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The Return of the King’s Message to the Men of the West

The Return of the King’s Message to the Men of the West

In the previous post I mentioned an article that was posted on a now-defunct online magazine. Here is that essay. It originally came out in July 2004.

In the climactic scene of the Academy Award sweeping film The Return of the King, the final installment of The Lord of Rings trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, the returning king Aragorn exhorts his troops as they are about to face the much larger force of Mordor. My high school students call this rousing speech “the Braveheart speech” from its similarity to a speech given before the Battle of Stirling Bridge in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart film.

The men of Middle Earth are in a life and death struggle with the forces of Sauron, Lord of Mordor. Sauron is an unseen, satanic leader of Mordor, the land “where the shadows lie.” It is a smoky, hellish wasteland whose principal occupants are the ghoulish, semi- human Orcs. Sauron’s goal is to take over Middle Earth, destroy or enslave mankind (and related creatures like Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves), and bring the lawless autocracy of evil to the known world.

The battle is on two fronts. There is the spiritual or mental front, represented by the so-called Ring of Power, which the Hobbits Frodo and Sam are trying to bring to the volcano Mt. Doom in Mordor so it can be destroyed. If Sauron gets the Ring of Power, he will have power to bend anyone to his will. The challenge faced by the two Hobbits is to take the Ring to Mt. Doom undetected by Mordor security forces.

Then there is the more typical battle. Orcs have invaded and taken over various parts of Middle Earth. The men, mostly of the western lands of Rohan and Gondor, are making a last-ditch effort to fight off the waves of Orcs sent to them. A detachment led by Aragorn, the unrecognized but rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, has reached the gates of Mordor. They are vastly outnumbered. They can sense the evil presence of Sauron and his allies. But they also realize that they must fight. If they lose, not only are they killed, but their whole way of life will be obliterated and the civilization of Western Middle Earth will be for naught.

The film portrays the showdown in front of the gates of Mordor differently from the novel. The difference is due to the theatrical medium. Like Shakespeare’s Henry V before Agincourt or Gibson’s William Wallace before Stirling Bridge, the troops are rallied by a speech:

Hold your ground—hold your ground! Sons of Gondor—of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. The day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bands of fellowship—but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the Age of Man comes crashing down—but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear in this good earth—I bid you stand! Men of the West! (Walsh et al.)

Even as late as October 2003, the month before the film’s release, the director and screenwriter Peter Jackson was tinkering with the film. This speech almost certainly was written for us men of the West—in Europe, the Americas, even postcolonial Africa and Australasia—with September 11 in mind.

Although the actual modern Islamist attacks may have started with the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 or Meir Kahane in 1990, or the 1993 World Trade Center attempts, or any of a number of other incidents; we were made clearly aware of the Islamists’ intentions on September 11, 2001. We began to understand that they hated us and wanted to destroy us.

We learned that the name Osama had become the second most popular name for Arab boys (Muhammad is still number one). (Simon) We saw celebrations in Palestine, Egypt, Afghanistan, and even among some Muslims in the United States.

We were made aware that the battle we have become engaged in is not like any war the West has been actively engaged in since World War II. Like the war between West Middle Earth and Mordor, it is a battle for the future of civilization. If we had lost World War II, the world would have been plunged into barbarism and lawlessness. So will it be if the Men of the West do not stand up to the Medieval Islamists raging against us today.

While the focus of the Islamists is on the United States and Israel, we know that they are attacking the West everywhere they can. The last real Crusade ended in 1291. Western culture has moved on. The culture of the Islamists has not.

A good illustration is what happened in France. Until the recent headscarf controversy, France had been very tolerant, even fearful, of its Muslim minority. It had supported Libya and Iraq. Still, in 1994 Al Qaeda attempted to hijack an airliner and fly it into the Eiffel Tower. Why France? France was an imperial power in the Near East and North Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth century. But even more than that, France under Charlemagne put a stop to the Moorish expansion into Europe in A.D. 778.

The Spanish may think they are safe since they voted for a party less supportive of the War on Terror. They are deceiving themselves. Spain has been a bone in the craw of Muslims for six centuries. It is a major civilized nation that was once Muslim and now is not. The “moderate,” Westernized Muslim writer Akbar S. Ahmed tells us a South Asian Muslim character in a 1973 Pakistani novel says, “All I can remember is that I was leaving Grenada…I’ve been uprooted.” (Islam Today, 229) Here is a character half a world away with no ethnic or even historical connection to Spain or Moors—but he mourns the loss of Grenada, ruled by a tiny Muslim minority until 1492.

Osama’s “message to the world” was on September 11. Why that date? September 11 was an important date in the Habsburg-Ottoman War of 1683-1697. In 1683 the Ottoman army with Arab, Tartar, African, and Asian Muslim allies would penetrate into Europe, into the West, to the farthest extent in history. The army laid siege to Vienna, outnumbering its defenders about four to one. September 11, 1683, marked the “high water mark” of the Muslim penetration into Eastern Europe. On September 12, the Turks and their allies were attacked by the Poles and driven back.

The war continued with the Ottomans gradually losing ground. The last battle of the war, the Battle of Zenta, was won by Austrian allies on September 11, 1697. After that, the Turks sued for peace, and a treaty was signed two years later. September 11 is a significant date. (We should likewise declare that September 11, 2001, will be the farthest penetration of Islam into the Americas…)

We know that virtually all Muslim states are authoritarian. Osama’s goal is to restore the Caliphate of Baghdad—the medieval monarchy ruled by ruthless Muslim law and made famous by The Arabian Nights. Mordor in The Lord of the Rings is a caricature of the totalitarian state. The armies of Orcs as they assemble and march in the film are meant to echo Fascists. Indeed, Tolkien began work on the trilogy during World War II. Jackson’s depiction of Mordor with echoes of fascism also takes some images from Islam—especially Modor’s towers with two points at the top which resemble minarets with crescents.

The concepts of justice and human rights which form the basis of many Western governments are alien to most Muslim cultures. At best, non-Muslims are Dhimmi, second-class citizens with few rights. The same “moderate,” Westernized author of Islam Today complains for pages when Muslims are disrespected but then justifies Islamic governments and customs that imprison and execute Muslims who convert to other religions.

Columnist Dennis Prager calls the current extremist movements—whether Ba’athist, Shi’ite, or Waha’abi—“Islamic fascism.” Indeed, that is what it appears to be. Perhaps they hate the West because it refused to be conquered, because it has prospered materially, or because since the Middle Ages it has overshadowed the lands of their religion. Perhaps they are offended because of weakening Western morality. This I grant them, though such things as honor killings, abductions and forced marriages of Dhimmi women, kidnappings, killing all prisoners, polygamy, and special treatment of Muslims under the law all appear immoral to most Westerners.

Prager writes:

From our founding we [Americans] have believed that we have a mission to better the world. And for this we are hated. We are not hated for our power; we are hated for our values and our sense of chosenness—just as the never-powerful Jews have long been hated for their values and their chosenness. (Prager)

It is interesting that anti-Western Arab propaganda from whatever sources uses the terms Zionist and Crusader. Bin Laden has even used the term Zionist Crusader—a ridiculous oxymoron in the light of history. There is no Crusade; there is a jihad. And the West is the target.

A spokesman for Al Qaeda says they have the right to kill four million Americans. (Graham) What kind of system derives those kinds of “rights”? There is nothing those “rights” have in common with the rights mentioned in the American Declaration of Independence. If they think their God grants them this right, then they indeed are invoking a very different God from the God that the signers of the Declaration invoked. Theirs is a very different way of life. What are we going to do, Men of the West?

Our way of life is at stake. We may not win every battle. Terrorists may try to do more. There is a lawless horde eager to destroy us and our way of life. The week of the terrorist attacks, Yossef Bodansky, author of Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, was one of the few people in America who had written anything about Bin Laden. He was interviewed by National Public Radio. His interviewer asked him, “Is there anything the West can do to satisfy Bin Laden?”

