As discussed in the introduction, Collins identified the first 96 lines as an introduction, possibly a fragment from another book. Lines 1-8 form an introduction by the Sibyl herself, explaining that she speaks as God bids her to speak. There follows a condemnation of idolatry which is clearly Egyptian in origin (worshiping snakes and sacrificing to cats, line 30; OTP 1:362, note d). When Rome rules over Egypt, it will become the greatest kingdom, but it will be destroyed by three men (the second triumvirate, lines 46-63; OTP 1:363, note i).
Lines 63-74 predict the coming of Nero, the Beliar from the line of the Sebastenoi. This Beliar will perform signs and raise the dead, but will eventually be destroyed when he threatens the most high God. After this the world will be in the hands of a woman (75-92). This seems to be Cleopatra, although if the previous paragraph mentions the line of the Sebastenoi (Augustus), then this is either out of order historically or it refers to someone else.
The “main book” begins in line 97 with a historical survey of the world beginning with the tower of Babel in the tenth generation of men from the flood (97-109). A lengthy section discusses the Titans and their battles (110-161). God ultimately puts an end to the Titans and the cycles of the history of men began: Egypt, Persian, the Medes, the Ethiopians, Assyria-Babylon, then the Macedonians, Egypt again, then Rome.
These kingdoms seem out of order – Persia followed Babylon and the Ethiopians could not really be described as the same kind of kingdom as the others. Collins notes on OTP 1:365, note u if the kingdom of Cronos and a final eschatological kingdom is included, we have a typical list of ten kingdoms of the world. This list of kingdoms of the world is expanded in lines 162-195, climaxing in the kingdom of Macedonia. Macedonia will rule over a great territory and will cause many kings to fear.
The text seems to be against Hellenism as spread through the world by Alexander (cf. the anti-homosexuality statement in lines 185-186). This will continue until the seventh Greek king rules in Egypt (see the introduction for possibilities). The kingdoms of the world are finally judged in 196-217.
The remainder of the first section of the Third Sibylline concerns the history of Israel:
- A description of the Jewish People (218-248). While Abram came from Ur of the Chaldeans, his people do not practice sorcery, etc. They do not rob, move boundaries, or drive off herds, etc. They always take care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan.
- When they leave Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they follow the Lord to Sinai and are given the Law (249-264).
- The people do not keep the law and the land becomes desolate for 70 years and the Temple will be destroyed (265-281).
- A “good end and great glory” await the Jews when he lifts their weary knee and sends them a king to judge each man and raise a new temple (282-294).
Like Daniel, this survey of history affirms God’s sovereignty as he works through human history by raising up series of kingdoms. As the series of kingdoms culminates in Rome, the history narrows its focus to the restoration of Israel and the Temple.
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“In the period of the Renaissance the ancient poetic oracles were again read eagerly, although they were not printed until a late date. The first edition was issued by Xystus Betuleius (Sixtus Birken) of Augsburg, in eight books (Basel, 1545), and created a sensation in the world of scholarship; Castalio of Basel published a Latin versed translation of the Sibyllines in 1546. Better manuscripts were used by Johannes Opsopœus (Johannes Koch), whose edition appeared at Paris in 1596. The next edition was that in Gallandi’s “Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum” (Venice, 1765, 1788), but it was not until the nineteenth century that editions of scholarly accuracy appeared. In 1817 a fourteenth book was edited, from a manuscript at Milan (Codex Ambrosianus), by Angelo Mai, who, eleven years later, published books xi.-xiv., from a Vatican manuscript. Better texts also became available for the parts previously published. The two editions published by the French scholar Charles Alexandre in 1841-56 and 1869 are masterly from a historical, critical, and exegetical point of view. Other noteworthy editions are those by Alois Rzach (Vienna, 1891) and Johann Geffken (Leipsic, 1902), both of whom have elucidated the Sibyllines in numerous other studies. Without going into textual details, a brief résumé may here be given of the results of the literary criticism of these poems, since the Christian and the Jewish elements must be distinguished from each other. Although definite results are impossible, there is a certain consensus in scholarly opinion, which may be epitomized as follows, on the authority of Schürer and Harnack…” (“Christianity & Ancient Greece”)