Theological positions in the correspondence between Jung and Neumann
In my talk, I am going to address two themes that are representative of the intense correspondence between Jung and Neumann on a variety of theological issues. A complete overview is impossible in this framework. The first thing to say about these two themes, which mark the beginning and the end of their correspondence, is that they are strongly speculative – in the case of Neumann of a Jewish, in the case of Jung of a Christian character –, and they can be understood as an attempt of re‑mythologization.
I want to shortly outline both themes:
- Jacob and Esau
This subject matter indicates the beginning of an intense debate concerning the theme of Tiefenpsychologie des jüdischen Menschen und das Problem derOffenbarung (“Depth- Psychology of the Jewish Man and the Problem of Revelation”) as Neumann called the first of his early unpublished manuscripts. It is a debate that shows Erich Neumann’s quest for a theological-archetypical foundation of a specifically Jewish approach to individuation. The starting point is Neumann’s review of an article entitled „Der Typengegensatz inder jüdischen Religionsgeschichte”(„The Type-Difference in the Jewish History of Religion”, Jüdische Rundschau 27. 7. 1934) written by the Zionist Hugo Rosenthal. Rosenthal’s text had been published in a volume edited by Jung in 1934, Wirklichkeit der Seele (Reality of the Soul) (Liebscher 2015, Introduction xxviii ff.).
- The becoming conscious of God
This was a debate that Jung initiated. The theme was mentioned early in a manuscript enclosed with an undated letter from Neumann in 1934 including a reference to an analytical session with Jung („a speculative hour with you“,Liebscher, 9N, p. 67). The debate reached a first peak during an argument that both men had regarding Jung’s book Antwort auf Hiob (Answer to Job). In this argument, Neumann held an opinion decidedly different from Jung’s.
As we know, in Antwort auf Hiob (Answer to Job) Jung holds the thesis that God can become conscious of Himself by means of the human being: „As his creature has gotten ahead of him he [God] must reforge himself” (Jung 1952, § 640). Neumann decisively objects to this thesis in his letter to Jung from Dec 5, 1951. Jung answers him on Jan 1, 1952.
In Neumann’s second to last letter to Jung on Feb 18, 1959, and Jung’s last letter to Neumann on Mar 10, 1959 there is a heated argument on this topic again because of the last two chapters of Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken(ETG) (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, MDR)which Jung had sent to Neumann for reading. In these chapters Jung repeats his thesis from his book of Job, and Neumann contradicts him once again.
Now I want to address in detail the first of the two themes, Jacob and Esau: Jung writes to Neumann on Aug 12, 1934 answering an undated letter from Neumann (Liebscher, 5N & 5N) which included a lengthy remark on Rosenthal’s theses (Liebscher, 7J):
You should develop what you say in your „Annotations“ into an essay in its own right. Your elaborations are new to me and very interesting … In reality, it seems to me Jacob is the quintessence of the Jew and therefore a symbolic attempt at a collective individuation or rather at individuation on a collective level (Liebscher, 7J, S. 54).
This is a surprising statement of Jung. Presumably, the „Rosenthal debate“ gave him an opportunity to reflect more on the myth of Jacob. Jung himself had commented on Jacob in his early work Transformations and Symbols of the Libido in a footnote describing Jacob as a classical hero of the night sea journey. In the later, revised version (Symbols of Transformation) there is also a reference to Jacob.
Through the Rosenthal debate new ideas came into play, particularly through the motif of the two opposite brothers. Rosenthal had already developed the idea that the opposition between the two brothers formed the basis of a fundamental intrapsychic-Jewish conflict in a Jungian sense. Neumann deepened this idea and problematized it, and this evoked interest in Jung, who, in the years 1934 to 1938, was intrigued with the differentiation of archetypic-Jewish and archetypic-occidental thought, as we know from the correspondence. And Neumann, accompanied by Jung’s interest and concern, had worked from 1934 to 1940 on a two-part unpublished manuscript entitledUrsprungsgeschichte des jüdischen Bewusstseins (On the Origins and History of Jewish Consciousness), which Jung took notice of.
The case of Jacob and Esau is about the tension between extraversion and introversion, and this also concerns the tension between the functions of intuition and sensation. In the „Annotations” Neumann had told Jung the following on this topic:
One has to proceed from the basic introversion of Judaism, which according to the biblical account was shaped by the patriarchs [Jacob being one of them; AL] and prophets who were essentially introverted intuitives … This radical bias toward internal demands explains substantial parts of Judaism … Now the essential thing is that the inferior function of the introverted intuitive is an „extraverted sensation type of a lower, more primitive variety“ … The negative side of the Jew, an object-addicted, voracious sexuality, an obsession with power, money … and a murderous intent constitute the Jewish shadow. … Judaism´s hostility toward nature is only a projection of the fear of its own inferior extraversion (Liebscher, 5NA, p. 24f.).
