Saturday, May 28, 2016

Parallel Evolution--or not?

Our group experience of the Cyclades Islands and Athens ended last night.  This morning we were on a plane back to Athens--it only took 45 minutes.  Barry and I rented a car and took off on the roads to Delphi, site of the famous Oracle of Delphi.  The Oracle was the person (Pythia) who uttered ecstatically when giving forth the words of the god Apollo.  Priests stood nearby to "translate" the utterances into language the people could understand.

Delphi (DELL-fee) is located about an hour or two to the west of Athens, in central Greece.  To get there we had to drive on the equivalent of an interstate highway and a state highway.  Both roads were in fine shape, and they were not at all crowded--perhaps because of the general depression that the country is experiencing now with very difficult sanctions imposed by the EU.

Delphi is located in a spectacular setting.  Mount Parnassus towers above it.  Other mountains enclose it, and there is a valley that pours out eastward so that the temple site gets first morning light.
We had a guide to take us through the museum there and the archaeological site itself--including the remains of the Temple of Apollo.

One thing hit me so strongly today:  the similarity of various elements in the Ancient Greek religion and our religion today (or the religion of the Hebrew people that we see practiced in the OT).  Here are some of the similarities that jumped out today:

  • Snakes!  In Delphi and in the OT snakes were used as symbols of healing.  In Greek and Ancient Near Eastern creation myths snakes figure prominently.  
  • Tithing.  10% was given in both OT, Ancient Greece and even today as thank offerings to the Divine.
  • Incense.  It was used back in Ancient Greece in worship to help cover over body smells.  Same for Rome.  It entered Christian worship as a carry over from Roman practice.  But in the OT incense also symbolized prayer.  That's why we use it today--the body smells aren't bad anymore!
  • Speaking in "tongues" or ecstatic utterance.  This one really intrigued me.  The Oracle at Delphi spoke forth nonsense syllables, under the influence of what may have been hallucinogens present in the vapor and volcanic gases coming forth out of the fissure under the Temple of Apollo.  A priest interpreted the utterance.  Now, in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he warns the people of Corinth not to take pride that they can pray in ecstatic utterances--what he calls praying in tongues.  He tells them that the tongues are meaningless unless there's someone there to interpret, so that the Body gathered can be edified.  I was so struck by the huge possibility that the church in Corinth could have been influenced by the Oracle at Delphi--perhaps this was the source of their puffed up pride in the ability to pray in this way:  I'm just as good as that Oracle is!   I'd never considered that possibility---but it seems so likely at this point.  That will be something to google, for sure.
Here are some photos from today:
1.  Delphi, looking out to the east.  The columns at left are from the Temple of Apollo.
2.  An incense burner found at the site.  
3.  Part of a statue of Apollo found there in excavations. It was made of ivory (deteriorated and discolored with age--but a sign of extensive trade) and gold leaf.  It is so beautiful.  There's even detail around the eyes--eyelashes...

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