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Salvation in the Secular

The Moral Law in Thomas Mann's «Joseph und seine Brüder»


This study shows how Thomas Mann has created an elaborate moral system based on a sort of «noblesse oblige» of the intellectual and the equation of literacy with social consciousness. It explores the way in which the emergence of historical consciousness among the Hebrew patriarchs (and its culmination in the figure of Jahwe) is expressed in the novel's structure. That is, the Mannian God has the same characteristics as the Mannian narrator and Joseph, the «little God» of the novel, is «deified» by becoming the narrator of his own life-story. Not only God, but the Jewish Covenant, the Blessing of Abraham and the image of the Messiah are all «adjusted» to fit the author's own humanistic doctrine, in which moral behavior is synonymous with enlightened literate behavior, and the intellectual is privileged, but also obliged, to serve life and the human collective.