A history of speaking, interpreting, and reading from 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. in Judaism and early Christianity.
An interactive infographic to help you navigate Paul’s world and how these offices later evolved in the Christian Church. Clicking on the image will bring you to the full interactive site.
Paul’s mention of speaking in tongues in I Corinthians is deeply wrapped in the Jewish identity. The same goes for his understanding of speaking, reading, and interpreting of tongues. These rites have a rich history that goes well over 800 years. The initial origins are deeply connected to the times of Ezra.
The customs of speaking, interpreting, and public reading are deeply embedded in Jewish tradition and inherited by the early church. Paul, if he was alive today, would be surprised at how the modern interpretations are so different than his intentions.
A look at the problem tongues of Corinth being an internal linguistic struggle between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.
This is part 2 of an 7 part series on the mystery tongues of Corinth. Part 1, The Role of Hebrew in the Jewish Aramaic World, covered how Hebrew became the language of religion and worship in Aramaic Judaism. The precedence about Hebrew established here transferred over to Jews living in a Greek world.
When you add that the ancient synagogue liturgy of Hebrew as the language of instruction was adopted in the Corinthian assembly, then we are getting close to finding a good answer to the question of Corinthian tongues.
This conclusion is greatly strengthened by a fourth-century church father by the name of Epiphanius. He did not stop at explaining the tongues of Corinth as being a problem of Hebrew instruction. He further commented it was a linguistic conflict between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.
The influence of Aramaic and Hebrew on Jewish life around the first-century.
The goal of any information gleaned from this inquiry is to find a possible connection with Hebrew being a part of the first-century Corinthian liturgy. A subsequent purpose is to confirm or deny an assertion by the fourth-century Bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, that the mystery tongues of Corinth had its roots in the Hebrew language.
We cannot assume any synagogue outside of Israel, let alone Corinth, used the Hebrew language as part of their religious service. So, it requires digging deeper into the relationship between Hebrew and Aramaic to find answers.
The following is a journey into identifying speaking in tongues through Hebrew and Greek Jewish traditions.
This is an introduction to a series of articles devoted to this subject.
Researching Jewish traditions about speakers and interpreters has uncovered two very important customs that are so close to Paul’s narrative that it would be hard to call them accidental parallels. The first solution relates to the reading out loud of Scripture in Hebrew with an immediate translation in the local vernacular. The second one is the custom of instructing in Hebrew and providing a translation into the local language.
There is also a third alternative: the use of Aramaic as the principal language of conflict in Corinth. This could be a solution if more information comes forward. For the time being it will be relegated a distant third option and only small snippets of this subject will be addressed. The majority of this series will be devoted to the first two concepts.
These first two options have existed all along but few have paid attention to them in the Christian community. This Jewish-centric approach has been minimized for two reasons: antisemitism and ignorance of Jewish literature in both Catholic and Protestant communities, and the hyper-emphasis on the Greek and Latin cultures to exclusivity by rationalist scholars in the 1800s.
The option of instructing in Hebrew with a translation into the local language best fits the Corinthian narrative. However, the rite of public reading in Hebrew with an immediate translation into the local language does have some strengths that cannot be discounted. The solution could even be a mixture of the two.
A 3000-year general history on the Book of Psalms numbering and divisional systems.
The structural development of the Book of Psalms has an interesting and complex history.
The results are the examination of documents spanning a 3000 year time period. The reader will be journeying through Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin and English texts. Don’t worry. You don’t need to know the languages itself to join in this expedition. This work is designed for both the researcher and the passionate lay reader. Many pictures will be provided that will assist. One can marvel at the beauty of the handwritten text without understanding it.
The findings show that the Psalms began as an unordered list with no assigned numbers. The arrival of the Greek translation called the Septuagint brought about a numbering scheme for the Book of Psalms. The Septuagint also limited to the Book of Psalms to 151 poems, though this was not adhered to by other traditions which went up to 155. Verses were not introduced until much later. Verses were covered in a previous article titled, A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible.
As demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the order of the poems in the Book of Psalms was not established in the early centuries. This happened after the widespread acceptance of the Septuagint later on.
The Septuagint assignments of numbers and order were assumed by the Latin translators, which in turn had an influence on the English Bible tradition.
The headers introducing most of the Psalms are the most controversial and misunderstood. In regards to the headers only, we are not so sure today on the meaning behind the original Hebrew or even the Greek translation. This has led to a multitude of interpretations even within the English Bible translation tradition.
These are mere generalities and the readers of this blog prefer details and substantiation. The following is how the above conclusions were arrived at.
A summary of the Gift of Tongues Project in three parts.
The following are the results of a detailed study of the doctrine of tongues from inception until 1922. The results are drawn from the Gift of Tongues Project which had a fourfold purpose to:
uncover new or forgotten ancient literature on the subject
provide the original source texts in digital format
translate the texts into English and add some commentary
to trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.
The actual results can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project. Most readers have found the actual Project source texts, principally in Greek and Latin, along with the analysis too complex and desire to read a shortened version. This series of summaries is concerned with the big picture on how the doctrine of tongues was transmitted through the centuries, not the details.
The reader must understand that this doctrine has never been static and has been evolving. This aspect will be amply demonstrated.
People will always be inspired by the pentecostal narrative described in the Book of Acts and the mysterious tongues found later on in the New Testament epistle called I Corinthians. Those accounts have propelled many ardent students of the Bible and the christian faith to reproduce this phenomenon in their lives. The passion for a new Pentecost has cycled for twenty-one-centuries. How communities and persons perceived, practised and passed-on the right throughout these centuries is the goal of this study.
The christian rite of speaking in tongues has been controversial, especially over the last one-hundred years. Speaking in tongues is a practice expressed by Renewalists. Renewalism is the fastest growing christian faith in the world. Many have tried to explain this rite through experiential and psychological terms, but few have attempted an extensive study through historical literature.
This summary fills in the blanks of the historical record that have, up until now, been neglected.
This work is broken up into a three part series. Part 1 traces the evolution of Pentecost from the first to seventeenth-centuries which is inclusive of catholic perceptions. Part 2 focuses on the protestant perceptions which has three distinct doctrinal frameworks. Part 3 is an in-depth look into the Corinthian tongues saga.
Table of Contents
What is speaking in tongues today?
The absence of historical literature in the modern tongues debate
The start and later acceleration of the Gift of Tongues Project
Glôssa better translated as language rather than tongue
A pictorial overview on the catholic history of speaking in tongues.
The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
The connection between Babel and Pentecost
Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon
Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to sixteenth-centuries
Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues
Part 2: A protestant history of speaking in tongues (in development)
Part 3: The corinthians tongue saga (in development)
This summary is the result of the Gift of Tongues Project which is designed for the advanced researcher. The Gift of Tongues Project has attempted to identify, collate and digitize the source texts in the original Greek, Latin, with some Syriac, French and a sprinkling of a few other languages. English translations have been provided with almost every text, along with my own analysis. The Gift of Tongues Project differentiates itself from others because the source texts available on the website allow for you to research and draw your own conclusions. All the legwork is already done. All one has to do now is read instead of the time consuming and never ending task of finding the source files. Better yet, the majority is digitally searchable.
Speaking in tongues owes its heritage to a book of the Bible called the Book of Acts. This book was written by a first-century christian follower and a physician named Luke. He only wrote 206 words1 to describe the formative event called Pentecost. Pentecost established the foundations for Messianic Judaism and its universal message. This event was described as the Holy Spirit arriving and causing the apostles and 120 others to instantly preach in diverse foreign languages that they did not previously study or know. This explanation is the standard one to help the reader to get started on the subject. The summary will proceed to demonstrate there are many alternative viewpoints.
