Original sin, atonement and the metaphor of "self"

I would like to introduce the theories of Julian Jaynes as they relate to Biblical interpretation for your consideration and discussion. Julian Jaynes was a Ph.D. psychology professor at Princeton in the 1970’s who wrote The Origin of Consciousness in the Break Down of the Bicameral Mind (1976). Jaynes’ theories are based on his expensive research of ancient texts, recent research on neuroanatomy and evolutionary anthropology.
Basically, he presents the idea that our “self” is a lexical metaphor built up from comparisons to our observations of our physical reality. He proposes that the voices of the Gods through the right hemisphere went silent when the consciousness of a self, independent of Gods’ instruction, developed as civilization evolved and became more complex. In order to survive in this newly evolving environment, individuals had to think for “themselves”. He characterizes the Eden story as a myth to explain the breakdown of the bicameral mind.
While his theories deal primarily with the development of a conscious self, the implications of this idea for Biblical interpretation are interesting. In the Garden story, Adam and Eve have 1) language and 2) act to disobey God’s command. The result in the story is that life (the tree) is kept from them and they are booted out of the garden to fend for “themselves” since they didn’t seem to want to obey His voice and be safe in His care. They were on their own in a world where survival went to the fittest, smartest, most powerful, richest, most aggressive, etc…
In the New Testament, which Jaynes doesn’t deal with very much, the implications are that Jesus (the Word) became flesh to 1) undo the curse of the death of the self (not physical self) through perfect obedience to God’s commands, and 2) to introduce a Kingdom of love, peace and joy as the alternative to the world system of the survival of the fittest.
Sorry for the long post. I look forward to your thoughts. If anyone is interested in learning more about Jaynes’ theories, you can Google the Julian Jaynes Society for more resources.

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The switch our focus to self does seem key to God’s intervention. Possibly God even assists/permits whatever focus we chose to its proper end as I recall reading God kept Israel in Egypt until the wickedness of Canaan was full.

Neurobiological trivia:

  • NeuroQuantology | June 2013 | Volume 11 | Issue 2 | Page 332-359
    • Neurobiology of Sexual Desire
      • "Humans have Brodmann areas 9, 46 and 10. Brodmann area 10 is a “treasure house” when it comes to accomplishing goals "
      • “Haber stated “Tracer injections into dorsal and lateral area 10 projects to the medial wall of the rostral caudate. Based on these data, one might assume that the medial and ventral area 10 would terminate in the nucleus accumbens. Thus, the nucleus accumbens in primates receives input most likely from area 10”. This suggests a direct anatomical innervation from the Brodmann area 10 to the nucleus accumbens. This is in contrast to what some authors have argued that the frontal pole region is connected only to other supramodal areas in the prefrontal cortex. All human dreams have traversed through this passage; genesis and fulfillment of sexual desire have left irreversible marks on this road.”
      • “The concept of self and the concept of future comes from this area. Rats or monkeys do not have self as an autonoetic entity (awareness of oneself as a continuous entity across time) that encompasses past, present and future.”
      • “Monkeys have the Brodmann area 10, but monkey Brodmann area 10 appears to be the functional analog of the human ventromedial prefrontal cortex to monitor action outcomes. The human dorsolateral Brodmann area 10 (monkeys do not have this part of the brain) appears to subserve unique anthropoid function, providing cognitive flexibility that leads to emergence of human reasoning and planning abilities.”
      • "Through this anatomical arrangement humans can link sexual motivation to an almost unlimited number of strategies that will trump temporal and spatial limitations. For example, rats cannot say “Let’s meet again next week at the corner ice cream parlor”.
      • “In humans, sexual desire that emerges during adolescence parallels the development of self-concept. From this point on, a person (self) makes a conscious (volitional) decision to have or not to have sex, a Shakespearean metaphor but based on scientific evidence.”
      • “Animals will never kill themselves (willfully) out of romantic fallouts. Countless numbers of young people have done just that when their intense love fell apart. Why does this happen? This happens because human strategies and human identity (self) are one and the same. They both originate within the executive regions; especially in the Brodmann area 10. “Self” is an abstract representation of accumulated episodic memories. Humans have a monster called “self”. Each and every decision has to be filtered through the self. It is the self that makes decision to kill the self; animals do not have a sense of self, so animals die only when they run out of food, or are killed by a predator, or by accident, but humans commit suicide even if plentiful amounts of food are available to them. In this regard, the methods of engineering human sexual desire are significantly more complicated than those of animals.”
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Interesting point. Self interest can lead to enormous evil in humans. Gen. 6:5 "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth: " We are by nature “lovers of self” 2 Timothy 3:2.

