Nero Redivivus – Sibylline Oracles, Book 8.1-216

The eighth Sibylline oracle contains a wealth of clear historical allusions. The first 216 lines are probably Jewish with some Christian interpolations. The second half of the book draws together various sources, nearly all Christian and interested in developing Christology. We are therefore dealing with an oracle at the Christian end of the spectrum, placing Christian theology in the mouth of a pagan seer.

Colossus of NeroThe Sibyl begins with a description of the kingdoms of the world: the Persians, the Medes, the Ethiopians, Assyria Babylon, Macedonia, and then the “famous lawless kingdom of the Italians” (1-16). These kingdoms will be judged, “the mills of God grind fine flour, though late” (14, OTP comments this is an old Greek proverb).

Greed is condemned (17-36). Greed is the “source of impiety and forerunner of disorder, deviser of wars, a hostile troubler of peace” (24-25). Like Revelation 18, the writer characterizes Rome as a greedy nation and an oppressor the poor. Because of their greed, Rome will be destroyed “one day” by a heavenly affliction and no god will be able to save them (37-49). Their wealth will be laid low and the race will become lifeless corpses.

Lines 50-67 describe Hadrian as the “luxurious one” who inspects the world with polluted foot, giving gifts.” This is an allusion to Hadrian’s tour of the provinces in A.D. 121-130.  He will participate in magical shrines and “display a child of the gods” (His favorite son was deified in A.D. 130 after he was accidentally drowned in Egypt). Three kings will rule after Hadrian, “fulfilling the name of the heavenly God whose power is both now and for all ages.”

The next section concerns the return of Nero during the reign of “an old man,” Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180). A “matricidal exile returns from the ends of the earth” and will control dominions far and wide (68-72).

Rome will be judged (73-109, 123-130). They will be brought down from their great height by “gigantic hands” (100) and be made to dwell under the earth, everyone will hear bellowing from Hades and the gnashing of teeth. All will be judged in the great tribunal of God (110-122). This section is inserted into the condemnation of Rome and breaks off after a long list of “equality” statements (there will be no king, no tyrant, etc.) The age will be “common to all.” (Cf. 1 Enoch 53:6-7, the “leveling” of social groups in Matthew 3). In lines 131-138 Hadrian is praised as ruling “by the counsels of the great God without contamination.”

The text breaks off with “When the time of the phoenix comes” (139-159), but it is enough for Collins to once again identify this as a text about the return of Nero. By the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Nero would have been long dead, so the image of the Phoenix is appropriate to describe the rebirth of this enemy of God’s people. He will return to ravage the race of peoples, the nation of the Hebrews.

This section is an allusion to the persistent rumor Nero faked his death in A.D. 68 and would eventually return to his rightful place as emperor of Rome. Some scholars detect this in Revelation 13 where the first beast (representing Rome) appears to have died but is revived by the second beast. Sometimes this is used to date Revelation early, since the possibility of Nero’s return would diminish by the 90s since Nero would have been quite old by then. But this oracle implies Nero could return nearly 100 years after his own death, rising like a Phoenix to persecute God’s people once again.

The final and greatest evil will come upon the Rhodians (160-168). This section is perhaps related to the first in the oracle since it includes Rhodes as central to the final judgment of Rome (which will become a “street,” probably a reference to Rome becoming insignificant). The holy prince will gain control of the scepters of the world and Rome will fall (169-177). Various signs of the end are listed in 178-216. There are several breaks in the text, but the usually catastrophic “wrath of God” things are present. Of note is line 205, there will be a resurrection of the dead, the swift racing of the lame, the deaf will hear and the blind will see.

7 thoughts on “Nero Redivivus – Sibylline Oracles, Book 8.1-216

  1. Dear Philip (if I may),

    I am also a scholar on Late Antiquity Oracles and Middle Persian apocalyptic (my research project can be found at ). I am very much interested in the Nero Redivivus theme and as a mamber of the SBL Committee for Apocalyptic Studies, aka “Apocalyptic Unit”) I would like to discuss more with you and make an invitation to our event in Helsinki later this year. You can find my e-mail on the site above. Thank you very much for the attention,



    • Do you mean in Sibylline 8? I see only one ref, line 108, “A final but greatest evil will come upon the Rhodians, and for the Thebans evil captivity awaits thereafter.Egypt will be destroyed by the wickedness of its rulers.” There are four occurrences of Rhodes in the whole collection (at least acc/to my quick text search using Logos). Do you know of more?

      It looks to me like the few references to Rhodes in the Sibylline oracles are among short lists of foreign trading partners, possibly draw from Ezekiel 27:15 where it is mentioned along with Tyre. According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on Rhodes, “The Roman consul sent a letter in 142 B.C.E. to the city of Rhodes concerning relations between Rome and the Maccabean state, providing the earliest extant testimony for Jewish inhabitants on the island (1 Macc 15:23). Jewish maritime trade probably existed between Alexandrian and Rhodian Jews prior to 142 B.C.E., despite the silence of Hellenistic epigraphic sources” (5:720).

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