In "Old," Simon drops the names of Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha, but seems to give his own religious heritage, that of Judaism, short shrift, not even explicitly mentioning it. Perhaps Simon was saving that discussion for another song-- namely, this one. Here, the imagery seems to come largely from The Five Books of Moses.
Or, at least, from his Tablets, on which the words of The Ten Commandments were inscribed by God. This Teacher's "words are like tablets of stone," as well.
The fact that he is a "teacher" as opposed to other religious titles (reverend, minister, priest, etc.) is indicative as well. Several major figures in Judaism are known by honorific appellations, such as Adam the First, David the King, Elijah the Prophet, Samson the Strong, Abraham our Father... and Moses our Teacher.
Even the lines "I was an only child of the city/ My parents were of immigrant stock" could refer to the situation of one of the Jewish slaves to Pharaoh in the city of Cairo, whose parents were descendants of Jacob's sons, themselves residents of The Promised Land and not natives. And like Moses, The Teacher leads his flock on an exodus: "Gather your goods and follow me," he intones, meaning to literally travel after him as well as to follow his teachings. The Teacher's warning is also Biblical in tone; "...or you shall surely die" is a line often repeated in the Old Testament.
But this is not Moses, merely a Moses-like figure. How do we know? This teacher leads his followers to a mountain, but not to Mt. Sinai. First, the Children of Israel never ascended the mountain themselves as those in this song do. Second, while it may snow every once in a great while in the Sinai Desert, Moses encountered no "napkin of snow" there, and it was not "cold" enough to prevent people from "catch[ing] their breath." at The Revelation. Further, Moses' followers ate manna from Heaven, and these forage for "berries." Lastly, Moses dies. This Teacher enigmatically "divided in two."
Very well, then, while this teacher in some ways recalls and evokes Moses, he is not meant to invoke, to be, Moses. So who is he? He is some sort of charismatic leader who can persuade people to leave a nice, warm "city" and subsist on "berries and roots" in the frozen wilderness.
And what is his very alluring message? "It's easier to learn than unlearn." You can't unlearn things where you are; you have to move outside of your comfort zone, away from the things and people that would re-enforce your spiritual status quo. Abraham was told by God to leave his land and home-- and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David all had to as well-- when they underwent spiritual growth.
After The Teacher ages to a certain degree, he undergoes a division usually reserved for one-celled organisms-- he splits in half. One half eats, and the other drinks. The eating half consumes "the forests and fields" the other drinks-- not the rivers or seas as we might expect (perhaps there are none at the tops of freezing mountains)-- but the "moisture from the clouds."
This is surprising, considering that he could not have been hungry to begin with. After all, it was partially "abundance" that slowed his "step." And, in fact, the followers are "amazed at the power of his appetite." (To consume all that-- and on a full stomach, too!)
The Teacher, who so far has seems powerful but still human, reveals himself to be some sort of unearthly force, if we are to take this imagery literally. If not, he seems to abandon his beliefs of frugality once he experiences "abundance" and becomes a megalomaniac, commandeering every resource and leaving his followers with nothing.
"Sometimes we don't know who we are," the follower laments. Of course, he means himself, but his "we" could include The Teacher, who seems to have forgotten himself. "Sometimes force overpowers us and we cry," the follower continues. First, the Teacher's persuasion led them on a quest into the wilderness, only to abandon them to their privations, but again, The Teacher himself might have been overpowered by a greater force: greed.
Lastly, he calls out to The Teacher to "carry [him] home." Yes, he wants to go back to somewhere warm already-- enough with this endless wandering in the wilderness!-- but he might also be calling The Teacher to return to his own senses and mission: the care of his flock. Maybe by remembering his goals, he will come back to himself. It is unlikely that he will; even before leaving, The Teacher asserted that they were "past the point of no return."
The follower calls out to his leader, recalcitrant though he may be. The follower does not, however, call out to God! Why not? Well, when the followers were subsisting on berries and roots, The Teacher helped provide those. But "The Dreamer of Love" was not helpful even to that meager degree. "Deeper and deeper," He was asleep "on a quilt of stars." Again, when The Teacher began to ravage the land and sky with his insatiability, The Dreamer only slept deeper still.
This is a tale of double abandonment. The Teacher led his followers into a place of danger, and rather than protecting them or taking them to a new home, simply begins to satisfy himself. And God is only interested in dreaming of perfect love, not in the messiness of life.
This profoundly sad song ends with an unanswered plea: "Carry me home!" Perhaps, it is time to stop being followers, to stop asking to be carried. Perhaps it is time to lead themselves out of the wilderness. To walk.
Next Song: Look at That