2.6. The Moral Consciousness of the Khabiru

THE THIRD great area where we can look at the development of consciousness is certainly the most interesting and profound. All through the Middle East toward the end of the second millennium B.C., there were large amorphous masses of halfnomadic peoples with no fixed dira or grazing ground. Some were the refugees from the Thera destruction and the terrible Dorian invasions which followed. One cuneiform tablet specifically speaks of migrations pouring down through the Lebanon. Others were probably refugees from the Assyrian invasions and were joined by the Hittite refugees when that empire fell to a further invasion from the north. And still others may have been the resistant bicameral individuals of the cities who could not silence the gods so easily, and who, if not killed, would be progressively sifted out into the desert wilderness.

A mixture of men, then, coming together precariously for a time, and then separating out, some perishing, others organizing into unstable tribes; some raiding more settled lands, or fighting over water holes 3 or sometimes, perhaps, caught like exhausted animals and made to do their captor’s will, or, in the desperation of hunger, bartering control over their lives for bread and seed, as described on some fifteenth-century B.C. tablets unearthed at Nuzi, as well as in Genesis 47:18-26. Some perhaps were still trying to follow inadequate bicameral voices, or clinging to the edge of settled land, fearing to launch out, becoming breeders of sheep and camels, while others, having struggled unsuccessfully to mingle with more settled peoples, then pushed out into the open desert where only the ruthless survive, perhaps in precarious pursuit of some hallucinated vision, some back parts of a god, some new city or promised land.

To the established city-states, these refugees were the desperate outcasts of the desert wilderness. The city people thought of them collectively as robbers and vagrants. And so they often were, either singly, as miserable homeless wretches stealing by night the grapes which the vine-dressers scorned to pick, or as whole tribes raiding the city peripheries for their cattle and produce, even as nomadic Bedouins occasionally do today. The word for vagrants in Akkad, the language of Babylon, is khabiru and so these desert refugees are referred to on cuneiform tablets.1 And khabiru softened in the desert air, becomes Hebrew.

The story or imagined story of the later Khabiru or Hebrews is told in what has come down to us as the Old Testament. The thesis to which we shall give our concern in this chapter is that this magnificent collection of history and harangue, of song, sermon, and story is in its grand overall contour the description of the loss of the bicameral mind, and its replacement by subjectivity over the first millennium B.C. 

We are immediately, however, presented with an orthological problem of immense proportions. For much of the Old Testament, particularly the first books, so important to our thesis, are, as is well known, forgeries of the seventh, sixth, and fifth centuries B.C., brilliant workings of brightly colored strands gathered from a scatter of places and periods.2 In Genesis, for example, the first and second chapters tell different creation stories; the story of the flood is a monotheistic rewrite of old Sumerian inscriptions;3 the story of Jacob may well date to before 1000 B.C., but that of Joseph, his supposed son, on the very next pages comes from at least 500 years later.4 It had all begun with the discovery of the manuscript of Deuteronomy in Jerusalem in 621 B.C. by King Josiah, after he ordered the temple cleaned and cleared of its remaining bicameral rites. And Khabiru history, like a nomad staggering into a huge inheritance, put on these rich clothes, some not its own, and belted it all together with some imaginative ancestry. It is thus a question whether the use of this variegated material as evidence for any theory of mind whatever is even permissible.

Amos and Ecclesiastes Compared

Let me first address such skeptics. As I have said, most of the books of the Old Testament were woven together from various sources from various centuries. But some of the books are considered pure in the sense of not being compilations, but being pretty much all of one piece, mostly what they say they are, and to these a thoroughly accurate date can be attached. If we confine ourselves for the moment to these books, and compare the oldest of them with the most recent, we have a fairly authentic comparison which should give us evidence one way or another. Among these pure books, the oldest is Amos, dating from the eighth century B.C., and the most recent is Ecclesiastes, from the second century B.C. They are both short books, and I hope that you will turn to them before reading on, that you may for yourself sense authentically this difference between an almost bicameral man and a subjective conscious man.

