In the Tenth Generation – Sibylline Oracles, Book 4

As described by Collins, the Fourth Sibylline is a “political oracle” updated by a Jew in the late first century (OTP 1:381). Of special interest is the scheme of history the book presents: four kingdoms, a conflagration, then the resurrection and judgment. Since this is not a Christian work, we are reading a view of history and eschatology that may be used as context for New Testament studies, especially in describing messianic hopes during the ministry of Jesus.

madonnaandred200The Sibyl describes herself as speaking “unfailing truths” (1-5). This opening sets the prophecy compatible with the Old Testament in the mouth of a pagan prophetess. Despite being a pagan, the Sibyl condemns idolatry as an offense against the great God (6-23). God has comprehensive knowledge: “He sees all at once but is seen by no one himself” (12). Therefore, this oracle of ten generations is true. The righteous will receive great blessing from the Great God (24-39). The righteous are described in terms or behaviors: rejection of idolatry, sexual misconduct, mockery of the foolishness of pagans.

Lines 40-48 form an introduction to the Ten Generations / Four Kingdoms. Men are slow to respond to God, but his judgment is coming nonetheless. Eventually God will enable pious men to serve him after the accomplishment of the tenth kingdom. The first kingdom is Assyria (49-53). The first six generations occur while Assyrians rule the world, from the time of the flood. The second kingdom is the Medes (54-64). They only rule for two generations. Their time will end when the Euphrates flows with blood and the Medes and Persians both flee over the great waters. The third kingdom is Persia, the greatest of the kingdoms (65-87). They will be overcome by Greece, although Greece itself will be in political chaos. This kingdom will last until the tenth generation. The fourth kingdom is the least described; many nations are listed as falling to the final kingdom, but no actual kingdom is mentioned in this section (88-101). Likely each line could be related to some battle or political movement in early Roman history.

The rise of Rome is detailed in (102-114), described as a “great Italian war” under which the whole world will serve. When an evil storm of war will come from Italy, Jerusalem will be destroyed (115-129). The invaders will commit repulsive murders in front of the temple. A leader of Rome will come from Syria and burn the Temple and slaughter many men and women (a reference to Titus). There will be a great earthquake which destroy Salamis and Paphos and flood Cyprus.

A series of cataclysmic signs are described which will occur after the fall of Jerusalem (130-151). Vesuvius is used as an example in 130-134; the wrath of the God of Heaven caused the mountain to explode (The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompey may be in the background of the imagery of the trumpet judgments in Revelation 8. Wars and famine will occur throughout the world.

People in the last times will be “unworthy men” doing “unholy deeds (152-161). They are foolish and infantile; God is “gnashing his teeth in wrath” and will destroy them “at once in a great conflagration.” In the light of the imminent conflagration, the writer urges his readers to stop provoking God and seek forgiveness (162-170). Remarkably, Collins (or the editor of OTP 1:388) describes this section as “Conversion and Baptism” despite the fact baptism is not mentioned, nor is conversion to the Jewish faith. The earth will be destroyed in fire and a very great sign, with sword and trumpet, at the rising of the sun (171-178).

Finally, the Sibyl describes the resurrection of the dead (179-192). After the conflagration, God will “put to sleep” the fire and fashion bones from the ashes and “raise up mortals again.” This resurrection imagery is similar to Ezekiel 37 in that bodies are re-created from bones. People are raised to face judgment and will be assigned either to Tartarus and Gehenna for punishment or to the “delightful and pleasant light of the sun.”

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