He replied, “Pack up and move to another planet.” (Simon)

Osama himself said that his goal is to cause the “disappearance” of “the infidel West.” (Zuckerman) We have already seen that “infidel” means not only American or Israeli, but Filipino, Greek, Korean, Buddhist, Hindu, whoever they think is in their way. As Zuckerman writes:

This is not simply a war against America. These killings are not about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan—they’re not even about Israel. They are a tactic in a war to claim the world for a perverted version of Islam. It is not what we do, but who we are—and we are in the way as these misguided men seek to restore a new unified Muslim umma (community), ruled by a new caliphate, governed by Islamic law, and organized to wage jihad against the rest of the world.

This is a lot like what Sauron was trying to do with the Orcs of Mordor. The men of Middle Earth were in their way. What would the men of Middle Earth do? What will we do? Are we going to give up this day? Are we going to dissolve our relationships, our laws, our lands? Let us declare with Aragorn that this will not be the day!

Osama is not that different from Sauron. The question is simply like the one Aragorn posed to his troops at the gates of Mordor—do we have the resolve? Will we hold our ground? Will we appreciate the things we hold dear? Aragorn and Peter Jackson were not just speaking to Gondor and Rohan; they were speaking to us—the Men of the West.


Ahmed, Akbar S. Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999. Print. [Note: The quotation is from the revised edition. I believe I originally read the first edition. It is possible there are differences.]

Graham, Alison. “Nuclear Terrorism Poses the Greatest Threat Today.” Wall Street Journal 14 July 2003: A10. Print.

Prager, Dennis. “Dear American Soldier in Iraq.” American Legion Magazine March 2004. Print. Reprinted at

Simon, Scott. “Bin Laden Bio.” Weekend Edition Saturday 15 September 2001. Web.

Walsh, Fran et al. Return of the King. Screenplay. Los Angeles: New Line Productions, 2003. Print. Posted at

Zuckerman, Mortimer J. “Looking Evil Right in the Eye.” U.S. News and World Report 26 July 2004: 84. Print. Reprinted at

A Literary Look at the Bicameral Bible

A Literary Look at the Bicameral Bible

Julian Jaynes. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton, 1976. Print.

Julian Jaynes might have called his book The Voices of the Gods or In Search of Ancient Schizophrenics. With his detailed research and academic credentials, however, he aimed for a different audience when he wrote The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He has had an effect. Artists and other creative people occasionally speak of “going bicameral.” An essay in Audubon magazine spoke of his theory as though it described the most recent step in biological evolution.1 One of Princeton’s deans indicated that it was a commonly held belief among students on that campus.2 Let us examine his hypothesis and evidence to see how well they stand together.

Jaynes’ theory relies heavily on literary evidence. After briefly summarizing his “bicameral breakdown” theory, we will examine his use of literature and literary interpretation. Like Jaynes, we will concentrate on writings of the second millennium B.C., orally transmitted epics such as those of Homer, and the Bible. We will discover that The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind really has more to say about contemporary values than it does about cultural changes in ancient times.

To sum up his theory, Dr. Jaynes sees man’s awareness of himself as a discrete, willing individual— “consciousness”—as a development of human culture in the first millennium B.C. Prior to this, man was “bicameral.” That means that the left hemisphere of the brain which regulates speech and movement on the right side of the body was unconsciously subject to the right cerebral hemisphere. The right side of the body is dominant in most people. The right side of the brain regulates some creativity and external perception, but it is unable to communicate without the left side translating.

As people became more self-conscious this relationship between the two hemispheres “broke down.” Before, when people were not involved in common labor or survival, they simply followed impulses from the right hemisphere. In ancient literature this is depicted as the voice of a god. According to Jaynes, there was never any rebellion or questioning of authority. Since the breakdown, however, the cerebral hemispheres functioned more independently. People became more self-aware, more conscious, and they no longer functioned according to the will of ”personal gods.”

Although Dr. Jaynes does describe the physiological function of the cerebral hemispheres, he does not suggest that the historical breakdown of the bicameral mind is due to a biological change. He does not say that this was a mutation or genetic trait which accounted for a selectively superior synaptic change. He attributes the bicameral breakdown to social change. It is, in effect, a learned ability.

This breakdown is evident, Dr. Jaynes writes, in the lack of personality in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Babylon, and Mesoamerica. (The last remained bicameral, he claims, until the Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century.) The kings of these cultures were the embodiments of the most powerful gods. A ruling class or priesthood consulted idols or sarcophagi. These objects would visually stimulate the right hemisphere of the cerebrum. Near Eastern society was ruled this way until the mass migrations between 1500 and 900 B.C. put such a stress on the social fabric that the “bicameral” operation broke down.

To Jaynes, the bicameral function of the mind first came about in cultures where the tomb and the temple were one and the same. Ancient burial rites may indicate that the people (or a priest caste) used the tombs of leaders for necromancy. In a Hegelian manner, he sees idolatry and temple worship developing from these tomb-cults. While all of these things were part of some ancient cultures, it is worth asking which really came first—the tomb or the temple, the sarcophagus or the idol? What about Norsemen who sent their leaders out to sea when they died? What about ancient Egyptians who put curses on tombs lest anyone enter them? Surely these practices precluded the use of tombs or corpses for divination. Could it simply be that many burial rites, like those of today, were done out of respect for the departed—perhaps with some guilt and some fear of death thrown in?

This also raises questions for social scientists today. If the bicameral breakdown is a learned trait, what about primitive cultures today? Is consciousness in human children today only a learned trait? (Do parents teach their children to be a “terrible two”?)

During the social upheaval of the first part of the first millennium B.C., self-conscious rulers gained power by force of will. Gods became less prominent. The bicameral organization of society was destroyed. Vestiges of bicamerality remained in cultic activity and today can be found in such groups as schizophrenics and religious fundamentalists.

Cultic activity after the time of the breakdown was only partially bicameral. It took more ritual to stimulate the gods and only a select few could communicate with them. The oracle at Delphi would be an example of such a cult. The apparent difference from older priest-castes was the gods they consulted were reputed to have more power than the personal gods of the ordinary citizen. In many ways they appear no different at all.

Jaynes suggests that schizophrenics would be quite well-adjusted in ancient civilizations. Research may suggest that they still have the left-hemisphere-dominant bicameral mind. They are abnormal today because they are “waiting on gods in a godless world.”3

It appears scientifically valid to ask whether conclusions drawn from certain schizophrenics or a small majority of victims of a certain type of epilepsy can apply to the main course of human history. We may even ask how left-handed people fit into his scheme of right-handed dominance. The neurologists and psychologists can work on those details. A considerable bulk of Jaynes’ evidence is literary. Let us look at the literature and thematics.

For Dr. Jaynes, the Homeric epics and Hebrew Scriptures are primary sources demonstrating the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Prior to these writings, he maintains, people were always portrayed subject to their gods. They were never self-conscious, but writing, speaking, ruling, and dying according to the will of their personal gods.

Examples of this blind “bicamerality” are Hammurabi receiving his code from Marduk, the prophet speaking as the mouthpiece of Yahweh, or the constant incarnation of the gods Horus and Osiris in the pharaohs of Egypt. The gods in each case, Jaynes claims, are simply alter egos of the men. They are not worshipped or prayed to except by those with subservient deities. Pharaoh’s subjects prayed to Pharaoh’s gods because they were subject to Pharaoh the man.

There is a major thematic problem with these observations. Most the writings prior to the first millennium B.C. which are still extant are either commercial or religious. It either has to do with everyday life or it centers on God or gods. Most of what we have from ancient Egypt, for example, is from tombs or monuments. These writings are naturally preoccupied with death just epitaphs are. Insofar as the gods are seen as controlling the beginning and end of life, people will see themselves subject to them. This is simply because everyone dies. This is just a true today as it was four thousand years ago even if the cultures and the names of the gods have changed.

Jaynes asserts unequivocally that “there is no trace whatever”4 of self-conscious or self-willing concerns prior to the time of the Assyrian conquest of the Near East around 900 B.C. He admitted in an interview that the uncovering of any self-conscious artifact from earlier times would wreck his whole hypothesis.5

It could be argued that the Egyptian tombs and monuments were built because the Egyptian leaders were pre-eminently self-conscious. They wanted themselves and their dynasties to be remembered. They wanted to make sure their afterlife was comfortable. However, there is more specific literary evidence for “conscious” thought in the second and third millennia B.C.

