Delphi Prophetesses and Christian Tongues

Did the ancient Greek prophetesses, especially the Pythian priestesses in Delphi, speak in tongues and the Christians later adapted it?

The alleged connection between the two is an important one in the speaking in tongues debate. A dispute which this article seeks to look deeper into.

The approach used to find an answer is to locate the primary Hellenistic texts that make this connection and evaluate them. English translations will be listed along with the majority having Greek or Latin sources paralleled with them. A short analysis will be provided. The reader is not required to know either one of these languages in order to examine the works and can easily skip over these foreign texts.

For those readers who want a quick answer and do not want to look into the details, the conclusion is no, the ancient Greek prophetesses did not speak in glossolalia. Many readers that habitually come to this website won’t take such a conclusion literally until substantiation is shown that the following will provide.

Here is an introductory video on the Delphi temple and how the Greek priestesses operated. It is an investigation into whether gases from the cracks in the temple caused the prophetesses to go mad and prophesy. It does not address glossolalia but covers almost every other aspect of the Delphic priestess role and provides a good background to the subject matter.

Table of Contents

  • The connection between ancient Greek prophetesses and glossolalia
  • The classical sources on alleged glossolalia
    • Herodotus The Histories
    • Plato
    • Virgil in The Aeneid
    • Lukan’s The Civil War
    • Plutarch’s Moralia
    • Strabo
    • Michael Psellos
    • Rohde’s Psyche: Cult of Souls
  • Conclusion

The connection between ancient Greek prophetesses and glossolalia

The christian doctrine of speaking in tongues has had three major movements over the 2000 years. The first one was the traditional one that lasted for 1800 years that it was either a miracle of speaking, hearing or both. The second one was far smaller in influence and began shortly after the Reformation called cessationism. This is a conservative Protestant faction that believes all miracles had ceased in the earlier church and thus any practice of speaking in tongues is false. This doctrine continues today. A third movement sprung up in the 1800s through the agency of German protestant scholars who used a groundbreaking methodology called higher criticism to interpret speaking in tongues. This resulted in a new doctrine called glossolalia. Instead of tracing the christian history of speaking in tongues through church literature and ultimately ending up at Pentecost, higher criticists took an entirely different path. They felt that most ancient christian literature was based on myth and could not be used as objective data. The better alternative was to trace speaking in tongues through classical sources such as Plutarch, Strabo, and others. Therefore, their history goes to ancient Greece before the advent of Christianity and focuses on the caves of Delphi and Dadona where the ancient Greek prophetesses would utter their prophecies.

Glossolalia is the dominant interpretational schema today. As outlined in the series, A History of Glossolalia, it has dominated the modern discussion so greatly that it has all but erased the memory of the traditional definition that existed for 1800 years. Glossolalia is found ubiquitously throughout the primary, secondary and tertiary literature. However, the Hellenistic sources used by higher criticists that trace back to the beginnings of Christianity or earlier have hardly been critically evaluated. The following is a collation and analysis of the major sources in Hellenistic writings on the Greek prophetesses allegedly speaking in tongues.

The connection between ancient Greek prophetesses and glossolalia

Herodotus The Histories

“The Histories. . . of Herodotus is now considered the founding work of history in Western literature. Written in 440 BC in the Ionic dialect ofclassical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Greece at that time.[citation needed]Although not a fully impartial record, it remains one of the West’s most important sources regarding these affairs.”(1)

Herodotus refers to the ancient Delphian prophetess speaking in hexameter verse(2) Hdt. 1.47 see also Hdt. 1.65, 1.66, 1.67, 5:60, 5:61, 7:220 that was clearly spoken. The actual citations can be found in the footnote and there is nothing in any one of them that relates to tongues-speech. Therefore, the Greek will not be provided.


Plato is one of the most revered Greek writers and philosophers of all time. If one wants to substantiate any Greek theme and it is supported in Plato’s work, then the argument has a winning probability. In the case of an ancient Greek priestess speaking ecstatically in his work, there are only two references that are close. These are not substantial. He lived in the fourth-century BC.

The Phaedron

“Plato’s Phaedrus is a rich and enigmatic text that treats a range of important philosophical issues, including metaphysics, the philosophy of love, and the relation of language to reality, especially in regard to the practices of rhetoric and writing.”(3) It is hard to see what the connection with glossolalia is here.

