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A Jewish-Greek Perspective on the Tongues of Corinth

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.

Continue reading A Jewish-Greek Perspective on the Tongues of Corinth

Pachomius on Speaking in Tongues

Pachomius receiving the gift of tongues

The alleged fourth century account of Pachomius speaking in tongues is an important document in the tongues debate. It distinguishes itself as one of the few, if any, personal experiences of tongues speaking within the realm of ecclesiastical literature. The many other remaining accounts are theological assertions.

This distinct characteristic makes the Pachomian text a very important study, and requires serious further investigation.

Pachomius was a fourth century Egyptian Christian who was influential in establishment of the christian cenobite movement — a tradition that stressed communal rather than isolated personal monastic living. This system of religious living became the example for later monastic movements.

A short literary analysis clearly demonstrates that the author(s)/editors of this work, believed this gift to be the supernatural endowment of foreign languages. There was no other allusion to anything else.

The complete English translation of this text can be found at Pachomius Receiving the Gift of Tongues in English and Greek.

There are still some questions from a technical perspective that need to be answered, such as did Pachomius hear and speak in one sound, or in many languages. Was this a temporary or permanent gift for Pachomius? What words were used in the Greek and Syriac that relates to tongues? Were these consistent with the ancient usage or are there new words added to the tongues vocabulary?

One voice, many sounds? Or did he speak in all languages sequentially?

He prayed for three hours, entreating God earnestly for this. Suddenly something like a letter written on a piece of papyrus was sent from heaven into his right hand. Reading it, he learned the speech of all the languages. Having sent up praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, he came back to that brother with great joy, and began to converse with him faultlessly in Greek and Latin.1

The answer is neither. The text indicates that he had the understanding of all languages and could choose whichever language was most convenient at that moment.

Was this a temporary or permanent endowment?

There is no explanation here on whether it was temporary or permanent. However, the authors/editors of this work wrote about Pachomius in heightened mythical proportions. They would no doubt believe that Pachomius would have the ability when required.

The keywords

The Greek text contains the typical keywords in the Christian tongues doctrine, plus a new one:

  • τὴν ἑλληνικὴν γλῶτταν. –The Greek Language. Γλῶτταν is found in the writings of Chrysostom and other eastern writers. Lidell and Scott name γλῶτταν as the Attic alternative to γλῶσσα. This is the only occasion it is used in the text, whereas γλῶσσα is used afterwards. Why? It may be that it was a fixed idiom that grammatically forced Greek writers of any subdialect to conform to. One was to properly write it as τὴν ἑλληνικὴν γλῶτταν and not τὴν ἑλληνικὴν γλῶσσαν.

  • τὰς γλώσσας τῶν ἀνθρώπων –the languages of men. The Pachomius’ text clearly defines the gift of tongues as human language.

  • εἰδέναι με τὴν ὁμιλίαν αὐτῶν –that I may know their languages. Ὁμιλίαν is not used in the Greek New Testament in reference to the tongues doctrine. This Greek word is the basis for what is now known in English as homily. It could be understood here that the emphasis is not so much on the language itself, but an organized speech, instruction, or lecture.2. However, the Syriac has ܕܐܸܕܲܥ ܡܿܲܡܠܲܠܗܘܿܢ –that I may know their speaking which attests to the fact that the word homily had yet to mean instruction or lecture at this timeframe. Language or vernacular is a better English equivalent in this context.

  • ἔμαθεν πασῶν τῶν γλωσσῶν τὰς λαλιάς –he learned the speech of all the languages. Λαλιάς means speech, conversation, loquacity, talk or chat.3 and is used in the plural here. It literally translates as he learned the speeches of all their languages. However speeches is awkward. The singular works better in English and still conveys the thought properly. The root of this form is part of the modern term glossolalia but it does not convey this sense here.

  • καὶ ἤρξατο αὐτῷ διαλέγεσθαι –and he began to converse with him. Nothing surprising or unusual here. Alternatively it could read, and he began to speak with him.

  • εἰς τὴν διάλεκτον –in that language. Διάλεκτον is a synonym to γλῶσσα with a slight more emphasis on speech, than language, but the distinction between the two is so fine, there is no cause to dispute between the two.

The miracle of speaking in Greek and Latin

Greek was the international vernacular which was slowly being supplanted by Latin. Pachomius’ ability to speak in these two languages was symbolic of the Christian faith being established for all the nations. It was an international religion.

Literary Fiction, Legend, or Reality?

The life of Pachomius is full of magic, miracle, and mysticism. It does not reflect a typical written legacy of Patristic literature of the fourth century. It does blend in better within the seventh century and forward where the emphasis on magic and miracle were much more prominent. One of the parallels is the Venerable Bede’s account of St. Aidan. My first initial thought about this text concluded that it was the legend of Pachomius added three hundred or so years later. The Catholic Encyclopedia has noted that at least one major scholar has concluded this, but others have found this document of historic value, and deny such a claim. Regardless of whether it is the legend or accurate portrayal of Pachomius, the text on him speaking in tongues has historic and didactic value in tracing the Christian doctrine of tongues evolving from inception until this time.

