The Christian Interpolation – Sibylline Oracle, Book 1.324-400

The last section of the first Sibylline Oracle was inserted by a Christian. The section is a clear description of Jesus Christ, “the son of the most high, immortal God” (1.331). The goal is to add a prediction of the events of the life of Jesus into this oracle-prophecy.

Depiction of a Sibyl by Domenichino, c. 1616-17

Depiction of a Sibyl by Domenichino, c. 1616-17

Since the book is missing the eighth and ninth generations, it is hard to know if this was the most appropriate place to insert these Christological predictions. As with the riddle on God’s name earlier in the book (lines 137-146), we are given a short riddle on the name and number of the son of God’s name (lines 327-329). “I will state explicitly the entire number for you. For eight units, and equal number of tens in addition to these, and eight hundreds will reveal the name.” This adds up to 888, the number of the name Iēsous.

Lines 334-335 allude to the wise men, “Priests will bring gifts to him, bringing forward gold, myrrh, and incense.” Lines 336-339 refer to John the Baptist, “But when a certain voice will come through the desert land bringing tidings to mortals, and will cry out to all to make the paths straight and cast away evils from the heart” and his death by Herod, “    a man with barbarous mind, enslaved to dances will cut out this voice.”

The Jews will stumble against this coming son of God, but Gentiles will be gathered to him (lines 346-347).  Jesus’ ministry and miracles are summarized (347-361) and the writer blames the Jews for the crucifixion with a string of anti-Semitic invectives (lines 360-371).

Then indeed Israel, with abominable lips and poisonous spittings, will give this man blows. For food they will give him gall and for drink unmixed vinegar, impiously, smitten in breast and heart with an evil craze, not seeing with their eyes, more blind than blind rats, more terrible than poisonous creeping beasts, shackled with heavy sleep.

Later in the interpolation the writer blames the fall of Jerusalem as a judgment for killing Jesus: “Then when the Hebrews reap the bad harvest, a Roman king will ravage much gold and silver… since they committed an evil deed.”

After three days the Son of God will raise from the “house of Adonis” (i.e., Hades) and return to heaven on the clouds (376-382). The Christian church is described as a “new shoot” named after him (Christians) sprouting for the nations lead by wise leaders but with a cessation of prophets (lines 383-386). The section ends with a dire prediction of the destruction of the Jews at the hands of the Romans because they have committed an evil deed in rejecting the son of God (lines 387-400).

There is little here that is unique, although the obvious forgery of a Sibylline article by a Christian in order to support orthodox Christian theology is significant. Several items are worthy of some attention. First, in the retelling of the story of Jesus, John the Baptist is still important enough to have his career and death summarized. Even in the New Testament there are some hints of John’s lingering importance, this Christian interpolation indicates John’s life and death were still part of the Gospel story.

Second, the section describing Jesus’s miracles tracks with the Synoptic Gospels (healings and exorcisms, walking on water feeding the 5000). There are no non-biblical miracles mentioned, and there are small details included (John is killed by someone addicted to dance, twelve baskets after the feeding miracle). The details seem to be drawn from all four Gospels. This is an obvious attempt to wedge the Gospel story into an existing “ancient” prophecy, but it is remarkable there are no allusions to non-canonical stories. For example, the only reference to the birth of Jesus is the visit of the Magi, indicating a familiarity with Matthew (or a similar tradition). Yet there is no virgin birth, canonical or non-, and there is no mention of popular stories about Jesus as a child.

Third, the Jews are blamed for the crucifixion and they are now feeling the “raging wrath of the Most High” (362) and they “will weep for each other on receiving the wrath of the great” (399). This reflects an unfortunate anti-Jewish theology which will result in a great deal of persecutions throughout the Christian era.


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