Was Freud the first to say that Judaism borrowed from Atenism?

Was Freud the first to say that Judaism borrowed from Atenism?

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Every source I mention seems to attribute this to Freud. Was there an earlier proponent?

I realized the question as originally written was horrifically vague. I'm not looking for scholars before Freud who said "this looks a lot like monotheism" I'm looking for a paper before Freud that said "the Jews borrowed monotheism from Aten and here's the postulated causal relationship."

Q: Was Freud the first to make the connection between monotheism and Aten?

There are a couple of uncertainties encapsulated in this question.

If you want to know which Western researcher first discovered that Akhenaten's religious reform in Egypt was "somehow" monotheistic: we have to observe that there are just a few stations in the discovery: 1714 Claude Sicard finds a stele in Amarna, 1799 Napoleon brings Egypt's past into fashion among European researchers, 1826 John Gardner Wilkinson and James Burton visit the place and document it, 1828 Champollion visits the place for just one day, 1845 Karl Bunsen publishes 3 volumes covering Egypt's place in world history, but then already Karl Richard Lepsius wrote about that what you might want to know in 1851. "Über den ersten Aegyptischen Götterkreis und seine geschichtlich-mythologische Entstehung. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1851." Although he thinks in that work that Akhenaten is a priest of Re and only that there are strong tendencies towards monotheism recognisable.

If you want to know whether Freud was the first of anything in relating what we might call monotheism in ancient Egypt to monotheism in ancient Israel? Then the answer is that Freud was bold enough to speculate that Moses was himself an Egyptian, not an Israelite or Hebrew, bold enough to muse the idea that Moses was eventually killed by the Hebrews for his radicalism. Freud was a keen observer of Egyptology for half a century and entertained ideas in that fashion for the entire time. For as soon as the efforts of exclusiveness in Akhenaten's religious reforms became apparent in scholarship speculations ran wild to connect it to Jewish history.

Apart from the obvious differences and distinctions between religious traditions, the parallels between the religious history of Egypt, Israel and other near Eastern belief systems are at least as interesting. But this is not really an invention of Western, modern scholars.

The monotheist revolution of Akhenaten and the founding of Israelite monotheism by Moses have often been brought together, most famously by Sigmund Freud in his last book, Moses and Monotheism. Chapter 4, “Moses and Akhenaten: Memory and History,” investigates the historical and mnemohistorical foundations of this problematic rapprochement. Akhenaten is a figure exclusively of history who was denied any tradition and memory in ancient Egyptian culture, having been subjected to a complete damnatio memoriae. Moses, on the other hand, is a figure exclusively of memory, accruing an immense importance as the founding father of monotheism in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, of whose historical existence, however, not the least traces have been found. It is, therefore, small wonder that the two figures, complementing each other in such a perfect way, have often been brought together.

There is, however, even a late Egyptian tradition identifying Akhenaten (called Osarseph) with Moses: Manetho's legend of the lepers, whose reference to the Amarna experience is corroborated by a passage in Diodorus on the pyramids. These and other sources show that there was a strong tradition in Egyptian cultural memory about three great catastrophes and times of suffering in the past and their triumphant overcoming, the Amarna experience being one of them. These traditions concerning Egyptian suffering and final triumph show striking parallels to the Biblical story of the Exodus that point to the fact that the Late Egyptian tradition (ca. 600 BCE onward) about Akhenaten-Osarseph and the Biblical tradition about Moses and the Exodus did not arise completely independently of each other.

Jan Assmann: "From Akhenaten to Moses. Ancient Egypt and Religious Change", The American University in Cairo Press: Cairo, New York, 2014, p 3.

Freud did indeed land a few "firsts" with his book. But most of these firsts are now as criticised as they were when he published his book. Although few of the points that are not entirely psychoanalytical but actually grounded in the understanding of history from his day, are unique, the composition and synthesis of ideas certainly is. That Moses bears an Egyptian name and that this might hint at him being ethnically Egyptian is a hypothesis that is even still current in catholic theology seminars.

But for the "connection" between Moses and Akhenaten, Freud was just by far not the first on that. So I would conclude, equal in boldness to Freud, as soon as anyone identified Akhenaten as some kind of monotheist, everyone started to see the "connection" to what eventually became Jewish monotheism immediately.

Since the early 20th century, scholars have posited that there was some possible connection between Akhenaten and ancient Israelite religion, Moses and monotheism.

James K. Hoffmeier: "Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism", Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2014, p xi.

Updated question:

Q: Was Freud the first to say that Judaism borrowed from Atenism?

Most probably not.

Given that Freud published the famous book in 1939 and started to write it in 1937 I would request further precision from the OP as to the exact date that Freud first publicly entertained the idea. If we take 1937/9 as the cut-off date, this would be one earlier example:

H. R. Hall: "Egypt and the External World in the Time of Akhenaten", The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (Apr., 1921), pp. 39-53

It is however by no means impossible that its inspiration was not lost outside Egypt. In Nubia, where temples were erected to the Aten, it died; but in Palestine we cannot be certain that this was absolutely the case. Even in the midst of rebellion, a Palestinian Khinatuni seems to have been set up, as would naturally be expected from Egyptian officialism in the northern as in the southern external dominion; this would be entirely agreeable to the king: he would not fight, but he would teach. How do we know that the monotheistic doctrine of Heliopolis (again, Moses' "Wisdom of the Egyptians," learnt at On) did not survive at Khinatuni, whether that was at Jerusalem itself or possibly at Bethshemesh, " the House of the Sun," and that it was not the germ from which sprang the monotheism of the Hebrews, of ourselves, and of the Muslims ?

And even earlier, but focussing more on Joseph than Moses, but denying any uniqueness to monotheist thought in the old oriental context:

Hugo Winckler: "Abraham als Babylonier, Joseph als Ägypter: Der Weltgeschichtliche Hintergrund der Biblischen Vätergeschichten auf Grund der Keilinschriften", JC Hinrichs: Berlin, 1904. (Online at archive.org)

It has turned out that the historical personalities of this time were also known to the biblical tradition and that they are the ones to be assumed in an important episode of pre-Israelite history.
Amenophis IV, the Pharaoh to whom most of these letters are addressed, has Palestine ruled by a deputy at that time, a viceroy or whatever one wants to call him.

The decisive reason why the Joseph narrative must presuppose the conditions of this time, however, is not in the correspondence of the external conditions, but in the essence of the intention of the biblical narratives in general. Their purpose is to prove how and under what circumstances religion has developed, as the bearer of which the people of Israel feels. The essence of this religion is monotheism. For no one who has an insight into the essence of the Oriental cultural world, it is a question of whether thoughts such as those underlying the Mosaic doctrine were already thought by human heads in the millennia before Israel's existence as a people. This is also not the contradiction that this Israelite teaching itself wants to teach. Whoever claims this as Israel's merit, has the implementation of the monotheism contrary to the new Babylonian doctrine in the Hammurabi period originated - that is, inspired and conditioned by it, how every expression of human spiritual activity is stimulated by the world of thought of its time and determined in its development, how the Reformation received its impulses through grievances of the Catholic Church - in Egypt once an attempt was made to carry out a likewise monotheistic teaching, but "a new Pharaoh arose who knew nothing of Joseph", Egypt returned to its old gods.
(translation and emphasis mine)

In effect the whole paper that contains the last quote claims that monotheism was a near eastern development that spread through the whole region, with evidence of certain steps here and there, but Amenophis IV being just one salient step of a direct line, or branch, towards Israelite monotheism.

Let's approach this from the rear end of the horse and look at how Freud got his most inspiration from whom and how he differed from that direct inspiration:

Sigmund's cryptic, phrase-a-day diary for that date merely mentions the visit of a “Mrs Gunn with Egyptian antiquity”, but he and his grandsons were documented inspecting goldfish in the garden pond in an amateur film by Princess Marie Bonaparte, now shown daily at the Freud Museum. A year later Lucian went to Cedric Morris's East Anglian art school and, shortly after that, at around the time of his grandfather's death, he was given the copy of Breasted's Geschichte Aegyptens with which he posed for the Auerbach photograph half a century later. The distinctive recumbent manner in which Lucian poses so many of his sitters suggests the conscious or unconscious influence both of his grandfather's psychoanalytical couch and of the Egyptian mummy, his dreaming figures, clothed or nude, staring into space until brought back to health and/or consciousness. The particular application of this supine pose to freaks, friends, wives, mistresses and mother alike (the latter depicted following her suicide attempt and eventually, mummy-like, in death itself), tends to support this hypothesis.
In Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud went further than Breasted's Dawn of Conscience to argue that Moses was an Egyptian who derived his iconoclastic monotheism from the revolutionary, sun-worshipping pharaoh, Akhenaten, and was then murdered by the ungrateful Jews he had led out of slavery. The book was completed in London and published in the last months of Freud's life. Freud followed Breasted in believing that: “Our moral heritage… derives from a wider human past enormously older than the Hebrews, and it come to us through rather than from them.” Breasted had drawn attention to the striking parallels between Akhenaten's “Hymn to the Sun” and Psalm 104, as well as the indebtedness of the Book of Proverbs to the so-called “Wisdom of Amenemope”.

Maurizio Ascari &, Adriana Corrado (Eds): "Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines", Rodopi: Amsterdam, 2006, p 45.

He's probably not the very first, but no one would have predated him by more than about 40 years, and I'd be very surprised if anyone else did it quite like he did.

As background, Atenism was a religion that Pharoh Akhenaten tried to convert Egypt to around the 14th Century BC for all of 20 years. It was thereafter roundly suppressed. Because this religion was quasi-monotheistic1, it is hard not to wonder what if any connection it had to other monotheistic Near East religions. However, most of our information about it comes from the Amarna Letters, which weren't discovered until the late 19th century. So there really wasn't any time before the early 20th century for anyone to wonder about it.

Freud was essentially the founder of psychoanalysis. However, modern psychiatry generally considers psychoanalysis to be of little proven practical benefit, if not downright hokum. His repressed memory recovery stuff is particularly shaky, and honestly any result arrived at probably says far more about the psychologist doing the analysis than it does about the poor subject.

His book Moses and Monotheism was an attempt to show what could be accomplished if his psychoanalytic techniques, particularly repressed memory recovery, were applied to historical analysis. The result was every bit as much nonsense as a modern psychiatrist would predict.

However, it was quite detailed. So while individual bits may have been suggested by others before, the whole was entirely his invention.

The biblical story of Moses is contradicted by Freud, who retells the events, claiming that Moses led only his close followers into freedom (during an unstable period in Egyptian history after Akhenaten's death ca. 1350 BCE), that they subsequently killed Moses in rebellion, and still later joined with another monotheistic tribe in Midian who worshipped a volcano god they called Yahweh. Freud supposed that the god of Moses was fused with Yahweh, and that the deeds of Moses were ascribed to a Midianite priest also called Moses.

I've left off the end of this quote, where he veers into racially and religiously offensive territory. Freud himself was an atheist of Jewish heritage trying to be taken seriously (and flat-out stay alive) in the very anti-Semitic society of Nazi Germany, and his disdain for the religion and internalization of his society's racism is plain to see2. Nonetheless, that stuff doesn't need to be sitting on any more web pages than it already is.

1 - It acknowledged multiple gods, but only one supreme deity to be worshipped. There are those who argue some of the older parts of the Torah read this way as well.

2 - Again, it's also quite possible he felt that his heritage required him to take this tack, for his own protection. The book was published the same year Germany started forcing Jews into ghettos.

Early Jewish Monotheism and Egyptian Atenism – One And The Same?

The religious influences upon both Akhenaten and his brother Tuthmose from the temples of Heliopolis went a long way in fashioning their comparative belief systems. By encouraging the older solar beliefs, the priests of Iunu opened up the world of the ancient religions where fundamentally there was one source, the original first creator god. By distancing himself more and more from the priesthood, their father, Amenhotep III, set the precedent for both princes to completely separate themselves from the sphere of the comparatively modern Amun-Ra.

The concept of a single creator god, unseen and omnipresent was the basis of the religion that Moses attempted to force upon the Israelites in the desert and he could be tyrannical in his insistence that his way was right. One only has to look at the incident of the Golden Calf to see Moses’ overreaction.

The Golden Calf from The Bible and its stories ( CC0)

This is an interesting concept, and I have been shown that there is in fact validity to this idea.

The fact of the matter is that Moses was an avataric embodiment of Akhenaten, which would explain the similarities in their individual dogmas.

It was not Moses that introduced the ark as a place to keep the Pentateuch, it was Abraham. While the Pentateuch is valid, in and of itself, it is imperative to understand that the bible is made invalid by the fact that the council of Nicea neglected to include the necessary genealogy and related mythology, despite that fact that the council was shown to include these ancient Babylonian and Sumerian texts, by the white dove, that they saw as their divine “sign”.

Understanding that the priests at Nicea sought to create a “for profit” enterprise when they framed the ancient texts that would become the bible, leaves the entire primary tenet of the christian dogma skewed towards that end, including the the entirety of the new testament, which is the story of the life of Jesus, or supposed to be.

While there was an individual by the name of Jesus that was a charismatic individual, he was not divine. Jesus actually denied that he was the “son of God”, and while he did have a following that documented his thoughts, the priests at Nicea who sought to create an industry around his life, actually amalgamated Jesus story with that of the Krishna, who did in fact raise an individual from the dead, and walk on water, long before the framers of the bible met at Nicea.

