The origins of Christian ecstasy: a critical survey.

No Thumbnail Available
Change log
Shell, Christopher James Peter 

How far, and in what senses, was pre-Montanist Christianity ever ecstatic? We address this question in three stages: (I) How should the concept 'ecstasy' be understood, and ecstatic phenomena analysed? (II) In the light of this, how far are various types of experience familiar to the ancient (non-Christian) Mediterranean world to be und.erstood as ecstatic? (III) How are we to locate pre-Montanist Christianity within (or outside) this spectrum? The whole is intended to fill a gap by providing a classificatory basis for discussion of the place of altered states of consciousness in Christian origins. (I) Our first chapter, 'Ecstasy: Dimensions and Anatomy', is concerned with preliminary orientation. We briefly review the way that the topic is regarded within various disciplines, and argue that, because semantically it is possible to distinguish a variety of 'ecstasies', the best way to proceed is phenomenologically, in order to give due weight to the differences -and particularly in order to separate the genuinely entranced from the 'merely' enhanced. ' (II) In our next chapter, 'Ancient Mediterranean Ecstasies: Types and Levels', the aim is to assess various types of ancient Mediterranean experience, both collective and individual, which are candidates for the designation 'ecstatic', in order to see whether they intrinsically imply (or exclude) actual entrancement. It is found that in most cases either further subdivision of types or fuller specific analysis is required before such classification is possible. Nevertheless, because explicit phenomenological descriptions of altered states are generally fuller and more plentiful in the background to earliest Christianity t_han within it, a context is provided for the coming discussion. (Ill) Our final chapter, 'A Prehistory of Christian Ecstasy', proceeds to consider directly our central question. While concentrating on the primary texts, we do so in an arrangement which enables a critical survey of secondary literature on Christian origins to which any of the concepts 'ecstasy', 'trance' and 'altered states of consciousness' is/are central; discussions of related areas such as 'possession' and 'shamanism' are also acknowledged. It emerges that entranced states at the more energetic end of the scale are largely lilllited to initiatory contexts, whereas those which are more quiescent may well have been comparatively widespread, notably in prayer-related settings. Such a relatively nuanced answer would, if correct, help to confirm the necessity of semantic exactitude in any future treatment. We end by summarising our findings, and briefly drawing implications for how far some modern ecstatic Christian movements are in continuity with earliest Christian practice.


This thesis is not available on this repository until the author agrees to make it public. If you are the author of this thesis and would like to make your work openly available, please contact us:

The Library can supply a digital copy for private research purposes; interested parties should submit the request form here:

Please note that print copies of theses may be available for consultation in the Cambridge University Library's Manuscript reading room. Admission details are at

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge