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KRONOS Vol XI, No. 10
THE CASE OF THE TURKISH TURN COAT
The twentieth century was born, psychologically speaking, with the 1900 publication of The Interpretation of Dreams. Conceived by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis quickly matured into a bold, contentious philosophy, ready and able to challenge the basic tenets of many other disciplines. But its precepts and even its mood were so radically different from those of its rivals that its ultimate antecedents remain a mystery despite various attempts to trace its genealogy.
Some four decades after The Interpretation of Dreams appeared, Immanuel Velikovsky, one of Freud's professional colleagues, published a comprehensive reinterpretation of the origins of psychoanalysis. In Velikovsky's analysis, Freud's own dreams - the foundation of all that came later - dealt with "his inner struggle for unhampered advancement: In order to get ahead he would have to conclude a Faust pact: he would have to sell his soul to the Church''.(1)
Velikovsky employed Freud's own psychoanalytic methods to uncover Freud's own hidden motives. He examined sixteen of Freud's dreams, ten of them in great detail; in his understanding, all of them contained evidence of the same internal conflict. But one of the dreams contained an important element which Velikovsky admitted he could not readily fit into his general scheme.
Velikovsky entitled the episode the "Dream About the Woman in the Kitchen and the Stranger". As Freud recounted the last part of the dream:(2)
I want to put on an overcoat; but the first I try on is too long. I take it off, and am
Velikovsky interpreted that section of the dream as follows: (3)
Freud was dying even as Velikovsky was completing the article he was writing, so Freud's associations with "Turkish" are lost to us forever. Velikovsky, in the article, specifically warned against an analyst's making arbitrary associations on behalf of the analysand.(4) However, an interdisciplinary approach may succeed where a more specialized one lacks sufficient information to make a proper evaluation.
At almost the same time that Velikovsky was examining Freud's psychic pattern, another scholar, one year earlier than Velikovsky, was re-evaluating the pattern of Jewish mystical thought. Gershom G. Scholem, professor of Jewish mysticism and the Kabbala at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, came to the startling conclusion that the nineteenth-century process of Jewish enlightenment and assimilation owed its impetus to a seventeenth-century heresy named after Sabbatai Zevi (1625-1676).
Zevi was a member of the Sephardic community in Smyrna. At an early age he became imbued with the Kabbalistic teachings of Isaac Luria, a prominent mystic of the previous century. However, he transformed Luria's arcane teachings into a radical popular movement. In Scholem's words,(5)
As early as 1648, Zevi publicly uttered God's mystical full name, an act which many devotees interpreted as his revelation of himself as the long-awaited Messiah. Driven from Smyrna by the horrified rabbis, he spent several years travelling throughout the Near East. Zevi returned to Smyrna in 1665 to proclaim that the next year would signal the beginning of Jewish redemption.
From Smyrna he proceeded to Constantinople in order to "depose" the Osmanli sultan. The sultan's first reaction was to remove a nuisance by imprisoning Zevi at Abydos. The scheme backfired, however, when the prison was suddenly transformed into a place of pilgrimage by Zevi's followers. The nuisance threatened to get out of hand. Unwilling to further exacerbate the situation by creating a martyr, the sultan nevertheless threatened to execute the "Messiah" unless he agreed to convert publicly to Islam. To the shock and dismay of his followers, Zevi agreed; as "Mehmet Effendi", he even accepted a sinecure at the Turkish court. After the threat of insurrection seemed to have subsided, he was banished to Albania, where he died in obscurity.
Although his conversion may have effectively removed the person of Sabbatai Zevi from the pages of history, it also served to insure the place of his movement. Humiliated and degraded by Zevi's apostasy, his followers sought some sort of rationalization for the act. It thus came to symbolize a radical paradox, a mystical form of redemption. They were supported in their interpretation by the experience of the so-called Maranos, Jews who had "converted" to Christianity in the fifteenth century as an alternative to expulsion from Spain but who continued to practice their ancient rites in secret.
