Psychological Teachings: The Bible

Let’s explore The Jewish Study Bible, published by the Oxford University Press, from the point of view of an ancient psychology.

Genesis is a story about the beginning of human culture from the God’s perspective, using a style of the literary conventions of the ancient Near East, full of complexity and sophistication. The same events were presented in many different versions, carefully chosen by the original redactors, to provide some contrast and thought-provoking discussions.

So, the first thing first – there is a God, the idea of a deity which is oneness, non-duality. This is not an abstract concept, but rather a state of consciousness, known in other cultures as well, for example, a pure consciousness in yoga, or the Self archetype in Jungian psychology, associated with wholeness and health.

Genesis starts in chapter 1 by the story that God created heaven and earth. Those are the symbols used in many cultures to describe the primordial opposites – like yin and yang, light and darkness, male and female – the initial duality that are connected and, in the same time, are in conflict with one another. In the western philosophy this division is known as consciousness and the unconscious. In psychology the unconscious is what is hidden, unknown, but can suddenly override consciousness and create a neurotic symptom. The duality is already a neurosis. In Jungian terms this is a personal unconscious, the shadow.

In chapter 2 the God created a garden in Eden, and put a man to tend it. This is still a world that has a connection to divinity, heaven and earth, but now has a Man who can decide what to do by himself. This is consciousness, that has a center of decision-making.

The next idea in chapter 3 is more complicated. We can see that the God was careful in doing the right things using the right way, but now he is facing a challenge. He needs to resolve that challenge. Let’s read the text [3, 23]: “So the Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken.” The soil is the symbol of the physical materiality. Till now we were talking about the different levels of the psyche, but now we extended the psyche to the body, to the nervous system, the brain. That’s how an ancient philosophy tried to explain that the outer world has all the elements of the previous inner worlds.

As we can see, Genesis tells a theory of consciousness, providing an overview of its four levels:

  1. God – non-duality, collective unconscious
  2. Heaven and earth – duality, personal unconscious
  3. A garden of Eden – consciousness, the subject
  4. Soil – physical body, the object

This ancient model of consciousness directly correlates to the structure of modern Jungian psychology, and we can find many more parallels with the Classical philosophy, the Renaissance, and other cultures. There are other texts in the Bible that reiterate this theory, and delve into literary compositions, reflecting the philosophy of that time. Our task is to avoid taking the old obscure texts for its literal meaning and blindly follow the rituals, but to make our own interpretation, find the meaning using the modern worldview.

The Church, the Christianity had multiple dimensions, and it wanted to provide the framework to the entire unconscious world of the humanity in the West. The premise was that Christ had accomplished the one creative act required on earth by the establishment of his church through the crucifixion and the miracle of the resurrection; what remained was for Christians to develop a replica of the divine kingdom in heaven by following direction of the Church leadership, divine monarchy – similar to how it was in Egypt. It used a conceptual model of kabbalah and tried to reconcile the differences with Greek philosophers, who had more humanistic-centered approach. This reconciliation had failed, and the Church went to reformation while the Renaissance created physical science, which eventually expelled from its garden anything psychological.

Our modern world has the material science worldview. It believes in facts that are verifiable by the scientific method. The model of the four levels of consciousness could not survive as it was not easily verifiable, thus the decline of Christianity as a religion, and rise of psychotherapy and parapsychology. The unconscious of the modern individual had lost its frame of reference, and became prone to all kinds of neurotic projections and symptoms, which we all watch in the news every day. The Bible is a work of enormous complexity, and it should be studied and practiced, but with the modern understanding. The old man has gone, and the old ways are not helpful anymore.

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