Neumann’s conclusion is:
So the Jacob-Esau conflict is, for sure, the mythological struggle of the patriarch as a representative of introversion with the natural inferior inherent extraversion (ibid., p. 25).
Encouraged by Jung’s words, Neumann now began to write an essay on Jacob and Esau that he finished in 1934, as we learn from a letter to Jung from Dec 10, 1934. This unpublished text is 49 pages long. After some hesitation, Neumann sent his Jacob-Esau paper to Jung in 1935 (Liebscher, 12N, p. 54).
I want to give a short overview of this text: Neumann speaks of the „Jacob-Esau opposition,” of the „hostile twin brothers”. He depicts the two brothers’ polarity with reference to Bin Gorion’s work Die Sagen der Juden (The Sagas of the Jews) as follows: Jacob: moon, inside, that world versus Esau: sun, outside, this world.
This world of Esau is the visibility of „this” world, to him belongs the outer, the „common” unholy world. Jacob is unlike Esau, unlike the „peoples of the earth”, he is rather facing „that” world which turns out to be not just the world to come, the world beyond, but the interior, invisible world. Jacob, the Jew, looks inward, to IHWH and his inner demand. This shall not mean that IHWH manifests himself „only” inwardly, yet his manifestation is, in contrast to that of the gods, characterized in such a way for instance that he never substantiates or defines himself in the image, in the created, in any part of the outer world and that he cannot be worshipped there.
This interior realm that Jacob is turned to, says Neumann, „illuminates” crucial traits of Judaism. The realm manifests itself as a voice. It is
the radical prophetic demand for alignment with the inner voice, the voice of God in a human’s heart, according to the law that has been put inside him… (ibid.)
The claim that there is an inner voice that is not identical with the superego is a prime motive of Neumann’s New Ethic, and it is prefigured in the essay on Jacob and Esau Through the descent of the inner voice as a word of God revealing itself to humanity its sacred character becomes apparent, and Neumann sees this as something separate from the secular origin of the laws and their reflection in the Freudian conception of the superego.
Jacob as the one turned to the interior realm, the sacred, is in accordance with Jungian typology, an introverted person, while Esau is an extraverted person. This typology is so valuable for Neumann because to him „the attitude of the Jews is introverted”. Neumann even considers the prospective psychic emancipation of Judaism in terms of introversion. He holds that this emancipation is a „possible rebirth of a mental and cultural, but also social nature” of Judaism through regaining the original introversion.
Jacob represents the prototype of a collective path of individuation. Through his connection with the „inward” and the „sacred” realm, he is the „intrinsic” son and legitimate heir of his father. Neumann turns to the writings of Hasidism and cabbalistic mysticism that had become accessible primarily through Martin Buber’s writings. In the Jewish mystics Neumann believes he can hear the inner voice that as the voice of God had once spoken to the prophets.
Now I want to consider two letters, the second to last letter from Neumann to Jung on Feb 18, 1959 and the last one from Jung to Neumann on Mar 10, 1959. These letters on the one hand give evidence of the high level of their discussion of theological issues and on the other hand of the fact of a deep and steadfast inner affinity between Jung and Neumann, which Neumann describes as follows:
My link with you is as you know not dependent on writing and speaking or not longer dependent I should say; but meeting with you always brings me a substantial affirmation that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. I hope you understand what I mean (Liebscher, 117 N, 11.10. 58, p. 342).
This affinity never ceased, even in times when their relationship faced a crisis (1938/39) and even though their correspondence was interrupted in the war years 1940-1945.
The discussion is about two chapters of the autobiography which Jung had sent to Neumann to read prior to publication as he had done earlier withAnswer to Job. The two chapters were „Späte Gedanken” („Late thoughts”) and „Über das Leben nach dem Tode“ („On life after death”). Both men speak of myths in the context of their theological arguments, and in doing so they are not restrained by a commitment to any prevailing theological dogmas. Jung outlines the immense importance of myth in MDR as follows:
Unfortunately the mythic side of man is given short shrift nowadays. He can no longer create fables. As a result; a great deal escapes him; for it is important and salutary to speak also of incomprehensible things (ETG/MDR 303/300).
And he goes on:
The more the critical reason dominates the more impoverished life becomes; but the more of the unconscious, and the more of myth we are capable of making conscious, the more of life we integrate (ETG/MDR 305/302).
