The Oldest Profession
Most people would say prostitution is the oldest profession but as our guide explained the ancient temple practices associated with the Oracle at Delphi, I realized priests have been around even longer. Human beings have deep seated fears about the future and probably even before sex became a commodity for sale, priests offered comfort in the form of assurance of divine favor. Delphi is possibly the most famous example of this.
Delphi is not easy to get to. It is in the middle of Greece two hours from Athens and four hours from Thessaloniki. The road in from the main highway winds around and over a mountain with spectacular – and frightening views. The temple site is about 1 sq. kilometer up the side of a mountain. It includes a Treasury where visitors could leave offerings to the gods, a theatre, the Temple of Apollo and a 5th Century stadium for races and games. The current Museum includes statues, art and artifacts from the Temple.
In ancient times priests had set up an elaborate system to help people consult the Oracle at Delphi. Ancient people had a supernatural worldview that accepted personal experiences of the divine in the form of healing, ecstasy and prophecy. This is the worldview of the Bible which has been dismissed as ignorant superstition by many modern people. The only difference is that Christianity teaches us there is a dark side to the spiritual dimension so we all need to ‘discern the spirits’. In ancient times temple priests would select wise older women who would go into the Temple of Apollo to consult the gods. Archeologists have discovered caverns below the Temple which were likely filled with gases which would give these women an experience of ecstasy – a ‘high’. In this drugged state they would emerge, probably speaking fairly incoherently. The work of the priests was to interpret this for visitors. This would have been the equivalent of modern pastoral care when priests sometimes ‘adjust’ Biblical truth to give people what they want as opposed to the sometimes harsh truth. The game goes on with the consequence that many people do not respect or consult modern priests. This is a great tragedy as there is a whole spiritual dimension to life which many people are completely unaware of. The consequences have been devastating in terms of conflict, wars and personal suffering.
The take away after travelling across Turkey and Greece, retracing the route of Paul’s Second Journey, is that faith is a living thing. We have seen huge ruins as evidence of huge faith. In many places this faith has been either gradually lost or overrun by military conquest. The good news is that in some places, such as Greece we can see churches which have not become museums where people are fed spiritually and lead richer lives. Now we understand the many Biblical references to conflict in churches and contending for the faith. Being a spiritual person is not supposed to be easy.