Christian or Gnostic? – Sibylline Oracles, Book 7

This is the least structured of the oracles and is probably a collection of various sources.  The work is Christian and probably is not based on any Jewish material.  As such, the Seventh Oracle represents the other end of the tangent begun in the earlier Jewish oracles. Christians placed prophecies in the mouth of a pagan oracle in order to give a universal validity to the claims of Christianity.

This oracle seems not only Christian, but in some ways Gnostic. Collins lists five allusions to Gnostic ideas but concludes that the presence of these elements do not make the book Gnostic.  In the same way earlier oracles drew on pagan mythology, so to this Christian oracle is drawing on Gnosticism (OTP 1:409).

  • Several European cites will be destroyed, Rhodes will be the first (1-6). The flood is briefly described (7-15).  This section is fragmentary, but makes Phrygia the location of Ararat as in 1 Enoch. A general oracle against the nations, although the focus is on Egypt (16-28).
  • A brief, fragmented description of a messiah figure (29-39). It is hard to get the sense of this prophecy since much is missing.  God entrusts his throne to someone from the house of David.  The angels sleep under his feet (33).  He is a “young shoot putting forth eyes from the root.” (38)
  • Various nations and cities are condemned (40-63). Colophon and Corinth are mentioned specifically as destroyed by the Roman Ares.
  • Christ’s baptism is described with a special emphasis on the people not recognizing him as their God when he came up from the water (64-75).
  • Sacrifice will be replaced by prayer, alms giving, and care for the poor (76-91).
  • Lines 91a-95 are a fragment which may continue the theme from the previous section, but there is not enough there to see this clearly.
  • Various nations and cities are condemned (96-116), including Sardina, Mygdonia, Macedonia and Rome, Thebes.
  • A “woe” against the “evil spirit sea,” which will be devoured by fire in the chaotic end of the world (118-131).
  • Those who falsely claim to be Hebrews and make money from prophecy will be destroyed (132-138).

After the third “circling of years” when the first Ogdoad is seen, he will begat a “pure mind of men” and no one will plow a crooked row anymore (139-149). Ogdoad can refer to eight frog/snake gods worshiped at Hermopolis, Egypt, although this does not fit the context well.  Ogdoad is also a Gnostic concept relating to the aeons (Edwin Yamauchi, “The Gnostics and History” JETS 14 (1971): 29-40, 31). The word is used to describe a place in the Hermetic Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth:  “The Eighth or Ogdoad is described as the place or sphere where souls and angels continuously praise the Ninth with hymns; the Ninth or Ennead is the dwelling place of Nous or Divine Mind” (Ruth Majerick, “Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth” in ABD 2:210-211). It is possible this reference refers to Jesus in some kind of numeric wordplay, since the name Jesus Christ is often rendered 888. Finally, all people in this restored world will “eat dewy manna with white teeth” (148-149, cf. Revelation 2:17).

The oracle concludes with a confession of faith from the Sibyl herself.  This is part of the sibylline formula: the pagan prophetess confesses faith in God and claims her oracles are true.

7 thoughts on “Christian or Gnostic? – Sibylline Oracles, Book 7

  1. Not many are commenting on your Sibylline posts, I see. That’s too bad. I appreciate you posting them although I’ve missed some myself… pretty busy lately. Along with most other non-canonical lit of the early Christian period, the overall interest is probably quite low. That’s unfortunate and I think it reflects the very skewed (and misleading) storyline of traditional Christianity re. the composition and canonization of the NT. And in a related and broader sense, the way, way oversimplified concepts of most Evangelicals as well as progressives as to the formative process of first-to-third century Christianity.

    But my sense is that most Christian origin/NT scholars who are basically Evangelical (or conservative Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, etc.) have similar misconceptions and do not do what they could and should to begin to correct the misleading concepts about early Christianity and formation of the biblical (especially NT) canon.

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    • Thanks for the encouragement. Summers are always slow on the blogs, this series has kept things lively even without comments.

      I think academic evangelicals have come a long way on the non-canonical literature in terms of both awareness and usage in exegesis. At least the commentaries and other resources I use, there is a great deal of interaction with Second Temple literature, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls. I would see this on a par with any biblical scholarship regardless of faith commitment to authority of Scripture or traditional canon.

      But I think that difference is not much of a difference with respect to good scholarship. An evangelical scholar is not going to advocate for 1 Enoch or any of the Sibyllines as “canonical,” but neither would the most liberal scholar imaginable since the idea of canon is not all that important to them.

      This material is used to shed light on the origin and development of Christianity (and modern Judaism), regardless of who is using it. Although there are a few who would say Christians suppressed some Gnostic book or another, it seems to me that kind of conspiracy scholarship is outside the mainstream.

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      • I appreciate the info re. what you read relative to Evangelicals and others in their analysis and use of non-canonical lit. I read almost nothing of the sources you’re probably referring to, tho I read some books and more popular level articles from a variety of perspectives. Perhaps my beef is more with the apologists for traditional views, who generally are up on theology and/or general church history, but not so much the details of NT or NT era scholarship from original documents, the languages, textual issues, etc. Generally, they don’t have much training or specialization in those areas and are cherry-picking their “facts”. It used to be Josh McDowell leading the way and maybe somebody a little bit better has taken his place… not sure who. I’ve had a little correspondence with his son, Sean, who I interestingly knew just slightly as a 10-year-old kid, along with brief acquaintance with his dad. Sean, now an apologetics prof at Biola (my alma mater), seems to be a little deeper and more circumspect perhaps, tho I’ve not followed his career or work much.

        I included “progressives” in my critique bec. I’m well aware that popularizers of critiques on orthodoxy, or “anti-apologists”, are also believed too readily by many and they also present a misleading picture in many cases.

        Anyway, I’m glad you’ll share on this level as I don’t have much occasion to talk with a variety of scholars or read to the extent I’d like.

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