Back to the omitted genealogical and mythological texts, the council did not understand the implication of these texts and did not see the need to include them, subsequently they have the rendered the entire book backwards, making the “creature of light” in the role of the “creature of dark”.

This fact is not evident, nor is it relevant until the creature of dark makes his entrance in the book of Revelation. But, by considering the “mystery” of the book of Revelation, which are the seven stars and seven “candlestands”, that the framers of the bible did not understand for the fact that in the more than 50,000 years since the ancient texts were written, there had been much lost to time, including the fact that the seven “stars” and “candlestands” were actually talismans and sigils, respectively. Which are certainly not the tools of the Architect of the Universe, but the tools of a sorcerer.

The Creator does not need, nor does He use such enhancements in His style of the Highest Science. He also does not have need for a council of twenty four “elders” as is also what revelations has him utilizing.

There is further evidence to be found of the reversal, in the seven churches of the east, which at the time the ancient texts were written, were the seven armies of Rudra, in the battle of the ten kings.

Then there is the fact that the Architect of the Universe most certainly does not have an illegitimate child, as is told in Rev. Chapter 12.

These facts make the bible completely invalid, and should not be used as consideration in the determination of anything.

Well, Dick, you need to understand who I am, first.

First, I am the true and real biblical Prophet for the end of the Age of Man, which not only allows me access to “all seeing all knowing”, plus like my three contemporaries before me, I have the burden that you might understand as, I “walk with God”.

He’s here with me now, and sends his regards, by the way.

On top of that, I am also the Prophet for the Battle of the Armageddon.

Also, I claim the title of “Usher of Destruction”.

I am also a dynastic avatar. I am the last blue blooded avatar of the House of Anjou, and a direct descendant of the Count of Anjou. I am the end of a 5000 year long string of first born sons, and this pedigree offers me the title of “Son of Seth” which each of my three contemporaries, Abraham, Moses, and Noah, also were. If you don’t recognize “Son of Seth”, you may understand it as “Ben Elohim” or the more common, “Nephilim”. I am the first to have “realization of self” in over 26,000 years, since Grandsire Bhishma Patimah in the last battle of good and evil, the Mahabharata.

Moving on to the bible, and you need to understand that the whole thing is bass backwards, subsequently, I am the “seven headed beast that rises from the sea” and the Old Man(the God that you say your prayers to) is the “dragon”.

And the last one that I will list, because there are more titles, is that I am the Knight Templar that will free the slaves of the church. I have already pushed over the first domino that whence the last one falls, it will crush the christian religion, and release the grasp that it has on the poor lambies that have bought into the lies that it has perpetrated since Nicea, when it sought to push its way into all of our realities as middleman of our spirituality. You may not understand that there is absolutely no “religion” involved in ascending.

The reason everything is so screwed up is that there hasn’t been anyone to set the record straight in well over 50,000 years, since old Moses was here leaving havoc in his wake. Actually Noah was supposed to, but he refused his position because he was pissed off about having to build a boat in the desert, and everyone laughed at him. As “Prophet” it was his gig to spread the word about the storm that was impending. He refused.

So, anyway, I hope you will accept my credentials and pedigree as reference for some of it.

The rest you can fact check for yourself, like Rev. 12:5, where the council of Nicea put the Old Man in the Role of the “creature of Dark” wrongly, giving him the “disco trophy”.

I will tell you, the He is a shy and introverted bachelor. He does not have an illigetimate child, Dick.

“her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne” is the end of verse 5 of the KJV, and these words most certainly gift Him a child, wrongly.

The “elders” are in chapter 5, verse 14 as well as other places.

Other evidences that this is not the Old Man, are in chapter 3, where he forces Jezebel to fellate him(verse 14-15)as well as force anyone to purchase any gold or anything else, as they have Him doing in verse 18.

And, let me tell you, young man, he would not ever threaten to kill Jezebels or anyone’s children, as He does in Rev. chapter 2, verse 23 which states “And I will kill her children with death and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”

Not now, or ever, Dick. Not the Old Mans style of His job. The destroying falls on another.

But the grandest tell, is the “mystery” of the book of revelations. He does not need talismans, sigils, charms, nor rabbits feet, to work His brand of the Highest Science.

They council did not understand these tools of a sorcerer, and that’s why they ran a bluff on everyone, making it a “mystery”, this free they spend the entire first chapter trying to explain these “mystery” items away.

Now, back to crushing the church.

In chapter 17 of Revelation, it clearly lays out the there is judgement, not just at the end of time, but every time you move through the bright light at the end of the tunnel. They just omitted that.

There are two books that are consulted in chapter 17. The book of life is one, but the first book that is opened that each one of the dead has.

That is their Akashic record. Their karmic account book. And each one of the is judged by their “works”. That, good sir, is karma.

There is absolutely zero in their about “forgiveness”, which was the churches big lie. There is no forgiveness, not now, or ever. You cannot ascend if your karmic account is not in good standing.

Now, another falsehood is the fact that Revelation was taken from what would become the old testament. The rest of the new testament is virtually all fictional. There was an individual that was charismatic by the name of Jesus, but he actually denied being the “son of God”.

The individual that walked on water and raised an individual from death, was the Krishna, long before the council at Nicea.

But, there are proofs to the fact that the new testament is a “deception”, but that another posting.

Oh, BTW, you can check out the white dove story for yourself.

If I can lend you any more knowledge to find understanding, I’m here for you Dick.

boy oh boy oh boy… what a dooozie….

I quite enjoyed this and followed it quite well. Many things that I have read before. I wouldn’t mind hearing more of what you have to say.

I believe I’m part of the Dragon or something.. I do not know which part. But I do know I somehow mysteriously stumbled upon your profile on a website I never visit. And I feel some connection. My purpose in life is to make this world beautiful again and enlightened on a MASS scale. Check out my website link on my profile. Tell me what you see.

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Was Akhenaten the first Christian?

The idea of Akhenaten as the pioneer of a monotheistic religion that later became Judaism has been considered by various scholars. One of the first to mention this was Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in his book Moses and Monotheism. Freud argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest forced to leave Egypt with his followers after Akhenaten's death. Freud argued that Akhenaten was striving to promote monotheism, something that the biblical Moses was able to achieve. Following his book, the concept entered popular consciousness and serious research.

Other scholars and mainstream Egyptologists point out that there are direct connections between early Judaism and other Semitic religious traditions. They also state that two of the three principal Judaic terms for God, Yahweh, Elohim (meaning roughly "the lofty one", morphologically plural), and Adonai (meaning "our lord", also morphologically plural) have no connection to Aten. Freud commented on the connection between Adonai, the Egyptian Aten and the Syrian divine name of Adonis as a primeval unity of language between the factions in this he was following the argument of Egyptologist Arthur Weigall, but the argument was groundless as 'Aten' and 'Adonai' are not, in fact, linguistically related.

