I have just completed reading one scholar’s work that does argue that Paul spread Christianity throughout the Greek world by means of such a movement and have begun another that argues the same with respect to Jesus.
Wandering “spirit possessed” preachers of the ancient world
One popular stereotype in the era that saw the emergence of Christianity was the “spirit possessed” traveller who would disrupt communities with his bizarre “signs” of the spirit within him, including the babbling of “tongues”, attracting women predominantly to become his followers, and thought to be introducing new gods or unconventional religious observances.
Anyone familiar with that famous fifth century Greek play Bacchae by Euripides will recognize the above character. I had always thought this play was about the conflict that resulted from the introduction of the Bacchic mysteries (or worship of Dionysus) to Thebes. Hanges, however, references scholarship that suggests this surface narrative was originally understood to be representative of the controversies that accompanied the arrival of any (and many) new religious movements to challenge the status quo. Continue reading “Was Christianity Born from a “Pentecostal” Movement?”
Looking to the Future of the Study of Christian Origins
But then it continues with reference to something that definitely has very little interest for me — that word “ecstasy” in a religious context:
The Ecstatic Perception of Evolving Complexities
Tongues? Trances? No thanks. But what’s the catch with that “future” word? I do like studies of visionary experiences to explain texts and certain belief systems but am less enthusiastic about the wider world of “religious ecstasies”.
It begins with reference to postcolonial studies. Suspicion deepens. Another anachronistic model being applied to the ancient world? Is this going to be something like a Marxist interpretation of Shakespeare?
But then the author, Professor James Constantine Hanges, writes something scandalous. (Scandalous, at least, to most contemporary biblical scholarship I have read.) He seems to be saying that scholarship should be studying early Christianity as something that emerged from within not only a Jewish world but also a pagan context. The pagan world should be seen as a matrix of Christianity’s emergence, not as “the other” against which early Christianity fought tooth and nail:
Smith’s razor sharp point in the book is that the history of modern Euro-American study of Christian origins . . . was never a genuine attempt to acquire new knowledge and to more accurately describe and understand the formation of earliest Christianity. Rather, modern Euro-American biblical scholarship has been simply an exercise in apologetics, using comparison to shore up the uniqueness of Christianity against a so-called “parallelomania” for ancient polytheistic cultures.