[244b] and the priestesses at Dodona when they have been mad have conferred many splendid benefits upon Greece both in private and in public affairs, but few or none when they have been in their right minds; and if we should speak of the Sibyl and all the others who by prophetic inspiration have foretold many things to many persons and thereby made them fortunate afterwards, anyone can see that we should speak a long time. And it is worth while to adduce also the fact that those men of old who invented names thought that madness was neither shameful nor disgraceful.(4)Plato in Twelve Volumes. Translated by Harold Fowler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1925

[244β] Δωδώνῃ ἱέρειαι μανεῖσαι μὲν πολλὰ δὴ καὶ καλὰ ἰδίᾳ τε καὶ δημοσίᾳ τὴνἙλλάδα ἠργάσαντο, σωφρονοῦσαι δὲ βραχέα ἢ οὐδέν: καὶ ἐὰν δὴ λέγωμεν Σίβυλλάν τεκαὶ ἄλλους, ὅσοι μαντικῇ χρώμενοι ἐνθέῳ πολλὰ δὴ πολλοῖς προλέγοντες εἰς τὸμέλλον ὤρθωσαν, μηκύνοιμεν ἂν δῆλα παντὶ λέγοντες. τόδε μὴν ἄξιονἐπιμαρτύρασθαι, ὅτι καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ τὰ ὀνόματα τιθέμενοι οὐκ αἰσχρὸν ἡγοῦντοοὐδὲ ὄνειδος μανίαν:(5)Plato. Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet. Oxford University Press. 1903


“Timaeus . . . is one of Plato’s dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue given by the title character Timaeus of Locri, written c. 360 BC. The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world and human beings. . .”(6) Plato is describing how the human mind can touch the divine. He believed a normal rational mind cannot connect and must be in an altered state to do such. Whatever vision, apparition or speech that occurs in an altered state must be interpreted by a person of a stable or rational mind. The speech itself that Plato refers to is not glossolalia or ecstatic speech, rather he relates the process required finding out the meaning behind the difficult imagery or words.

[71e] as good as they possibly could, rectified the vile part of us by thus establishing therein the organ of divination, that it might in some degree lay hold on truth. And that God gave unto man’s foolishness the gift of divination a sufficient token is this: no man achieves true and inspired divination when in his rational mind, but only when the power of his intelligence is fettered in sleep or when it is distraught by disease or by reason of some divine inspiration. But it belongs to a man when in his right mind to recollect and ponder both the things spoken in dream or waking vision by the divining and inspired nature, and all the visionary forms that were seen, and by means of reasoning to discern about them all

[72a] wherein they are significant and for whom they portend evil or good in the future, the past, or the present. But it is not the task of him who has been in a state of frenzy, and still continues therein, to judge the apparitions and voices seen or uttered by himself; for it was well said of old that to do and to know one’s own and oneself belongs only to him who is sound of mind. Wherefore also it is customary to set the tribe of prophets to pass judgement

[72b] upon these inspired divinations; and they, indeed, themselves are named “diviners” by certain who are wholly ignorant of the truth that they are not diviners but interpreters of the mysterious voice and apparition, for whom the most fitting name would be “prophets of things divined.”

For these reasons, then, the nature of the liver is such as we have stated and situated in the region we have described, for the sake of divination. Moreover, when the individual creature is alive this organ affords signs that are fairly manifest, but when deprived of life it becomes blind and the divinations it presents are too much obscured to have any(7)Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.

The Greek:

[71ε] ἡμῶν, ἵνα ἀληθείας πῃ προσάπτοιτο, κατέστησαν ἐν τούτῳ τὸ μαντεῖον. ἱκανὸν δὲσημεῖον ὡς μαντικὴν ἀφροσύνῃ θεὸς ἀνθρωπίνῃ δέδωκεν: οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἔννουςἐφάπτεται μαντικῆς ἐνθέου καὶ ἀληθοῦς, ἀλλ᾽ ἢ καθ᾽ ὕπνον τὴν τῆς φρονήσεωςπεδηθεὶς δύναμιν ἢ διὰ νόσον, ἢ διά τινα ἐνθουσιασμὸν παραλλάξας. ἀλλὰ συννοῆσαιμὲν ἔμφρονος τά τε ῥηθέντα ἀναμνησθέντα ὄναρ ἢ ὕπαρ ὑπὸ τῆς μαντικῆς τε καὶἐνθουσιαστικῆς φύσεως, καὶ ὅσα ἂν φαντάσματα