Surely, the Ras Shamara tablet from the fifteenth century in Syria describe a self-conscious hero, Daniel.6 His personality is not subject to any god, though he worships the usual Canaanite pantheon. He has to practice a ritual for seven days to call up a god. These tablets describe other practices, especially libations and sacrifices used to get the attention of deities. This sounds more like Jaynes’ “godless world” of today than the trancelike obedience Jaynes would have us see. At the very least it is suggesting a much earlier “breakdown” like the only “partially bicameral” oracle at Delphi.

Egyptian writings also display a lack of “bicamerality” when discussing things other than death and royal decrees. The Story of Sinuhe (1800 B.C.) is a simple personal return narrative.7 It must have been popular since over twenty manuscripts of the tale have been found. Other than Pharaoh, who is depicted as a god, there are no references to gods in anything but place names. Sinuhe is an independent character—except, of course, when dutifully obeying an order of the king. He even slays a Goliath-like champion without so much as a prayer or hint of inspiration. Another ancient Egyptian tomb seems to disprove this theory as well. A work scene in it has a slave saying those words of laborers everywhere: “Look busy! Here comes the boss.” That sounds very self-conscious!

The Instruction of the Vizier Ptah-Hotep (2450 B.C.) is the oldest of a number of ancient Egyptian proverbial writings. Similar Akkadian writings date from 1800 B.C.8 These works are thematically and stylistically closer to the Biblical books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes than anything else. Except for the occasional names of gods, they are so similar to the Hebrew, that nearly everyone who reads them considers them the same genre. Yet Jaynes assigns a late date to the two Hebrew books because they are too self-conscious to come from an earlier bicameral era.

A trained Egyptian scribe named Khakheperesneb wrote the following around the year 2000 B.C.:

Would I had phrases that are not known, utterances that are strange, in a new language that has not been used, free from repetition, not an utterance which has grown stale, which men of old have spoken.9

This scribe, who even names himself, must have surely been forsaken by his bicameral gods. Walter Jackson Bate used this quotation in the opening of his book The Burden of the Past and the English Poet to demonstrate that self-conscious writers’ block is nothing new.

By Jaynes’ own criterion we could stop here. The evidence does not support his case. Some of history’s earliest writings are quite self-conscious.

Dr. Jaynes also sees the bicameral mind at work in the Iliad of Homer. The people here , he says, are totally subject to the gods. They obey them, follow them, and are deceived by them uncomprehendingly. The bards who transmitted oral epics did so while in an unconscious “bicameral trance.” The portions of the Iliad where the characters become introspective were added later, according to Jaynes.

In a crucial paragraph in The Origin of Consciousness, a scene from the sixth book of the Iliad is outlined. Hector is carrying an ancient leather shield such as would have been used at the time of the historical Trojan War. In the next line the shield is described like one from the ninth century B.C., closer to the time the poem was transcribed. Rather than simply accepting this slight discrepancy as poetic license, Jaynes writes that “the second line was added by a later poet who in his auditory trance was not even visualizing what he was saying.”10

As a matter of fact, a good bard was highly skilled. It took years of practice. As his skill increased he had literally thousands of poetic formulae at his disposal. He would have picked up poetic lines and descriptions from many sources. He was not much different from the American blues singers at the turn of the last century who could sing two hundred verses of “Frankie and Johnnie.” There may be a few technical contradictions as these dramas were performed, but the bard was a singer of tales, an entertainer, as much as he was a historian.

I recall a television drama whose setting was a Navy vessel. A technician was able to hear sounds on air radar! That was a technical discrepancy as the scriptwriter confused sonar and radar. It had nothing to do with anyone being in a trance. Nor did it detract from the entertainment value (such as it was) of the television show.

The discrepancy which Jaynes pointed out is typical of orally transmitted epics. In epics armor gets fabulous treatment.11 The arming of Agamemnon in the Iliad is well-known. Some medieval epics—and some by twentieth-century bards in illiterate cultures—will go on for many lines describing the armor of a hero or his horse. The armor may start with Samson’s jawbone and touch on every major war the singer has ever heard of. Realistically, it may be impossible to accumulate or bear all the paraphernalia, and there may be some contradictions as the singer uses the stock formulae which fit his rhythm pattern, but the story would not be the same without them.

Although Jaynes cites Milman Perry in a footnote, he does not make use of Perry’s major contribution to the study of oral literature. The shields in the Iliad, the “swift-footed” Achilles resting in his tent, and other such “contradictions” make sense in a very uncomplicated way according to Perry’s observations of contemporary bards. The Homeric audience would understand this strictly in terms of art and entertainment. Instead of seeing oral epics as coming from acquired skills and rhythmic formulae such as Perry did, Jaynes opts for a more psychological approach which was popular at the turn of the last century.

The gods are also an important part of the epic form. Whether or not the Homeric audience believed in the gods, they were essential to the story. The Roman Vergil may have been an atheist. Nevertheless, he would never have considered penning the Aeneid without due participation of the gods. Even Milton chose the story of the Fall over the Arthurian cycle for his own epic poem Paradise Lost because of the divine involvement.

Jaynes concludes that the characters in the Iliad were unconscious automata subject totally to the gods. He contrasts this with the character of Odysseus in the Odyssey who is more self-willing. That is because, according to Jaynes, the Odyssey was transcribed later, after the bicameral mind had begun to break down.

To the critic, however, one of the greatest features of the Iliad is the personalities of its main characters. They are unique individuals and not necessarily anything like the gods they subject themselves to. Their loyalty is often far more constant than that of the gods. Achilles’ choice of fame over long life is one of the most interesting personal choices in all of literature.

The characters may appear more two-dimensional at times such as in battle. People tend to act more instinctively in such a situation. A person does not have the luxury of contemplation then. Life and death are at stake.

The gods also figure prominently in Homeric battles. This is because the gods figure in the mysteries of life and death. Even today a nonreligious person will often be buried with a religious ceremony. The gods also figure in the battle scenes because they are viewed as the forces behind history, and the outcome of the battle is set by history. The poet is bound by history and tradition. Homer was bound to have Hector die, just as Margaret Mitchell was bound to have Sherman destroy Atlanta.

The gods may decide history, but the characters in the Iliad still have a lot to decide. The brooding Achilles has a distinct and very self-conscious personality which is quite different from his tutelary spirits, his fussy mother Thetis or the sober Athene. Richmond Lattimore, whose translation of the Iliad is a college standard, declares that the gods “manipulate Achilleus, Aineias, Paris, but they not make them what they are. The choices are human; and in the end, despite all the divine interferences, the Iliad is a story of people.”12

If there is any difference in the manner which the Odyssey unfolds, it is simply because it is a very different kind of tale from the Iliad. There is really only one “historical” event—Odysseus’ defeat of the usurping suitors. This alone could account for a different role of the gods. It is mostly about the life of a single person and his family. He is on his own most of the time. Even so, many of the circumstances are a result of divine interference or intervention. Like the ancient Story of Sinuhe, it is a return story, not a war story. Simple thematics explain the differences well.

Jaynes even suggests that the Puritan Milton invoked the Muses in some of his classical-style poems because he heard bicameral voices. Let us recognize allusions and literary forms for what they are. In his Christian poems he prays to the Holy Spirit, in contrast to the classical pagan gods he alludes to in his neoclassical writings.

The description of the Iliad shields is critical in The Origin of Consciousness. It is at this point that the author begins to assume the bicameral hypothesis has been proven. To him, ancient necromancy, idolatry, consulting oracles, and epics were all the result of a schizophrenic hallucinating. To demonstrate that kind of hallucinating, he refers to an experiment done on victims of a certain type of epilepsy.

In this experiment, the subjects had received a minor brain operation which separated the cerebral hemispheres—making them physically more “bicameral.” When given a mild electric shock on the right hemisphere, a small majority of them did claim to see things others could not see. Generally, they had a hard time describing the stimuli received by the right hemisphere’s perceptions.

These experiments do tell us that the halves of the brain differ in certain ways and that people under stress sometimes see things that no one else sees. Neither conclusion is especially surprising. But do these shocks compare to sarcophagi, wide-eyed idols, or war stories? Do they really have an application to cultural history as well as neuropathology?

