by Rabbi James Cohn
You do not need to own a Kindle to read this eBook. Scroll down for more information about the eBook and the printable PDF edition.
Click here to download a free Kindle reader for your computer, iPad, or mobile phone. This free app allows you to read any eBook you purchase from the Kindle store, even if you don't own a Kindle.
Click here to purchase Rabbi Cohn's eBook from Amazon.
Click here to purchase Rabbi Cohn's book as a downloadable PDF file (90 pages), which you can print or view.
Click here to see a YouTube video about the book.
Description: Two developments in the history of the Bible are deeply related, and not merely coincidental. One is the lamentation of the loss of the experience of hearing God’s voice. The other is the rise of the language of introspection: an interiorized subjective dialogue with oneself.
In 1976, Julian Jaynes proposed that that as recently as 2,500–3,000 years ago, human beings were non-introspective. In our own time, we are acculturated from infancy on, to understand our mental life as a narratized interior mind-space in which we introspect in a ceaseless conversation with “ourselves.” Our ancestors, however, were acculturated to understand their mental life in terms of obedient responses to auditory prompts, which they hallucinated as the external voice of God. Although these “bicameral” people could think and act, they had no awareness of choices or of choosing — or of awareness itself.
Jaynes claimed that one could trace this cultural transformation over the course of a scant millennium by analyzing the literature of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament,” OT). This eBook tests Jaynes’s assertions by examining the OT text in Hebrew, as seen through the lens of the Documentary Hypothesis and modern critical historical scholarship.
The writers of the oldest texts had no words in their cultural lexicon to correspond to our words such as “mind” or “imagination” or “belief.” Translations into English that employ such mentalistic words (such as the King James Bible) tell us more about the minds of the translators than the minds of the biblical authors. In sharp contrast to these early texts, the later texts of the OT display a lexicon of profound interiority. The writers have become acculturated to experience their mental life as a rich introspective consciousness, full of internal mind-talk and “narratization,” and perceiving their own actions as the result, not of obedience to an external voice, but of self-authorized, internal decisions.
This study includes observations about emerging understandings of the neurology of auditory hallucinations, and supports Jaynes’s idea that while the brain’s structure has changed little in three millennia, culture can and will determine whether a child’s mental life is bicameral or introspectively conscious.
Return to top of page.