[72α] ὀφθῇ, πάντα λογισμῷ διελέσθαι ὅπῃ τι σημαίνει καὶ ὅτῳ μέλλοντος ἢπαρελθόντος ἢ παρόντος κακοῦ ἢ ἀγαθοῦ: τοῦ δὲ μανέντος ἔτι τε ἐν τούτῳ μένοντοςοὐκ ἔργον τὰ φανέντα καὶ φωνηθέντα ὑφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ κρίνειν, ἀλλ᾽ εὖ καὶ πάλαι λέγεται τὸπράττειν καὶ γνῶναι τά τε αὑτοῦ καὶ ἑαυτὸν σώφρονι μόνῳ προσήκειν. ὅθεν δὴ καὶ τὸτῶν προφητῶν γένος ἐπὶ

[72β] ταῖς ἐνθέοις μαντείαις κριτὰς ἐπικαθιστάναι νόμος: οὓς μάντεις αὐτοὺςὀνομάζουσίν τινες, τὸ πᾶν ἠγνοηκότες ὅτι τῆς δι᾽ αἰνιγμῶν οὗτοι φήμης καὶ φαντάσεωςὑποκριταί, καὶ οὔτι μάντεις, προφῆται δὲ μαντευομένων δικαιότατα ὀνομάζοιντ᾽ ἄν.

ἡ μὲν οὖν φύσις ἥπατος διὰ ταῦτα τοιαύτη τε καὶ ἐν τόπῳ ᾧ λέγομεν πέφυκε, χάρινμαντικῆς: καὶ ἔτι μὲν δὴ ζῶντος ἑκάστου τὸ τοιοῦτον σημεῖα ἐναργέστερα ἔχει,στερηθὲν δὲ τοῦ ζῆν γέγονε τυφλὸν καὶ τὰ μαντεῖα ἀμυδρότερα(8)Plato. Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet. Oxford University Press. 1903.

Virgil in The Aeneid

Virgil or more accurately, Publius Vergilius Maro, is a first-century BC ancient Roman poet. His alleged contribution to the tongues connection is small.

Then to Phoebus and Trivia will I set up a temple of solid marble, and festal days in Phoebus’ name. You also a stately shrine awaits in our realm; for here I will place your oracles and mystic utterances, told to my people, and ordain chosen men, O gracious one. Only trust not your verses to leaves, lest they fly in disorder, the sport of rushing winds; chant them yourself, I pray.” His lips ceased speaking.(9)Virgil. Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid. Translated by Fairclough, H R. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 63 & 64. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. 1916

And the Latin

Tum Phoebo et Triviae solido de marmore templum instituam, festosque dies de nomine Phoebi. Te quoque magna manent regnis penetralia nostris: hic ego namque tuas sortes arcanaque fata, dicta meae genti, ponam, lectosque sacrabo, alma, viros. Foliis tantum ne carmina manda, ne turbata volent rapidis ludibria ventis; ipsa canas oro.” Finem dedit ore loquendi.(10)Vergil. Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics Of Vergil. J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900.

The question that surrounds Virgil is his reference to mystic utterances. What does he mean by that? The Latin translation is incorrect and should read, Here therefore I will place your lots and secret fates(11) Regardless of the translation, it is a stretch to make this sequence out to be glossolalia.

Lukan’s The Civil War

Lukan was a well known poet who was a friend of the unstable and often cruel Emporer Nero. This relationship that brought him to fame also led him to the grave. He was ordered to death by Nero for treason. His work, De Bello Civili (On the Civil War), covered the war between Julius Caesar and Pompey. The important part of his work relating to speaking in tongues relates to his narrative on a Delphian priestess. He reported a story of Appius Claudius Pulcher coming to a Delphic priestess to find out the future, possibly if he should go to war. The priestess, named Phemenoe, fakes such a prophecy which Appius rightly identified. Appius seriously threatened her and forced Phemenoe to flee to the ancient prophetic cave. The inspiration the cave once offered had ceased for some time already but in this instance, Apollo returned and filled Phemenoe. She went into madness, raving, and uttered a prophecy. She foretold Appius was to die.

There is no reference to her being in a trance and uttering strange or foreign words at all. For the sake of substantiation, here is the English and Latin with what is the closest parallel.

