Psychoanalyse”,  S. Fischer- Verlag, Frankfurt/M., 1988

[19] ”The book caused a storm of protest everywhere in Jewish circles. Freud was covered by criticism and a real avalanche of letters, most of them from strangers, who wanted to call him to account for the monstrosity he had committed.” ibidem p.106f.  [re-translated from the German tr. by ourselves]

© Hartmut Dicke