For this evidence is dramatically in agreement with the hypothesis. Amos is almost pure bicameral speech, heard by an illiterate desert herdsman, and dictated to a scribe. In Ecclesiastes, in contrast, god is rarely mentioned, let alone ever speaking to its educated author. And even these mentions are considered by some scholars to be later interpolations, to allow this magnificent writing into the canon.

In Amos there are no words for mind or think or feel or understand or anything similar whatever 3 Amos never ponders anything in his heart; he can’t; he would not know what it meant. In the few times he refers to himself, he is abrupt and informative without qualification; he is no prophet, but a mere “gatherer of sycamore fruit”; he does not consciously think before he speaks; in fact, he does not think as we do at all: his thought is done for him. He feels his bicameral voice about to speak and shushes those about him with a “Thus speaks the Lord! ” and follows with an angry forceful speech which he probably does not understand himself. 

Ecclesiastes is the opposite on all these points. He ponders things as deep in the paraphrands of his hypostatic heart as is possible. And who but a very subjective man could say, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” (1:2), or say that he sees that wisdom excels folly (2:13). One has to have an analog ‘I’ surveying a mind-space to so see. And the famous third chapter, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven . . .” is precisely the spatialization of time, its spreading out in mind-space, so characteristic of consciousness as we saw in I.2. Ecclesiastes thinks, considers, is constantly comparing one thing and another, and making brilliant metaphors as he does so. Amos uses external divination, Ecclesiastes never. Amos is fiercely righteous, absolutely assured, nobly rude, speaking a blustering god-speech with the unconscious rhetoric of an Achilles or a Hammurabi. Ecclesiastes would be an excellent fireside friend, mellow, kindly, concerned, hesitant, surveying all of life in a way that would have been impossible for Amos.

These then are the extremes in the Old Testament. Similar comparisons can be made with other early and late books, or early and late parts of the same book, all revealing the same pattern, which is difficult to account for apart from the theory of the bicameral mind.

Some Observations on the Pentateuch

We are so used to the wonderful stories of the first five books specifically that it is almost impossible for us to see them freshly for what they are. Indeed, in trying to do so, whatever our religious backgrounds, we feel, if not blasphemous, at least disrespectful to the profoundest meanings of others. Such disrespect is certainly not my intention, but it is only by a cold unworshipful reading of these powerful pages that we can appreciate the magnitude of the mental struggle that followed the breakdown of the bicameral mind. 

Why were these books put together? The first thing to realize is that the very motive behind their composition around Deuteronomy at this time was the nostalgic anguish for the lost bicamerality of a subjectively conscious people. This is what religion is. And it was done just as the voice of Yahweh in particular was not being heard with any great clarity or frequency. Whatever their sources, the stories themselves, as they have been arranged, reflect human psychologies from the ninth century up to the fifth century B.C., the period during which there is progressively less and less bicamerality.

The Elohim. Another observation I would like to make concerns that very important word which governs the whole first chapter of Genesis, elohim. It is usually incorrectly translated in the singular as God. ‘Elohim’ is a plural form; it can be used collectively taking a, singular verb, or as a regular plural taking a plural verb. It comes from the root of ‘to be powerful’, and better translations of ‘elohim’ might be the great ones, the prominent ones, the majesties, the judges, the mighty ones, etc.

From the point of view of the present theory, it is clear that elohim is a general term referring to the voice-visions of the bicameral mind. The creation story of the first chapter of Genesis is thus a rationalization of the bicameral voices at the edge of subjectivity. “In the beginning the voices created heaven and earth.” Taken as such, it becomes a more general myth that could have been indigenous to all of the ancient bicameral civilizations.

He-who-is, At the particular time in history that we pick up the story as the Pentateuch has put it together, there are only a few remaining elohim in contrast to the large number that probably previously existed. The most important is one recognized as Yahweh, which among several possibilities is most often translated as He-who-is.5 Evidently one particular group of the Khabiru, as the prophetic subjective age was approaching, was following only the voice of He-who-is, and rewrote the elohim creation story in a much warmer and more human way, making He-who-is the only real elohah. And this becomes the creation story as told from Genesis 2:4 et seq. And these two stories then interweave with other elements from other sources to form the first books of the Bible.