Akhenaten appears in history almost two-centuries prior to the first archaeological and written evidence for Judaism and Israelite culture is found in the Levant. Abundant visual imagery of the Aten disk was central to Atenism, which celebrated the natural world, while such imagery is not a feature of early Israelite culture, Although pottery found throughout Judea dated to the end of the 8th century BC have seals resembling a winged sun disk burned on their handles, presumedly thought to be the royal seal of the Judean Kingdom.

Many people on ATS talk about Jesus Christ (God's son) being an echo of Horus (God's sun) and a number of other 'Solar Messiahs'. Akhenaten was the first monotheist, this is fact. He cast aside the old polytheism religion after an ingenious revelation that all life inadvertently came from and was supported by the sun. As with every religious shift in ancient Egypt, the old religion continued to be practiced by a few faithful priests, and occasionally went underground if the transition was volatile. This was the case after Akhenaten died.

The thought just occurred that the escape and survival of the priests may be the factual basis for the legend of Moses leading the Jews from "Pharaoh".

On top of that, there are plenty of other Egyptian 'echoes' in Christianity, such as the Trinity, angels, fish symbolism, prevalence of 'Eye' symbolism, psalm 104, Book of Proverbs, John 1:1, the word ‘Amen’, and analogues for God (clay moulder, rock etc,), among others.
[Tehuti Research Foundation]

So where does that leave us? Let’s go back to Akhenaten. Wikipedia talks about the end of the Cult of Aten. It’s worth noting that Aten was Akhenaten’s name for the Sun God, Amun-Ra (Amen).

Pretty harsh, but you can see that any further worship would have to be in secret.

Sigmund Freud, in the 30’s in fact came up with the same idea. He published his hypothesis in his book Monotheism and Moses.

In it, Freud argues that Moses was actually an Ancient Egyptian and in some way related to Akhenaten, an ancient Egyptian monotheist. The book was written in three parts and was a departure from the rest of Freud's work on psychoanalytic theory. The book does contain discussion of Freud's psychoanalytic thinking but was intended as a work of history.

In Moses and Monotheism, Freud contradicts the Biblical story of Moses with his own retelling of events claiming that Moses only led his close followers into freedom and that they subsequently killed Moses in rebellion either to his strong faith or to circumcision. Freud explains that years after the murder of Moses, the rebels formed a religion which promoted Moses as the Saviour of the Israelites. Freud said that the guilt from the murder of Moses is inherited through the generations this guilt then drives the Jews to religion to make them feel better.

The next occurrence of monotheism is Zoroastrianism, around 500 BCE. Their God:

The founder of this religion was Zarathushtra. He was born in a princely family in the ancient city of Rae or Ragha in ancient Persia. Pourushaspa was his father's name and Dugdhova was his mother's. When he was born, he was named Spitama, after one of his great heroic ancestors.

At the age of fifteen, young Spitama, instead of taking up household duties, retired into solitude, renouncing the worldly life. He spent fifteen strenuous years in the contemplation of God, facing numerous difficulties and innumerable temptations. The evil spirit Ahirman tried his best in various wicked ways to wean him away from his chosen path. But Spitama was steadfast in his determination to seek God and find answers to his perplexing questions. Finally, at the end of fifteen years he got enlightenment.

After returning home, he started preaching his new religion. Many were reluctant to accept his teachings, because they had fallen into wicked ways. For several years he had only one disciple, his cousin, Maidyoimaongha. He wandered from place to place teaching men what he believed in. But it was in vain. In Iran, people were not yet ready to accept him as a prophet and follow his teachings.

Zoroastrianism and Judaism are fundamentally linked.

Judaism and Zoroasrtianism are both revealed religions and share a great deal in common. God imparts his revelation and pronounces his commandments to Zoroaster on "the Mountain of the Two Holy Communing Ones" in the other Yahweh holds a similar communion with Moses on Sinai. According to jewishencyclodedia.com the points of resemblance between Zoroastrianism and Judaism are many. In both faiths God is omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, and creator of the universe. God operates through and governs the universe with the use of angels and archangels. This presents a parallel to Yahweh that is found in the Old Testament. The Zoroastrianism Spenta Mainyu is the Christian "Holy Spirit."

Ahura Mazda's power is hampered by Ahriman (the Devil) and his host of demons. Their dominion like Satan's will be destroyed at the end of the world. The world is the Devil's domain. Zoroastrian eschatological teachings-the doctrines of a regenerate world, a perfect kingdom, the coming of a Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting are nearly identical to Christianity.

Both are similar in their cosmological ideas. The six days of Creation in Genesis finds a parallel in the six periods of Creation described in the Zoroastrian scriptures. Mankind, according to each religion, is descended from a single couple, and Mashya (man) and Mashyana (women) are the Iranian Adam and Eve. Genesis has two Creation stories the first man/women is created together, the second we have the Rib tradition. In the Bible the Flood story is nearly identical to an Avesta winter story.

Are the ideas of Jesus and Christianity borrowed from Mithra and Zoroastrianism?

Did Judaism and Christianity borrow the Messiah, the resurrection, and final judgment from Zoroastrianism / Mithra? Many doctrines of the Christian faith have parallels in Zoroastrianism, e.g., the virgin birth, the son of God, and resurrection. Some scholars say that Zarathustra (a.k.a. Zoroaster) lived around 600&ndash500 BC. If that is the case, David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah (all of whom mention the Messiah, the resurrection and the final judgment in their writings), lived and wrote before Zarathustra. Some scholars say that Zoroaster lived sometime between 1500 and 1200 BC. If that is the case, the case for Christianity borrowing from Zoroastrianism would be stronger, but the fact is we don’t know when Zarathustra lived (hence the disagreement among scholars), and so this argument is speculative at best. The Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BC) doesn’t mention Zoroaster in his treatise on the Medo-Persian religions, though Plato, who was born roughly around the time Herodotus died, does mention him in his Alcibiades (see Wikipedia’s entry on Zoroasterhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroaster).

But establishing when Zarathustra lived is only the first step. Next, we have to establish what he actually taught (as opposed to what modern Zoroastrianism claims he taught). The only source for Zarathustra’s teachings is the Avesta, and the oldest copies we have of the Avesta date from the 13th century AD. The late date for this collection of writings lends no support whatsoever to the idea that Christians borrowed from Zoroastrianism (the oldest copies of the Jewish Scriptures that we have today date centuries before Christ, and the oldest complete manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures we have date from the 4th century AD).