Perhaps one could argue 800 words when you throw in the defense of the experience by Peter in Acts chapter 2 and the three other instances throughout the Book of Acts. Perhaps Paul could be credited with writing about Pentecost if his coverage in his first letter to the Corinthians contains a parallel, though Part III will show these are not connected. Why all the fuss over 206 words? If it was so important, why didn’t Luke go into much greater detail? This would have spared the modern day reader such a confusion. The clarification is going to take over 10,000 words and the parsing through a magnitude of documents found throughout the centuries to explain those few written words two thousand years ago.
Luke is vague on the actual mechanics and certainly short on details. This leaves his Pentecost and subsequent tongues narratives with many unanswered questions; did every inspired person speak in a single different language and together they were speaking the languages of all the nations? Was it one sound emanating and changed during transmission so that the hearers heard their own language? If it was a miracle of hearing, what was that sound? Were the people conscious of what they were saying or were they completely overtaken by a divine power and had no comprehension about what they were speaking? Was it a heavenly, non-human or prayer language? Did this miracle continue after the first-century? How did this tongues-event get passed down to the next generation? Did it become part of the church liturgy?
The various source manuscripts on the Book of Acts available today do not have any variance that brings about new clues. This necessitates digging deeper into other records.
The Gift of Tongues Project and this summary believe that Pentecostals and Charismatics have brought positive contributions to the greater society, and have made the world a better place. The purpose of this examination is not to attack or denigrate their character. The goal is simply to find the truth of the matter. Nothing more.
As a person who attends a charismatic church and involved in these type of communities for decades, I wanted the results to parallel their experiences. Unfortunately, the findings did not allow for this. Everyone who approaches the 2000 year narrative on speaking in tongues has to allow history to speak for itself – not to rewrite history to justify contemporary experience.
In comparison to the detailed articles posted within the Gift of Tongues Project, few footnotes will be given here, and some ancient authors and minor movements will be ignored. One can find substantiation at the Gift of Tongues Project webpage. Links to the Gift of Tongues Project pages will be highlighted throughout. The results are subject to change as new information comes forward.
This work traces the perception of tongues speaking through the centuries. Perception is not necessarily reality. On many occasions, the work will reference the perception with no remarks about the integrity of the event or person. This is up to the reader to decide.
What is speaking in tongues today?
Speaking in tongues is an inherent part of the present pentecostal and charismatic identities. This practice is one of the key features that distinguish them apart from other christian movements.
How popular is speaking in tongues? A Pew Forum study has concluded one-quarter of all Christians are Renewalist Christians – a term given for those who emphasize miracles, supernatural occurrences, and oftentimes speaking in tongues within the Christian’s everyday life. Really, it is an umbrella term for Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third-Wavers and those who remain in mainstream denominations influenced by Pentecostals and Charismatics. There are an estimated 584 million Renewalists in the world. Perhaps even more. 2 This does not mean all those defined as Renewalists emphasize this doctrine and practice it. The same Pew study further demonstrates that no more than 53% of Renewalists speak in tongues in any country they examined. In most instances, it is less.3 My conservative estimate tallies about 150 million people consistently practising the christian rite of speaking in tongues throughout the world.
The Renewalist faith, with its emphasis on holiness, mysticism, independence, and easy adaptability to different cultures, is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world. Their christian mystic framework along with its distinctive theology of speaking in tongues makes a historical study imperative.
What do Renewalists presently believe speaking in tongues to be? There is a general agreement that speaking in tongues is a supernatural phenomenon — one that cannot be measured or defined by science. Some Renewalists call it a heavenly language that only the individual, God, and a special interpreter understands. Others say it is a private prayer language or a form of exalted worship. There are those who just shrug their shoulders and say it is simply a God thing that defies explanation. A handful may say speaking in tongues is the spontaneous ability to speak a foreign language. Most Renewalists believe that speaking in tongues is a deliberate outcome of a controlled mind – in other words, they are not crazies or kooks whose erratic behavior is in an uncontrolled hallucinatory state. They are regular people like the helpful neighbor across the street, the taxi driver, teacher, dentist, nurse, plumber, politician, lawyer or construction worker. Renewalists are found in all walks of life.
