The Rise of "One True God" Religions

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's second hypothesis - the bicameral mind, specifically the subtopics of the implications of the bicameral mind theory for religion, neurotheology, and the origin of religion.
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Post by Timothy Campbell »

I see this as a bit of a "chicken and egg" situation. As people became individuals, they were more aware of "agency" (i.e. "I" am doing this). With that model in place, it's not a big leap to infer the existence of a super-agent, which we would call the supreme being.

Or was it the other way around? Was individuality bolstered by the introduction of monotheism? I can't help but notice that Western socities, with their great emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, tend to the monotheistic.

Maybe it's not a question of what came first, but how individuality and monotheism slowly evolved together, each affecting the other.
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Post by Celestia »

Moderator wrote:Eventually, with only a few remaining semi-bicameral “prophets” still directly experiencing “the gods,” the notion of only one “true” god was born, and then heavily promoted by figures such as Jesus, whose teachings were an attempt to shift religious thinking from the outmoded bicameral system of many gods to the newly conscious system of one god.
A shift still in progress, it seems to me, since the Christian God is conceived as a Holy Trinity.

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Post by Barry »

I am a bit of a novice to this area, but it seems to me that if you are investigating the development of monotheism in the ancient world, you should take a look at the legend of Osiris, which has uncanny parrallels to the story of Jesus. He was born on a day not in "any month or in any year" (Immaculate of time?), was murdered, dismembered, reassembled, and resurrected. Although he was one god among many in the Egyptian theology, he is often attributed with characteristics of other gods. In the late XVIIIth or early XIXth dynasty he is called the king of eternity, and by the XXVIth dynasty "the soul that liveth again", "the firstborn son of unformed matter", the "giver of life from the beginning". From the pyramid texts onward, the condition of the deceased is tied to the condition of Osiris. (E.A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of The Dead)

I suggest that Osiris was the precursor to Christianity, and took on an enhanced messianic role after the monotheistic Akhenaton period in the 14th century BC.

It may be of interest to trace the bicameral function of this God from the Old Kingdom to the Late Period.
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Post by pigeonsailor »

Moderator wrote:After the breakdown of the bicameral mind and the dawn of consciousness, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism "received their imprint from the teaching of a great religious reformer, who, according to believers, brought a direct divine relevation."

These religious reformers promoted monotheism during the transition to consciousness, when the majority of people no longer directly hallucinated the voices of many different gods.
Actually, I would say that the Buddha did not promote any kind of monotheism. There is no god in Buddhism. However, there are are some very interesting connections between Buddhism and Jaynes's OC theory. I'm particularly interested in the chronology of the breakdown of the bicameral mind and Buddhism. The Buddha lived about 2500 years ago. His teachings aspired to liberate people from suffering that was essentially caused by the illusion of self. The kind of postbicameral consciousness that Jaynes was talking about seems right in line with the "illusion of self" that the Buddha was talking about, but the Buddha lived only 500 years after the proposed breakdown of the bicameral mind. Could the postbicameral mind have been come so embedded--and the prebicameral mind have become so completely forgotten about--within only 500 years? It's an interesting question! I submit that because written language was still in a fledgling state, it's quite possible, even, that only a few hundred years would have been enough for the new mentality to have taken over so much that a man needed to be enlightened in order to escape from it.
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Post by Moderator »

Yes that is a good point. I can see where the statement was confusing as the second line should have made the distinction that while there were many gods in Gautama Buddha's time and Buddism was influenced by this religious reformer, unlike the others he did not promote a one-god concept.

It's interesting that post-bicameral breakdown when the voices of many gods generally were no longer hallucinated, Jesus and Muhammad promoted a "one true god" concept while Buddha took a more philosophical non-god approach, and Hinduism continues to recognize many gods to this day — even if they view the many gods as aspects of one primary god. Of course Muhammad was heavily influenced by Jews and supposedly a Christian monk whereas Buddha was not.

I don't know enough about Buddism to comment on your other thoughts but the idea of a similarity between Buddhist teachings and Jaynes's theory has come up before and would make for an interesting essay.
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Re: The Rise of "One True God" Religions

Post by micahtredding »

I would suggest that monotheism perhaps started the process of consciousness, and in the early stages, was identical with incipient consciousness. Monotheism suggests one voice, one source; and in the early stages, we see a move from one voice among many, to the only voice.

I would suggest that this parallels the process of attaining consciousness, where one of the voices gradually becomes more and more prominent, until that one voice becomes "me". What is consciousness but a voice inside our heads, continually talking? What is that voice but the one remaining "god"?

This casts new light on Moses' revelation that God is "I am". This sounds like the first strike in the war between consciousness and the bicameral mind.

Jewish monotheism, then, could be the great historical sweep of a people preparing the way for consciousness, as the "I am" battled to replace all the earlier voices.

Perhaps more deeply than has been realized, the aim of early Christianity was for God to live inside the human being. No more would they have written laws or ethics, no more would religion mediate their access to forgiveness and life and goodness and reconciliation. Instead, God would live in their hearts and their minds, and they would be one with him.
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Re: The Rise of "One True God" Religions

Post by JBrubaker »

micahtredding wrote: This casts new light on Moses' revelation that God is "I am". This sounds like the first strike in the war between consciousness and the bicameral mind.
That's illuminating - no one of the preconscious era could have said "I am who am."
But of course, Exodus was written in the 5th-6th century BC (though certainly incorporating material, written and oral from before), so it is entirely consistent with post-bicameral thought.

It wasn't "the first strike in the war" but a final denouement of the bicameral mind, asserting that the era of many gods was over.
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Re: The Rise of "One True God" Religions

Post by Mikata »

I am not sure about Plato's contribution to monotheism, but there is plenty of indication Egypt played a role in bringing Judaism and monotheism together. Marcel Kuijsten made reference to King Tut in his revisitation of Jaynes’ opus. Even more interesting is Tut’s father. Akhenaten ruled for 17 years and died about 1336 BCE. He is perhaps best known for attempting to initiate at least a form of monotheism into Egyptian society. After his death his son, King Tut, restored Egypt’s previous polytheistic gods. Judaic scholar’s place Moses’ life at about 1391–1271. Dating accuracies aside, Moses is alleged to be in Egypt at a time when Egypt is flirting with a monotheistic religion. He would certainly have understood the concept of social control through religion.

See under the heading “Akhenaten and Judeo-Christian monotheism” for more discussion.

More telling about motive for monotheism are Moses 10 Commandments. Has anyone wondered what the first copy of the tablets contained? Moses destroyed them upon descending Mount Sinai and finding the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf. The recreated version of the tablets contain significant detail regarding the practice of monotheism. Were they exact duplicates of the originals or did Moses destroy them when he viewed his colleague’s behavior and realized the original tablets were not sufficient to accomplish his needs? I suspect Moses intent was to establish iron-clad authority as the sole voice of God. One God, one voice, total authority. Just what a fellow needs while herding thousands of folks through the desert.
Absolute truths cannot be in conflict.
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