This looks to be another case of skeptics citing a pre-Christian religion, assuming that the post-Christian form of the religion (which we know about) has remained faithful to the pre-Christian form of the religion (which we know nothing about) and speculating that the similarities between the religion and Christianity are due to Christianity borrowing from the religion in question. It’s a philosophical argument without solid evidence to back it up. Have we any good reason not to suppose that it was Zoroastrianism which borrowed from Christianity and not vice versa? We know that Zoroastrianism borrowed freely from the polytheistic faiths of the region in which it became popular. Mithra, for example, was a Persian god who found a prominent role in Zoroastrianism. Mithra’s Hindu counterpart is the god Mitra.

All philosophical arguments aside, we know that Jesus Christ was a real historical figure, that He fulfilled numerous specific prophecies written and preserved hundreds of years before His life, that He died on a cross, and that He was reported to have risen from the dead and interacted with men and women who were willing to suffer horribly and die for this testimony.


There is absolutely no evidence that Atenism was enforced in the way described in the article. It was a mere example of the same henotheism that made all Babylonian gods "emanations" of Marduk.

The following passage sounds like it's criticizing the other Egyptian gods: In contrast to the old gods, Aten appears primarily to have been seen as a loving and protective god, whose primary goal was not to punish and demand allegiance and sacrifice but to support his people through his presence. This ignores how many gods, like Anubis, supposedly helped people reach the afterlife, and it sounds like an opinion. Tutthoth-Ankhre (talk) 15:25, 15 May 2008 (UTC)

Smenkhkare is not referenced until late in the article and earlier refernce need to be made somewhere in the Decline of Atenism section.

Finally, Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamun, and Ay were excised from the official lists of Pharaohs

I do not know enough about the subject to make this edit myself, but I believe that he or she should be noted as the successor to Akhenaten.

That's a powerful image. It reminded of the relation of Islam to Byzantine Christianity and Arabic paganism. --Error 22:35, 30 Mar 2005 (UTC)

It's also a depply flawed image. Pharaoh was not an ancient Pontiff, and the Pope has nowhere near the authority necessary. I also question the assumption inherent in this article that Atenism was monotheistic. It surely does not need highlighting that such a clear-cut definition is unhelpful and confusing to the student of this subject? (talk) 23:57, 31 March 2008 (UTC)Usermaatre-Setepenre

This article seems to repeat itself a lot, but I'm too sleepy at the moment to fix it myself, added cleanup notice. - Cymydog Naakka 04:28, 7 May 2005 (UTC)

The Discovery Channel advocated a position that Moses was an Atenist Prince, and rebel son of Ramses (and thus not a Jew from the rushes) who killed his brother, the sub-King, whom would be the Pharoah who drown in the Red Sea. (and thus not a real Pharoah) . Should this be integrated into the article and sourced as an origin for Judaism?

This is a very interesting theory with a fair amount of evidence (including one of the psalms found engraved inside a tomb) and doesn't seem to be covered at wikipedia, as far as I can see. I'm going to have a look at the evidence and come back when I've done enough research. If anyone has any ideas or sources about this could they comment here and I'll keep it on my watchlist. thanks, --Sachabrunel 16:25, 15 December 2005 (UTC) It sounds interesting and I like it since it at least doesn't go into the "Moses didn't exist" idea. I sounds a little fishy to be because, I might be wrong, but I think it's based off of some second century AD historian who didn't get his history correct in other places. I don't beleive that Exodus ever mentions the pharoh ever actually leading the effort to catch Moses though. While a bit of an apologetics book (though I don't understand what's so wrong with defending what one beleives with evidence since everyone else can do it) Kenneth A. Kitchen (Egyptologist) gives what I think is the best evidence of the Exodus and he places it around 1260 BC I think. That's too late for Moses to be an Atenist but certainly allows enough space for Akhenaten to be influenced by the Hebrews. Kitchen's book seems to be part of a dueling triad with Finkelstein's and Dever's books on the same subject but I've read all three and I would have to say that the latter two overlook quite a bit of evidence. While not being an expert in the rest of the Old Testament, being an Egyptologist does give him an edge over the other two regarding Israel in Egypt and Moses. (talk) 05:40, 16 August 2009 (UTC) It is speculative. If any more than Ove von Spaeth's site. Rursus dixit. ( m bork 3 !) 12:56, 25 March 2010 (UTC) Responding to a years old claim, there are no psalms in the Amarna tombs. Dougweller (talk) 14:17, 13 August 2012 (UTC)

I am proposing a Wikiproject to enhance articles on Egyptian Religion. please check it out and see if you want to add yourself.

The label of monotheism is not universally accepted and claimed to be rather Freud's interpretation. This newsgroup message suggests henotheism or monolatry. The message is written by a specialist and contains references. Pavel Vozenilek 14:29, 17 September 2006 (UTC)

You are entierly right in doubting that the term monotheism is appropriate, however there are stronger sources than newsgroups, and we'd want citations from those. Redford, I believe, has somthing in Heretic King, and Reeves has somthing in False Prophet about this as well. Thanatosimii 04:25, 10 April 2007 (UTC) You have several references in the last part of Katherine Griffis-Greenberg's article (link provided by Pavel above your post) : Stevens, A. 2003. The Material Evidence for Domestic Religion at Amarna and Preliminary Remarks on its Interpretation and Assmann, J. 2001. _The Search for God in Ancient Egypt_. D. Lorton. It would be appropriate to also mention, in the first paragraph, that Atenism can be described as Henotheistic. --Squallgreg (talk) 15:45, 24 May 2008 (UTC)

Wasn't Nefertiti supposed to be a non-egyptian princess ? It is seen as possible that she was an Hebrew princess. And she may have influenced her husband and founded a new branch of monotheism. It's just a theory, but it doesn't look too weird, and that would prove the link between atenism and judaism for good. Would it be worthy to mention this theory ? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 21:07, 8 April 2007 (UTC).

If you can source it reliably, certainly. SamEV 02:49, 10 April 2007 (UTC) There aren't any sources for that theory. Nefertiti was once considered to be the same as Gilukheppa, a mitannian princess, but that theory hasn't been supported in over 50 years, and she is now almost universally considered to be the daughter of Ay and the Granddaughter of Yuya and Tjuya. Definitly not a Hebrew princess, because the Hebrews were at the very best only in Canaan for 20-40 years, and at the worst still in Egyptian slavery or (if one buys the minimalist interpretation) not yet a people group at all. In none of these scenarios could there be a state enough to define one of them as a "princess." Ask any reputable archaeologist or historian from this time period and you'll get that answer. Thanatosimii 04:23, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

Section Amarna art, from text "However, according to some controversial theories," the section starts to hallucinate and give bizarre accounts. Now: these controversial theories can stand, but the structure of the text must be improved so that it is stressed that each of these "theories" (if that would be the name of one mans/womans talkative speculation) are very speculative, and have no general acceptance. Reading about Marfan's syndrome give no indication to me that forms of those affected are more feminine than otherwise. Wild speculations are wild speculations – they're sort of WP:trivia, unless supported by a scientific argumentation. Said: Rursus ☻ 09:11, 7 August 2008 (UTC)

