Delphi’s Influence on the World of the New Testament Part 3: Faults, Fumes and Visions -- By: Ernest B. McGinnis

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 21:3 (Summer 2008)
Article: Delphi’s Influence on the World of the New Testament Part 3: Faults, Fumes and Visions
Author: Ernest B. McGinnis


Delphi’s Influence on the World of the New Testament
Part 3: Faults, Fumes and Visions1

Ernest B. McGinnis

Ernest McGinnis

View of the valley of the Pleistos River from atop Delphi.

For thousands of years, the ancient Greek city of Delphi has provided mankind with as many tantalizing questions as it has answers. As far back as the Roman period, men of science have questioned the validity of the oracular spectacle provided by the Pythia, the priestesses of Delphi, as they prophesied in their maniacal ecstasy. By the 20th century, archaeologists and historians concluded that the stories of the Pythia were either wildly exaggerated, or the Pythia were in fact thespians of the grandest sort. It was not until a chance “meeting of the minds” in a small tavern outside of Delphi in 1995, that once and for all the truth behind the Pythian spectacle was solved. In this article, we shall explore the scientific and psychological backdrop to one of history’s greatest mysteries, and the questions it poses to the interpretation of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians in AD 52.

Fumes or Fairytales?

William J. Broad, a writer for the New York Times, wrote in 2002 of a “ground breaking” discovery at Delphi, which changed the way scholars viewed the oracular shrine of Apollo located there. Broad noted,

Modern scholarship long ago dismissed as false the explanation that the ancient Greeks gave for the oracle’s inspiration: vapors rising from the temple’s floor. They found no underlying fissure or possible source of intoxicants. Experts concluded that the vapors were mythical, like much else about the site (2002).

However, as Broad reported, a geologist, an archaeologist, a chemist and a toxicologist have combined their expertise and have shown the ancients to be correct.

The region’s underlying rocks turn out to be composed of oily limestone fractured by two hidden faults that cross exactly under the ruined temple, creating a path by which petrochemical fumes could rise to the surface to help induce visions (2002).

The temple of Apollo. Built upon crossing fault lines, it exposed the Pythian priestesses to vapors which put them into an ecstatic state.

What this team found was that the fumes rising forth from beneath the Tripod—a high chair with three long legs, set atop a natural crevice on the temple floor, upon which the Pythia sat—...

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