It should be noted here that in philosophical-historical terms there is a close relationship between Jung’s and Neumann’s use of the notions myth and mythology and that of German idealism. The „oldest system Programme of German Idealism” from 1797, ascribed to Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin, already comprises the demand for a new mythology, and even as late as 1842 Schelling postulates myths as products of the very substance of consciousness seeing them as fundamental for human awareness.
Neumann evinces his great affinity to Jung’s mythologically drafted thoughts and, tracing a big life span, alludes to a myth that he had written at the early age of 16 – a myth that prefigures his mental affinity to Jung. He had already spoken about this myth during his analysis with Jung:
For me, it is the finest thing you have written … I do not know anything else in writing that is closer to me and to my life experience … you know well how closely the „myth” I wrote when I was 16 led to all of this …“(Liebscher,118N, p. 343)
Neumann objects in several ways to Jung’s theses presented in these two chapters of MDR. His objections highlight the fundamental difference between Jung’s and Neumann’s theological positions, and I want to single out the most central one. Neumann explains the objections that he intends to advance despite his proximity to Jung as follows:
„Some of it seems to me to be explained by my Jewish and more Eastern background that does not quite overlap with your Christian and more Occidental one“ (Liebscher, 118N, p. 343).
This differentiation is a topos that both Neumann and Jung used from the beginning of their correspondence, virtually as a brace of mutual acceptance of the fundamental differences between the Jewish and the Christian view of the world. As the correspondence reveals, the issue that Neumann is particularly concerned with is Jung’s „thesis … of the becoming conscious of God’“ (ibid., p. 344). Actually, 25 years passed from the first mention of this theme in a letter until the debate in 1959, which was, likewise, carried out through a series of letters.
In an undated letter from 1934 Neumann enclosed a manuscript, in which reflects on „the role of growing consciousness as God´s becoming conscious (from a speculative hour with you)“ (Liebscher, 8NA, p. 67).
That God is in a process of becoming conscious and therefore in need of the human being is not a new thesis of Jung, it is the central thesis of his book on Job. As is known, Jung wrote his book on Job when he was 75-years old. He was experiencing a crisis after a severe illness. At the same time the book was the testimony of a vision. He wrote in his answer to Neumann: „… to be able to insult even God … has caused me greater discomfort than when I had the whole world against me“ (Liebscher, 89J, 5.1.52, p. 280f.).
Here I want to give a short summary of the principal thesis in Jung’s book on Job: Jung does not speak of God, but of a „God-image”, and this is equivalent to what he elsewhere calls ‘symbol’ or ‘archetype’. For Jung this God-image exists within the soul, and it is something objective, indeed, something that we can explore empirically. According to Jung it is this God-image that undergoes transformation.
Jung „conceptualises this process … as if this God-image were an autonomous entity, just a subject that develops along certain psychological regularities in a space-time system (which is only indistinctly defined), and these developments find expression in the consciousness of individuals who then write them down in documents like the book of Job, the gospels, the apocalypse etc.“ (Lesmeister, AP 176, 2/2014, p. 202).
The idea of the Becoming God had been extensively discussed first in Romanticism, particularly in the philosophy of Schelling, and although it is evident that the Romantic discussion is implicitly appealed to here there is no explicit reference to the idea in Jung’s work (Schelling, 1809/1975; Lösch 1996; both in Lesmeister ibid.).
Presumably, Jung was familiar with this thesis due to the speculative work of Jakob Böhme, an author whom he greatly admired. Böhme again had been read by Schelling. Neumann whose dissertation was dedicated to a poet of the Romantic period (Kanne) explicitly cites Schelling’s writings as well as Böhme in his references.
In his religious philosophy, Jung actually does not give any room to the real transcendence of God (cf. Weisstub 1993). At this time already, on the occasion of his reading Jung’s book on Job, Neumann had objected to this thesis in his letter on Dec 5, 1951 (Liebscher, 86N, p. 271-276). But Jung held on to his thesis until the end. In his late work, MDR, Jung puts the thesis as follows:
In the experience of the self it is no longer the opposites of „God” and “man” that are reconciled, as it was before, but rather the opposites within the God-image itself That is the meaning of divine service, of the service which man can render to God, that light emerge from darkness, that the Creator may become conscious of His creation, and man of himself … If the Creator were conscious of Himself He would not need conscious creatures” (ETG/MDR, p. 341/338).
