Thursday, August 30, 2007

Speaking in Tongues: Channeling and Xenoglossia in Judaism

Xenoglossia (ha-Malakh ha-doveir bi; Maggid; Shem ha-Doresh) is the phenomenon of alien spirits speaking through or out of a possessed person while in a trance; “channeling.” Such experiences may have been part of some prophetic trances (see, especially, Zechariah chapters 2-4, ha-malakh ha-doveir bi/”the angel who spoke through me”), but the evidence is sparse and elliptical. The first explicit accounts of Jews experiencing xenoglossia appear in the Christian New Testament, where there are descriptions of both demonic spirits addressing Jesus and seizure by the Holy Spirit resulting in people “speaking in tongues.”

Later Jewish sources also equate automatic speech with prophecy (Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim). Xenoglossia is a defining characteristic of ghostly and angelic possession in most Jewish reports after the 15th Century. Joseph Taitazak provides the first detailed account of this phenomenon.[1] Perhaps the most famous Jew to experience it was Joseph Caro:

The eve of the Sabbath, 29th of Iyyar…I ate but little and drank the same and I studied the Mishnah at the beginning of the night…as I was reading the Mishnah the voice of my beloved knocked in my mouth and the lyre sang of itself. It [Caro’s maggid] began by saying, “The Lord is with you wherever you go [the maggid goes on to give Caro pious advice]…I speak to you as a man speaks to his neighbor…therefore my son, hearken to My voice and to that which I command you…” Afterward I slept for about half an hour and I awoke in great distress. [2]

The 17th Century pietist Samson Ostropoler also described the Shem ha-Doresh, the “Interpreting Name,” a similar form of automatic speech.

Zal g'mor /Go forth and learn - more can be found in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. Patai, “Exorcism and Xenoglossia among the Safed Mystics,” pp. 314-25. Also see Bilu, pp. 255-257.

2. Jacob, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, pp. 138-139.


Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

I have delight in being pointed to your blog here

I am an elder new student of Hebrew and am just beginning to teach letters to children aged 4 to 9 as well as their supervising adults - who get more out of the lessons than they might first think.

Re tongues - seized is good but not a sufficient description - the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. Seized is good as a Divine passive for we are grasped rather than grasping. Seized, however, can imply loss of control. Tongues is a voluntary submission or release of control rather than 'loss'. In my experience, the song continues for ever but is always under self-control. What I have seen and heard is a growth and maturing of the individual in this relationship to HaShem - of necessity for me through Christ since I know I learned it through his death, our mercy-seat. It is like your instruction to go and learn more. It is like the gimel of Psalm 119 - Deal bountifully with your servant. May the Most High indeed deal bountifully with us and grow us in love.

I cannot learn such love all at once, but I am pleased to have your blog on my reader so I may continue learning with another helper.

7:55 AM  

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