How many of the changes in the Near East which occurred from 1500 to 900 B.C. were caused by something else? How much of the social change is due simply to the growth and influx of new cultures such as the Hebrews in Canaan or the Dorians in Greece? How much of this is due to the discovery of iron tools and weapons? How much of it is caused by increased commerce due to wider-ranging merchants? What about the wider use of papyrus, simpler alphabets, and (relatively) increased literacy? If ancient gods were heard and not seen, what about the sun gods which dominated most cultures? How did the establishment of the Greek city-states influence the composition of the Homeric epics? (To start on this question, see Lattimore’s introduction to his Iliad translation.) How do cultures in China, Africa, or Northern Europe fit in?

If gods were simply depicted as humanoid or angelic alter egos, as Jaynes theorizes, how did the multitudinous animal forms develop so early? From all accounts, the humanoid Greek pantheon came some time after the more animistic Egyptian forms. We know that in India the gods were usually portrayed as animals until the Hellenistic influence of Alexander’s legions in the fourth century B.C.

Jaynes tells us that the gods of the second millenium B.C. and the angels are both tutelary spirits. He then says that they do not stand for the same thing since the gods were more bicameral, internal rather than external. People in the ancient Near East did not perceive it that way. In Hebrew, for example, the “elohim” when not applied to Yahweh can be translated either “gods” or “angels.” To the Hebrews the word meant the same thing—the difference was whether it was referring to Yahweh’s angels or the fallen angels which were the gentile gods.

Since the Bible covers the history of the time and place of the bicameral breakdown, Jaynes discusses it at some length. He adopts the interpretation that dates the Hebrew Scriptures from 700 B.C. (Amos) to 200 B.C. (Ecclesiastes). He dates the Gospel of John as late as A.D. 320. Especially with his New Testament dating, he seems to use the theory to prove his dating rather than the other way around.

The question of Bible dating is not something that has been solved to everyone’s satisfaction, and this is not the place to continue the controversies. However, the earliest proven fragment of the New Testament known today is from the Gospel of John and is dated at A.D. 120.13 Similarly, Ecclesiastes is found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and studies of those manuscripts push that book’s origin at least another century or two before Jaynes’ date.14

Jaynes sees the prophets, particularly the earlier ones like Amos (whom he considers the oldest), as speaking from an “unconscious” bicameral perspective. The wisdom literature, on the other hand, is very self-conscious and hardly mentions God at all. Therefore, this literature, especially Ecclesiastes, is from a much later time when the bicameral perception had deteriorated.

To a literary critic these observations on the Biblical genres tell us nothing. It is like saying Thomas Hardy the poet was different from Thomas Hardy the novelist; therefore, he must have been a schizophrenic or used a ghost writer. We are comparing different literary styles and forms used for different purposes. They are bound to be different.

The prophets are hortatory, preaching to motivate. Amos is an excellent example of this style. The book is a warning to the Northern Kingdom of Israel about becoming too comfortable and forgetting God. The purpose of the prophet’s work was not to be self-conscious, but to make others see themselves. As it is, the seventh chapter of the book of Amos tells something of his background and his conflict with the government. It also shows that he did serve his prophetic purpose, for the King of Israel did respond. Amos nonetheless has self-conscious moments. He confesses that he was not trained in the prophetic ministry as the “sons of the prophets” commonly were in Israel.

The thematic purpose of Ecclesiastes is quite different. It is an examination of the world. It is contemplative and introspective, not hortatory. The purpose is also to turn the reader to God, but it is done in a different manner. The writer states that he wants to “search out by wisdom,” not motivate prophetically. Here the writer encourages his reader to make an individual response. It is not for the nation. Regardless of when we believe the various Scriptures were written and by whom, let us at least examine the author’s purpose for passing them on.

One chapter which may appeal to modern pop academia is devoted entirely to a modern, rather than ancient, phenomenon—Pentecostalism. To Jaynes the glossolalia (“speaking with tongues”) of some Christian fundamentalists is a vestige of bicamerality. He rightly attributes most of the New Testament’s discussion of the subject to St. Paul. Granted, the apostle was writing some seven to nine centuries after the bicameral breakdown, but The Origins of Consciousness speaks of remnants of bicamerality, too. The book also cites a single study which states that people enter into a trance when the first receive this charisma (“spiritual gift”) of tongues. If this is so, then it contradicts the teaching of St. Paul who calls the Spirit of God a spirit of “power, love, and self-control” (II Timothy 1:7) . In his instructions on how to speak with tongues, Paul wrote, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (I Corinthians 14:32). St. Paul emphasized self-consciousness both as a prerequisite for charismata and a result of receiving them.

To Jaynes, this is another form of hallucinating. He refers to tape recordings mentioned by his source. Since there are other recording of glosslalia in known languages, there is clearly more to this phenomenon that Jaynes would have us believe.15 He also states that “Glossolalia first happens always [his italics] in groups and always in the context of religious services.”16 That is simply not accurate reporting. Many Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals testify to having first experienced this when alone. Some even confess that having others around them made them nervous. Some Christians without access to any teaching on the subject have sometimes done it for years privately before being shown what the Bible says on the subject. There are many other studies and testimonies available which add much to the study of the Pentecostal movement. Anyone discussing the subject would do well to look at numerous sources instead of relying on one source which studied a decidedly limited group.17

Dr. Jaynes goes on. He states that the poetry of many languages and glossolalia reflect the same or similar rhythmic patterns. Those who know the rules of poetry in various languages know that this is impossible. To a twentieth-century, English-speaking American, a singer of tales from the Asian steppes would sound neither poetic nor musical. The Iliad’s stress of vowel length could be duplicated in English but would have little significance. To the French, the poetic form is simply a uniform number of syllables per line, usually with a rhyme scheme that alternates masculine and feminine rhyme. (A good Francophile will tell you that French is such a beautiful language, no additional construction is needed.) Even the Old English of Beowulf which was based on alliteration would sound strained to the modern English ear used to metrics based on syllabic stress and feet per line. The patterns of glossolalia often very greatly in the speech of an individual. When singing in tongues is also considered, Jaynes’s conclusions about poetry and glossolalia have little support.

The author himself criticizes theories of human nature which are based on a few isolated facts. He says, for example, that Marx took observations of class struggle in nineteenth century France and applied them to all of history. Freud likewise took childhood memories of a handful of psychological patients and applied what he saw to religion and civilization in general. In the same way he points out that Skinner took observations of animals obtaining food in controlled conditions and hypothesized an ideal society.

In effect, The Origin of Consciousness has done the same thing. Taking a few isolated facts about the human brain, some observations on schizophrenics and epileptics, and a unique critical position on ancient literature, the book develops a theory of history and human behavior. In this case we are left with a disturbingly amoral view of mankind.

That is probably the most striking thematic aspect of the work. There is no sense of good and evil or right and wrong in any of the bicameral voices as Jaynes presents them. The schizophrenic voice which tells a person he is worthless is attributed to the same cause as the Levitical injunction to love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no difference between the merciful and victorious God of David and the witch of Endor’s apparition which drives Saul to suicide. The Aztec voices which encouraged human sacrifice are not any different from those on Ararat or Sinai which condemned murder.

In his failure to look at ancient writings generically or thematically, he says that the Yahweh of the Bible behaved “for no reason at all.”18 Yet the context of the Bible stories he uses to illustrate this clearly indicates some moral or prophetic purpose. To him the voice which instructs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is totally arbitrary, although the point of the story is precisely that Abraham did not have to go through with the sacrifice. A modern Jewish critic writes:

Some effete intellectuals and hysterical whining milksops may say from the standpoint of morality it makes no difference whether Abraham slew his son or merely raised his sword with this purpose in view and then was restrained by somebody at the last moment. We, the real men, along with Abraham are of the opposite opinion. We consider the result and know that it matters not whether he wanted to kill or not. The point is that he did not kill.

Pagan and prophet, human sacrifice and the laws of Moses, schizophrenia and blessings—Jaynes sees them all as manifestations of the same cause. In the contest between the prophets Jeremiah and Hannaniah, Jaynes says simply that if Jeremiah had died instead, we would be reading the “Book of Hannaniah” now. For some reason he is unimpressed with the accuracy of Jeremiah’s prediction in the conflict with Hannaniah or the opposing moral positions the two men took. Indeed, we are left with the impression that there is no real difference between Francis of Assisi and “Son of Sam.”

