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Prophecy and Ecstasy in Greco-Roman Religion and in 1 Corinthians

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image of Novum Testamentum

We have seen that in Greek prophètes means spokesman in a very general sense. Most characteristically it designates the medium, or mantis, at an oracle, who is considered a spokesman for the god of the oracle. This mantic prophecy is accompanied by trance, i.e., when the mantis functions as spokesman, his or her ordinary consciousness is replaced by another. However, in an effort to explain why oracles at Delphi are no longer given in verse, Plutarch develops a theory according to which even prophecy in this sense does not involve trance, but makes use of the ordinary consciousness of the mantis. In addition to this use of prophetes, it is also used to designate other spokesmen. Some of these are considered entranced, e.g., poets, the spokesmen of the Muses, in Plato's view. But most are not, e.g., poets according to the understanding of poetic inspiration reflected in Pindar, and those who functioned at oracles as spokesmen for the mantis. I have argued that the uses of prophètes in Greek correspond fairly well to the apparent range of meanings for nabi in the OT. But the use of prophètes to translate nabi involved a shift of emphasis: while in Greek prophètes mainly designates those who prophesy in trance, as a translation for nabi, prophètes mainly designates those whose prophecy is apparently not accompanied by trance. This can be seen clearly in Philo who knows of prophecy as a trance phenomenon, but who sees at least Moses mainly as a prophet whose prophecy does not involve trance. This understanding of prophecy results both from fidelity to scripture and from Philo's desire to praise Moses and account for certain difficulties in scripture.

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