A century later, Jacob Frank (c. 1726-1791), the son of a rabbi who was defrocked for his Sabbatianism, revived the movement in an especially radical form. He incorporated sexual practices and denied the traditional opposition between good and evil. Instead, he advocated the "holiness" of participation in all forms of behavior as a liberating device. The Frankist movement culminated in a mass conversion of his followers to the "Catholic" faith in 1759 and their adoption into the Polish nobility. The ruse was soon discovered, however, and Frank was imprisoned for heresy for several years. He ended his days as the self-styled "Baron von Frank" of Offenbach.
The defenders of rabbinical orthodoxy did everything in their power to ridicule, destroy, and then belittle the importance of Sabbatianism. But Scholem has insisted that the actual situation was quite different.(6)
The movement became especially important in the Balkans and somewhat later in Eastern Galicia and Podolia. (For a vivid presentation of the movement in Poland, the reader is referred to Isaac Bashevis Singer's Satan in Goray ) During the eighteenth century the heresy spread into German areas,(7)
In Scholem's view, this underground movement helped promote a mood that helped lead to a basic reorientation of Jewish culture. In this respect at least, the Sabbatians were like the various contemporary Christian sectarians, such as the Quakers and the Anabaptists: within their different societies, such groups "created an atmosphere in which the rationalist movement, in spite of its very different origins, was enabled to grow and develop, so that in the end both worked in the same direction".(8)
Scholem also sketched some of the links he saw between Sabbatianism and more modern aspects of Jewish life, in particular its relation to the origins of Hasidism (Chassidism) and the Jewish Enlightenment. At the same time he denounced the view that Hasidism was the impetus for emancipation as a "romantic misconception".(9)
Very briefly, Aaron Chorin (1766-1844), the founder of Reform Judaism in Hungary, was a former member of a Sabbatian group in Prague. Chorin ordained his protegé Leopold Loew (1811-1875), who was the first to deliver his sermons in the Magyar language; in mid-century, Loew specifically attributed a very large role in rationalist propaganda and encouragement to the Sabbatians. Jonas Wehle (1752-1823), the Frankist leader in Prague, included Luria and Zevi in his pantheon along with Moses Mendelssohn and Immanuel Kant. Another Frankist leader, "Junius Frey", was guillotined with Danton.
At the same time, the Hasidim developed a contrary response to the pressures against the Jewish community. The founder of the movement, Israel Ben Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov ("Besht", c. 1700-1760), was from the same part of the world as Jacob Frank; he is sometimes even described as being a participant in the disputation between Frank and the Catholic Church. Many of his early followers were probably Sabbatians, and he derived a great deal of his mystical inspiration from the teachings of moderate Sabbatians such as Joshua Heshel Zoref (1633-1700).
In a commentary on Scholem's work, Susan A. Handelman of the University of Maryland noted that he "investigates what had been consigned to what Scholem calls the 'cellar' of Jewish history. . . . But a cellar is also the foundation of the house. . . ."(10)
What David Bakan, a University of Missouri psychology professor, has done is add a new wing to the house that Scholem built. As Bakan viewed the matter,(11)
In a general sense, Jewish mystical thought was "in the air" throughout Eastern Europe, even to the extent of being embodied in "the common oral expressions" of the Jews.(12) But Freud's biography specifically links him to some of the expressions of mystical thought endemic in the middle of the century.
Freud was born in Moravia, one of the Western strongholds of Sabbatianism. The other branch of his family had migrated to Romania (another hotbed of Sabbatianism), but the two branches maintained close communication; in 1886 Freud's sister even married one of her Romanian relatives.(13) Both of Freud's parents came from areas that were strongly Hasidistic. His father was born in Tysmenite, an early assimilationist community which openly espoused the cause of Polish nationalism. Freud's mother's family was from Brody, which was famous as a great anti-Frankist center in the late eighteenth century but later became a Hasidistic center and a prime area of diffusion of the ideas of the Berlin Enlightenment.
