Speaking of Tongues
1 Corinthians 13:1’s “if I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but have not love. . .” is familiar to many from its use at weddings. Historically, these references to glossolalia in 1 Corinthians should be understood in light of contemporaneous practices in Roman Corinth: linguistic experimentation in rhetoric and poetry, on the one hand, and, on the other, ritual practices which used alternative forms of language, including voces magicae (streams of letters in Greek that we can’t make sense of) and charaktēres (symbols which look like letters, but have no known meaning). Taking up this year’s theme of partnerships in justice and creation—including place of humans within broad ontologies of spirits, daimones, and God(s)—we will find in this historical evidence experiments in sound that provide the grounds for ethical and theological reflection. In these ancient data, we see human bodies—breath (pneuma), tongue, larynx, teeth—caught within colonial injustices and both served and buffeted by divinities and daimones.
Laura Nasrallah, Yale Divinity School, Lecturer