A person acquainted with literature will see The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind only as a curiosity. Terms like “bicameral” will go the way of “phlogiston” and “epicycle.” A hundred years from now people will look at it not to point out the breakdown of bicameral perception at the beginning of the first millennium B.C. in the Near East, but the breakdown of moral perception near the end of the twentieth century A.D. in the West.


1. Peter Steinhart, “Other Voices,” Audubon, Nov 1980, 5,6.

2. Ernest Gordon, Me, Myself, and Who? (Plainfield NJ: Logos International, 1980) 159,160.

3. Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976) 432.

4. Jaynes, 227.

5. Sam Keen, “Julian Jaynes: Portrait of the Psychologist as a Maverick Theorist,” Psychology Today, Nov 1977, 66.

6. “The Tale of Aqhat,” Ancient Near Eastern Texts, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950) 149-155. (Text abbreviated ANET in subsequent citations.)

7. “The Tale of Sinuhe,” ANET, 18-22.

8. “The Instruction of the Vizier Ptah-hotep,” ANET, 412-414. Subsequent pages list other Egyptian Proverbs and Counsels followed by similar Akkadian writings dating from 1800-1600 B.C.

9. Walter Jackson Bate, The Burden of the Past and the English Poet (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 1970) 3,4.

10. Jaynes, 81.

11. Albert B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (New York: Atheneum, 1970) 86-92.

12. The Iliad of Homer, trans. and ed. Richmond Lattimore, second ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961) 54.

13. The Rylands Fragment, first publicized in 1935, is well known and discussed in many places. Note Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford, 1964) 38,39 and notes. The Egerton Papyrus, dating from before A.D. 135, contains Johanine allusions which also point to a much earlier date than what Jaynes proposes. Merrill C. Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1981) 9.

14. Edmund Wilson, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Rev. ed. (New York: Oxford, 1969) 84.

15. One recording was presented during an anti-Pentecostal lecture at a Lutheran seminary in January 1976 to demonstrate the lack of structure in glossolalia. A professor of Medieval Hebrew recognized it as a hymn sung in Medieval Hebrew. David Dorpat, “It is Lutheran to be Charismatic: Part 5,” Bread of Life, July-Aug 1979, 12. Another instance which can be documented is from a recording entitled Worship by John Bertolucci at the 1976 Catholic Charismatic Conference, Providence RI. The language spoken in this instance is also Hebrew. John Bertolucci, Worship (Ann Arbor MI: Word of Life Tapes, 1976).

16. Jaynes, 358.

17. An excellent book, though not available in English when Jaynes was writing, is Rene Laurentin, Catholic Pentecostalism, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1977). Dennis Bennett, Nine O’Clock in the Morning (Plainfield NJ: Logos International, 1970) and John Sherrill, They Speak with Other Tongues (Old Tappan NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1965) are written in a more popular style, but both are well-researched and should be considered by anyone researching this subject. All three include accounts of privately-received glossolalia. The Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International, a non-denominational evangelical men’s organization headquartered in Costa Mesa CA, has collected a mass of personal testimonies of the Pentecostal experience since the late 1950s. While decidedly pro-Pentecostal, their material should be consulted for information on people’s responses.

18. Jaynes, 304.

19. Lezek Kolakowski, Untitled Sidebar, The Second Jewish Catalog, ed. Michael and Sharon Strassfeld (Phliadlphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1976) 252.

N.B. This was originally written in the early eighties. It uses MLA formatting from that time.

Chain Saw Juggler

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I served as an AP Exam reader for English Literature this year. I happened to be reading essays on Richard Wilbur’s 1949 poem titled “The Juggler.” As I was reading essays on this topic, I thought of the modern practice of chain saw juggling. The poem includes references to figures of speech because many of the essays did. However, I confess I got some of the figures of speech, not from student essays, but from the ultimate authority which lists somewhere around 400 different figures of speech, Bullinger’s Figures of Speech in the Bible.

Chainsaw Juggler

He stretches the starter cord
And flips open his fingers
And the saw sputters and starts with a start
And then another
And then a third saw in polysyntedon
Until three buzz saws roar like a tree full of locusts.

As the audience draws in a single breath,
He balances one saw on his nose,
Flings a second, finally, asyndetonically,
The third till all three are flying fantastically orbiting his ears.

The pair of EMTs are poised,
Praying in alliteration.
They avoid considering possibilities;
Even if he just grazed a finger—
Forget head wounds or leg stumps;
They, too, held their breaths.

It is dangerous and defiant what he does,
Juggling chain saws as if before the gates of hell,
Abandon all hope ye who falter here.
But he falters not,
And audience acclaim is awesome in its assonance
Though it is hard to hear over the sound of the saws.

The seconds seem like hours
As he hurls the saws around.
How does he do it?
Ten thousand hours, they say, to become an expert.
Think of the days and ear-protected hours it took,
And now we sit in awe and
Loose our lips and larynges
In honor, respect, and exhilaration serially
For the one who defies both nature and common sense.

After twenty cycles,
One by one he sets the saws on the cement, still buzzing.
He seizes a sawbuck and places a balsa log in its crotch.
With a single swoop he manhandles a saw
And slices the log in two,
Throwing each half to the audience where they can feel the heat
And sniff the sawdust synesthetically—
This is not smoke and mirrors,
No nesting swords piercing a lady in a box.

One by one he cuts the engine of each saw
And wipes the sweat from his forehead and face.
We applaud, urging an encore.
We are impressed and amazed in hendiadys.
Would we dare it ourselves?
Of course not!
But still we can watch and preach like the prophets:
Oh death, where is thy sting?

The Day that the Lord Did Make

The Day that the Lord Did Make

  • One of the most remarkable prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures points to the coming of the Messiah to the city of Jerusalem to the very day.

Have you ever sung the chorus, “This is the day that the Lord has made,/We will rejoice and be glad in it”? Or perhaps you have recited it in church or have read it in the Bible?

We sing , speak, or read it and apply it to the day we are having. That is fine, but when it was written, the Holy Spirit had another day in mind. A day that was yet to come, but one which David and the righteous inhabitants of Jerusalem were looking forward to.

What the Original Psalm Says

That chorus about the day that the Lord has made is taken from Psalm 118. Even today it is part of what is sung as the Passover Praise or Hallel, Psalms 113 through 118. It is reasonable to assume that when Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Passover meal (Mark 14:26), the hymn was one or all of these praise Psalms. Long before Jesus’ ministry they were associated with Passover in the minds of the Jewish people.

Let’s review part of what Psalm 118 says:

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks for you have answered me; you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. (Psalm 118:17-27)

That is where the clause “This is the day that the Lord has made” came from. What does it mean? Jesus Himself gives us a clue.

What Jesus Said the Psalm Meant to Him

There is one time when Jesus refers to these verses. Jesus was teaching and debating in the Temple during Passover preparation the day after Palm Sunday. He had told a parable about the owner of a vineyard who let his tenants run the vineyard. They persecuted the owner’s servants and, finally, killed his son. Then Jesus said:

Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, it is marvelous in our eyes”? (Matthew 21:42).

Jesus had this verse in mind. Certainly He is applying it to Himself, to the son whom the tenants kill, to the stone rejected by the builders. He emphasizes that the Lord has done it, and it is marvelous, amazing.

It would be most appropriate for Jesus to refer to this passage considering the events of the day before. Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, and crowds greeted him, spreading branches on the road and crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:8,9).

What Does Hosanna Mean?

Look at what the people said. Precisely the words of Psalm 118, verse 26. Those verses were understood to refer to the Messiah. They were not meant for anyone else, since he alone was the “righteous” who “may enter.” They were also repeating the words to Psalm 118 in their shout, “Hosanna!” Hosanna is the Aramaic for the Hebrew hosahanna. The words, which would have been familiar to any Jew because they are part of the Hallel, the first words of verse 25 of Psalm 118. They mean, “Save us,” or “Please save us.” (If the crowd were saying the Hebrew word, hosanna could also be the New Testament Greek rendering, as the Greek pronunciation or transliteration is always a bit different from the original.)

So the people of Jerusalem were calling out to Jesus as he entered. They were recognizing him as the righteous one who could enter in the name of the Lord. And, using the language of Psalm 118, they were asking Him to save them. Only God’s Messiah could save.

