The First God
An excerpt from The Origin of Consciousness in the Break Down of the Bicameral Mind By Julian Jaynes
First Published in 1976
Let us look more directly for a moment at the best defined and most fully studied Mesolithic culture, the Natufian, named after the Wadi en-Natuf in Israel, where the first of the sites was found. In 10,000 B.C., like their Paeolithic predecessors, the Natufians were hunters, about five feet tall, often living in the mouths of caves, were skillful in working bone and antler and in chipping retouched blades and burins out of flint, drew animals almost as well as the artists of the cave drawings of Lascaux, and wore perforated shells or animal teeth as ornaments.
By 9000 B.C., they are burying their dead in ceremonial graves and adopting a more settled life. The latter is indicated by the first signs of structural building, such as the paving and walling of platforms with much plaster, and cemeteries sometimes large enough for eighty-seven burials, a size unknown in any previous age. It is, as I have suggested, the age of names, with all that it implies.
It is the open-air Natufian settlement at Eynan which shows this change most dramatically. Discovered in 1959, this heavily investigated site is about a dozen miles north of the Sea of Galilee on a natural terrace overlooking the swamps and pools of Lake Huleh. Three successive permanent towns dating from about 9000 B.C. have been excavated. Each town compromised about fifty round stone houses with reed roofs, with diameters up to 23 feet. The houses were arranged around an open central area where many bell-shaped pits had been dug and plastered for the storage of food. Sometimes these pits were reused for burials.
Now here is a very significant change in human affairs. Instead of a nomadic tribe of about twenty hunters living in the mouths of caves, we have a town with a population of at least 200 persons. It was the advent of agriculture, as attested by the abundance of sickle blades, pounders and pestles, querns and mortars, recessed in the floor of each house, for the reaping and preparation of cereals and legumes, that made such a permanence and population possible. Agriculture at this time was exceedingly primitive and only a supplement to the wide variety of animal fauna — wild goals, gazelles, boars, fox, hare, rodents, birds, fish, tortoises, crustaceans, mussels, and snails — which, as carbon-dated remains show, were the significant part of their diet.
The Hallucinogenic King
A town! Of course it is not impossible that one chief could dominate a few hundred people. But it would be a consuming task if such domination had to be through face-to-face encounters repeated every so often with each individual, as occurs in those primate groups that maintain strict hierarchies.
I beg you to recall, as we try to picture the social life of Eynan, that these Natufians were not conscious. They could not narratize and had no analog selves to ‘see’ themselves in relation to others. They were what we could call signal-bound, that is, responding each minute to cues in a stimulus-response manner, and controlled by those cues.
And what were the cues for a social organization this large? What signals were the social control over its two or three hundred inhabitents?
I have suggested that auditory hallucinations may have evolved as a side effect of language and operated to keep individuals persisting at the linger tasks of tribal life. Such hallucinations began in the individual’s hearing a command from himself or from his chief. There is thus a very simple continuity between such a condition and the more complex auditory hallucinations which I suggest were cues of social control in Eynan and which originated in the commands and speech of the king.
Now we must not make the error here of supposing that these auditory hallucinations were like tape recordings of what the king had commanded. Perhaps they began as such. But after a time there is no reason not to suppose that such voices could ‘think’ solve problems, albeit, of course, unconsciously. The ‘voices’ heard by contemporary schizophrenics ‘think’ as much and often more than they do. And thus the ‘voices’ which I am supposing were heard by the Natufians could with time improvise and ‘say’ things that the king himself had never said. Always, however, we may suppose that all such novel hallucinations were strictly tied in consistency to the person of the king himself. This is not different from ourselves when we inherently know what a friend is likely to say. Thus each worker, gathering shellfish or trapping small game or in a quarrel with a rival or planting seed where the wild grain had previously been harvested, had within him the voice of his king to assist the continuity and utility to the group of his labors.
We have decided that the occasion of an hallucination was stress, as it is in our contemporaries. And if our reasonings have been correct, we may be sure that the stress caused by a person’s death was far more sufficient to trigger his hallucinated voice. Perhaps this is why, in so many early cultures, the heads of the dead were often severed from the body, or why the legs of the dead were broken or tied up, why food is so often in the graves, or why there is evidence so often of a double burial of the same corpse, the second being in a common grave after the voices have stopped.
If this were so for an ordinary individual, how much more so for a king whose voice even while living ruled by hallucination. We might therefore expect a very special accordance given to the house of this unmoving man whose voice is still the cohesion of the entire group.