At last Apollo mastered the breast of the Delphian priestess ; as fully as ever in the past, he forced his way into her body, driving out her former thoughts, and bidding her human nature to come forth and leave her heart at his disposal. Frantic she careers about the cave, with her neck under possession ; the fillets and garlands of Apollo, dislodged by her bristling hair, she whirls with tossing head through the void spaces of the temple ; she scatters the tripods that impede her random course ; she boils over with fierce fire, while enduring the wrath of Phoebus. . . first the wild frenzy overflowed through her foaming lips ; she groaned and uttered loud inarticulate cries with panting breath ; next, a dismal wailing filled the vast cave ; and at last, when she was mastered, came the sound of articulate speech : ” Roman, thou shalt have no part in the mighty ordeal and shalt escape the awful threats of war ; and thou alone shalt stay at peace in a broad hollow of the Euboean coast.” Then Apollo closed up her throat and cut short her tale.”(12)Lukan: with an English Translation by J. D. Duff. The Civil War. Books I—X (Pharsalia) (Book V) London: William Heineman Ltd. 1962. Pg. 249Ff

Latin Translation

165 Pectore Cirrhaeo, non umquam plenior artus
Phoebados irrupit Paean: mentemque priorem
Expulit, atque hominem toto sibi cedere iussit
Pectore. Bacchatur demens aliena per antrum
170 Colla ferens, vittasque dei Phoebeaque serta
Erectis discussa comis, per inania templi
Ancipiti cervice rotat, spargitque vaganti
Obstantes tripodas, magnoque exaestuat igne,
Iratum te, Phoebe, ferens. . .
190 Spumea tunc primum rabies vesana per ora
Effluit, et gemitus, et anhelo clara meatu
Murmura: tunc moestus vastis ululatus in antris,
Extremaeque sonant, domita iam virgine, voces:
Effugis ingentes, tanti discriminis expers,
195 Bellorum, o Romane, minas: solusque quietem
Euboici vasta lateris convalle tenebis.
Caetera suppressit, faucesque obstruxit Apollo.(13)Pharsaliae Libri X. M. Annaeus Lucanus. Carolus Hermannus Weise. Leipzig. G. Bassus. 1835

Plutarch’s Moralia

Out of all the literature referring to the rites of the Delphic priestesses, Plutarch contains the most information. Plutarch was a biographer and writer who lived in the middle to late first century (46 – 120 AD). His work, Moralia explored the customs and lores of his time. His thirty-odd years as a priest at Delphi may be the reason why he covers the topic of Delphic priestesses so often.

A drawback to Plutarch’s Moralia is that it is a large composition that would be time consuming to do a comparative analysis. Fortunately, an old series of publications entitled, Moralia, in fifteen volumes, with an English translation are digitally searchable at This has immensely helped. A search in Volume 4 demonstrates that the office of the Delphic priestess was an important one in Greek society that required the prophetess to speak in direct terms. All the prophecies given were coherent and readily understood. There is no shadow of strange or incoherent language being spoken.

The Oracles at Delphi

Volume 5 continues with the same tone but gets far deeper. In Plutarch’s letter titled, The Oracles at Delphi, he writes that the prophecies given by the priestesses were done in prose and metre. He also believed it was done in a formal, eloquent style. Here are some quotes that demonstrate this.

“It is very pleasant to listen to such conversation as this, but I am constrained to claim the fulfilment of your first promise regarding the cause which has made the prophetic priestess cease to give her oracles in epic verse or in other metres.”(14) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 301

“those who do not believe that in his time the prophetic priestess used verse in her oracular responses. Afterwards, wishing to prove this, he has found to support his contention an altogether meagre number of such oracles, indication that the others were given out in prose, even as early as that time. Some of the oracles even to-day come out in metre…”(15) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 311

“Now we cherish the belief that the god, in giving indications to us, makes use of the calls of herons, wrens, and ravens ; but we do not insist that these, inasmuch as they are messengers and heralds of the gods, shall express everything rationally and clearly, and yet we insist that the voice and language of the prophetic priestess, like a choral song in the theatre, shall be presented, not without sweetness and embellishment, but also in verse of a grandiloquent and formal style with verbal metaphors and with a flute to accompany its delivery! What a statement, then, shall we make about the priestesses of former days?”(16) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 321

“And as for the language of the prophetic priestess, just as the mathematicians call the shortest of lines between two points a straight line, so her language makes no bend nor curve nor doubling nor equivocation, but is straight in relation to the truth…”(17) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 341

I don’t think it is even necessary to produce the Greek original text because Plutarch is very clear on how the prophecy was spoken. There is no ambiguity that it was clear, refined, and direct speech. But if some really want to read the Greek, a good start would be with a book called: Pythici dialogi tres.