Nobody have improved it, nor presented any references, so I removed it as undue speculation, a.k.a. one editor's fable. Rursus dixit. ( m bork 3 !) 14:30, 25 March 2010 (UTC)

I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to post something promotional, just the facts. Is there a different, and better, way I could have written it? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:00, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

Ok, maybe you aren't related to the earlier editor - the blog site would normally be against our guidelines. I see the same text is at Kemetism. The problem is references, have you got a reliable source (WP:RS)for this - and notability, see WP:Notability and in particular WP:Group - if a religion doesn't satisfy those criteria, it really doesn't belong here. dougweller (talk) 09:26, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

No, I'm not related to the earlier editor. I have actually posted on the Atenist forums for whoever it is to stop doing it, as I see it as counter-productive. I am currently looking for a good reliable source, but I am having trouble. I knew of one some years back, but can't seem to find it. (talk) 17:06, 20 February 2009 (UTC)


Amenhotep IV was married to Nefertiti at the very beginning of his reign, and the couple had six known daughters and possibly one son. This is a list with suggested years of birth:

    – year 1. – year 3. , later Queen of Tutankhamun – year 4. – year 8. – year 9. – year 9. –year 8 or 9. son of The Younger Lady who is a sister/wife of Akhenaten

The Younger Lady who is mother of Tutankhamun and Akhenaten sister/wife

    , his Great Royal Wife early in his reign. , a lesser Royal Wife. , recorded as his Great Royal Wife late in his reign. , his third daughter, and who is thought to have borne a daughter, Ankhesenpaaten-ta-sherit, to her own father. After his death, Ankhesenpaaten married Akhenaten's successor Tutankhamun.

Two other lovers have been suggested, but are not widely accepted:

    , Akhenaten's successor and/or co-ruler for the last years of his reign. Rather than a lover, however, Smenkhkare is likely to have been a half-brother or a son to Akhenaten. Some have even suggested that Smenkhkare was actually an alias of Nefertiti or Kiya, and therefore one of Akhenaten's wives. , his mother. Twelve years after the death of Amenhotep III, she is still mentioned in inscriptions as Queen and beloved of the King. It has been suggested that Akhenaten and his mother acted as consorts to each other until her death. This would have been considered incest at the time. Supporters of this theory (notably Immanuel Velikovsky) consider Akhenaten to be the historical model of legendary King Oedipus of Thebes, Greece and Tiy the model for his mother/wife Jocasta.

Yahweh was originally a Canaanite god, the Jews were originally polytheists, and why do you ignore the Sumerian gods?

I just came across your answer to a question about the origin of Yahweh and usage of the name. Your info is lacking. Yahweh originates out of Canaan though he is described [sic] concerning his theophany with Baal. Both are storm Gods. The Israelites are an offshoot of the Canaanites so it’s no surprise that the Israelites who begin as polytheists often will refer to Yahweh while the Canaanites kept Baal and El. Hebrew is the oldest Canaanite language on record, go research this. And I don’t know why people miss this but the Sumerians far out date the Canaanite and Israelites, Baal, Yahweh, even El. All those gods have their roots in Sumerian cuneiform, check out the original flood epics of Ziusudra and even the much later Babylonian Utnapashtim. We can further debate this if you’d like. My question, however, why do you apologists make the assumption that atheism is such a paramount subject to tackle? Atheism asserts there is no such an animal called God and that’s atheism in a nutshell. By the way, I’m a polytheist. Polytheism which predates any monotheistic school of thought, I’d even go as far to say the first monotheistic culture is the ankhet out of Egypt and not the Israelites. But seriously why the obsession with atheism? You do realize that Sumerian, Babylonian, Hittite worshipers abide?


First of all, you make claims here but do not back them up with evidence. I am not being critical, as I definitely would like to hear from you, but unless you can provide evidence to support your contention that YHWH was first a Canaanite God, I will struggle to agree with your conclusion. I understand that the names El or Elohim can be traced to Sumerian or Canaaninte roots,. I have stated that repeatedly both at the web site and in my lectures, but I have never seen evidence that the name YHWH had any roots other than in Judaism. Do you have evidence to present to support your contention? I believe that you do not. My info that YHWH originated with the Jews comes from a very good source–the Bible, which happens to be rooted in the second millennium BC. I agree that the names Baal, El and Elohim come from sources outside Israel, but I have seen zero evidence to support your claim about YHWH. To me the words El and the plural Elohim are really just generic names for God, which explains why the Jews used this label for their monotheistic God. Arabs in the western world call Allah God and Christians in places like Indonesia call God Allah. These are simply the generic names for a god or, in this case, for the one God. What other word would they use for God than the common world for god, which was El? YHWH is a proper name, while El is more of a descriptive name. That is why the name YHWH is original to the Jews. I believe your claim to the contrary is simply not true. If you can provide evidence, fine.

As for polytheism, I have heard this charge again and again, but what I have not seen is evidence that the Jews were ever polytheists. They were monotheists who, unfortunately, dabbled in polytheism. The Old Testament makes that abundantly clear. But this idolatry was always denounced by the mainstream of Judaism. Were there other gods worshipped in Israel? Yes. But there is no evidence, either from archaeology or from history that they ever accepted this as their national religion. Zero. None. We have a LOT of documents from ancient Israel, but none of them show that Abraham or Isaac or Jacob or Joseph or Moses were polytheists. The Jewish nation began with Abraham. His father was likely a polytheist, but I see no evidence that the father of the Jewish nation was a polytheist. Arguments that the Jews were polytheists that I have seen are always circular reasoning, not based on actual evidence. The argument goes something like this. Obviously, Israel began polytheist because all groups did. Therefore they surely did. We do not have evidence to support this, but surely it is impossible that a group back then began monotheist, as monotheism always comes after polytheism. This is a totally circular argument, and to this day, I have seen no direct evidence that the mainstream leaders of Israel ever accepted polytheism. Again, I need to see evidence, not just statements.

As for the apologetics I teach, I try to respond to the needs as they come up. I meet few polytheists (unless you want to call Hindus polytheists, which is somewhat valid). I do not have the time to respond to a religions movement which has no presence in the cultures I interact with. If you want to be a polytheist, that is your business, but I feel little need to respond to a religious idea which is not relevant numbers-wise in today’s culture. Sorry, but this is a matter of what is practical to me. Probably less than 10% of Americans are atheists, but up to 30 or 40% of today’s youth are “nones.” In other words, they ascribe to no religious belief. Responding to atheism is a form of responding to the “nones.” In Europe, atheism is way over 50%, as it is in Russia, China and Japan. This is a massive part of the world and the need to respond to atheism is a growing need. I have no intention of letting this group go. In my discussions about worldview, I primarily respond to Islam, Hindism, Buddhism, New Age religions, atheism and postmodernism simply because these are by far the most common philosophies or religions in the world today, other than Christianity, of course.

