According to a letter from the apostle Paul, Christ-followers in the Roman colonial town of Corinth in the midst of assembly were speaking in tongues which no one could understand. This talk is an experiment, bringing together recent analyses of speaking in tongues or glossolalia in South Korea (Nicholas Harkness) with a critique of the violence of language by Afro-Caribbean poet M. NourbeSe Philip. These frameworks help us return to the laboratory of Mediterranean antiquity, to look at ancient evidence of speaking in tongues in relation to “magical” practices of inscribing letters streams in Greek that have no known meaning, or the crafting of signs (charakteres) that correspond to no known human language. This phenomenon of something that surpasses normal human language is both an aesthetic procedure and an improvisational experiment developed in the context of the complexities of power—both human and divine.
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