Other elohim are occasionally mentioned throughout the older parts of the Old Testament. The most important of them is Ba’al, usually translated as the Owner. In the Canaan of the times, there were many Owners, one to each village, in the same way that many Catholic cities today have their own Virgin Marys, and yet they are all the same one. 

Paradise Lost. A further observation could be made upon the story of the Fall and how it is possible to look upon it as a myth of the breakdown of the bicameral mind. The Hebrew arum, meaning crafty or deceitful, surely a conscious subjective word, is only used three or four times throughout the entire Old Testament. It is here used to describe the source of the temptation. The ability to deceive, we remember, is one of the hallmarks of consciousness. The serpent promises that “you shall be like the elohim themselves, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), qualities that only subjective conscious man is capable of. And when these first humans had eaten of the tree of knowledge, suddenly “the eyes of them both were opened,” their analog eyes in their metaphored mind-space, “and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7), or had autoscopic visions and were narratizing, seeing themselves as others see them.6 And so is their sorrow “greatly multipled” (Genesis 3:16) and they are cast out from the garden where He-who-is could be seen and talked with like another man.

As a narratization of the breakdown of the bicameral mind and the coming of consciousness, the story should be rationalistically contrasted with the Odyssey as discussed in the previous chapter. But the problems are similar, as is the awe we should feel toward its unknown composition. 

The Nabiim who naba. The Hebrew word nabi,7 which has been misleadingly translated by the Greek designation of ‘prophet’, presents an extremely interesting difficulty. To prophesy in its modern connotations is to foretell the future, but this is not what is indicated by the verb naba, whose practitioners were the nabiim (plural of nabi). These terms come from a group of cognate words which have nothing to do with time, but rather  with flowing and becoming bright. Thus we may think of a nabi as one who metaphorically was flowing forth or welling up with speech and visions. They were transitional men, partly subjective and partly bicameral. And once the bright torrent was released and the call came, the nabi must deliver his bicameral message, however unsuspecting (Amos 7:14-15), however unworthy the nabi felt (Exodus 3:113 Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1:6), however distrustful at times of his own hearing (Jeremiah 20:7- 10). What does it feel like to be a nabi at the beginning of one of his bicameral periods? Like a red hot coal in one’s mouth (Isaiah 6:7) or a raging fire shut up in one’s bones that cannot be contained (Jeremiah 20:9) and that only the flowing forth of divine speech can quench.

The story of the nabiim can be told in two ways. One is external, tracing out their early role and the acceptance of their leadership to their massacre and total suppression in about the fourth century B.C. But as evidence for the theory in this book, it is more instructive to look at the matter from the internal point of view, the changes in the bicameral experience itself. These changes are: the gradual loss of the visual component, the growing inconsistency of the voices in different persons, and the increasing inconsistency within the same person, until the voices of the elohim vanish from history. I shall take each of these up in turn. 

The Loss of the Visual Component

In the true bicameral period, there was usually a visual component to the hallucinated voice, either itself hallucinated or as the statue in front of which one listened. The quality and frequency of the visual component certainly varied from one culture to another, as can be indicated by the presence of hallucinogenic statuary in some cultures and not in others.  

If only because its sources are so chronologically diverse, it is somewhat astonishing to find the Pentateuch consistently and successively describing the loss of this visual component. In the beginning, He-who-is is a visual physical presence, the duplicate of his creation. He walks in his garden at the cool of the day, talking to his recent creation, Adam. He is present and visible at the sacrifice of Cain and Abel, shuts the door of Noah’s Ark with his own hand, speaks with Abraham at Sichem, Bethel, and Hebron, and scuffles all night with Jacob like a hoodlum.

