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Julian Jaynes Society Discussion Forum: Exploring Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind Theory since 1997 • View topic - The Book of I Samuel

The Book of I Samuel

Analysis of ancient texts (such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Bible) and ancient civilizations as it pertains to the transition from the bicameral mind to consciousness.

The Book of I Samuel

Postby doder » Tue Dec 18, 2007 4:54 pm

I submitted this in a somewhat more compact form (and including italics) to the newsletter, and was requested by the editor to submit it to the forum first, even though “[my] points are well taken and appear accurate.” I can only assume that this is because I do not have post-graduate credentials. Any comments are welcome. I plan to resubmit this to the newsletter in several weeks.

A note on the section, ‘The Book of I Samuel’, in The Origin of Consciousness


In the section ‘The Book of I Samuel’, Jaynes notes that the Book of I Samuel includes almost the entire spectrum of transition mentalities. He then recounts King Saul’s story as it appears in the text, implying that it is a factual description of how a person behaves whose mind cannot cope without bicameral authority.(1) “[A] reading of [the Book of I Samuel] gives one the feeling of what it was like in this partly bicameral, partly subjective world…” I respectfully disagree.

Jaynes acknowledges that the story is literature written hundreds of years later, combining various sources. I contend that Jaynes’s dramatic sense overwhelmed his scientific judgment. The story of Saul may be historically accurate in the sense that the portrayed transition mentalities and types of divination in some combination may have existed in Israel during his lifetime. However, the story should not be considered—as Jaynes implies--as biography or as a scientific description of how a conscious person behaved in any era when he or she had to make decisions that formerly had been made by bicameral means. (For example, perhaps they would have actually used only one type of divination, and shunned others, or had a favorite prophet and ignored divination.) Furthermore, what we can assume historically about Saul is not compatible with Jaynes’s tragic figure who ends in mental breakdown and suicide.

Why was Saul’s story constructed the way Jaynes found it in I Samuel? One of the principles guiding the author (likely the prophet Jeremiah (2)) was to justify David’s usurpation of Saul’s throne. (David had founded the dynasty still ruling Judah four hundred years later.) Although the author could not deny Saul’s military and administrative successes, Saul could be shown as undeserving of Yahweh’s favor. This purpose alone explains most of the text’s description of Saul’s attempts at accessing bicameral authority. Saul does not listen to Yahweh’s mouthpiece Samuel, usurps the priests’ privilege of offering sacrifices, and visits a witch for advice after he had banned witches from the kingdom! Perhaps the author tried to include everything he could think of to make Saul look bad, regardless of their appropriate chronology. To audiences in the writer’s time, after three hundred years of the Jerusalem Temple, Saul would have seemed like an unreliable maverick, and David as deserving to replace him.

A second principle guiding the author is backfill: providing the narrative context that would have given rise to the history transmitted by existing sources like the popular saying “Is Saul also among the prophets?” This saying inspires a story in I Samuel 10:11 about Saul visiting some prophets, which Jaynes takes at face value. However, the saying is clearly ironic, and implies that Saul would have been the last person to be a prophet!

What can we assume is historically accurate about the man Saul? He was selected as king by the tribal leaders, which implies that he had a military record and was mentally stable. He subsequently had a long military career and set up the administration of the kingdom. The popular saying implies that Saul was a hardheaded, conscious man. If Saul did commit suicide in battle, it seems likely he would have done so to avoid the torture and humiliation attendant on military defeat, not because he felt abandoned by Yahweh. (3)

Jaynes should not have implied that the literary construct of "Saul" was the historical situation of a real person, or possible real person. We just don’t know what life was like in Israel in the 11th century BCE. Rather, Jaynes should have emphasized that the author was aware that these behaviors belonged to the transition era, and combined them in a text written for other purposes.

This criticism does not affect Jaynes’s overall theory. It does, however, make me want to give closer scrutiny to his interpretations of other texts.


1) I think that the pace of the transition from bicamerality to consciousness would be slow enough that to dramatize the transition, and obtain adequate dramatic contrast between the mentalities, a dramatist would have to look at the chronological extremes: the beginning or end of the transition. The dramatist could focus on the first conscious person in a bicameral village, say, or the last bicameral person in a conscious society—like the raving nabiim of I Samuel or the later Hebrew prophets. The panorama of I Samuel would be a fine backdrop to such a story.

2) Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?(New York: Summit Books, 1987).

3) In Judges 9:54, which occurs chronologically before I Samuel, the wounded judge Abimelech tells his armor-bearer to kill him to preserve his honor. (Jaynes is wrong that Saul’s suicide was “the first in history.”) According to the text, Saul was wounded in battle with the Philistines, his longtime enemy. Given the treatment of defeated antagonists described in the Books of Judges and Samuel, Saul would have expected humiliation and torture if he had been captured alive.

- Danila
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Postby James Cohn » Thu Dec 20, 2007 10:59 pm

James Cohn, Rabbi, M.A.
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Postby doder » Sun Dec 23, 2007 1:40 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed response, which also happens to confirm my thoughts.

I neither intend nor expect to attack Jaynes's overall theory, as I hope I have made clear. I am pointing out one little part of the book where he overimaginatively reconstructed the past. I think it's important for the scientific record to document unreliable parts of The Origin. There may be others. That's how science is done: step by step, by multiple investigators.

Danila Oder
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Re: The Book of I Samuel

Postby adam1848 » Tue Sep 20, 2011 8:56 pm

adam1848
 
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Re:

Postby shrimperdude » Tue Oct 04, 2011 12:07 pm

[quote="James Cohn"]...an engaging intersection of disciplines!

both rely on an epistemological method called "coherence"

What of concilience; is this word currently out of favor; or just too easily defined?

but that it does explain so much.

You mentioned also your studies in Hebrew; what of these two writers:

Robert Graves and Raphael Patai
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Re: The Book of I Samuel

Postby shrimperdude » Mon Oct 24, 2011 7:53 am

Just because you have agreed that 1 Sam is a tragedy, there's no justification to dwell on some suicide question, and not go straight to Chapter 3, where we find exactly what any Jaynesian researcher loves to cut his bicameral teeth on; NO?
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