Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Erich Fromm on religion (2)

The Biblical myth begins where the Babylonian myth has ended. The supremacy of a male god is established and hardly any trace of a previous matriarchal stage is left. Marduk’s “test” has become the main theme of the Biblical story of Creation. God creates the world by his word; the woman and her creative powers are no longer necessary. Even the natural course of events, that women give birth to men, is reversed. Eve is born from Adam’s rib (like Athene from Zeus's head). The elimination of every memory of matriarchal supremacy is, though, not entirely complete. In the figure of Eve we see the woman who is superior to the male. She takes the initiative in eating the forbidden fruit; she does not consult with Adam, she simply gives him the fruit to eat and he, when discovered, is rather clumsy and inept in his excuses. It is only after the Fall that his domination is established. God says to Eve: “And thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” Quite obviously this establishment of male domination points to a previous situation in which he did not rule. Only from this and from the complete negation of the productive role of the woman can we recognize the traces of an underlying theme of the dominant role of the mother, which is still part of the manifest text in the Babylonian myth.

This myth offers a good illustration of the mechanism of distortion and censorship that plays such a prominent role in Freud's interpretation of dreams and myths. Memories of older social and religious principles are still contained in the Biblical myth. But at the time of its composition as we know it now, these older principles were so much in contrast to the prevailing thought that they could not be made explicit. And now we recognize traces of the former system only in small details, over-reactions, inconsistencies, and the connection of the later myth with older variations of the same theme.

SOURCE: Fromm, Eric. The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales, and Myths (New York: Grove Press, 1957 [1951]), pp. 234-235.

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