But by the time of Moses, the visual component is very different. Only in a single instance does Moses speak with He-who-is “face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). And another time, there is a group hallucination when Moses and the seventy elders all see He-who-is at a distance standing on sapphire pavement (Exodus 24:9-10). But in all the other instances, the hallucinated meetings are less intimate. Visually, Hewho-is is a burning bush, or a cloud, or a huge pillar of fire. And as visually the bicameral experience recedes into the thick darkness, where thunders and lightnings and driving clouds of dense blackness crowd in on the inaccessible heights of Sinai, we are approaching the greatest teaching of the entire Old Testament, that, as this last of the elohim loses his hallucinatory properties, and is no longer an inaccessible voice in the nervous system of a few semi-bicameral men, and becomes something written upon tablets, he becomes law, something unchanging, approachable by all, something relating to all men equally, king and shepherd, universal and transcendent.

Moses himself reacts to this loss of the visual quality by hiding his face from a supposed brilliance. At other times, his bicameral voice itself rationalizes the loss of its visual hallucinatory components by saying to Moses, “No man shall see me and live .. . I will put thee in a cleft of rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts, but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:20-23).

The very conception of a cupboard called the ark, for some tablets of written word as a replacement for an hallucinogenic image of a more usual kind, like a golden calf, is illustrative of the same point. The importance of writing in the breakdown of the bicameral voices is tremendously important. What had to be spoken is now silent and carved upon a stone to be taken in visually.

After the Pentateuch, the bicameral voice retreats even further. When the writer of Deuteronomy (34:10) says that no nabi has been like Moses “whom He-who-is knew face to face,” he is indicating the loss of the bicameral mind. The voices are heard less frequently and less conversationally. Joshua is more spoken to by his voice than speaking with it; and, halfway between bicamerality and subjectivity, he has to draw lots to make decisions.

Inconsistency Between Persons

In the bicameral period, the strict hierarchy of society, the settled geography of its limits, its ziggurats, temples, and statuary, and the common upbringing of its citizens, all co-operated in the organization of different men’s bicameral voices into a stable hierarchy. Whose bicameral voice was the correct one was immediately decided by that hierarchy, and the recognition signals as to which god was speaking were known by everyone and reinforced by priests.

But with the breakdown of bicamerality, particularly when a previously bicameral people has become nomadic as in the Exodus, the voices will begin to say different things to different people and the problem of authority becomes a considerable difficulty. Something of the sort might be referred to in Numbers 12:1-2, where Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, who all hear the voice of He-who-is, are not sure which is the most authentic.

But the problem is much more acute in the later books, particularly in the competition between the remaining bicameral voices. Joash has a bicameral voice that he recognizes as the Owner to whom he builds an altar; but his son Gideon hears a voice he recognizes as He-who-is which tells him to tear down his father’s altar to the Owner and build another to himself (Judges 6:25- 26). The jealousy of the remaining elohim is the direct and necessary result of social disorganization.

Such a dissonance of bicameral voices in this unorganized breakdown period inaugurates the importance of signs or magical proofs as to which voice is valid. Thus Moses is constantly compelled to produce magical proofs of his mission. Such signs, of course, continue all through the first millennium even into present times. The miracles that today are required as criteria of sainthood are of precisely the same order as when Moses hallucinates his rod into a serpent and back again, or his healthy hand into a leprous one and back (Exodus 4:1-7).

Some of our present-day enjoyment of magic and prestidigitation is possibly a holdover from this desire for signs, in which in some part of ourselves we are enjoying the thrill of recognizing the magician as a possible bicameral authority.

And if there are no signs, what then? In the seventh century B.C., this is particularly the problem of Jeremiah, the illiterate wailer at the wall of Israel’s iniquity. Even though he has had the sign of the hand of He-who-is upon him (1: 9; 25:17) has heard the word of He-who-is continually like a fire in his bones, and has been sent (23:21, 32, etc.), yet still he is unsure: whose voice is the right one? “Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar?” Jeremiah mistrustfully jabs back at his bicameral voice (15:19). But on this point, it is sure in its answering. It breaks down what authority Jeremiah’s rational consciousness may have had, and commands him to denounce all other voices. Chapter 28 is a particular example, with the somewhat ridiculous competition between Hananiah and Jeremiah as to whose bicameral voice is the right one. And it was only the death of Hananiah two months later that was the sign of which to choose. Had Jeremiah died, we would probably have had the Book of Hananiah instead of his competitor’s.