Neumann does not reject the idea of the Becoming God; in that respect, he completely agrees with Jung. But he does not speak of a „God-image”. For him the speaking of God is always linked with a transcendence that is incomprehensible to the human being. He argues that it is not the human being who helps God to become conscious. Rather the reverse is the case: the human being is just a complex of God’s unconsciousness, and God Himself gains consciousness of His very own unconsciousness. In order to support this argument he addresses the dream Jung had considered in MDR to illustrate the relationship between Self and Ego, the famous dream in which a yogi, sitting in the lotus position, meditates him. Jung writes in MDR:
“Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream, and I am it.” I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be (ETG/MDR 326/323).
Neumann objects in his letter: „If the self contemplates you as the Ego, then the Self is not unconscious …“ (Liebscher, 118N, p. 344).
Neumann takes the reason why Jung depicts the position of the human being as such an exposed one to be that Jung attempts to elevate the human existence for narcissistic reasons, an existence so fragile, contingent and often apparently meaningless. Neumann himself seeks to argue that man plays no active role in God’s becoming conscious, but he wishes to maintain that this does not lessen the human position:
If we humans are complexes of the divine unconscious which he or it becomes conscious of while we make conscious our individuality with our human consciousness the accent on the individual would be still greater without our having to formulate the Self or God as unconscious (Liebscher. 118N, p. 344).
The objections that Neumann presented in his letter on Dec 5, 1951 in reply to Jung’s book on Job, were phrased in more drastic terms. In that letter he wrote:
When you speak of the omniscience of Yahweh it sounds always ironic. But what if he really possesses it and only gives himself archaically to the archaic because he can only become comprehensible to it in this way … The problem is why was an unconscious world created, but does not the omniscience that precedes it suggest a meaningful direction though, in which the Godhead can never be manifest in a different way from one that corresponds to humanity? (Liebscher, 86N, p. 272f.).
But let us return to the discussion of Jung’s MDR: Jung succinctly invalidates Neumann’s objection in his reply to Neumann’s critical letter. With explicit reference to the aforementioned dream, he writes:
The question: an creator sibi conscius est? … If someone projects the Self… then it is an unconscious act, for projection arises empirically only out of unconsciousness (Liebscher, 119J, p. 348).
Jung adds – thus making visible the wound he spoke about in his book on Job – that there is a „most painful experience of almost immeasurable impact that cannot easily be debated“ (ibid., p. 348).
In his letter, Jung also refers to Neumann’s second objection. The objection concerns the theme of incarnation. What did Jung mean by this term, and how did he express himself on this topic in MDR? In MDR we find the following:
By this act of incarnation man, – that is, his ego – is inwardly replaced by „God”, and God becomes outwardly man, in keeping with the saying of Jesus: Who sees me, sees the Father …
If this God wishes to become man, an incredible kenosis (emptying) is required from Him in order to reduce his totality to the infinitesimal human scale… (ETG/MDR, p. 340/337).
In his letter responding to Neumann’s objections, Jung elucidates his view that the birth of God (incarnation) evolves in man as an unprecedented drama. The birth of God he was speaking about was to be seen as an experience of something absolutely new, the Christian paradigm for this being the birth of Jesus:
Incarnatio describes in the first instance the birth of God which took place in XPo, [Christos, AL] psychologically, therefore also the realization of the Self was something new, not present before that. The previously created human is a „creature“ even if „in the image of God“, in whom the thought of filiatio and of the sacrificium divinum is not explicitly present. It is, as you say, a „new experience“ (Liebscher, 119J, p. 348).
Neumann had rejected the Christian term of incarnation in a letter and introduced instead the notion of the pre-existence of a divine power that would subsequently evolve in man:
This incarnation is identical with the creation of man in the image of God as an ego-Self. It is not incarnation, but its becoming conscious and its realization, which leads to the new phenomenon of the birth of God in which the divine as a divine individual and a unique singularity manifests itself in man. The incarnation is already preexistent in the ego-Self unity in which the numinous ego nucleus has the capacity for consciousness (Liebscher, 118N, p. 344f.).
We can imagine the possibility of contact with this numinous „ego nucleus” according to Neumann’s paradigm of the „inner voice” or „inner revelation”.
Neumann’s and Jung’s diverging positions can now be summarized as follows: Jung as a Christian assumes the birth of Jesus as the crucial theologoumenon whereas Neumann as a Jew is obligated to the God of revelation.
As a last point I want to elucidate a term that Neumann uses in his letter, thereby showing – despite all of his differences– a deep agreement with Jung: He speaks of an „actualized messianism”, a term he had extensively discussed in the second, unpublished manuscript that I already mentioned. This manuscript is a detailed presentation of the mystic foundations of Hasidism. In his letter, Neumann writes:
For me, in any case, it is a fact that the Jewish historical „development“ in this mortal world is becoming ever more problematic for me, „the actualization of messianism“ is becoming ever more crucial. The same is true for the historical revelation as for the historical incarnation. What is relevant are the stages of development of consciousness in the development of the individual, otherwise everything historical belongs to the constellation of the ego as time like family and constitution. The realization of the ego-Self unity is vertical“ (Liebscher, 118N, p. 345).
