HEROIC FRAUD makes the case that the final book by the founder of psychoanalysis, Moses and Monotheism, was a literary deception. Begun in 1934, and published in full in 1939, just months before his death, the book purported to explore the causes of anti-Semitism, then raging throughout Europe after Hitler’s rise to power. His book argues that Moses was in fact an Egyptian, that the Hebrews murdered him and covered up the crime. The covered-up deed gave rise to Judaism and to Jew-hatred.
Scholars generally consider Moses to be Freud’s worst work, a symptom of senility or self-hatred. While a few revisionists have since tried to find some merit in the book, none have made the bold claim of HEROIC FRAUD: that the book is intended to deceive as a smokescreen his provocative analysis of anti-Semitism, ideas too dangerous to be expressed directly.
He constructed the book as a collection of “Freudian slips”, hysterical symptoms, and historical fantasies. The way to interpret it? Like a dream or neurosis, one needs to apply psychoanalytic interpretive technique to the text and decipher the symbols, symptoms, and slips.
HEROIC FRAUD is a kind of “criminal case history.” The author applies psychoanalysis to Freud’s collected writings as a kind of collective unconscious. The book focuses on the many instances where he intentionally dissembled, deceiving his readers in various ways while slyly hinting at his hidden intent. Often he did this when discussing his Jewishness or struggles with anti-Semitism. In his last years, as Jew-hatred raged throughout Europe, he used this dissembling technique in letters to contemporary novelists and friends Arnold and Stefan Zweig, and Thomas Mann.
Mann was then writing his monumental Biblical tetralogy, Joseph and His Brothers. Freud wrote several letters to him, all written in code. We find him warning his Germany Christian contemporary not to collaborate with the Nazis as well as confessing his lifelong identification with the Biblical Joseph, like him an ambitious dreamer and interpreter of dreams.
Like Joseph, Freud also deceived his brothers when they came to him at a catastrophic time, appearing in disguise as the great Egyptian. Like Joseph, too, he dealt harshly with his “brothers” and falsely accused them only later to reveal his true identity to them. Moses likewise is Freud’s deathbed reconciliation with his Jewish brethren and his own father Jakob.
HEROIC FRAUD accuses the author of Moses of a great literary crime, but contents that his motives as noble. He could not present outright his bold claim that Christianity is at base anti-Semitic, that his ex-colleague Carl Jung was an anti-Semite, or that Hitler was a certified psychotic with a castration complex and desires for his mother. He lied about Moses to convey his truth.
Properly interpreted by the rules of the analytic science he invented, his last work is revealed as a courageous masterpiece of moral resistance. It a kind of monumental “Jewish Joke” of the kind Freud relished throughout his life. Like Michelangelo’s Moses, he upheld his own ten commandments while restraining his righteous rage. Now the time has come to decrypt the coded messages he left concealed for future generations to uncover.
Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar….
R. J. Koret is a full-time writer and editor.
He graduated cum laude from Princeton in the Religion Department. He has spoken on the subject of Heroic Fraud in a lecture delivered at the Freud House in London.