Inconsistency Within Persons

In the absence of a social hierarchy that provides stability and recognitions, the bicameral voices not only become inconsistent among persons, but inconsistent within the same person as well. Particularly in the Pentateuch, the bicameral voice is often as petty and foot-stampingly petulant as any human tyrant under questioning. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19). There is no question of virtue or of justice. So He-who-is prefers Abel to Cain, slays Er, the first-born of Judah, having taken a dislike to him, first tells Abraham to beget a son, and then later orders him to kill the son, even as criminal psychotics might be directed today. Similarly, the bicameral voice of Moses possibly has a sudden impulse to kill him (Exodus 4:24) for no reason at all.

This same inconsistency is found in the non-Israelite prophet, Balaam. His bicameral voice first tells him not to go with the princes of Moab (Numbers 22:12), then reverses itself (22:20). Then when Balaam obeys, it is furious. Then a visual-auditory hallucination out to kill Balaam blocks his way, but then this too reverses its commands (Numbers 22:35). Also in the selfrecriminating category is the self-punishing voice of the ashfaced nabi who tries to get passersby to punch him because his voice commands him to (I Kings 20:35-38). And also, the “nabi from Judah” whose bicameral voice drives him out of the city and tries to starve him (1 Kings 13, 9-17). All of these inconsistent voices are coming close to the voices heard by schizophrenics which we noted in Chapter 4 of Book I. 

* * *

Divination by Gods

The deciding things by casting gorals or lots, probably throwing dice, bones, or beans, runs through much of the Old Testament. As we saw in II.4 of this essay, it is the making of an analog god. The goral by metaphor becomes the word of god deciding lands and tribes, what to do or whom to destroy, taking the place of the older bicameral authority. As mentioned earlier, it is a help in appreciating how authoritative such practices could be when we realize that there was no concept of chance until well into the subjective eras.

But of much greater interest is the occurrence of the spontaneous divination from immediate sensory experience that in the end becomes the subjective conscious mind. Its interest here is because it begins not in the man-side of the bicameral mind but in the bicameral voices themselves.

It is, then, another way that the bicameral voices show their uncertainty when they too, like men, turn to divination, and need to be primed or instigated. In the ninth century B.C., the voice of one of the nabiim before Ahab divines by metaphor from a pair of horns how an army may be defeated (I Kings 22:11). The bicameral voice of Jeremiah several times takes what he, Jeremiah, is looking at and divines from it what to say. When he sees a boiling wind-blown pot facing north, He-who-is metaphorizes it into an evil invasion blowing down from the north, consuming all before it like a fire driven by the wind (Jeremiah 1:13-15). When he sees two baskets of figs, one good and one bad, his right hemisphere has He-who-is speaking about picking good and bad people (Jeremiah 24:1-10). And when Amos sees a builder judging the straightness of a wall by holding a plumb line to it, his mind hallucinates the builder into He-who-is, who then metaphorizes the act into judging people by their righteousness (Amos 7:8).

Particularly when spontaneous divinations are being made by gods (who after all cannot perform other types of divination), puns may ‘seed’ the analogy. Thus, when Amos stands looking at a basket of summer fruit, his bicameral voice puns over on the Hebrew qayits (summer fruit) to gets (end) and starts talking about the end of Israel (Amos 8:1-2). Or when Jeremiah sees an almond branch (shaqed), his bicameral voice says it will watch over him (shaqad) because the Hebrew words for the two are similar (Jeremiah 1:11-12).