I encountered this book shortly after it was published and found it extremely interesting. Many Psychologists found it interesting because it suggested that schizophrenia might be related to his theory of the right brain instructing the left brain to do things. The part that I found of particular interest was in the area of glossolalia. Speaking in tongues occurs in diverse religious practices and, although he doesn’t include this idea in his book, may have played a part in the development of human languages.

I find perhaps the best explanation of the existence of self - aware consciousness is found in the opening sentence of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Since language is the outer manifestation of inner consciousness, this opening sentence could be interpreted as a declaration that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s consciousness. This consciousness was and is God.

The fifth, sixth and seventh words should be at the front with the now second in the plural. I agree with some of Dawkins here, “one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I’m hedging my bets.”.

I like your phrase “language is the outer manifestation of inner consciousness,” The Bible is often referred to as the inspired word of God. Certainly God could exist without language. However, without metaphoric language, there would be no way for us to relate in a personal way to the invisible, abstract attributes of God.

Interesting point of view. My interpretation of the fall is that it represents a poetic description of puberty as in the rejection of the authority of the father over the self. It comes - if you remember your own - with the definition of your own morals and the claim to privacy over your “private parts”.
The tree of self realisation is indeed the point of moral self definition, thus breaking ones link to the everlasting life. Death becomes a logical consequence of this separation, not a punishment by an angry father.
The “tree of life” is presented to us in the cross, by accepting your cross and the authority of God over your self you become one with God again, thus will be born again never to die.

The worst thing we could wish for is the resurrection to turn us into everlasting “selfs” under our own authority. What would we want to be identified by that would make us worthy of being distinguishable from God, why would we not want to be part of God again? If we are born again we define our self back as part of God again or as I express it in poetic language:

To live forever
is the art
to learn to “live”
in Jesus’ heart

survival went to those who were able to cooperate, to love thy neighbour like thy own. The selfish are eliminated by the many who suffer their selfishness.

I acknowledge that there can be an argument made for the advantage gained in the cooperative working together. However, the goal is the same - to preserve the self in a hostel and dangerous world.
Interesting point I hadn’t thought about in the eternal, everlasting “self” still separated from God. I think there is an argument made by some theologians that we receive the gift of eternal life at the same time that we are given the gift of faith in God and a new status as children of God to be once again under His care as we were in the garden. We die to the old self and are given new life in Christ.

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Life is the ability to move energy or matter at will. As such if we reconnect and identify our “self” with that eternal will we live forever in it.

Here is a nice summary article explaining Jayne’s theory, the support, and the critiques.

OT interpreters have put forward an understanding of sin as a prideful bid for self-rule instead of submission to God’s rule as image bearers. Outside of Eden, self-rule fails miserably and by the end of Judges the place is in chaos with every one doing what is right in their own eyes. Then Israel begs for a king to rule them, God tells them he is their king and they are going to regret it, but they get their king who is supposed to rule on behalf of God. That also fails and they are exiled from the Promised Land and access to God’s presence and their sacrificial system in the temple just as Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden and access to God’s presence and the tree of life.

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Thank you for finding this excellent summary of Jaynes theories.
I wonder if the desire of Isreal to have a king is an example of what Jaynes calls “the quest for authorization”. This is someone in a position of God-like power who can tell us what we should do in confusing situations. There is a lot of that going on today because of social turmoil and people seek authoritarian direction.

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I like your idea. The question is - are we capable of making this reconnection without the help of a spiritual power?

I remember when it came out in the late 70s, and thinking, ‘This is way above my pay grade. Such people are too clever for me’. It took me forty years to realise that they’re not clever enough.

Generalisation is a dangerous thing. Some people rebel at authority, many in fact, and I am one. In those circumstances to accept an authority is a big thing.

It has long been said that all people look for role models or someone to follow and/or worship. Pop culture is a strong evidence of this, but it is still not the majority. People seem to go through phases. It is noticeable that church membership or adherence is over 50, even 60. There is a definite period where people seem to try and find their own way but then, having exhausted all avenues, from marriage and possessions, or fame and fortune they their return to a spiritual quest, Probably brought on by their impending demise.

I do not think it is authority that people look for. It is more like comfort and reassurance, maybe even some sort of validation for life itself.

Those of us who have stuck with their faith tend to have rejected other means of self-satisfaction, not that we don’t look for pleasure, more that we recognise earthly pleasures for what they are: fleeting.


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