On the Fame of the Athenians

Plutarch lifts a line from Aristophane’s comedy called, Frogs which does not relate to the christian doctrine of tongues, but since it has been included by at least one notable author, it will be examined.

Aristophanes is never easy to translate, but this piece, in reference to the tongues debate contains the important noun γλῶττα (a regional variant of γλῶσσα). This noun has remained hidden in the popular English translations of this text. The importance has not been left unchecked by at least one famous scholar by the name of Johannes Behm which will be shown shortly.

Ian Johnson has provided a more recent translation:

the ones who’ve never seen or danced
the noble Muses’ ritual songs,
or played their part in Bacchic rites
of bull-devouring Cratinus(18)

An old translation (but no citation) posted on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website has:

Who ne’er has the noble revelry learned, or danced the dance of the Muses high; or shared in the Bacchic rites which old bull-eating Cratinus’s words supply;(19)Classics MIT: The Frogs

A more literal translation is:

Whether the noble Muses’ ritual songs,
nor performed in the bacchic frenzy of Cratinus’ overpowering tongue,
neither has one seen nor danced

(20)My own translation

Overpowering may be a stretch here as it is interpreting the Greek ταυροφάγου γλώττης (bull-eating tongue) as an idiom rather than literally.

and for those interested in the Greek:

ἢ γενναίων ὄργια Μουσῶν μήτ᾽ εἶδεν μήτ᾽ ἐχόρευσεν,
μηδὲ Κρατίνου τοῦ ταυροφάγου γλώττης Βακχεῖ᾽ ἐτελέσθη,
(21)Aristophanes, Frogs as found at Perseus’ website.

These lines appear to have no relationship to the christian doctrine of tongues at all – and it really does not. However, the contributor to the tongues section of the popular and widely acclaimed Theological Dictionary of the New Testament cited it. The author of this work in TDNT, the highly controversial Johannes Behm,(22)accused and deposed from Academia for his Nazi collaboration during the Second World War partially used this to strengthen his definition that speaking in tongues was a syncretism with Hellenism.(23)Johannes Behm γλῶσσα, ἑτερόγλοσσος as found in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich eds. Trans. By Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. 1964

Behm cited the original Aristophanes text with only γλώττης βακχει which was too brief. This made it very difficult to locate the actual source to verify a correlation. This passage required some guesswork to find. The above was the closest representation found.


Strabo “(64 or 63 BC – c. 24 AD) was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.”(24) Strabo seems to retell the same story by that of Plutarch. The Delphic prophetesses would go into a trance and prophesy in verse. These words then would be recorded by the priests.

9.3.5 They say that the seat of the oracle is a cave that is hollowed out deep down in the earth, with a rather narrow mouth, from which arises breath that inspires a divine frenzy; and that over the mouth is placed a high tripod, mounting which the Pythian priestess receives the breath and then utters oracles in both verse and prose, though the latter too are put into verse by poets who are in the service of the temple. They say that the first to become Pythian priestess was Phemonoe; and that both the prophetess and the city were so called from the word pythésthai,” though the first syllable was lengthened, as in athanatos, akamatos, and diakonos.

Here is the Greek.

φασὶ δ᾽ εἶναι τὸ μαντεῖον ἄντρον κοῖλον κατὰ βάθους οὐ μάλα εὐρύστομον, ἀναφέρεσθαιδ᾽ ἐξ αὐτοῦ πνεῦμα ἐνθουσιαστικόν, ὑπερκεῖσθαι δὲ τοῦ στομίου τρίποδα ὑψηλόν, ἐφ᾽ ὃντὴν Πυθίαν ἀναβαίνουσαν δεχομένην τὸ πνεῦμα ἀποθεσπίζειν ἔμμετρά τε καὶ ἄμετρα:ἐντείνειν δὲ καὶ ταῦτα εἰς μέτρον ποιητάς τινας ὑπουργοῦντας τῷ ἱερῷ. πρώτην δὲΦημονόην γενέσθαι φασὶ Πυθίαν, κεκλῆσθαι δὲ καὶ τὴν προφῆτιν οὕτω καὶ τὴν πόλινἀπὸ τοῦ πυθέσθαι, ἐκτετάσθαι δὲ τὴν πρώτην συλλαβήν, ὡς ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀθανάτου καὶἀκαμάτου καὶ διακόνου.(25)Strabo. ed. A. Meineke, Geographica. Leipzig: Teubner. 1877.