The Book of I Samuel

The Book of I Samuel is an instructive register of all this, and a reading of it gives one the feeling of what it was like in this partly bicameral, partly subjective world as the first millennium B.C. moved into consciousness. Represented across its intriguing chapters is almost the entire spectrum of transition mentalities in what is perhaps the first written tragedy in literature. Bicamerality in a rather decadent form is represented in the wild gangs of nabiim, the winnowed-out bicameral chaff of the Khabiru that we spoke of earlier in this chapter, roaming outside the cities in the hills, speaking the voices they hear within themselves but believe to come from outside them, answering the voices, using music and drums to increase their excitement.

Partly bicameral is the boy Samuel, prodded from sleep by a voice he is taught is the voice of He-who-is, encouraged at the critical age and trained into the bicameral mode by the old priest Eli, and then acknowledged from Dan to Beersheba as the medium of He-who-is. Though even Samuel must at times stoop to divining, as he does from his own torn garment (15:27-29).

Next in bicamerality is David, whom Samuel chooses from all the sons of Jesse in a bicameral manner, and who is only so bicameral as to obtain short sharp “Go up”s from He-who-is. His subjective consciousness is demonstrated in his ability to deceive Achish (I Samuel 21:13). And then Jonathan, subjectively able to deceive his father, but having to rely on cledonomancy, or divining by first words spoken by someone, for military decisions (14:8-13). That idols were common in the period is shown by the casual reference to what must have been a life-sized “image” that, with the help of some goat hair, is made to resemble David in bed (19:13). The casual presence of such an idol in David’s house may point to some common hallucinogenic practice of the time that has been suppressed from the text.

And finally, the subjective Saul, the gaunt bewildered country boy whisked into politics at the irrational behest of Samuel’s bicameral voice, trying to be bicameral himself by joining a band of the wild nabiim until he, too, to the throbbing of drums and strumming zithers, feels he hears the divine voices (10:5). But so unconvincing are these to his consciousness that, even with the three confirmed signs, he tries to hide from his destiny. Subjective Saul seeks wildly about him for what to do. A new situation, as when the irresponsible Samuel does not keep an appointment, with the Israelites hoveled up in caves, the Philistines knotting together against him, and he tries to force a voice with burnt offerings (13:12), only to be called foolish by the tardy Samuel. And Saul building an altar to He-who-is, whom he has never heard, to ask it questions in vain (14:37). Why doesn’t the god speak to him? Saul, divining by lot the supposed culprit that must be the cause of the divine silence, and, obedient to his divination, even though it is his own son, condemning him to death. But even that must be wrong, because his people rebel and refuse to carry out the execution ? a behavior impossible in bicameral times. And Saul, too consciously kind to his enemies for Samuel’s archaic hallucination. And when Saul’s jealousy of David and of his son’s love for David reaches its extremity, suddenly losing his conscious mind, becoming bicameral, stripping off his clothes, naba-ing with the bicameral men of the hills (19:23-24). But then when such nabiim cannot tell him what to do, driving them along with other bicameral wizards out of the city (28:3) , seeking some divine certainty in dreams or in gazing into crystal (if we may translate urim as such) (28:6). And despairing Saul, at the end of his consciousness, disguising himself, something only a subjective man could do, and consulting at night that last resort, the Witch of Endor, or rather the bicameral voice that takes possession of her, as confounded conscious Saul grovels before it, crying that he knows not what to do, and then hears from the weird woman’s lips what he takes to be the dead Samuel’s words, that he will die and Israel will fall (28:19). And then, when the Philistines have all but captured the remnant of Israel’s army, his sons and hopes all slain, the committing of that most terrible subjective act, the first in history ? suicide, to be followed immediately by the second, that of his armor bearer. 

The date of the story is the eleventh century B.C.; of the writing of it, the sixth century B.C.; of the psychology of it, therefore, perhaps the eighth century B.C.

The Idols of the Khabiru

As holdovers from the bicameral period are the hallucinogenic statuary that are mentioned throughout the Old Testament. As might be expected in this late stage of civilization, there are many kinds. While there are some general terms for idols, such as the elily which is Isaiah’s word for them, or matstsebah for anything set up on a pillar or altar, it is the more specific words which are of greater interest. 