At Eynan, still dating about 9000 B.C. the king’s tomb — the first such ever found (so far) — is quite a remarkable affair. The tomb itself, like all the houses, was circular, about 16 feet in diameter. Inside, two complete skeletons lay in the center extended on their backs, with legs detached after death and bent out of position. One wore a headdress of dentalia shells and was presumed to have been the king’s wife. The other, an adult male, presumably the king, was partly covered with stones and partly propped up on stones, his upright head cradled in more stones, face the snowy peaks of Mount Hermon, thirty miles away.
At some later time, soon after or years later, we do not know, the entire tomb was surrounded by a red-ochered wall or parapet. Then, without disturbing its two motionless inhabitants, large flat stones were paved over the top, roofing them in. Then, on the roof a hearth was built. Another low circular wall of stones was built still later around the roof-hearth, with more paving stones on top of that, and three large stones surrounded by smaller ones set in the center.
I am suggesting that the dead king, thus propped up on his pillow of stones, was in the hallucinations of his people still giving forth his commands, and that the red-painted parapet and its top tier of a hearth were a response to the decomposition of the body, and that, for a time at least, the very place, even the smoke from its holy fire, rising into visibility from furlongs around, was, like the gray mists of the Aegan of Achilles, a source of hallucinations and of the commands that controlled the Mesolithic world of Eynan.
This was a paradigm of what was to happen in the next eight millennia. The king dead is a living god. The king’s tomb is the god’s house, the beginning of the elaborate god-house or temples which we shall look at in the next chapter. Even the two-tiered formation of its structure is prescient of the multitiered ziggurats, of the temples built on temples, as at Eridu, or the gigantic pyramids by the Nile that time in its majesty will in several thousand years unfold.
We should not leave Eynan without at least mentioning the difficult problem of succession. Of course, we have next to nothing to go on in Eynan. But the fact that the royal tomb contained previous burials that had been pushed aside for the dead king and his wife suggests that its former occupants may have been earlier kings. And the further fact that beside the hearth on th second tier above the propped-up king was still another skull suggests that it may have belonged to the first king’s successor, and that gradually the hallucinated voice of the old king became fused with that of the new. The Osiris myth that was the power behind the majestic dynasties of Egypt had perhaps begun.
The king’s tomb as the god’s house continues through the millennia as a feature of many civilizations, particularly in Egypt. But, more often, the king’s-tomb part of the designation withers away. This occurs as soon as a successor to a king continues to hear the hallucinated voice of his predecessor during his reign, and designates himself as the dead king’s priest or servant, a pattern that is followed throughout Mesopotamia. In place of the tomb is simply a temple. And in place of the corpse is a statue, enjoying even more service and reverence, since it does not decompose. We shall be discussing these idols, or replacements for the corpses of kings, more fully in the next two chapters. They are important. Like the queen in the termite nest or a beehive, the idols of a bicameral world are carefully tended centers of social control, with auditory hallucinations instead of pheromones.
The Success of Civilization
Here then is the beginning of civilization. Rather abruptly, archaeological evidence for agriculture such as the sickle blades and pounding and milling stones of Eynan appear more or less simultaneously in several other sites in the Levant and Iraq around 9000 B.C., suggesting a very early diffusion of agriculture in the Near Eastern highlands. At first, this is as it was at Eynan, a stage in which incipient agriculture and, later, animal domestication were going on within a dominant food-collecting economy.
But by 7000 B.C., agriculture has become the primary subsistence of farming settlement found in assorted sites in the Levant, the Zagros area, and the southwestern Anatolia. The crops consisted of einkorn, emmer, and barley, and the domesticated animals were sheep, goats, and sometimes pigs. By 6000 B.C., farming communities spread over much of the Near East. And by 5000 B.C., the agriculture colonization of the alluvial valleys of the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile was rapidly spreading, swelling populations into an intensive cultural landscape. Cities of 10,000 inhabitants, as at Merinde on the western edge of the Nile delta, were not uncommon. The great dynasties of the Ur and of Egypt begin their mighty impact on history. The date 5000 B.C., or perhaps 500 years earlier, is also the beginning of what is known to geologists as the Holocene Thermal Maximum, lasting to approximately 3000 B.C., in which the world’s climate, particularly as revealed by pollen studies, was considerably warmer and moister than today, allowing even further agricultural dispersal into Europe and northern Africa, as well as more productive agriculture in the Near East. And in this immensely complex civilizing of mankind, the evidence, I think, suggests that the modus operandi of it all was the bicameral mind.
It is to that evidence that we now turn.