A good example of a Renewalist speaking in tongues is found in this video clip of the late Kenneth Hagin. He was a highly respected and influential pentecostal preacher in the mid-1900s.
Hagin appears as an elder statesman. He has a father like persona that the people in the audience are attracted to and appreciate. The young lady who is a distance behind Hagin in the video approves his message with an accepting smile. About four minutes into the video, he utters, “Memen hatsu toro menge kanga deging bango ondu konste fre peffe hemo outse,” and then begins to laugh. The laughter implies an overabundance of a spiritual force that overwhelms the senses, forcing the speaker into an uncontrolled fit. The audience cheered Hagin for more.
This is a typical example, though speaking in tongues is not always done in a Sunday service. It is practised more frequently in weekday services, prayer sessions, pastoral settings, and special events.
A more contemporary example is Reinhard Bonnke. Bonnke is a German-born evangelist whose work in Africa, especially Nigeria has earned him the rank of one the top preachers of all time in respect to audience reach. The example here is his public speaking in tongues at a large indoor gathering somewhere in Asia. His Christ for the Nations website claims over 55 million documented decisions for Christ under his ministry.
Bonnke’s demonstration is not as obvious as Hagin’s. He mixes regular language and charismatic, excitable speech between short outbursts of tongues-speech. The audience is energized but not surprised by this presentation. This is quite common in renewalist circles.
The absence of historical literature in the modern tongues debate.
After an exhaustive approach of locating, digitizing, translating and analyzing two-thousand years worth of texts, the results of the Gift of Tongues Project has found one of the main challenges to solving this debate is overcoming the embedded ignorance of history.
This finding was not anticipated at the start. The Project assumed at the beginning there was little christian literature throughout the centuries to build a case. Rather, there is a substantial corpus of ancient christian literature on the subject. The discovery about the abundance on the subject has created two rival stories. The first allows the building of a compelling narrative on the doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries. The second is the narrative about the ignorance of christian literature over the last two centuries and how it has contributed to the modern definition. Both play an important story in the modern definition and I am not sure which one is more important. They share a complex interplay that is difficult to untangle.
The start and later acceleration of the Gift of Tongues Project.
The Project was started in the 1980s, but little was done until the early 2000s. The initial goal was to parse through the collection of church writings found in the massive Migne Patrologia Graeca series and its Latin counterpart, Migne Patrologia Latina. There is no digital version of MPG available, so a page-by-page visual scan was required. This was a very time-consuming process – especially with over 135 volumes averaging 1200 pages each. This was a long process.
Thankfully the internet age came along. Museums and other institutions have posted many manuscripts online. Better manuscripts are now available than the ones found in MPG. The ability to do digital searches with Google’s search engine reveals even more texts. The Gift of Tongues Project is one of the direct benefactors of the digitization of libraries, museums, and institutions.
Glôssa better translated as language rather than tongue
Glôssa (γλῶσσα) is the pivotal key word for the doctrine of tongues in the original Greek text. This word is the central theme found in Paul’s address to the Corinthians and Luke’s description of the first Pentecost. This noun is further used by later Greek ecclesiasts and authors on the subject.
The challenge is how a contemporary researcher is to translate this word without a modern bias.
When the Greek keyword appears, or if it is found in a Latin text, which is lingua, my mind always wants to automatically translate it as tongue.
The word tongues, which is seldom used in our modern language to specifically mean a modern, regular or contemporary language, is usually understood to be something out-of-this-world, unusual or even weird. Sometimes it is used a synonym to language, but rarely in contemporary literature is it a predominant descriptor.
As I have worked over both Greek and Latin Patristic texts, from the likes of Greek writers such as Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius, John of Damascus etc., to the Latin writers of Augustine, the Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, the Ambrosiaster authors, and many more, they do not contain references to the gift being a strange, mystical or heavenly language that needs a new definition. It simply means a human language to them. To advance such a thought that it was different from a human language, they would have had to take extra steps to make it distinct. They never did.
