Have you read Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism? Freud suggests that Moses was actually an Egyptian, based on the origin of his name, and that Judaism was passed down from Egyptian monotheistic beliefs. Apparently most Egyptologists hold this to be true. Could you tell me about the historical accuracy of the claim that Moses was actually Egyptian and possibly refer me to any non-biased books that might shed some light on this.

p.s. I love this website.


I have not read this book.  First of all, it would be an understatement to say that Sigmund Freud was not an expert in theology or in biblical studies. We should not be all that concerned what his opinion was on a subject on which he was not an expert. Why should anyone care what Freud’s opinion was about Moses? Besides, although Freud was clearly a very smart person, his psychological theories have been thoroughly rejected as pseudoscience today. Evenin the area in which he was an expert, Freud’s ideas have been largely discredited.

So, let us not worry all that much about Freud as an expert on the religious history of Israel. Nevertheless, we can still ask whether the ideas he espoused have any merit, given what we know today about the history of Egypt and of Israel, as well as the theology of the Old Testament and contemporary religious thought in Egypt. First of all, the fact (assuming, for the moment that it is true) that Moses was an Egyptian name is really neither here not there with respect to where he got his theological ideas from. Bottom line, Moses was born in Egypt and was raised by Egyptians. The fact that he had an Egyptian name (again, assuming that it is a fact) is not the least bit surprising. The fact remains that the Bible describes him as receiving his monotheism as a result of his birth as a Jew. Scholars can speculate if they like, but the only real source we have on Moses is the Old Testament and this, the only source on Moses, makes it very clear that he was a monotheist because he inherited his theology as a Jew and as a descendant of Abraham. Any other conclusion requires speculation. It is true that Pharaoh Akhenaten was a modified monotheist–worshipping only Aten. However, throughout their history, Egyptians were polytheists. Akhenaten is the only exception. Given that the Jews, who were known to be monotheists, were in Egypt during the reign of Akhenaten, or had recently left Egypt, it is more reasonable to think that the Jews influenced Akhenaten than to believe that Akhenaten influenced the Jews.

In the end, it is not possible to “prove” that the monotheism of the Jews was not influenced by Egyptians, but we should ask what is the most reasonable conclusion. Abraham was the father of Israel, he was a monotheist, and he came from Mesopotamia, not Egypt. If one reads the book of Genesis it has many markers of being set in Mesopotamia, it has detailed knowledge of Mesopotamian culture from about 2000 BC. There is much evidence for the Bible in general and for Genesis in particular to be the inspired Word of God. Given this, it is more reasonable to accept the biblical statement that Moses was a monotheist because he was a descendant of Abraham than because of influence from monotheism in Egypt, especially given that monotheism was an extreme rarity in Egypt throughout its history.

By the way, you heard it claimed that most Egyptologists agree that Moses was Egyptian and that he was a monotheist because of influence from Egyptian religion. I do not know where you heard this claim. I have not done a detailed study of all Egyptologists, so I cannot refute this claim directly. However, I am confident that this statement is simply not true. If Moses was, in fact, a real person, then the only reliable source we have to support this is the Old Testament. The only reason for an Egyptologist to even believe in the reality of Moses is the record of him in the Bible. To accept Freud’s view requires us to assume that virtually everything the Old Testament says about Moses is not true. If we do so, what are we left with about Moses? I believe the claim that Moses was Egyptian, not Jewish is not supportable from the evidence and would be shocked if more than a small minority of Egyptologists would support this opinion, never mind historians in general.

A book I can recommend is Moses: A Life by Jonathan Kirsch.

John Oakes


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