Freud's wife also came from an interesting background. At the urging of her brother (who had already married Freud's sister), she broke with tradition by breaking her engagement to another man because she did not love him. Her grandfather had been a well known Hamburg rabbi who was vociferously opposed to the Reformers' repudiation of messianic beliefs (in fact, he was the object of a polemic written by Rabbi Noah Mannheim, a Reformist rabbi who performed the wedding ceremony for Freud's parents). Nevertheless, this grandfather has been described as "a queer and eccentric personality and his philosophy of Judaism was full of mystic vagaries, some of which were contrary and foreign to the true Jewish spirit".(14) One of his sons, the uncle of Freud's wife, went so far as to convert to Christianity and obtained an important position at the court of Ludwig I of Bavaria.
So Freud must have grown up and matured in a milieu of Hasidistic, perhaps even crypto-Sabbatianistic, mysticism. As an adult, he exhibited many traits that are associated with Sabbatian or Frankist beliefs. He was fiercely proud of his Jewish heritage, even though he completely rejected its religious beliefs and even though he occasionally dissembled about some of his Jewish connections in an effort to protect his ideas from racially motivated criticism. Like the Sabbatians, he opposed the orthodox creed while elaborating his own rival set of myths; he may have regarded himself as a sort of messianic figure. He was indefatigable in his search for intimate knowledge of forbidden areas of human knowledge and in his belief that reality may be apprehended by the intellect. In addition, of course, his famous theories of sex may be closely related to Frankist notions.
In a particularly interesting passage, Bakan made an extended comparison of Freud's presentation of the "dream of Irma's injection" with the techniques used in the Zohar, the most important Kabbalistic book.(15) He also relied heavily on an article written much earlier (by Velikovsky), which traced the seeds of psychoanalytic dream interpretation to very early Jewish texts;(16) however, Bakan did not seem to be aware of Velikovsky's work on Freud's dreams.
One of the major planks in Bakan's construction is his interpretation of Freud's final book, Moses and Monotheism, as a Kabbalistic work; fear of persecution caused Freud to write with deliberate obscurity a book with a double content.(17)
Nevertheless, the book "expresses some of his deepest impulses, impulses which were operative throughout his life. The book is the only one written by Freud which directs itself avowedly to the problem of Judaism and the meaning of being Jewish".(18)
In an anonymous article written by Freud many years before,(19) Moses had been symbolically transformed into a Gentile by being the subject of a papal funerary statue. This urge was carried to its ultimate expression some quarter century later, in what would be in effect Freud's last will and testament. In Bakan's analysis, (20)
Bakan shrank from stating baldly that Freud was a secret adept of some esoteric sect. "An image of him poring over Kabbalistic books in the dead of night is not supported by the facts; although to have done this would not have been inconsistent with the patterns of the Jewish mystical leaders."(21) But Bakan's contention that Freud may have been unconsciously motivated out of some deep-seated knowledge of Kabbalistic lore, even if that knowledge were second-hand, leads us back to Immanuel Velikovsky's efforts to unravel Freud's psyche.
Many years after writing "The Dreams Freud Dreamed", Velikovsky recalled that his catalyst was in fact Moses and Monotheism. (22)
Although the dream symbolism may have had a Catholic origin because of the social pressures to convert to Catholicism, the essential struggle may have been whether or not to become a Gentile. The most famous, or infamous, example of becoming a Gentile for opportunistic reasons would have been Sabbatai Zevi's conversion, a drama that was of immense importance to Jewish culture. Zevi was widely regarded as a holy man by many Jews and widely condemned as a sort of bogey man by many others. (For example, Theodore Herzl was often called "a new Sabbatai Zevi" by his anti-Zionist opponents.) Zevi, of course, achieved his unsavory reputation by publicly donning the coat that "was covered all over with Turkish embroideries".
Furthermore, on the basis of the manifest content of the dream, the conflict that Velikovsky described may have been a recurring, familial one. After all, the father would have grown up in a Hasidistic town at the very time when the Jewish Enlightenment was gaining ground. The stranger in the dream (the father, in Velikovsky's analysis) at first insists that the Turkish coat belongs to him and then rather belligerently wants to know how the Turkish designs concern the dream-Freud. Perhaps it was those very same heretical beliefs that eventually allowed the two, father and son, to become quite friendly.