The Source Texts

The actual Greek and Syriac texts with an English translation can be found at charlesasullivan.com:

It is speculated that the original work referring to Pachomius speaking in tongues was in Greek, though there have been arguments for the Latin, and lesser, that of Coptic. There is an old Latin text published by Rufinus that is available in Migne Patrologia Graeca Volume 34, but it does not contain the Pachomius tongues speaking sequence.

Specialists in this field have been attempting to reconstruct a source text of the Lausaic History along with its appendages, but there is no uniformity on this. For more information see Dom Cutler Butler’s, The Lausiac History of Palladius.

The Greek text presented on this site, and used as the basis for the English translation is from Francisci Halkin’s Sancti Pachomi Vitae Graecae. This edition is based on “XI,9 of the Biblioteca Laurentiana of Florence (Ms. F.) which was copied in 1021 in the monastery of Apiro in Southern Italy.”4

The Syriac text is found in “The Book of Paradise: Being the Histories and Sayings of the Monks and Ascetics of the Egyptian Desert” which was published and translated by E.A. Wallis Budge. Budge gives an unclear account of the original manuscript he worked from. He explained that he was shown a Syriac text by the Vicar of the Chaldean Patriarch, which, for political and religious reasons, could not be purchased or borrowed. He secured to have the text hand copied. The hand-copied edition is dated around 1890, while the original is estimated to be twelfth to fourteenth century.5 It is not exactly known which original manuscript Budge was referring to. One suggestion has it as Moṣul MS 956 There are other editions available, such as:

  • London, British Library, Add 17175
  • London, British Library, Ms Or. 2311
  • Rome, Vatican Syriac Mss 372 – 377: A copy of the Paradise dated AD 1223 can be found spread over 6 Vatican Syriac Mss; 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 377
  • London, British Library, Add 17264
  • London, British Library, Add 172637

These manuscripts have yet to be consulted and compared.

The Syriac text was originally translated from the Greek by a Syriac Monk named Anan-Isho in the later half of the seventh century. There have been arguments that this text has further interpolations than the original, but in the case of the Pachomius receiving the gift of tongues text, there is little difference between the Greek and Syriac.

The section relating to Pachomius receiving the gift of tongues is not considered a part of Palladius’ original work. Dom Cuthbert Butler attributes this specific text and the text that surrounds it are “those of Mark, Eulogius, Adolius, Moses the Indian, Pior, Moses the Libyan, Evagrius, and the Brother who lived with him.”8

It can be generally established that the text of Pachomius receiving the gift of tongues reflects an Egyptian Christian perception anywhere from the fourth to seventh centuries.

Pachomius Receiving the Gift of Tongues in English and Greek

The following is a translation from Greek on Pachomius receiving the gift of tongues. The actual Greek copy is found below the English translation.

Pachomius on the Gift of Tongues which he received

English Translation

As found in: Pachomian Koinonia. Cistercian Studies: Number 46. Volume 2. Translated by Arnand Veilleux. Kalamazoo, Michigan. Cistercian Publications Inc. Pg. 51-52.

About the Roman [brother].

It happened also that the Blessed Man was visiting the brothers in their cells and correcting the thoughts of each one. He came also to a certain Roman [brother], coming from a great family, who also knew the Greek language well. the Great Man, coming to him to admonish him for his profit and to know the movement of his heart, spoke to him in Egyptian. The brother did not understand what he told him; nor did the Great Man know what the Roman [brother] said, because he did not know Greek. So the Great Man was compelled to call a brother who could interpret what they both said. But when the interpreter came, The Roman [brother] did not want to tell the Great Man the faults of his heart through another person. He said, ‘I want only you after God, and nobody else, to know the evils of my heart’. Hearing this, the Great Man ordered the interpreter to withdraw and he made a sign with his hand to the Roman [brother] to wait until he came back to him.

The Blessed Man left him and went to pray by himself. Stretching out his hands to heaven, he prayed to God, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if I cannot profit the men whom you send to me from the ends of the earth because I do not know the languages of men, what need is there for them to come? If you want to save them here through me, grant, O Master, that I may know their languages for the correction of their souls.’

He prayed for three hours, entreating God earnestly for this. Suddenly something like a letter written on a piece of papyrus was sent from heaven into his right hand. Reading it, he learned the speech of all the languages. Having sent up praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, he came back to that brother with great joy, and began to converse with him faultlessly in Greek and Latin. When that brother heard it, he said that the Great Man surpassed all the scholars in that language. After correcting the brother as was required, and determining the penance corresponding to his faults, he commended him to the Lord and left him.