I would guess that less than 0.01% of people today believe in the Sumerian or Babylonian gods. So… that will explain why I do not spend time responding to this idea–at least not a lot. If you go to my material on Genesis you will find that I actually do discuss the Near Eastern polytheism because this was the chief competing worldview when Genesis was written.

BTW, I think you mean Atenism, not Akhenatenism. Akhenaten IV was the one who created the Aten monotheism. Abraham was a monotheist around 1900 BC and I am sure there were other monotheists before him, but Atenism is not the first monotheistic belief. You should change your opinion about this.

Specifically, which of the Sumerian gods do you believe in? What is your evidence that these particular gods, and not others, are real and can actually impact the world? Do they answer prayer? Do they work miracles? Do you have evidence you can present to me that I can use to evaluate your claim that such and such god is real?

Freud and the language of power

In the shadow of the dying Hapsburg Empire a new treatment that focused on conversation was invented: psychoanalysis. However, who would benefit from Freud’s new method and what end would it finally serve?

Michael Wynn is the editor of historyradio.org

Sigmund Freud saw himself as part of the supercilious materialist wave that reduced men to Darwin’s apes. He was part of the liberal bourgeoisie of Vienna around 1900 and was educated in the neuro-physiology of Brucker and the hypno-theraphy of Charcot. Some time between 1895 and 1900, he broke with his old mentor Breuer and produced psychoanalysis.

Like his role model, Charles Darwin, whom he praised in a 1917 essay*, he benefited greatly from his privileged background, and like him, he was sometimes haunted by his historic limitations. While Darwin swore by his own observations, Freud based his ideas on conversation and analysis. At the turn of the century, Freud was tested in a way that would expose the difficulties of psychoanalysis, the case of Dora.

Privileged patients
Psychoanalysis was the outcome of Freud’s conversations with women who could not survive in their social straitjackets. So it was with Dora, or Ida Bauer, as her real name was, an 18 year old who was sent to Freud by her wealthy family. She had been abused by an older friend of the family as a 14-year old, and as a result she had developed several symptoms, such as continued arguments with her father, fainting and the writing of suicide notes.

«In their nature women are like feeble, exotic green house plants» Stephen Zweig joked. The contemporary ideal was, according to Zweig that «A young girl from a good family should not have the faintest idea about what a man’s body looked like not know how children are conceived, they were innocent angels». Freud never denied the fact that he benefited from family power structures and that the psychoanalyst borrowed his authority from the father figure.

But because Freud saw himself as the as a prophet of psychology, he never understood the ways in which he came to rationalize oppressive conditions in his own society. Ida Bauer was told that she denied her own sexuality when she described her fear of her abuser, «Mr K», and this qualified her to the obscure diagnosis «a hysteric». However, there were many women who claimed to be sexual victims, and Freud may have had some reason for doubt. Even so, the diagnosis becomes incomprehensible without understanding the social and historical context.

Vienna at the time
At the start of the 1900s Freud was an ambitious doctor who had struggled long in the shadow of positivist physiology he was well established with a large family which, excluding himself, included his wife Martha, as well as relatives, colleagues and a brood of children. From the safety of his home at Berggasse 19 he could defy the medical establishment and acquire the clinical experience that brought him- after several detours- to a better method of treatment. In addition, he developed a new theory about dreams and the structure of the mind.

In spite of progress, Freud failed to rise in the academic hierarchy at the university of Vienna, where he had been employed as an assistant professor for years. Vienna was the center of a conservative empire. According to Stephan Zweig there was only one thing that could shatter the social neurosis and liberate the creative forces: Art. «all these social strata existed in their own own circles and even in their own neighborhoods, the aristocracy in their palaces in the center of the city, the diplomatic corps in a third area, industry and merchants around Ringstrasse, the petty bourgousi in the inner parts, the proletariat in the outer. But they all met in the theater».

Anti-semitism flourished in the wake of various financial scandals and the French Dreyfuss affair. The right wing mayor Karl Leuger had been elected in spite of massive protest from the aristocracy and the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie. Barring the foul mob that rose from the gutter, few had the power to force through moderate reforms. Upper-class liberals like Freud now turned their back on politics and sublimated their own rebellions. A rigid society therefore seem to wither from within.

Complicated by social factors
Freud was among the first to develop a theory about how human dialogue can solve mental problems. A bi-product of this was an unsentimental description of the power structures in this conversation, both how they prevented and contributed to communication. When Dora one day slammed her door and shut Freud out, Freud saw it as a sign of weakness. Posterity, and a few literary scholars and theoreticians in particular, has compared Dora to Ibsen’s famous heroine, Nora.*

To other thinkers like Hélène Cixous, Dora became the woman who exposed Freud as a chauvinist. Women, like some religious people, have discovered that the more you criticize psychoanalysis, the more you seem to confirm its diagnosis. In the essay «On femininity» Freud declared that psychoanalysis doesn’t ask what a woman is, but how she is made. Psychoanalysis is seemingly impervious to any attack, and raises itself high above women, the religious and other so-called pathologies.

Mental Asylum, a painting by Goya, ca 1812

More humane after all
On the other hand, Freud took an important step away from the macabre laboratories of neuro-physiology and the institutionalized sadism that preoccupied many contemporary institutions. He communicated with his patients and wasn’t afraid of touchy subjects, like sex, death and aggression. But perhaps because Freud developed a theory to penetrate the defenses of the self and unveil hidden motives, he was later seen as the architect of a state sponsored invasion of the private sphere. In the doctor-patient relationship, historical positivism and its wave of materialism became a social tool of the establishment.

The power of definition
Of course, this spurred a host of counter-theories. Freud’s studies revealed that all women at some point in their childhood discovered that boys have something which they apparently lack, and that leads to “penis-envy” and supposedly causes neurosis later in life. Freud never accepted that this was in some ways a description of, if not a rationalization of, contemporary attitudes.

Later psychologists like Karen Horney understood that women needed to justify fundamental needs. They need to find a response to the old language of power. The feminist Susan Gubar begins one of her articles with the question «Is anatomy linguistic destiny?» Such a fate seemed inevitable to early feminists who suggested that penis-envy be replaced by “womb-envy”, or the stage in a boy’s life when he discovers that he is unable to give birth and consequently develops neurosis. It is not hard to see that this theoretical tug-of-war masks a power struggle.

Psychoanalysis in a vacuum?
Darwin had won his victory by gradually placing his followers in strategic positions within the scientific societies. The psychoanalytic movement followed a similar pattern, and spread throughout Europe after 1906 through intrigues and personal animosity.

