“Cain Rules the World”: Léopold Szondi, Genesis 4, and the Nature of Evil

Author: Adam Jessep

Jessep, Adam, 2021 “Cain Rules the World”: Léopold Szondi, Genesis 4, and the Nature of Evil, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis presents a dialogue between the stories of sibling rivalry in Genesis and the theories of Léopold Szondi (1893-1986), in particular his work on the analysis of fate (Schicksalsanalyse) and his theory of the Cain complex. It is situated as a critical psychological reading of Gen 4, the subsequent sibling stories in Genesis, and a historical biographical examination of Szondi in light of biblical studies. I argue that Szondi’s Cain complex is a suitable framework for psychological biblical criticism because it was developed, in part, through close engagement with biblical and extra-biblical literature and provides insights that have been neglected by other more traditional psychological interpretations such as those shaped by Freudian and Jungian approaches. Szondi was a Hungarian-Swiss physician and psychoanalyst whose major contribution to depth psychology was the establishment and development of Schicksalsanalyse. Two of the most important components of Szondi’s approach were his identification of the familial unconscious and the Cain complex through which he sought to provide explanations both for the origins of human evil and its restitution. Within the anglophone academy, the thought and work of Szondi is largely unfamiliar, yet the myth of Cain and Abel (Gen 4) continues to resonate in the popular imagination. Szondi’s work on Cain thus occupies a confluence between currency and neglect. This thesis addresses three interrelated primary questions concerning an explanation of Szondi’s Cain complex and the explication of its origins; what a Szondian re-reading of Gen 4 and the other sibling stories of Genesis might reveal about the overarching structure of Genesis; and Szondi’s model for resolving the ‘Cain complex’ and how it compares with the biblical tradition.

My original contribution to knowledge is the advancement of and contribution to an ‘effective history’ for Szondi in English language scholarship, specifically in the field of biblical psychological criticism. This is achieved via a Szondian re-reading of Gen 4 and the subsequent sibling stories in Genesis. It is a dialectic process shaped by Hans Georg Gadamer’s Wirkungsgeschichte and Hans Robert Jauss’s concept of Rezeptiongeschichte in which ‘conversations’ take place between myself and Szondi; Szondi, the authors of the Cain and Moses narratives, and later commentators; and the compiler of Genesis and me. Through a close textual and situational analysis, including biographical specifics of Szondi, I explore ideas concerning the origins of evil and violence, their relationship with humanity and civilisation, and the author or compiler of Genesis’ understanding of such. I also critique Szondi’s proposition concerning the possibility of restitution, which he locates in the metaphorical figure of Moses, demonstrating that the author of Genesis posits a different solution to negate or mollify the destructive aspects of the human condition.

In the aftermath of World War II, the figure of Cain came to symbolise the innateness of human aggression and violence. This phenomenon is particularly evident in German language discourse of that era. This was the setting against which Szondi articulated his concept for an elucidation of both the origins and resolution of human violence and evil, formed within the paradigm of his own psychological framework for the factors constituting human fate. It is particularly evident in his two texts which are the central focus of this thesis: Kain, Gestalten des Bösen (1969) and Moses, Antwort auf Kain (1973).

Szondi’s work was profoundly influenced by his life experiences including the Judaism of his father, his experiences of combat in World War I, and as a victim of persecution during the Holocaust. When he came to give expression to his theory concerning the roots of violent human aggression and evil, Szondi’s scholarship, experiences, and his faith all coalesce in his presentation of Cain and Moses as metaphorical figures for both the cause and restitution of human evil. According to Szondi, the Cain complex is both initiated and resolved through a spectrum of human behaviour which he called the Cain-Moses dialectic. At either end of this dialectic stand the metaphorical figures of Cain and Moses representing the onset of violent tendencies and their restitution respectively.

The application Szondi’s theory of the Cain complex to the sibling stories in Genesis reveals both the presence of what he called the ‘Cainitic traits’ of anger, jealousy, and physical or psychological aggression along the ancestral line and the gradual diminution of aggression and violence across the narrative arc of Genesis. While other scholarship has noted this attenuation of violence across Genesis, this study argues that a Szondian reading of the arrangement of the sibling stories demonstrates that, while violence and killing were brought into the world through the figure of Cain, the figure of Joseph symbolises the victory over the destructive Cainitic traits. The finding of this study thus diverges from Szondi’s conclusions about the importance of the figure of Moses as the solution to the problem of violence that was inaugurated by Cain. The thesis therefore highlights an implicit tension between the figures of Joseph and Moses vis-à-vis Szondi’s Cain complex. While both channel the destructive impulses of their Cainitic inheritances into establishing new paradigms for society, the biblical account also reveals that both approaches are fraught with the potential for adverse consequences.

Keywords: Szondi, Genesis 4, Cain, Joseph, Moses, the Shoah, depth psychology, Schicksalsanalyse

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Associate Professor Christine Winter