For the past year or so I’ve been obsessed with the study of ecstatic religion and the phenomenon of spirit possession in antiquity and beyond. If I had to give a reason for my unwavering interest, it’d probably be two-fold: (1) ecstasy – a type of altered state of consciousness – is present in practically every religion, and (2) historical accounts of spirit induced behavior and exorcism are arguably the most captivating and obscene readings in existence.
It is this last point which I wish to demonstrate in this Halloween post – which probably shouldn’t even be called such since the stories below aren’t even scary. They’re mostly just plain “what the f***.” Though I suppose much of what you’ll encounter, like a description of Satan’s genitalia, is scary in the disturbing sense. But I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
So without further ado, here are just some of the many horrific accounts of spirit possession and obscene behavior I’ve come across in my exhaustive study. Note that these come straight from the secondary sources referenced below.
WARNING: THESE ARE NOT YOUR AVERAGE HALLOWEEN STORIES. IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED GO READ SCARY STORIES BY ALVIN SCHWARTZ; THEY ARE FUN AND NOSTALGIC AND DO NOT INVOLVE SEX, GENITALIA, BODILY FLUIDS, OR INFANT-CANNIBALISM. ACCOMPANIED ARTWORK IS ALSO NSFW.
If you’d like to be fed other interesting nuggets on ecstatic religion and view an organized display of the books I used for research, check out my tumblr page Belly Talkers
When I was a young tike my mom would occasionally put on for me the imperative cartoon for cool Catholics growing up in the 90s: Animated Stories from the New Testament on VHS. All I really recall learning from these tapes was that Jesus was an important man who was white, soft spoken, could perform magic tricks, and had women begging at feet. I’m happy to report that my understanding of the historical Jesus has grown with my height since then, eventually forcing me to accept the fact that these stories about him aren’t as simplistic and straightforward as many believers continue to claim. It wasn’t long ago I rediscovered the episodes of the cartoon online, finding it quite interesting how the writers attempted to weave together the gospels to construct a single, consistent account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Granted, if you were to quickly read through the gospels one by one, your memory would probably do the exact same thing, like a puzzle: remembering the story of Jesus as a single unit after having pieced together the different accounts – all while having payed little attention to pieces which turned out to be doublets or don’t fit together smoothly.
In its earliest stages, the books of the Hebrew Bible were individually written and copied onto papyrus, paperlike sheets made from the papyrus plant, and then rolled around a small wooden stick to form a scroll. The manufacture of papyrus scrolls probably originated among the Egyptians in 3000 BCE. The Bible makes references to Papyrus a number of times (e.g. Isa. 18:2; Job 8:11, 9:26). Over the centuries these scrolls were slowly accumulated among the Hebrew communities until an anthology of scripture is largely recognized by the second century BCE.
Parchment (c. 200 BCE)
Due to its better durability, papyrus was gradually replaced by parchment beginning in 200 BCE, formed from the tanned hides of calves. The change wasn’t sudden as shown in the Dead Sea manuscripts (3rd century BCE–1st century CE), our earliest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible which were written on both papyrus and parchment. In about the 4th century CE, parchment had pretty much displaced papyrus, which is why the vast majority of ancient New Testament manuscripts that we have today come to us on this material.
The Gospel writers according to Church tradition: St. John with his eagle on Patmos, St. Matthew with his angel, St. Mark with his lion and St. Luke with his ox (16th century manuscript)
Of the 29 texts that make up the New Testament, most had their authorship attributed to the disciples of Jesus, or at least their immediate followers. As with the Old Testament this is often apparent simply from the title of each work; according to tradition, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the letters of 1st and 2nd Peter were supposedly written by the apostle Peter, etc. However, also like the Old Testament these attributions have been determined false by most biblical scholars and, as I’m about to argue, should be classified as forgeries in certain cases. The exceptions are a number of letters by the apostle Paul plus, arguably, the Book of Revelation by an author named John (though highly unlikely to be apostle John).Continue reading →
Whether you see the Bible as the word of God or not, one cannot ignore the fact that it has human fingerprints all over it. After all, it didn’t fall from heaven in the format commonly found today, as convenient as that would have been. It is worth emphasizing again then that the Bible is not a single book but rather many books; an anthology, each with its own author, each with its own historical and theological context.
Different authors have different points of view. You can’t just say, “I believe in the Bible.” ― Scholar Bart Ehrman
Furthermore, these writings weren’t sewn together as an official anthology until many years after its composition – hundreds of years in most cases. Indeed, while the oldest contents of the Old Testament are believed to have originated as early as the 12th century BCE (beginning as oral tradition), it isn’t until 200 BCE that we find clear evidence for a Biblical canon taking shape. Given the unique makeup of the Bible, then, as more than one book, perhaps it is best to not stick with one question. Let’s focus first on the authorship of the Old Testament followed by the New Testament, and lastly when each group of texts were canonized as scripture. Continue reading →
First section: the Hebrew Bible/Tanakh/Old Testament, 39 Hebrew books composed by Jews between the 12th and 2nd century BCE (roughly); Jewish adherents combine certain texts to make a total of 24 books (more below). A few of the books were written in both Hebrew and Aramaic. TaNaKh is a Jewish term and acronym composed of consonants designating the first letter of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures:
Torah (“Law”), also known as the Pentateuch (Greek, “five scrolls”)
Second section: the New Testament, 27 Greek books composed by early Christians between 50 and 150 CE, divided in four main categories:
Right, first thing’s first. Unless you’re Jesus, in which case the first shall be last.
In this introduction we’ll be addressing the following questions, the answers to which are commonly unknown or misunderstood by many. It is worth noting that some of these basic questions continue to be hotly debated among scholars today, and will be discussed at greater length in future posts.
So there’s this book called The Bible. New York Times bestseller for nearly two thousand years, mixed reviews. Though it may have the blunt force of a dictionary and occasionally read with the tone of a tractor manual, it is also supposedly coauthored by the creator of the universe. So it has that going for it. Some people proclaim that you should devote your entire life to it as a means of fire insurance, while othersadvertise it as nothing more than an old book of genocidal fairy tales with a side of crazy creeds – written by desert nomads as a way of distracting themselves from the fact that they lacked air conditioning.
I would like to promote a third perspective: The Bible is a fascinating, bizarre, historical, inspirational, humanistic, comical, and outright thought provoking collection of ancient texts worth learning about. And you don’t have to be religious to agree. If you had told me five years ago that my bachelor’s degree was going to be in Religion with a focus on biblical studies, I would have called the nearest insane asylum to alert them of an escaped patient. For most of my life I couldn’t have cared less about religion, let alone the Bible. After all, I’ve always considered myself an atheist, one who rejects the claim that a god exists. What good would the Bible do me? Continue reading →