Dating the Sibylline Oracles, Books 4-7

Because the “books” of the Sibylline Oracles are from different periods it is necessary to briefly note the date and provenance for each. See this post for oracles 1-3, this post for oracles 8-14.

Sibylline Oracles Book 4. Collins describes this book as a “political oracle from the Hellenistic age updated by a Jew in the late first century A.D.” (OTP 1:381. In Compendia rerum Iudaicarum 363, Collins says lines 49-401 are “substantially older”, probably the oldest in the Sibylline Oracles. It has been re-worked at a later date to include Rome and a prediction of the downfall of Rome). The earliest layer is quite early since there are no clear references to historical events after the time sibylline-3of Alexander the Great nor to the rise of Rome. It seems anti-Macedonian since Alexander does not bring in the golden age. The redaction “updates” the text sometime after A.D. 80. For example, line 116 refers to the destruction of the temple; lines 119-124, 138-139 refer to the Nero Myth, and 130-135 refer to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (A.D. 79). Collins speculates the text was used in a Jewish baptizing context, such as the Ebionites or Elcasaites due to the emphasis on baptism as a requirement for salvation and a rejection of temple worship (line 383).

Sibylline Oracles Book 5. This book cannot be dated earlier than 70 because of the numerous references to the Nero Myth in all but the very first section, but not much later than 80. The first section has favorable comments about Hadrian, which Collins uses to argue for a date for the first section prior to the Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132 (OTP 1:391). There are a number of references to destroying pagan temples, possibly a reference to the Jewish Diaspora revolt of A.D. 115. That the book originated in Egypt is clear from line 53 (the Sibyl is a friend of Isis) and the interest in Cleopatra found throughout the book. Collins comments that despite the similarities to Sibylline 3, the eschatological perspective is quite different.

Sibylline Oracles Book 6. This short 28 line text is clearly a Christian “hymn to Christ” (OTP 1:406). There is no Jewish or pagan elements to the book, and very little to help date it either. The latest date is fixed since it is used by Lactantius about A.D. 300, but an earlier date is impossible to determine. Since the book has an interest in baptism and the Jordan River, some suggest an Ebionite origin, but Collins dismisses this as unlikely (OTP 1:406).

Sibylline Oracles Book 7. Collins describes the seventh books as “disorderly” and “loosely structured” (OTP 1:408). It appears to be entirely Christian, any Jewish elements are not distinctly so. The book is also used by Lactantius; a date in the second century is commonly given for the book. The origin of the book is also difficult to trace, Collins suggests Syria because of a slight interest in the region and in the baptism of Christ (OTP 1:408).

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