Seven Generations of the World – Sibylline Oracles 1.1-323

I dealt with the introductory material for the first two Sibylline Oracles in a previous post. The first 323 lines of Book One of the Sibylline Oracles are a Jewish summary of biblical history through the “seventh generation.” This section is dated from 30 B.C. to A. D. 250, possibly originating from Phrygia based on the reference to the Ark in 1.196-198.

Sibyl by Francesco Ubertini, c. 1525

Sibyl by Francesco Ubertini, c. 1525

This Jewish section of the collection periodizes history after the fall into seven generation. In lines 1-37 the writer describes the wonders of the pre-fall world. Adam and Eve are wondrously beautiful when created and placed in the garden. They speak wisdom to one another and had no evil thoughts at all. Lines 38-64 are an interpretation of the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. Rather than blaming sin on Adam (as in Romans 5:12-21), It is the woman who is the first betrayer, having persuaded Adam to sin (cf. 2 Enoch 31). Genesis 3:14 is interpreted as literal enmity between snakes and humans. There is no messianic imagery at all in this retelling of the story.

  • The First Generation (65-86). The first generation of humans was noble, but they went to Hades anyway because they were polluted by sin and made war.
  • The Second Generation (87-103). This generation is inventive and skillful, described as “watchers” because of their sleepless minds (not as fallen angels, as in 1 Enoch). They too died and went to Tartarus and are “guarded by unbreakable bonds, to make retribution, to Gehenna of terrible, raging, undying fire.”
  • The Third Generation (104-108). This generation was “overbearing and terrible men” and the period is marked by “wars, slaughters, and battles destroyed these continually, men of proud heart.”
  • The Fourth Generation (109-119). This generation “shed much blood” and neither respected God nor man. Some were killed in war and went to the netherworld, others God took from the world in his wrath.
  • The Fifth Generation (120-282). The fifth generation was “far inferior” men, insolent and crooked, even more so than the giants. Noah is command to prepare for the flood (125-136) and he preaches to his generation (147-198). There is a riddle in lines 137-146 which promises to give the name of God, nine letters with four syllables. These clues are reminiscent of Rev. 13:18 and the “number of the beast,” and probably just as impossible to figure out! This sermon lists the sins of the generation and describes them as evil-hearted and fickle. He is jeered for this preaching (171-172), therefore he enters the ark with his family and other creatures God wished to save (199-216). The flood begins (217-261) and the ark lands on Ararat in Phrygia as opposed to Armenia (262-283).
  • The Sixth Generation (283-306). This generation is described a noble and blessed one, righteous and hard working. During this generation, “the earth will rejoice, sprouting with many spontaneous fruits, overladen with offspring. Those who give nourishment will be ageless, always” (lines 297-299). They too enter Hades, but they are still blessed because “Sabaoth gave a noble mind” (304).
  • The Seventh Generation (307-323). The seventh generation is the generation of the Titans (cf., Hesiod, Theogony, 687–735). The Lord makes war against them and shuts them from the world.

As Collins suggests, the main interest of this section of the Oracle is the schematization of history into a series of “generations.” Along with the Christian interpolations, history passes through ten generations, five before the flood and five after. The world is destroyed by water in the fifth generation and fire in the tenth. This is not exactly a modern dispensational timeline, but there is a long history of creating a series of periods through which humanity passes before the final judgment.

Although there are clear signs of Christian redaction in the first two books, it is important to observe an apocalyptic theme which connects the flood and a future apocalyptic destruction (or re-creation) of the world. Similar imagery appears in Revelation; 1 Peter 3:19-22; 3:11-13.

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