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Oracle Voice from the Past
Delphi, the center of the world
Delphi is an interesting place to visit in Greece. It is famed for its Oracle and being the centre of the ancient Greek world. Its most prominent exhibit is the Gallio inscription which is on display at the Delphi Museum which is beside the archaeological site. There are numerous legends as to its origin. One is that of Apollo. Apollo when he was only an infant shot an arrow which killed Python “a dragon”. Python was the son of Gaia (mother earth or goddess). Apollo had to atone for this by suffering a period of menial labour. Python was guarding the navel of the world. This location was Delphi. A Temple of Apollo was built there and eventually became the site of the Pythian Games, the second in importance of the Panhellenic Games that was held every four years. The chief priestess who was the oracle was named Pythia. Another legend was that Zeus wanted to find the center/navel of the earth, Gaia. He sent four eagles from each end of the earth (the earth was flat). These eagles met over Delphi proving that it is the center of the world.
Aside from the Pythian Games, Delphi was famous for its Oracle since pre-classical times. The priestess Pythia will go into a trance after bathing in the water of the Temple and eating oleander leaves. It is suspected by modern scholars that the water and gas from the fissure in the temple and the oleander leaves contain hallucinogens. It was found that there are two definite fault lines intersecting below the temple. The Delphic Fault runs east to west and the Kerna Fault runs north and south. It was through the intersection that a gas which contain ethylene, a hallucinogen, emerged. [more about the archeological evidence here].
Pythia would speak in ‘tongues’ which were interpreted by the priests. The accuracy of these prophecies made Delphi one of the most influence places in the Greek world. All major decisions concerning the city-states, colonization and personal decision were only made after consultation with the Oracle. After the Battle of Plataea, to celebrate their victory and honor the Oracle, all fires in Greek homes and extinguished and relit by the flames from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Some interesting examples of the Oracular statements may be found here.
Delphi remains as a center of worship even when Christianity became the official religion of the Rome Empire in the 4th century. It gradually declined in importance. It was speculated that an earthquake at the temple in 373 B.C. closed the fissure. It is interesting to note Jesse Nevins (Coastal Carolina University)’s comment that “[t]he oracle’s last response in 362B.C. states that ‘the temple has fallen’ and as Christianity gained power she states that it was interrupting the flow of divine power from Apollo. It is accepted today that the Pythia lost power not only because of the rise of Christianity, but also because she lacked the hallucinogens necessary to prophesy”. The site was abandoned in the 6th or 7th century.
The apostle Paul would have known about Delphi and its relationship with Python and Apollo. In Philippi, he delivered a possessed slave girl of the Python spirit in Acts 16:16-18
Acts 16:16–18 (NASB95)
16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” 18 She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.
What the modern Bible version translate as the spirit of divination may be translated as a Python spirit. The initial impression may be that was that Paul was annoyed by the girl and hence delivered her. One would consider that the possessed girl was actually helping them by affirming that they are the servants of the Most High God to bring to them the way of salvation. In understanding the historical context of the listeners, who are mostly Greeks seeped in the worship of Apollo and the other pantheon of gods, what the girl was actually saying was that Paul and Silas were servants of a god which is offering a way of salvation! That was the reason why Paul was upset. The possessed girl was distorting the Gospel. He delivered her by commanding the spirit to come out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. This was nowadays named a power encounter. Note that Paul did not seek out power encounters nor did he took a trip to Delphi to challenge the spiritual fortress. There was no record that Paul did a prayer walk to claim the land. Luke documented that Paul was focused on spreading the good news and building up the new believers. Paul also equipped them to deal with opposition from the powers and principalities.
Paul’s strategy is as relevant to the church today as it was then. Our focus should be in the sharing, witnessing and living the Gospel.
As one explores the archeological site of ancient Delphi, one cannot but be impressed by the power and might of these powers and principalities who held sway the Greek world for more than a millennium.
source: Schneider and Ferrazzoli, Delphi: Past and Present, Roma: Vision 2009
Photo Gallery of the archaeological site of Delphi
Temple of Apollo: Then and Now
More on Bible Lands
20 May 2015
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