OUT OF EGYPT II:
Probable Origin of Gnosticism
For centuries exhaustive efforts have been made to determine the origin(s) of Gnosticism — the conviction that only genuine “inner” knowledge can liberate the true god from imprisonment in fallen human bodies and return human beings to their intended divinity.
Creation and the Bicameral Mind
The evidence suggests that God employed creatio continua (continuing creation) about two million years ago to bring forth human beings from earlier primates.1 The first human beings, like other primates, communicated by grunting and signaling and survived by wandering, hunting and gathering. It was not until about 10,000 to 9000 BCE that God proceeded to endow human beings with language by using the bicameral (two-sided) brain.2 Typically, God used the right side of the brain (temporal lobe) to issue instructions to human beings by telling them what, when, how and why to do everything. These instructions were then passed to the left side of the brain in order for human beings to respond and obey them.
The gift of language to the bicameral mind enabled human beings to make enormous advances through the development of sedentary communities, spoken languages and technology — writing, construction, agriculture, etc. Initially, bicameral activity was apparently granted to all mankind. But about 3000 BCE it became restricted to those who claimed rulership — kings, nobility, priests in Egypt, etc. Then, about 1200 BCE, the bicameral mind fully “broke down.”3
Gnosticism and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
The evidence suggests that the final breakdown of the bicameral mind occurred about the same time as the violent volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (now Santorini) in the Aegean Sea. This vast eruption swept the Mediterranean and virtually destroyed all existing Middle Eastern civilizations — Hittites, etc.4,5 It was also at this time that God appeared to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai and led him to bring the Chosen People out of Egypt.
The convergence of the breakdown of the bicameral mind, the profound volcanic disaster in the Middle East, and the Hebrew Exodus led surviving peoples to ponder the true significance of reality. Some concluded that God (or the gods) had died, disappeared or was/were silenced. Others, like the Habiru (Hebrews), concluded that God had intervened to liberate them from slavery. Still others assumed that the true, “bicameral” god(s) had become imprisoned in fallen human bodies by an evil god (demiurge) and that the critical time for the liberation had arrived, when the true, imprisoned god(s)/humans could return to their celestial home through the exercise of true inner knowledge (gnosis).
This, then, is the probable origin of what is known as “Gnosticism.”
- “There is no reason to think that early man from the beginning of the genus Homo two million years ago lived any differently.” — Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976), p. 129. (go back)
- “But it would be an error . . . to regard the bicameral mind as a static thing. True, it developed from the ninth millennium B.C. to the second millennium B.C. with the slowness that makes any single century seem as static as its ziggurats and temples.” — Ibid., p. 202. (go back)
- “[Julian] Jaynes’s third hypothesis is dating the development of consciousness to around 1200 B.C. in areas such as Mesopotamia and Egypt . . . ” — Marcel Kuijsten, Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited (Henderson, NV: Julian Jaynes Society, 2006), p. 106. (go back)
- See Manfred Bietak, “The Volcano Explains Everything — Or Does It?” Biblical Archaeology Review 32, no. 6 (November/December 2006): 60-65. (go back)
- See “Santorini,” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santorini. (go back)