By alluding to the ego-Self axis as being vertical Neumann makes reference to Jung’s idea of a coordinate system for the formulation of fundamental cognitions, an idea that is expressed in MDR as follows:
As I see it, the three-dimensional world in time and space is like a system of co-ordinates; what is here separated into ordinates and abscissae may appear „there”, in the space-timelessness, as a primordial image with many aspects, perhaps as a diffuse cloud of cognition surrounding an archetype. Yet a system of co-ordinates is necessary if any distinction of discrete contents is to be possible… Cognition, like generation, presupposes an opposition, a here and there, an above and below, a before and after (ETG/MDR 311/308).
In his letter, Neumann emphasizes the importance of this vertical axis. Indeed, this vertical axis became much more crucial to him compared to the horizontal axis of the contingency of merely historical existence.
It is a theology of time that is virtually hidden in this complex reasoning of Neumann’s. And, as Neumann states in part two of his unpublished manuscript, the account of time is intimately connected with the role that is assigned to the individual in Hasidism. What Hasidism had achieved according to Neumann was to have counteracted in a particular way the Jewish „resignation from history” (p. 172). Through the loss of land and state the course of history had become something irrelevant to the Jews. They considered their own lives as well as the collective life as something preliminary, in expectation of the end time. In this apocalyptic expectation a theocratic ideal was projected into the future, so the present, the historical now, as a form of life and experience became meaningless:
All the brightness of perfection, richness, and nearness to God lay on the past time, the fathers, Zion, the „empire”. On the future, the time of the Messiah, the Zion to come, the upcoming rule of God lay all the brightness of hope, of justification. Yet the presence, all presence lay in the shadow of the squeezed-in preliminarity … it was expectation and preparation at the best and most (ibid., p. 22f.).
According to Neumann, the theology of Hasidism abandons the view that our present existence is merely preliminary, and that the end has already begun. Hasidism turns away from the future towards the present. It thereby turns messianism inward. The messianic element now presents a „stage of the individual that is to be fulfilled” (ibid., p. 23).
Neumann’s thought is permeated by this messianic element; it became his life equation we may finally say.
In a letter on Nov 15, 1939 Neumann mentioned the doctrine of the Pardes in a long dream of his. It is the Jewish version of the Christian doctrine of thefourfold sense of Scripture (Liebscher, 29N, p.150) (Löwe, 2014, p. 151).
Moses de Leon wrote a now lost book some time before 1290 entitled Pardes,which literally means „paradise“.
Moses de Leon read this nuanced term as an abbreviation of the four layers of meaning of the Torah. Each consonant of the word pardes refers to one layer of meaning. „P“ stands for Peschat, the literal sense, „R“ for Remes, the allegorical sense, „D“ for Derascha, the Talmudic and Agadic interpretation, and „S“ for Sod, the mystical sense (Krochmalnik 2009, p. 77).
According to the Jewish doctrine of the fourfold sense of scripture, exegesis requires „an initiation into the revelation of eternity in time” (Ibid., p. 78).
While the Christian exegesis „practises an eschatological surpassing of the Old Testament by the New” „the Jewish learning community […] endlessly pursues the mysterious traces of an absence” (ibid., p.78). Or, to put it differently: Christian exegesis aims at „anagogé”, „a progress through time towards eternity”, whereas Jewish exegesis aims at eisagogé”, „an introduction of and initiation into the revelation of eternity in the midst of time (ibid.).”
We see: these two approaches are incompatible.
And yet we can imagine Neumann and Jung as two scholars who – according to their different roots in Jewish respectively Christian religion – exchanged their controversial positions in a most inspired, even passionate way in the garden of scripture and thus could enjoy the fruits of knowledge. Hence, the wish that Neumann expressed to Jung as a dream thought – “I would like to eat some more fruit with you” – had finally come true (Liebscher, 35N, p.166).
Translation: H. Fehlhaber, C.L. Löwe
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(Micha Josef Berdyczewski: Die Sagen der Juden, gesammelt von Micha Josef Bin Gorion.Fünf Bände, Frankfurt/Main, 1913-1927)
According to Lesmeister Jung until the end relies on „the narcissistic solution: … Not the approval of deficiency, but the totality of the opposite-united self“ (Lesmeister, ibid., p. 209).
Jung 1952, § 561
This topic is at the core in the second part of of Neumann’s unpublished manuscript (Neumann 1934-40).