- ECSTASY, from Greek ekstasis, "displacement," "movement outwards," "distraction of mind," "drunken excitement," "entrancement," or secondarily, "astonishment." (See Mark 5:42.) In Greek religion two fundamental types of ecstasy, dionysiac and contemplative, are well attested; the former is induced by means of narcotics, alcohol, music, and dance; the latter by contemplation and prayer. Only the dionysiac is represented in the Bible. Several scholars have maintained that ecstasy was the fundamental experience of all prophecy. This view ultimately can be traced back to philo who maintained that no prophecy is without ecstasy (see Spec. 4:49). Some scholars have distinguished between two groups: the classical prophets, or literary prophets, allegedly did not suffer from loss of identity, but maintained their consciousness and were aware of a divine encounter to which they responded. The second group, the pre-classical prophets, sometimes manifested group prophecy, which was ecstatic and contagious (cf. Num. 11:16ff., where the 70 elders "speak in ecstasy" after the spirit of the Lord rests upon them – the Hebrew verb used is hitnabbe ʾ). Thus, when Saul meets "a band of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, and lyre before them," he, too, is overwhelmed: "A spirit of God came mightily upon him and he spoke in ecstasy among them" (I Sam. 10). Similarly, when Saul sends men to capture David, who was staying with Samuel, they find Samuel at the head of a group of ecstatic prophets. The messengers are overcome by the spectacle and begin to rave. After this has happened to three sets of messengers, Saul goes himself, and, in a violent ecstatic fit, strips off his clothes and lies naked a whole day and night (I Sam. 19:18–24). Both these incidents are cited as the origin of the proverbial expression "Is Saul among the prophets?" Scholars who maintain the pre-classical ecstatic/classical non-ecstatic distinction also cite I Kings 22, where some 400 prophets rave in ecstasy before kings Jehoshaphat and Ahaz on the eve of their united attack against Ramoth-Gilead. They note, correctly, as well that this feature of collective dionysiac frenzy is not confined to early Israelite prophets. In I Kings 18:28–29, 450 Canaanite prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah "cried aloud and cut themselves after their manner with swords and lances till the blood gushed out upon them … They prophesied in ecstasy until the time of the evening offering. …" Individual prophets, too, might fall into an ecstatic trance. Thus, Elijah ran before Ahab's chariot when the hand of the Lord was upon him (I Kings 18:46). An extra-biblical example, in addition to the Canaanite prophets of Baal just mentioned, is found in the 11th-century Egyptian tale of Wen-Amon, which relates that while Zakar-Baal, king of Byblos, was offering a sacrifice, "the god seized one of his youths and made him possessed" (Pritchard, Texts, 26). In such a state the person turns into "another man" (e.g., Saul, I Sam. 10:6) and may behave madly (I Sam. 18:10ff.). This is doubtless why a disciple of the prophets is referred to as "the madman" (II Kings 9:11). But a careful reading of the classical prophets shows that they too manifested odd behavior. Jeremiah is referred to as "madman" and "ecstatic" (mitnabbe ʾ) in the same breath (Jer. 29:26; cf. Hos. 9:7). Isaiah walked about barefoot and naked for three years (Isa. 20:3). Ezekiel lay on his left side for 390 days and 40 days on his right. From Zech. 13:4–6 we learn that a prophet might be expected to wear a hairshirt and have sores on his back, perhaps from some ritual beating. Indeed, the Hebrew word for madman, meshugga ʿ, may be a terminus technicus for a type of god-inspired individual who is called in the mari letters a muhhu (fem., muhhutum), "frenzied," "mad," "ecstatic." Such an ecstatic seizure may be induced by external means: music (cf. Elisha, II Kings 3:15, and the musical instruments carried by the bands of prophets, I Sam. 10:5 and II Chron. 35:15) or dancing (mentioned in connection with the prophets of Baal, I Kings 18:26). Sometimes this ecstatic seizure is described as caused either by "the hand of God" (I Kings 18:46; II Kings 3:15; Jer. 15:17) or by "the spirit of God" (I Sam. 10:6, 10; 18:10; 19:23), an indication that seizure and strange behavior might lend credibility to claims of prophecy. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Hoelscher, Die Propheten (1914); T.H. Robinson, Prophecy and the Prophets (1923); C.J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (1962); A.J. Heschel, The Prophets (1962). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Wilson, in: JBL, 98 (1979), 329–37; G. André, Ecstatic Prophecy in the Old Testament (1982); S. Geller, Sacred Enigmas (1996); J. Roberts, The Bible and the Ancient Near East (2002), 95–101, 157–253. (Shalom M. Paul / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.