Original Greek Text

As found in: Sancti Pachomii Vitae Graecae. Subsidia Hagiographica 19. Francisici Halkin S.I. ed. Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes. 1932. Pg. 154-155.

Περὶ τοῦ ῾Ρωμαίου.

Ἐγένετο δὲ πάλιν τὸν μακάριον ἐν τοῖς κελλίοις ἐπισκεπτόμενον τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ ἐπανορθούμενον ἑκάστου τὰ νοήματα παραβαλεῖν καὶ πρὸς ῾Ρωμαῖόν τινα ἀπὸ μεγάλου ἀξιώματος τυγχάνοντα, εἰδοτα καὶ τὴν ἑλληνικὴν γλῶτταν καλῶς. Ἐλθὼν οὖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ μέγας ἐπὶ τὸ νουθετῆσαι αὐτὸν πρὸς ὠφέλειαν καὶ γνῶναι αὐτοῦ τῆς καρδίας τὰ κινήματα, αἰγυπτιστὶ ἐλάλει αὐτῷ ὁ μέγας• οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν δὲ ὁ ἀδελφὸς τί ἐλάλει αὐτῷ• οὐδὲ ὁ μέγας ᾔδει τί ἔλεγεν ὁ ῾Ρωμαῖος, διὰ τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι ἑλληνιστί τὸν μακάριον. Ἠναγκάσθη οὔν ὁ μέγας καλέσαι ἀδελφὸν τὸν δυνάμενον ἑρμηνεῦσαι τὰ παρ᾽ἀμφοτέρων λεγόμενα. Ἐλθόντος δὲ τοῦ ἑρμηνέως, οὐκ ἠβούλετο ὁ ᾽Ρωμαῖος τὰ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ πλημμελήματα δι᾽ἑτέρου εἰπεῖν τῷ μεγάλῳ• καὶ λέγει οὔτως• « Σὲ μόνον Βούλομαι μετὰ Θεὸν τῶν τῆς καρδίας μου κακῶν γνώστην εἶναι, καὶ οὐχ ἕτερόν τινα. » Ἀκούσας δὲ ταῦτα ὁ μέγας ἐκέλευσεν ἀναχωρῆσαι τὸν ἑρμηνέα• καὶ νεύσας αὐτῷ τῇ χειρὶ ἐκδέξασθαι ἕως οὖ ἀπέλθῃ πρὸς αὐτόν, καταλείψας αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθεν προσεύξασθαι πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ὁ μακάριος• καὶ ἐκτείνας τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν προσηύξατο πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν λέγων• « Κύριε παντοκράτωρ, εἰ οὐ δύναμαι ὠφελῆσαι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους οὕς ἀποστέλλεις πρός με ἀπὸ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς διὰ τὸ ἀγνοεῖν με τὰς γλώσσας τῶν ἀνθρώπων, τίς χρεία παραγενέσθαι αὐτούς ; Εἰ θέλεις σῶσαι αὐτοὺς ἐνταῦθα δι᾽ἐμοῦ, δός μοι, δέσποτα, πρὸς διόρθωσιν τῶν ψυχῶν αὐτῶν εἰδέναι με τὴν ὁμιλίαν αὐτῶν. » Καὶ ἐπὶ ὥρας τρεῖς προσευχομένου αὐτοῦ καὶ πολλὰ παρακαλοὺντος τὸν Θεὸν περὶ τούτου, ἄφνω ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατεπέμφθη ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ τῇ δεξιᾷ ὡς ἐπιστόλιον χάρτινον γεγραμμένον• καὶ ἀναγνοὺς αὐτὸ ἔμαθεν πασῶν τῶν γλωσσῶν τὰς λαλιάς. Καὶ δόξαν ἀναπέμψας τῷ πατρὶ καὶ τῷ υἱῷ καὶ τῷ ἁγίῷ πνεύματι, μετὰ χαρᾶς μεγάλης ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐκεῖνον• καὶ ἤρξατο αὐτῷ διαλέγεσθαι καὶ ἑλληνιστὶ καὶ ῥωμαϊστὶ ἀπταίστως, ὥστε τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἀκούσαντα λέγειν περὶ τοῦ μεγάλου ὅτι πάντας ὑπερβάλλει τοὺς σχολαστικοὺς εἰς τὴν διάλεκτον. Διορθωσάμενος οὖν αὐτὸν καθὼς ἔδει καὶ ὑπὲρ τῶν πλημμεληθέντων αὐτῷ μετάνοιαν προσήκουσαν ὁρίσας αὐτῷ, παραθέμενος αὐτὸν τῷ Κυρίῳ ἐξῆλθεν ἀπ᾽αὐτοῦ.