Psalm 118 – Triumph and Sacrifice

Looking back to Psalm 118, we can begin to see that Psalm 118 is prophetically significant. Jesus was blessed by the people “out of the house of Lord,” as we are told He was acclaimed right into the Temple (Matthew 21:15). So Psalm 118 describes a procession, a triumphal procession, where the Messiah, the King, the Son of David is recognized.

Note one other thing in Psalm 118. The procession described in the Psalm is joyful. The people are glad and full of praise. But the procession ends at the altar. The procession ends at the Temple, yes, but it is, in reality, like Passover, a sacrificial celebration. “With boughs in hand, join the festal procession up to horns of the altar.”

Yes, the boughs are in hand. The one who saves is coming. But the procession ends at the horns of the altar. The procession ends in sacrifice. The one being acclaimed is the King, but he is also the victim, the bound Lamb slain on the altar.

That is amazing. That is something only the Lord could do. It is marvelous. Palm Sunday was Jesus’ “triumphal entry,” but only Jesus seemed to know that it would end his sacrificial death. Yet, that is precisely what the Psalmist was describing.

Jesus’ “Triumphal Procession” to the City

We are told in Luke that the procession began on the Mount of Olives which is to the east of Jerusalem. Jesus rode down the Mount, across the brook Kidron, and into one of the city gates which leads to the Temple (presumably the Golden Gate which has been closed now for centuries).

As He looked upon the city from the Mount, He wept. He wept for Jerusalem “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:44) The King James Version says “the day of the Lord’s visitation.”

What did He mean by that? Jesus had come to Jerusalem may times before. Why was this particular day “the time of God’s coming”?

In John’s account of the triumphal entry, he reminds us that this was a fulfillment of what the prophet Zechariah had written.

Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written:
Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt. (John 12:14,15; Zechariah 9:9)

The prophet had seen Zion’s king coming on a donkey. Here was the fulfillment. In Zechariah 9:9 we have the added words, “Your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.” He is the Messiah, the King. He is righteous. He has salvation. It is right to say Hosanna to Him. The crowd shouting “Hosanna” and Psalm 118 understood this.

The Purpose of the Procession – Sacrifice and Covenant

Zechariah continues in a vein similar to Psalm 118. “As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit” (Zechariah 9:11). Just as the context of Psalm 118 includes sacrifice, so Zechariah tells us that the Lord’s covenant includes blood. Zechariah also emphasizes that the salvation of Messiah is not just for Jews or Jerusalem:

He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:10)

So, yes, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was described prophetically in at least two different places, the Psalms and Zechariah. This was certainly a day that the Lord wanted His people to recognize and remember.

We should also note that when Jesus entered the Temple, he threw down the tables of the moneychangers (Matthew 21:12,13). This is often called “the cleansing of the Temple.” That would be most appropriate for a procession which would end at the horns of the altar. Before a sacrifice could be made, the altar had to be cleansed. The Temple had become corrupt. It had to be purged in spirit before the perfect sacrifice could be made.

Jesus’ discussions and debates in the Temple area from Palm Sunday to His arrest point to His ministry that week even more. One other Psalm Jesus quoted besides Psalm 118 was Psalm 110. It was the Scripture that silenced his opponents.

Psalm 110 – Messiah as Son of David and Priest

Jesus was reminding his opponents that He was the Son of David, as the crowds had proclaimed. He then went on:

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:42-46).

Jesus is clearly claiming that Messiah, whoever He may be, is God. But he is also saying that He is the One because He is the Son of David who has fulfilled prophecy. But that Psalm He quoted also makes another claim about Messiah.

Like the passage from Zechariah, the Psalm emphasizes Messiah’s rule, but it also tells us:

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are priest forever, in the order of Melchizidek.” (Psalm 110:4)

So the Messiah will be a priest. Not a priest in the line of Aaron, but in the order of Melchizedek. So part of Jesus’ ministry is that of priest, where He would have to come to the Temple. By His sacrificial death on the Cross, He also interceded for us. He brought salvation as the prophet said.

The Priesthood of Melchizedek

Melchizedek was a different priest, though. We read about him in a few verses in Genesis where we are told two things about who he was.

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram. (Genesis 14:18,19)

He was priest. He was also king. And not just any king, but the king of Salem, or Jerusalem. (The prefix “Jeru-” just means “city.” Salem was probably not a yet city in Abram’s day.) So Messiah would be a priest, but also king of Jerusalem.

Who was the next king of Jerusalem we read about after Melchizedek? David, of course. And Jesus was the heir to David. So Jesus was declaring not only His religious authority, but His right to Judah, and even more specifically to Jerusalem. Yet Jerusalem, He had said, did not recognize when her king was coming.

Jesus’ Ancestry Not in Dispute

It is also worth pointing out that in all the opposition to Jesus, no one is recorded who seriously disputed His ancestry. Earlier in His ministry some people questioned this in John 7:42. But the issue was not brought up again. Indeed, Temple records would have shown both Jesus’ ancestry and his birthplace. He was a descendant of David. No one rebuked His followers for saying that.

The Timing of the Coming of the King

There is one more very specific prophecy concerning the Anointed king coming to Jerusalem. It sheds light on Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9. It also is a solid demonstration of the accuracy of Bible prophecy.

Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. (Daniel 9:25,26)

This prophecy is remarkable for several reasons. It tells us that the Anointed One, the Messiah, will be “cut off” or killed. It also tells us that He will come before the city and the Temple are destroyed. This means the Messiah had to have come before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. It also tells us Messiah would not only die, but be killed. The only way He could still be a “priest forever” would be if there is a resurrection.

In addition, the prophecy sets a date for the coming of the Anointed One to Jerusalem comes as ruler and savior. The “sevens” or, in some translations, “weeks”, (the Hebrew is the same) mean here “seven years.” If it is 62+7, or 69, times seven years from the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem till Messiah’s coming, we should be able to figure out the date He would appear to the city.

The Prophetic Calendar

This is complicated slightly because it appears that whenever the Scripture uses years for computing, it uses 360-day or “lunar” years. We see this from the Book of Genesis (7:11,24; 8:3,4) where five months is 150 days to the Book of Revelation (12:6,14; 13:5) where 1260 days equal three and a half years. This means that the 69 times 7, or 483, are lunar years. Converting 483 lunar years to the 365.24-day solar years which we use today, we get 476 years, 25 days, and about six hours.

The order to rebuild and restore which specifically mentioned Jerusalem’s streets and defenses was issued in 444 B.C. This was in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes of Persia who gave the order to Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 2:1 and 2:7-10). The walls were clearly built in “distressing times” because much of the Book of Nehemiah tells of the opposition he encountered, and that even the construction workers had to wear swords.

We can even date the exact date of the order to rebuild because common Jewish practice was to date official orders from the first of the of the year. The order was given in the month of Nisan according to Nehemiah 2:1. Nisan is the beginning of spring, the month of Passover, and corresponds to our March or early April. This is the first month of the year according to Numbers 28:16.

The months in the Jewish calendar begin on the day of the New Moon. From astronomical calculations of the phases of the moon, we know that Nisan 1 in 444 B.C. was March 4 in our calendar. 476 solar years and 25 days from the fourth of March 444 B.C. comes out to Sunday, March 29, A.D. 33. That was the Sunday before Passover in the year 33–the likeliest date for the triumphal entry.1

The prophecy of Daniel computed Messiah’s entry to the very day!

Not only was Jesus “the Lamb slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), but God had foretold the very day in which He would come as King to present Himself to the city for sacrifice. No wonder Jesus could emphatically call that day as Jerusalem’s day of visitation. No wonder Jesus could say to those who told Him to tell His followers to be quiet: “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

That was the day of Messiah’s coming. That was the day the people of the city recognized Him as King and Savior. That was the day that branches were cut down in a procession which led to the Temple, and, ultimately to the altar of sacrifice. That day had been designated to the very day centuries before. That was the day that the Lord had made!

Postscript: What We Can Learn from This?

This is an example of remarkable dating of events from the Bible. There are others, and they all point to the uniqueness of Bible prophecy. This shows us a few things about what we can and cannot do about date-setting, especially end-times date-setting.

