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Terms related to this article: Judaism Analysis  Midrash Analysis  Hermeneutics Analysis 

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Needless to say, one as concerned with the concept of freedom as Erich Fromm is quite intrigued with the narrative in the early Book of Exodus which describes Moses's encounter with Pharaoh. Beginning in Escape From Freedom and expanding his thought in You Shall Be As Gods, Fromm offers an extensive excursus on that narrative as a model of human liberation. Pharaoh's confusion of worship with laziness becomes a condemnation of all who do not recognize that productiveness is intrinsic. [9]

Like Jewish preachers throughout the ages, Fromm is attentive to the nuances of Hebrew words. His favorite Hebrew word is emunah (generally translated, "faith"), which Fromm interprets as denoting the "certainty of the uncertain." [10] Fromm further notes that the word emunah, in the Hebrew Bible, can mean "firmness," and can describe a character trait rather than belief in something. [11] Here he uses Hebrew etymology for the secularization of religious terminology.

Fromm delights in contrasting tikvak, the Hebrew word for "hope" with esperar, the Spanish term for the same idea: the former, he declares, has the more dynamic connotation of "tension," while the latter describes a state of waiting. [12] The Hebrew words rahamim and ahabah are also frequently contrasted by Fromm in his discussions of various kinds of love. The former, we are told, describes "motherly love" and derives from the root rehem, "womb." The latter, employed to describe erotic love, denotes "fusion and union." [13] These terms are explored in greater detail by Fromm in The Art of Loving (1956), where he employs Hebrew etymologies to illustrate his concepts of motherly and other kinds of love. [14]

Fromm turns to rabbinic as well as to biblical sources. Escape From Freedom begins with Hillel's famous dictum in Ethics of the Fathers: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" And at the end of Man For Himself (whose title certainly echoes Hillel's dictum), Fromm rephrases another famous dictum of Hillel's, "Do not do to others what is hateful to you": "Whatever you do to others you also do to yourself." Fromm elaborates: "The respect for life, that of others as one's own, is the concomitant of the process of life itself and a condition of psychic health." [15]

Like Jewish homiletics of all ages, Fromm's interpretations of Scripture range from brilliant insights into the plain meaning of the Bible to shameless forcing of the biblical text, in Fromm's case, to fit psychoanalytic dogmas. Among the ulterior uses of the Bible in Fromm's work is his insistence, at the end of You Shall Be As Gods, that we find in biblical literature a clear-cut evolution of the God-concept from authoritarian ruler to constitutional monarch, from anthropomorphically-described God to nameless God. The Jewish religion, Fromm editorializes, could "not take the last logical step, to give up 'God' and to establish a concept of man as a being who is alone in the world, but who can feel at home in it if he achieves union with his fellow man and with nature." [16] But Fromm did not prove that there are "logical steps" in the development if biblical religion. An objective, critical scholar would suspect such pat stacking of biblical epochs, since idolatry reasserted itself in some of the most soph isticated periods, and powerful trends in religious progress could be felt in some of the most degrading circumstances.

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