The most important type of idol was the tselem, a cast or molten statue usually fashioned with a graving tool, often of gold or silver, made by a founder from melted money (Judges 17:4) or melted jewelry (Exodus 32:4), and sometimes expensively dressed (Ezekiel 16:17). Isaiah scoffingly describes their construction in Judah around 700 B.C. (44:12). They could be images either of animals or of men. Sometimes the tselem may have been just a head placed high on a pedestal or high altar (II Chronicles 14:3) or even the huge golden tselem which Nebuchadnezzar placed upon a pillar 90 feet high (Daniel 3:1). More often, they seemed to have been placed in an asherah, probably one of the wooden shrines hung with rich fabric that the King James scholars translated as “groves.”

Next in importance seems to be the carved statue or pesel, of which very little is known. It was probably chiseled out of wood and was the same as the atsab, which is what the Philistines, who destroyed Saul’s army, worshiped. After Saul’s death and the defeat of Israel, the Philistines run to tell their atsabim first of their victory and then their people (I Samuel 31:95 I Chronicles 10:9). That they were painted gold or silver is indicated by several references in the Psalms, and that they were of wood by the fact that David in wreaking his revenge on the Philistines makes a bonfire out of them (II Samuel 5:21). There were also some kind of sun idols of unknown shape called chammanim, which seem also to have been set up on pedestals, since they are ordered cut down by Leviticus (26:30), Isaiah (27:9), and Ezekiel (6:6).

If not the most important, perhaps the most common hallucinogenic idol was the terap. We are told directly that a terap could seem to speak, since the king of Babylon at one point consults with several of them (Ezekiel 21:21). Sometimes they were probably small figurines, since Rachel can steal a group of prized terafhim (to use the Hebrew plural) from her furious father and hide them (Genesis 31:19). They also could be lifesized, since it is a terap that is substituted for the sleeping David (I Samuel 19:13). As we have already seen, the very casualness of this last reference seems to indicate that such teraphim were common enough around the houses of leaders. But in the hills, such idols must have been rare and highly prized. In Judges we are told of Micah, who builds a house of elohim containing a tselem, a pesel, a terap, and an ephod, the latter being usually an ornate ritual robe which, perhaps put over a frame, could be made into an idol. And these he calls his elohim, which are then stolen by the children of Dan (Judges: 17 and 18 passim). We would probably have more archaeological evidence of these hallucinogenic idols of the Hebrews today had not King Josiah had them all destroyed in 641 B.C. (II Chronicles 34: 3-7.

A further vestige from the bicameral era is the word ob, often translated as a “familiar spirit.” “A man also or woman that have an ob . . . shall surely be put to death,” says Leviticus (20:27). And similarly Saul drives out from Israel all those that had an ob (I Samuel 28:3). Even though an ob is something that one consults with (Deuteronomy, 18:11), it probably had no physical embodiment. It is always bracketed with wizards or witches, and thus probably refers to some bicameral voice that was not recognized by the Old Testament writers as religious. This word has so puzzled translators that when they found it in Job 32:19, they translated it absurdly as “bottle,” when clearly the context is that of the young frustrated Elihu, who feels as if he had a bicameral voice about to burst forth into impatient speech like an overfull wineskin.

The Last of the Nabiim

We began this chapter with a consideration of the refugee situation in the Near East around the latter part of the second millennium B.C., and of the roving tribes uprooted from their lands by various catastrophes, some of them certainly bicameral and unable to move toward subjective consciousness. Probably in the editing of the historical books of the Old Testament, and the fitting of it together into one story in the sixth or fifth century B.C., a great deal has been suppressed. And among such items of information that we would like is a clear account of what happened to these last communities of bicameral men. Here and there through the Old Testament, they appear like sudden glimpses of a strange other world during these periods which historians have paid too little attention to.