If, as Bakan believed, Moses and Monotheism was an essentially Kabbalistic book, some of the books that Velikovsky wrote may also be re-illuminated. Velikovsky admitted that he began researching the unfinished "Freud and His Heroes" in response to Freud's book; out of that research grew, inadvertently, all of Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision and Ages in Chaos concepts.
Velikovsky left his medical practice in Palestine in order to refute Freud's central thesis in Moses and Monotheism. (23)
The foundations for that argument were undermined by Velikovsky's researches. In his painstaking reconstruction of ancient history (Ages in Chaos), Velikovsky finally fixed the creed of Moses hundreds of years before Akhnaton's religious innovations rather than some few years afterwards.
But Moses and Monotheism was not only an important negative catalyst, it was a powerful positive one as well. Many of Freud's conclusions in that book were applied directly to various aspects of Velikovsky's reconstruction. The four following examples are in tended to be merely suggestive of the strength of that book's inspiration, not at all exhaustive.
1) Imaginative use of philology. Freud made much of his identification of Aten (in Egyptian) with Adonis (in Syrian) and Adonai (in Hebrew).(24) Velikovsky's comprehensive uses of phonetic similarity are legion; two examples will suffice.
He compared the Maruts ("the terrible ones") in the Vedas with the terrible one ("Ariz") in Joel and Isaiah, and then proceeded to further associate those words with the Romans' Mars and the Greeks' Ares.(25)
He also made an elaborate comparison between the legendary Chinese god/king Yahou, the Biblical deity Yahweh, the Mexican war god Yao, and the Roman sky god Jove; and he further linked the sounds of their names with various religious chants around the world .(26)
2) Explanation of the origins of anti-Semitism. Freud suggested that other peoples were jealous of the Jews' claim to be "the firstborn, favourite child of God the Father".(27) Velikovsky went somewhat further and insisted that it was not mere jealousy; it was fear and resentment that "the great catastrophe of tribulations, destructions and paroxysms of nature . . . was caused for the benefit of the sons of Israel".(28)
3) Existence, cause, and effects of phylogenetic memory: The Jews eventually accepted monotheism after a period of initial resistance. This is how Freud explained that phenomenon: (29)
Freud insisted that certain experiences are transmitted to one's descendants. Velikovsky did not emphasize the sexual nature of those experiences but held that repeated, universal catastrophes have left their memory traces, particularly in how we interpret the evidence of those catastrophes.(30)
4) Myth as history: Freud synchronized the Homeric epics with the time in which "the return of the religion of Moses was in preparation" among the Hebrews, and proposed that the early Greeks had experienced a period of prehistoric "cultural efflorescence which had perished in a historical catastrophe and of which an obscure tradition survived".(31) Apparently, he had in mind some sort of local catastrophe, perhaps of a social or economic nature. Velikovsky of course postulated a series of global catastrophes.
Freud also predicted that scientists eventually would be able to verify the same factors underlying the national epics of the Germans, the Indians, the Finns, and other ancient peoples.(32) He also claimed that the cause of these epics had disappeared before the arrival of Alexander the Great, who lamented that he had no Homer to immortalize his deeds.(33) Velikovsky used historical and legendary accounts, as well as mythological motifs, to reorder the course of ancient history from the Exodus to Alexander (and beyond).
On the face of it, Velikovsky was probably even less likely than Freud to have been a "closet mystic". However, Velikovsky's father had been an early Zionist-assimilationist.(34) Velikovsky was apparently rather indifferent about his religious heritage, but was intensely interested in and proud of his people's cultural traditions and history. He was the author of a very suggestive article on the Talmudists' use of word play in dream interpretation.(35) And he developed a very sophisticated technique for using word play in his psychiatric practice.(36) However, it is not my intention to suggest that Velikovsky was a Kabbalist, only that he, like Freud, may have been influenced by Kabbalist thought more than he was perhaps aware.
1. Immanuel Velikovsky, The Dreams Freud Dreamed," Psychoanalytic Review 28 (Oct.
1941), p. 491.