The totalitarian side of psychoanalysis became increasingly more apparent as Freud clamped down on heretics within his own movement: Fleiss, Adler, Jung, Reich and others. This is a fate that psychoanalysis shares with Marxism. Where Marx saw exploitation, Freud saw neurosis, and the twentieth century seemed to follow these two in their search for hidden agendas.

Whether Freud was a positivist is debatable. However, he did write texts in which he saw himself as part of an accumulating corpus of knowledge. He also clung to scientific objectivity, and is consequently often scolded for his arrogance. Yet, it seems like posterity has blamed him for not being able to bring conversational analysis into a social vacuum. Can we really predict human behavior as reliably as the laws of Newton or describe them as eloquently as Darwin’s finches? It is not without reason that the great Karl Popper labeled both evolution and psychoanalysis as «metaphysical research programs».

Such unreasonable demands may also have also influenced Freud’s view of himself. However, in 1914, after a heated debate over psychoanalysis, the world experienced a series of irrational tremors that swept the old bourgeoisie and their prejudices aside: the shell shocks of the first world war. The immense tragedy of that conflict secured both women and psychoanalysts a better position in society.

* “A difficulty in the path of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud 1917.
* A simple search in google scholar revealed serveral who made the comparison.

The Genesis of Jewish Genius

In 1756, Voltaire wrote a sharply anti-Semitic essay on the Jews. They had, he said, contributed nothing to civilization. Their religion was borrowed, their faith superstitious, their originality non-existent. They were “an ignorant and barbarous people.” Still, he added, “we ought not to burn them.”

In the course of the next two centuries, Jews (or individuals of Jewish descent) became pioneers in almost every field of endeavour: Einstein, Bohr, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss, Freud, Adler, Klein, Spinoza, Bergson, Wittgenstein, Mahler, Schoenberg, Heine, Bellow, Agnon. The litany has become a cliché: less than a fifth of a percent of the population of the world, Jews have won 22 percent of all Nobel prizes.

What led to this efflorescence of genius? Thorstein Veblen thought it was because of their marginality. As Jews, they were outsiders to the majority society, and as “enlightened,” acculturated figures, they often found themselves estranged from their own community. The Jew, said Veblen, was “a wanderer in the intellectual no-man’s-land” and “a disturber of the intellectual peace”—a paradigmatic case of the homeless mind.

Freud was nearer the mark. In the last months of his life, an exile in London, dying of cancer, his Vienna occupied by the Nazis, he took up again a manuscript that he had put aside years before: Moses and Monotheism. In the last section of the book, he argued that in choosing to worship an invisible God, Jews had made the right choice. They opted for the intellectual, not the physical, “subordinating sense perception to an abstract idea.” Jews sought the unknown beyond the far horizon.

If there is such a thing as the Jewish genius, it comes, I believe, from seven features of our tradition. First is the emphasis in Judaism on education, study, and the life of the mind. As a text-based religion, it makes literacy a primary duty. The Talmud goes so far as to rank study as higher even than prayer as a religious act. Judaism’s citadels, from at least the time of the Babylonian exile, were its schools and academies. In Jewish law, building a school takes precedence over opening a synagogue. Paul Johnson, author of a fine History of the Jews, called rabbinic Judaism an “ancient and highly efficient social machine for the production of intellectuals.”

Second, Jews argue. Judaism is perhaps the only religious civilization all of whose canonical texts are anthologies of arguments. In the Bible, the prophets argue with God. In the Mishnah, rabbis argue with one another. The Talmud, rather than resolving the arguments, deepens them. Go into a university library and you will find silence. Go into the study hall of a yeshiva (rabbinical academy), and you will find everyone shouting at the top of their voices, replaying debates centuries old. I sometimes wonder whether God chose the Jewish people because He loves a good argument.

Third, we ask questions—the harder, the better. Abraham asked God, “Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?” Moses asked him, “Why have you done evil to this people?” One of Judaism’s most ancient rituals, the Seder service on Passover, begins with questions asked by a child. To be a Jew is to say: I ask, therefore I am.

Fourth, Judaism trains you in the multiple interpretations that can be given to any text. There are, said the rabbis, “seventy faces” to every verse in the Bible. The idea that meaning is simple—Fundamentalism, we call it nowadays—is alien to the Jewish mind. Truth is rarely on the surface. So we seek the hidden patterns, the paradigm-shifting readings, the music beneath the noise. Freud interpreted dreams the way the rabbis read texts. Einstein was convinced that God doesn’t play dice with the universe, so he searched for the hidden order.

Fifth, Judaism loves chiddush, the new insight, the pattern that was always there but no one noticed before. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the great Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, spoke lyrically of this feature of rabbinic culture. The man of faith, he said, is creative, and his greatest creation is himself.

Sixth, for compelling moral reasons, Jews have tended to prefer the power of ideas to the idea of power. There are three ways of changing the world. You can force people to change, you can pay them to change, or you can inspire them to change. The first is the way of politics and power, the second of economics and the market, but the third is the way of the academy and the house of study. What makes the third better than the other two is that, in the short term at least, power and wealth are zero sum games. The more I share, the less I have. Knowledge, insight, and teaching are non-zero. The more I share, the more I have. The more I teach, the more I learn.

Seventh, the great broadcaster Alistair Cooke, once told the story of a remote tribe whose members lived to exceptional old age. A team of scientists and anthropologists was dispatched to study them and find out what made them live so long. They came back with an unexpected answer. It wasn’t their diet, the climate, their lifestyle, or their genes. It was the simple fact that they revered the old. What we become is shaped by our expectations and aspirations. Why did Jews produce so many great minds? Because we revere scholars. In the synagogue we seat them in the place of honour. We even have a special blessing to be said on seeing one—two blessings, in fact, one for religious scholars, another for secular ones.

Judaism is a religion of deed, but it begins in the mind. For it is there that we discern the order of creation, the multiple meanings of revelation, and the pathways to redemption. Sadly, for reasons that go far beyond the scope of this article, the great Jewish minds that shaped the modern world were often alienated from their religion. But certain deeply engrained habits live on, one of which is that to be a Jew means never to stop learning, questioning, challenging, and arguing.

Genius rarely happens by happenstance. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a culture and a community to produce scholars willing to begin a journey across the wilderness of the unknown, confident that even if you do not reach your destination, still the effort was worthwhile, for it is only by leaving our certainties, as Abraham and Sarah left their land, home and father’s house, that we open our minds to the truths others may have missed. It also helped that many Jewish mothers thought their child was the next Einstein.

To be a Jew is to live in the cognitive dissonance between the world that is and the world that ought to be. Think a new idea and you open the possibility of a newer and more gracious world. One of Judaism’s greatest new ideas, implicit in the first chapter of the Bible, is that the Creator wants his creations to be creative. If there is such a thing as a “Jewish genius,” that is where it was born.

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