Delphi’s Influence on the World of the New Testament: Part 2: The Oracles of Delphi -- By: Ernest B. McGinnis

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 20:2 (Spring 2007)
Article: Delphi’s Influence on the World of the New Testament: Part 2: The Oracles of Delphi
Author: Ernest B. McGinnis

Delphi’s Influence on the World of the New Testament:
Part 2: The Oracles of Delphi

Ernest B. McGinnis

Ernest B. McGinnis

Ruins at the Castillian Falls. Pythian priestesses would ritually bath themselves in the Castillian Falls just prior to delivering their oracles in the Temple of Apollo.


The Greeks have been characterized as lovers of philosophy, experts in military tactics, breathtaking artists and the founders of democracy. History has recorded, as the forerunners for these achievements, men such as Plato, Socrates, Alexander the Great, and Homer, who have decorated our history books and painted the picture of ancient Greece in our minds. However, it was not men who put the greatest oracular city on the Greco-Roman map, but women. In the last article in this series on Delphi as Center of the Earth and center of a Corinthian controversy, we explored the mythological beginnings of Delphi and the gods and goddesses whose names are forever linked to this influential city. In this article, we shall explore not the men, but the women who applied this mythology to the everyday lives of the Greco-Roman people. These ancient women of Delphi, known simply as “the Pythia,” ruled and served in Delphi for nearly 600 years, and left a mark on Christianity which survives even to this day.

Ernest B. McGinnis

Marketplace at Delphi. The Agora or Marketplace in Delphi drew not only seekers of answers, but also the treasures of city-states and wealthy citizens from around the Mediterranean.

The Role of Women at Delphi

Prophecy was certainly not unique to Delphi in the ancient Mediterranean world. A myriad of ancient historians record such practices as divining the flight of birds, reading entrails, casting lots, interpreting dreams, and sleeping on bare soil. These prophetic mechanisms, however, share at least two similarities: they were all practiced by men and they were all done, dare I say, rationally. These acts of reading the future or the will of the gods were practiced within a calm, even systematic, manner. This was not the case however in Delphi. The Pythia were indeed a unique anomaly within the Greco-Roman world. Any armchair psychologist would immediately assert that before one can grasp “what” these women did, we must first ascertain “who” these women were.

The role of a Pythia priestess was not easily attained, as certain qualifications, both circumstantial and spiritual, were taken into account. Of course the first qua...

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