Groups of bicameral men certainly persisted until the downfall of the Judean monarchy, but whether in association with other tribes or with any organization to their hallucinated voices in the form of gods, we don’t know. They are often referred to as the “sons of nabiim,” indicating that there was probably a strong genetic basis for this type of remaining bicamerality. It is, I think, the same genetic basis that remains with us as part of the etiology of schizophrenia. 

Edgy kings consulted them. Ahab, king of Israel in 835 B.C., rounded up 400 of them like cattle to listen to their hue and clamor (I Kings 22:6). Later, in all his robes, he and the king of Judah sit on thrones just outside the gates of Samaria, and have hundreds of these poor bicameral men herded up to them, raving and copying each other even as schizophrenics in a back ward (I Kings 22:10). 

What happened to them? From time to time, they were hunted down and exterminated like unwanted animals. Such a massacre in the ninth century B.C. seems to be referred to in I Kings 18:4, where out of some unknown, much larger number, Obadiah took a hundred nabiim and hid them in caves, and brought them bread and water until the massacre was over. Another such massacre is organized by Elijah a few years later (I Kings 18:40). 

We hear no more of these bicameral groups thereafter. What remained for a few centuries more are the individual nabiim, men whose voices do not need the group support of other hallucinating men, men who can be partly subjective and yet still hear the bicameral voice. These are the famous nabiim whose bicameral messages we have already selectively touched upon: Amos, the gatherer of sycamore fruit, Jeremiah, staggering under his yoke from village to village, Ezekiel with his visions of lofty thrones on wheels moving through the clouds, the several nabiim whose religious agonies are ascribed to Isaiah. These of course merely represent the handful of that much larger number whose bicameral voices seemed to be most consistent with Deuteronomy. And then the voices are as a rule no longer actually heard.

In their place is the considered subjective thought of moral teachers. Men still dreamed visions and heard dark speech perhaps. But Ecclesiastes and Ezra seek wisdom, not a god. They study the law. They do not roam out into the wilderness “inquiring of Yahweh.” By 400 B.C., bicameral prophecy is dead. “The nabiim shall be ashamed everyone of his visions.” If parents catch their children naba-ing or in dialogue with bicameral voices, they are to kill them on the spot (Zechariah 13, 3-4).8 That is a severe injunction. If it was carried out, it is an evolutionary selection which helped move the gene pool of humanity toward subjectivity.

Scholars have long debated the reason for the decline and fall of prophecy in the post-exilic period of Judaism. They have suggested that the nabiim had done their work, and there was no more need of them. Or they have said that there was a danger that it would sink into a cult. Others that it was the corruption of the Israelites by the Babylonians, who were by this time as omenridden from the cradle to the grave as any nation could be. All of these are partly true, but the plainer fact to me is that the decline of prophecy is part of that much larger phenomenon going on elsewhere in the world, the loss of the bicameral mind.

Once one has read through the Old Testament from this point of view, the entire succession of works becomes majestically and wonderfully the birth pangs of our subjective consciousness. No other literature has recorded this absolutely important event at such length or with such fullness. Chinese literature jumps into subjectivity in the teaching of Confucius with little before it. Indian hurtles from the bicameral Veda into the ultra subjective Upanishads, neither of which are as authentic to their times. Greek literature, like a series of steppingstones from the Iliad to the Odyssey and across the broken fragments of Sappho and Solon toward Plato, is the next best record, but is still too incomplete. And Egypt is relatively silent. While the Old Testament, even as it is hedged with great historical problems of accuracy, still remains the richest source for our knowledge of what the transition period was like. It is essentially the story of the loss of the bicameral mind, the slow retreat into silence of the remaining elohim, the confusion and tragic violence which ensue, and the search for them again in vain among its prophets until a substitute is found in right action.

But the mind is still haunted with its old unconscious waysj it broods on lost authorities; and the yearning, the deep and hollowing yearning for divine volition and service is with us still.

As the stag pants after the waterbrooks,
So pants my mind after you,
O gods! My mind thirsts for gods! for living gods!
When shall I come face to face with gods?
? Psalm 42  

Leave a Reply