First, it is important to understand that as far as we can tell, no contemporary of Jesus, other than Jesus Himself, was using the prophecy of Daniel to count the years very specifically. The Bible does give us a sense that some Jews were aware that they might be living in Messianic times. The prophet Simeon, who prophesied over the infant Jesus, was one such person. The Talmud tells us that certain events in Judea, especially the complete Roman takeover of the government in A.D. 6, made some Jews mourn that Messiah had not come in spite of the loss of Jewish sovereignty. John the Baptist certainly attracted a following with his message of repentance and the coming of the Kingdom.

However, there is nothing to indicate that any of these would have been counting days or years from Daniel. Daniel himself, we are told, was apparently the one Jew who recognized that the seventy years of exile prophesied by Jeremiah were coming to a close. Clearly, this did not matter to a majority of Jews, as most of them stayed in Babylon. A minority of probably fewer than ten percent resettled the Holy Land. Since Daniel is described as a leader of the Persian wise men, it is certainly a possibility that the Magi who came from the East were familiar with Daniel’s writings. That could explain why they sought the King of the Jews, but the Bible is silent on that.

Jesus tells us to be ready at all times because we do not know when the Lord will return. He emphasized in Acts 1:6 and 7 that it is not for us to know:

When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”

And he said unto them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”

As we have seen, Jesus said that even He did not know:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (Matthew 24:36)

It would not be surprising that in the future heavenly kingdom, the Lord might show various prophecies which point specifically to the timing of the Day of the Lord. But, like the prophecy of the weeks of Daniel, or those prophecies concerning Messiah’s origins, we really will not understand them until they come to pass.

Second, God is precise. There are certain things that will happen as the end approaches. The Bible gives us a lot of indications. A number of passages have the phrase, “In the latter days,” or “In the last days,” or “In the day of the Lord.” We can look for patterns and expect certain signs.

Since certain passages in Revelation speak precisely of 1290 days and three and a half years, whenever those events come to pass, it may be possible for alert believers to come close to understanding when those days will be over. There have been a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, which purport to set scenarios for those last years. There is so much symbolism, and so many similar but not identical prophecies, that I believe it is impossible to predict much now. As they come to pass, that may change.

Third, God is in control. He has shown things to his servants the prophets. (Hebrews 1:1) The flow of history has God behind it. How much is human will and how much is God’s permission, I am at a loss to say. However, God can see the beginning from the end. He knows what will happen.

Fourth, the church can be strong because the God of the Bible is true. We can have confidence in what the Bible foretells. It may be delayed. It may not make complete sense to us until after the fact, but the world has a destined meeting time with Jesus. As the time draws near and we become more aware of the tribulation around us, we can be excited. Those who are not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus have time to do so before it is too late. The Lord will return for a vigorous church. People will see and know the difference between what God promises and what “the world” promises.

Jesus rules.


1 There are a number of reasons why A.D. 33 is the likeliest year apart from this prophecy. Passover began that year on a Thursday evening. We are told that Jesus was approximately 30 years old when He began His public ministry, and he ministered publicly for about three to four years. When Dionysus (or Dennis) Exiguus computed the birth year of Jesus in the year 535, he assumed Jesus was 33 at the time of His crucifixion. This is why the year A.D. 1 was set when it was. Some external evidence today suggests Dennis may have missed the birth date by a few years, but he was working backwards from the death date. (This is mostly from the assumed death date of Herod the Great, but a recent study showed that the oldest printed version of Josephus contained a copyist’s error when compared to all manuscripts, and Josephus’s record gives us that date.) A.D. 33 also corresponds well with the various political events mentioned in the Gospels – Tiberius as Emperor, Herod and Herodias, John the Baptist, Pilate as a beleaguered governor, among others. It also has been noted that during the Passover in A.D. 33 there was a total lunar eclipse (perhaps the “blood moon” referred to in Acts 2:20) which actually began at 3:00 p.m. Friday. In Jerusalem the rising moon was already in eclipse.


Collver, Albert. Calendar Explorer. St. Louis: C.H.P. Software, 1996. Software. Available: <>.

Hoehner, Harold. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1977. Print.

Jones, Floyed Nolen. Chronology of the Old Testament. 16th Ed. Green Forest AR: Master Books, 2005. Print.

Larson, Frederick A.The Star of Bethlehem. 2015. Web. 12 December 2006. <>.

McDowell, Josh. Daniel in the Critics’ Den. San Bernardino CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1979. Print.

Copyright©1999 James Bair, All rights reserved.

A Note on the Sad Puppies and Wired

While I am not a true Science Fiction fan, I do enjoy reading some from time to time as anyone who read this blog may realize. I heard about a protest over the Hugo awards and asked a friend who is a true Sci-Fi fan about it. It turned out she was a Sad Puppy supporter and had been turned off by the preachy political correctness of recent Hugo and Nebula winners.

I only mention this because my friend is (1) female and (2) a programmer—precisely the kind of person the latest issue (Nov. 2015) of Wired magazine was trying to promote. The issue had a number of articles lamenting the preponderance of white and Asian males in tech jobs. There was an article about a group called Black Girls Code and another about a female Mixed Martial Arts champion and a couple about technical people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. All were attempts to illustrate women and minorities who stood out in fields where they were a significant minority.

It also had an article about the Sad Puppies, the informal group that was protesting some of the recent Hugo and Nebula awards because of their political correctness and lack of engaging story lines. To illustrate a supposedly typical sad puppy, they interviewed a sci-fi fan who lives in the Italian Alps and sounds (if the reporting is accurate) like a true bigot. Come on! This was a hatchet job from the get-go! Wired has done a lot better. Perhaps instead of interviewing normal sad puppies like my friend, Wired wanted to show off some political correctness, and decided that gunning for an award was more important than getting the facts straight.

Some people do like to read stories without being lectured to or preached at. It does not mean that they are bigots.

Why So Many Self-Published Books?

I just finished reading a young adult novel that was self-published. I will probably review it, but this is not a review. This is a reflection on the changes in the publishing industry. It looks sad from here.

Yes, some changes are technological. Amazon and Ebay changed the way many books are sold. Electronic books like those on Kindle and Apple iBooks have changed the medium.

But the biggest change seems to have little or nothing to do with those things. Publishers have simply cut back. Blame it on consolidation—most American books are published by two conglomerates. They may have many imprints and divisions, but chances are those are merely subdivisions of the giants. With consolidation comes staff cutbacks and more interest in the bottom line and less about what is good writing.

First, this means that a writer has limited places to get published. Most publishers nowadays require an agent before even considering a work. Of course, that is a great Catch-22. Agents won’t represent anyone who has not been published.

What this means for many writers, like it or not, is self-publishing. One problem with self-publishing is that it is self-promoted. If the writer does not have a network or is not a skilled salesman, there is little chance of getting noticed.

Some are capable of doing this to some degree. A local cookbook author comes out with a new book every year and sells enough copies to local book stores, gift shops, and libraries to make it profitable. Another local writer has made book presentations wherever she can and has generated some online buzz that she has broken even.

I have recently read two books—I will no doubt post reviews here eventually—that were published by the self-publishing arms of what at least used to be legitimate commercial publishers. Both are excellent books, and had they been promoted by the publisher, they both could have done well.

The YA book I mentioned at the beginning is one of them. It reminded me of a book from one of the Scholastic Book Clubs that I enjoyed when I was a kid and remember even today. The plotting of the newer book may actually have been better.

I do not know why the publisher’s commercial arm did not pick it up. They would have designed a more effective cover, likely come up with a better title, and they certainly would have caught some editing problems. For example, I noticed the “subjunctive case” (cases are for nouns and pronouns, not verbs), the Beatles’ “Yesterday’s Gone” (they did “Yesterday,” “Yesterday’s Gone” was by Chad and Jeremy), and two different spellings for the name of one of the main characters. An editor would have caught those as well as other typographic errors. Too bad. What has changed? Have editors gotten lazy?

There are simply fewer of them. Even thirty years ago most editors were recent college grads being paid peanuts. Now a lot times they are unpaid interns. Those who are paid are encouraged not to take risks. With a generation of “politically correct” grads coming out of schools, the risk avoidance is even higher. Doesn’t anyone want to take a chance any more?

In Memoriam – John J. Gilmore

Many people from Bridgeport, Connecticut, (the state’s largest city) have known John Gilmore for years, especially people in law enforcement and politics. At his calling hours I recognized a former mayor and a former state senator as well as a successful writer among his mourners. I had only known him for about seven years, though I first encountered him about twelve or fifteen years ago.