Secondly, one must keep in mind that the noun language was the dominant English word used to translate glôssa/γλῶσσα before the introduction of the Geneva Bible in 1534.
It would not be fair to translate the church fathers on the subject using tongues instead of languages. It significantly changes the nuance of the text when it is done.
One could argue that I am forcing my own interpretation on the text. However, it is believed that language is more accurate to what the writers meant.
This changes things considerably, instead of Acts 2:4 reading as other tongues the proper reading is other languages. The other tongues creates ambiguities that never existed in the Greek. Other languages immediately starts to clarify a difficult subject.
Now that the introductory remarks have been covered, it is time to get into the narrative itself.
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
Virgil in The Aeneid
Lukan’s The Civil War
Rohde’s Psyche: Cult of Souls
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.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 verse2 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.
“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
“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 any7
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
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
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 fates11 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
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
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 archive.org. 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
“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
“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
“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
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 Cratinus18
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 partially used this to strengthen his definition that speaking in tongues was a syncretism with Hellenism.23
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.
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.
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 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 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
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.
English translations of Gregory of Nyssa’s references to speaking in tongues.
Oratio de Spiritu Sancto sive in Pentecosten
I could not find an English translation of this text, so I took the time to provide one. The following is a passage from Gregory of Nyssa’s Oratio de Spiritu Sancto sive in Pentecosten. This portion directly reflects Gregory of Nyssa’s perspective on speaking in tongues.
Translation by Charles A. Sullivan based on the text found in Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 46. Col. 695ff.
For today is a sign in reference to the annual time of the year of 50 days being complete. Seeing that, in respect to the actual hour, we are upon the third hour of the day, the event of grace happened that is beyond words. For the Holy Spirit mingled again with men, the very thing which previously because of man begotten as flesh, ceased to be among our nature. And because of the violence of this wind, then the spiritual powers of evil and of all the dirty demons have been driven out from the air by the descent of the Holy Spirit — those who remained in the upper room were begotten with fillings of divine power in the form of fire. For no person otherwise has the ability to have begotten a share of the Holy Spirit nor those dwelling of this life in the upper room. How great are these people upwardly comprehending things, the citizens being inhabitants of the high room are transforming their citizenship from earth to heaven — they are coming into an alliance with the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the narrative of the Book of Acts says that while these people are gathered in the upper room, is the dividing up in each one the pure and supernatural fire in the form of languages according to the number of disciples.
So then these people are thus discoursing in Parthian, Mede, and Elamite in the other remaining nations, adapting their voices with respect to authority to every state language. Even as the Apostle says, “I wish five words to speak with my mind in the Church in order that I may benefit others than a thousand words in a tongue.” Truly at that time the benefit was the same language begotten into foreign languages so that the preaching to those ignorant of the truth would not be in vain when those preaching thwart them by a single voice. Now indeed while existing according to the same sounding language, it is necessary to seek after the fiery tongue of the Spirit for the illumination of those who dwell in darkness through error.
Gregory of Nyssa’s treatise on divine and human languages along with some snippets to Pentecost can be found in his work Contra Eunomium. This translation is available at Gregory of Nyssa: Against Eunomium from a Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. second series. Volume 5. Philip Schaff, Henry Wace, ed. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1892. Pg. 275ff.
The Latin translation from the Greek text of Gregorii Nysseni, Oratio de Spiritu Sancto Sive in Pentecosten.
