Monday, September 8, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 2)

The very first recorded cases of that which can be termed as glossolalia, or ecstatic speech attributed to the activity of the gods upon a believer, goes as far back as 1100 B.C.  On that occasion, it was a worshiper of the Egyptian God Amun that was said to have attracted attention to himself through making sounds in a strange, ecstatic tongue.  He reported himself to have been possessed by the god.  Seven hundred years later, the famous Greek philosopher Plato demonstrated that he was quite well acquainted with the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, as he made reference to several families who habitually practiced ecstatic speech, with prayers and utterings offered as they were supposedly possessed by the spirit of their gods. 

Plato would also go on to point out that these practices had even been said to have brought physical healing to those who engaged in them.  Accordingly, and because they had no reason to presume otherwise, Plato and those contemporary with him casually and confidently asserted that these occurrences were in fact caused by some type of divine inspiration.  It was his suggestion that the god simply took possession of the mind during this state, inspiring the individual so possessed with utterances that he could neither understand nor interpret. 

In the century prior to the coming of the Christ, the poet Virgil, speaking of the Sybilline priestess that lived on the island of Delos, described her activity of speaking in ecstatic tongues.  This was explained by her being in some type of mysterious union with the god Apollo.  This union was reported to have happened while she meditated in a haunted cave, amidst what was described as the eerie sounds of the wind as it played strange music through the narrow crevices of the rocks. 

Several of the mystery religions that inhabited the Greco-Roman world in which the church first developed also recorded the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.  These include the Persian cult of Mithra, the Egypt-based cult of Osiris, and the Dionysian, Eulusinian, and Orphic cults of Macedonia, Thrace, and Greece.  Lucian of Samosata, a reliable historian of the ancient world that lived in the second century, to whom the church owes a debt because of his records concerning the meal practices of the Greco-Roman world, described an example of glossolalia in one of his written works.  In it, the ecstatic utterance was performed by somebody described as a roaming believer in the Syrian goddess that went by the name of “June” (the month is named after her). 

Focusing on Corinth, the prevalence of cults that spoke in tongues, especially in what is the wider geographic area by which the city of Corinth was bounded, informs an observer that there would be a high degree of familiarity with the practice within the city.  This becomes especially poignant if one was to consider the geographical and cultural position in which Corinth was situated at the time of Christ, and a short time later, of Paul. 

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