For close to twenty years I have been a judge of the Literary Contest at the annual Trumbull Arts Festival in nearby Trumbull, bordering Bridgeport on the north. The writing is usually competitive and the prizes are fairly decent. Indeed, hardly anyone gets paid for poetry any more, and few get paid for short stories. Trumbull’s prizes and publication in its annual Pen Works collection is pretty positive for writers nowadays.

Because I teach high school English, I usually judge one of the high school categories, but one year I judged adult fiction. I may have been assigned that category because one of my children had submitted something that year in the high school fiction category.

Of course, the entries are anonymous, but one short story in the group I had really stood out. Looking back, it was probably one of the best ever submitted to the arts festival. The author was John Gilmore. He would win prizes in other years as well. One of his prize winners, “The Jordnaeros,”  is available on Amazon.

I got to know him when I joined my wife in nonfiction writers’ group at the Trumbull Library led by author Charles Slack. Charlie, a former reporter, has actually made a living as a freelance writer. I was active in that group for three years until I got too busy with work to keep up with it. John was one of the best contributors to the group, but probably missed one out of three meetings because he was working late or out of town.

John’s book Cocaineros Duel came out four years ago. He had shared many of the chapters with the group, and my wife and I both got a kick out of reading the final product. The main character in the novel has Bridgeport roots but has relocated to Belize to get away, except that his problems follow him south.

A woman is murdered. He is a suspect because the murdered woman has stolen the identity of an ex-girlfriend of his. The story involves the FBI, the Belize Army, the CIA, and drug dealers. John said that it was loosely based on a Bridgeport figure who got involved in some rackets in Central America. There might have been at least a little of John McAfee in it as well.

I had the privilege of reading a draft of John’s latest book. It did not have a title. I called it “Murder in the Circus City” to myself. As much as I like Cocaineros, the second novel was better. It involved such an interesting and varied cast that only someone like Gilmore could bring them together in a story.

There was the highly educated and ambitious museum curator. (The murder takes place in Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum by its most famous display). There was the Gold Coast millionaire with his powerful connections. (If you don’t know Connecticut’s Gold Coast, I am sure Wikipedia mentions it somewhere). There was the millionaire’s now-aging trophy wife—it seems as though wife #1 died in Europe under mysterious circumstances.

There are people in the horsey set. Another group devotes itself to the study of P. T. Barnum. (The circus impresario served as mayor of Bridgeport among other things). There is a young man struggling with mental health problems who is staying at a homeless shelter. Another character is loosely affiliated with motorcycle gangs. There is a very territorial police chief who has his own private police force. Some of the action takes place at a gin mill known to locals but not outsiders. And there is the mayor and his chief political advisor.

The main character is the same one who starred in Cocaineros Duel. He is back in Bridgeport trying to revive his detective business and at least trying to make peace with his mother-in-law who blames him for her daughter’s death.

There is also a subset of characters in rural Vermont where some of the action takes place. Gilmore got this part right, too. My mother’s family is from Vermont, my parents are now buried there, and over the years I have spent a lot of time there. He knows whereof he writes.

Of course, he got Bridgeport just fine. I have lived in the area for thirty years and married into a large Bridgeport family. John Gilmore is one person who not only knew all such people but could bring them together.

Other readers who live outside Fairfield County, Connecticut, will get a kick out of his story as well. Many people can visualize once-prosperous industrial cities that have seen better days. The action in a couple of chapters happens on Interstate 95. Even people who have only passed through Connecticut on the way to Boston or New York can probably visualize that complex of highways that pass through Bridgeport.

I hope his heirs make an effort to get this story published.

Since I have been blogging, I have only had one other In Memoriam posting, and that was a brief one for Tom Clancy. Clancy, of course, wrote about twenty novels over thirty years and had become an industry with films, video games, co-authored nonfiction, and other products with his name.

John J. Gilmore was more like the rest of us. He worked hard to make a living and to discover the truth in his job as a journalist. He retired for a year to relieve stress, and then worked in public relations and was kept very busy with that.

I know he had other stories in mind. Maybe if he had lived in good health for another twenty years, he could have become Connecticut’s Michael Connelly. We will never know.

This is a sobering thought to me. John was about my age. I, too, have worked most of my life since I was eleven. I would like to write more, but I still have to pay the taxes and keep the house warm. Will I ever have the chance to write everything I would like to? Or see the things I have already written picked up by commercial publishers?

In the 1980s someone conducted a study to determine the occupations with the highest and lowest stress. My chosen occupation, which I love and which keeps bread on the table, was second only to air traffic  controller for stress. I suspect that John’s health problems were largely stress-related. John, I get it. Is there a place for people like us who want to write but have other priorities?

Alas I reminded of the Scripture:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit?” Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15 NKJV)

John, we did know you as a reporter, one who dug deep, guarded his sources, and could be trusted. But those other stories that you were already narrating in your brain? Johnny, we hardly knew ye.

P.S. The title slug names him as John J. Gilmore with his middle initial. That is the name he wrote under so that no one would confuse him with the noir nonfiction writer (e.g. The Black Dahlia) with the same name.

“Not Of” – A Little Old-Fashioned

Dear N:

You wrote:

1-Those words were spoken by a man not of faith.

2-Those words were spoken by a man who was not of faith.

3-Those words were spoken by a man who was of faith.

 They look incorrect to me. I think ‘1’ and ‘2’ would work if it was followed by something like: ‘but of reason’.

It may sound a little awkward, but this actually echoes the language of the King James Version of the Bible, the standard Bible in English for about 450 years. Romans 14:23 says “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” While that language might be slightly archaic, it still is suggestive because of the long history of the Authorized Version. A modern version would probably say something like “whatever is not done in faith is sin.”

If you are familiar with the Bible, then you know that Romans is one of the New Testament books that emphasizes salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, not by doing or avoiding specific works. The context is a dispute in the Roman church about eating meat. The author’s response is that the specific work of abstaining from meat is not the issue, but whether either action (eating meat or not eating meat) is done in faith.

Anyone who is seriously studying the English language, especially its literature, should be familiar with the King James Bible (a.k.a. the Authorized Version) because it is alluded to so frequently. It often has nothing to do with the faith of the author, but that the King James Bible has just been a part of the culture for so long.

Hints on Storytelling Style

Dear Ms. B:

You wrote:

Hello.  I am writing a story and it’s been a while since I’ve had English classes.  In each paragraph, do I use the individual’s name, or should I refer to her as ‘she?’  When her name is used at the beginning of a paragraph, but I continue speaking of her, I have used she.  I just don’t want to over-use her name or she, either one.

Example:  Victoria is a wonderful individual.  She has many talents.  Then next paragraph:  Victoria spoke to her daughter.  Would this be the correct form? I look forward to your help, Thank you!

Two thoughts:

1. It is hard to overuse pronouns (except maybe “me” and “I” when boasting!). Pronouns are meant to take the place of nouns. As long as it is clear who “she” is, there should be no problem. There could be a problem in the second paragraph only because “she” could refer to either Victoria or her daughter if the writing is unclear.

2. You can always substitute a synonym for “Victoria” from time to time; for example, you might call her “the mother” in paragraph two.

I hope this helps.

Using Generalizations for Effect

Dear A H:

You wrote:

a. Dogs don’t like me.

b. Children enjoy bad movies.

c. People do strange things.

d. Dogs attack me these days.

e. People are doing strange things these days.

In the above sentences does the plural noun include a. ALL b. MOST c. SOME of the things it refers to?

This is not really a question about grammar, but one about context. Let us face it, most generalizations are technically inaccurate, because we find exceptions. For example, I am sure that “d” would be incorrect if the speaker came across a very old arthritic dog.

Often such expression are in reaction to a single incident—but the incident stands out to the speaker so much that he or she makes a generalization about it.

Technically, to answer your question, in most cases the answer is probably “some,” but we speak this way for emphasis. As a teacher, I have lost track of how many times I have heard young women say, “I hate men!” If you were to ask them if they hate their father or a beloved uncle, they would admit that, no, they do like some men, but clearly they have had a bad experience with a certain man or group of males recently.

I hope this helps