Michael Psellos

An eleventh-century AD Christian by the name of Michael Psellos, a statesman and lover of literature who lived in Constantinople, unearths a different interpretation.

And seeing that from the work of Apollo: the prophetess, by the mouth, the word follows, she became overcome around the tripod, she was pronouncing on the one hand to the Persians, and on the other to the Assyrians, and the Phoenicians — all according to metre and also rhythm which she had not known with beautiful language which she not had learned.

Psellos wrote that the Pythian prophetess was miraculously speaking in foreign languages. This is not consistent with any other interpretation. Psellos loved to play with ancient classical literature to parade his literary genius, but this doesn’t explain why he would do this. However, he felt that this was not the same phenomena as the christian rite of tongues. He believed the Apostles controlled what they spoke and were personally engaged. The Pythian priestess was out of her senses when she spoke.

This is an odd addition that needs more scrutiny, but it does not lead into the direction of glossolalia.

The Greek, English translation, and analysis can be found at Psellos on the Christian Doctrine of Tongues.

Rohde’s Psyche: The Cult of Souls

Erwin Rhode’s work, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks, stands above any other work in its genre. He covers the ancient Greek religion in such vivid detail and clarity.

Although his work is a little over one hundred years old, it has withstood the test of time. It is not a widely known work outside of scholastic circles, but it deserves public praise.

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature: Fourth Revised cites Rohde to assert: “There is no doubt about the thing referred to, namely the broken speech of persons in religious ecstasy. The phenomenon, as found in Hellenistic religion, is described esp. by ERohde.”(26)Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian lterature: Fourth Revised. Translated by F.W. Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1979. Pg. 162 However, a closer analysis of the page numbers (289-293) cited in Rohde’s work does not validate such. There is no such connection or any concrete evidence for glossolalia. The closest reference found was this; “ In hoarse tones and wild words, the Sibyl gave utterance to what the divine impelling power within her and not her own arbitrary fancy suggested ; possessed by the god, she spoke in a divine distraction.”(27)Erwin Rohde Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks, Books for Libraries Press 1972 edition, reprinted from the English translation of 1920. W.B. Hillis translator. Pg. 293 One has to be cautious with Rohde because he is writing with a narrative style and may have been too descriptive. He nowhere substantiates such a claim from authorities such as Herodotus, Plutarch or anyone else that the Sibyl did such types of discourse.


The works examined so far demonstrate there is no vital connection between the ancient Greek prophetesses and speaking in tongues. These stories definitely lack any features of glossolalia. The actual accounts from Lukan, Plutarch, Virgil, Plato, Strabo, Herodotus and Michael Psellos show no correlation at all. It would take a large leap to connect these two disparate genres together.

Perhaps I have missed something in this argument because of my lack of proficiency in the German language which most of the original discussions are found. Even so, this conclusion lines up with Christopher Forbes who is a “is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History, and Deputy Chairman of the Society for the Study of Early Christianity,”(28) at Maquarie University in Australia. He wrote a dissertation on this subject and converted it into a book called, Prophecy and Inspired Speech: In Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment. In it he stated:

The obscurity of Delphic utterances is not a matter of linguistic unintelligibility at all. It is simply that some such oracles were formulated, at the level of literary allusion and metaphor, in obscure, cryptic and enigmatic terms. They were, in a word, oracular.(29)Christopher Forbes. Prophecy and Inspired Speech: In Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1997. Pg. 109

There is a potential parallel between the ancient Greek prophetesses and the Old Testament seers in their role and function in society. The prophetic dimension is an interesting set of readings. A comparative work between ancient Israel’s and Greece’s prophetic office is a worthy topic on its own but it does not fit into the tongues paradigm.

For more information:



Charles Sullivan is a researcher and writer on topics of textual criticism, linguistics, theology, Christian mysticism and philosophy. He also frequently likes to delve into contemporary social and ethical issues from a faith perspective.

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