As found in Migne Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 46. Col. 697 – 699
Hodie enim transactas, juxta annui orbis stata tempora, quinquaginta a Paschatis festivate diebus, hac ipsa, tertia scilicet diei hora, donum illud hominibus largitus est Deus, quod omnem dicendi vim superat. Rursus enim homini admistus est ille Spiritus, qui antea, propterea, quod homo esset caro, a natura nostra recesserat, et spiritualibus nequitiae potestatibus per vehementem illum spiritum disjectis, cunctisque foedis daemonibus ejusdem adventu ex aere expulsis, divina virtute, speciem ignis prae se ferente, repleti sunt, qui in superiore domus parte degebant ; neque enim fieri potest, ut quis sancti Spiritus particeps fiat, nisi in sublimiori hujus vitae instituto versetur. Nam qui ea, quae sursum sunt, sapiunt, et vitae conversatione, e terra in coelum translata, in coenaculo sublimis illius vitae rationis habitant, hi sancti Spiritus participes fiunt. Congregatis enim in coenaculo discipulis, ut in Actuum apostolorum historia narratur, ignis ille divinus omnisque materiei expers, ad linguarum instar, pro eorumdem discipulorum numero, divisus est. Illi ergo Parthos, Medos, et Elamitas, ac reliquas gentes alloquebantur, ad quarumlibet earum linguas voces suas pro libitu accommodantes. At ego, ut inquit Apostolus, malo, sensu meo quinque verba loqui in Ecclesia, ut aliis etiam prosim, quam decem millia verborum in lingua. Verum tunc quidem multum profuit, apostolorum vocem aliarum gentium linguis aptari, ne praeconum linguam ignorantibus Evangelii promulgatio incassum fieret; nunc autem quoniam una eademque lingna1 utimur, igneam debemus Spiritus linguam exquirere, qua eos qui per errorem in tenebris versantur, illuminemus.
Gregorius Nyssenus Theol., Contra Eunomium
The portion relating to the confusion of tongues at Babel, the nature of human and divine speech, and slight reference pentecostal speaking in tongues.
The original text can be found in two locations:
Thesaurus Linguae Graecae: Gregorius Nyssenus Theol., Contra Eunomian (2017.030) Book 2, Chapter 1 [247ff] – as taken from W. Jaeger, Gregorii Nysseni opera, vols. 1.1 & 2.2. Leiden: Brill, 1960.
Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 46. Lib. XII Col. 993ff. A pdf of the relative pages are provided here. [pdf-embedder url=”https://charlesasullivan.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/MPGVol45Col993ff.pdf” title=”mpgvol45col993ff”]
An English translation can be found at Gregory of Nyssa: Against Eunomium from a Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. second series. Volume 5. Philip Schaff, Henry Wace, ed. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1892. Pg. 275ff
A book which attempts and succeeds at helping novice to advanced Greek New Testament students improve their reading and textual critical skills.
I John : A General Reader, edited by J. Klay Harrison and Chad M. Foster, aims to target those finished with the basics of New Testament Greek and want to advance their skills — an area that is greatly lacking in resources and may be the source of why so many abandon Greek studies. I have been feeling that the whole realm of ancient Greek studies is in a woefully neglected state, greatly due to lack of demand and also that its methodology, and outdated teaching manuals, are putting it into the realm of obscurity and eccentrics. Then this comes across my desk and gives hope, opening the door for more to successfully study this genre. This is a good sign and a start of new things to come.
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It is clear that I John: A General Reader achieves this objective for mid-level students. It gives the necessary tools for the novice to make the jump into reading, understanding, and comprehending. It also sets the student up in working in the important realm of textual criticism. Textual criticism is not a bad word here. It merely is educating the student on an age-old system of notation which is a quick way of demonstrating differences in the Greek texts. The notation system seems a bit overwhelming at first but the book significantly helps develop awareness in this important aspect. It helps save a lot time in that you don’t have to go the manuscripts themselves to find these differences, they are already found for you, and you can make translation decisions in seconds rather than hours. It also help avoid having to read the many different Greek print styles, especially the handwritten ones – deciphering Greek calligraphy is a skill in itself, and is often a difficult process.
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The General Reader can be used in a classroom, or as a self-study tool. This is a must-have for those wishing to critically read 1-3 John in the original Greek. What would take the regular Greek reader hours in learning new vocabulary, analysis of variant textual manuscripts, grammar, and various textual problems, is reduced to a matter of minutes, if not seconds, by using this book. It is evident that lots of hard work and thought were put into this General Reader.
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