Glossolalia and the Embarrassments of Experience

Scope: Forms of ecstatic speech are found in ancient Hebrew prophecy and in Greco-Roman mantic prophecy. It is not shocking to find glossolalia also as a manifestation of spiritual possession in earliest Christianity. More difficult to answer is why such a powerful expression of the Holy Spirit's presence should be so sporadically attested and so quickly marginalized in Christianity. Once more, the use of cross-cultural linguistic and anthropological studies helps define the phenomenon in terms of personal experience and social function. Analysis of Paul's careful discussion of glossolalia in his first letter to the Corinthians reveals the conscious motivations at work in its demotion and suggests some other factors at work, such as the common connection between ecstatic utterance and the subversive power of women.

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