Christological Poems – Sibylline Oracles, Book 8.217-500

Lines 217-250 of the eighth Sibylline oracle form an acrostic poem based on “Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior, Cross.” The theme of the poem is eschatology and much is drawn from the Old Testament (the heavens will roll up, Isa 34:4, for example.) The oracle makes a connection between Jesus and the Old Testament messiah figure and concludes with a statement that “this is our God, now proclaimed in acrostics, the king, the immortal savior who suffered for us.”

annunciationThe second Christological poem (251-336) includes many references to the life of Christ: feeding the 5000 in line 275; “your king comes on a foal of a donkey;” the passion in 280-284; “the veil of the Temple will be rent, and in midday there will be dark monstrous night for three hours” (305-306). Jesus goes to Hades announcing hope for all (perhaps a hint of the “harrowing of hell,” 1 Peter 3:19). The resurrection of Jesus is clear, “and then, returning from the dead, he will come to light, first of the resurrection, showing a beginning to the elect” (313). This is followed by an eschatological fragment in 337-358. The catastrophic signs found elsewhere in the Sibyllines reappear.

A lengthy speech by God himself condemns idolatry (359-428). There is a consistent theme in this poem of God as creator and the offense of man worshiping creation. God has, for example, “formed eyes and ears, seeing and hearing” (368) and knows every thought. “Abandoning the Creator, they worshiped licentiousness. All have gifts from me but give them to useless things, and they think all these things useful, like my honors making burnt offerings at meals, as to their own dead.” Similar to Romans 1:18f, humans have abandoned their creator, pursuit of sexual sin 381.

The hymn to God appearing in lines 429-455 is similar to pagan thinking about God (OTP 1:427, note t2). God is “Self-begotten, undefiled, everlasting, eternal” (429). Like the Jewish use of Greek mythology in the early Sibyls or the Christian use of Gnosticism in the seventh Sibyl, this writer / compiler has drawn on Greco-Roman philosophy to describe God.

The poem concerning the incarnation in 456-479 reflects fairly advanced theology and the Virgin Mary is featured prominently. The archangel Gabriel says to Mary, “‘Receive God, Virgin, in your immaculate bosom.’ Thus speaking, he breathed in the grace of God, even to one who was always a maiden.” (461-462). It is possible it was appended at a later date when Mary becomes more important in Catholic theology.

The final paragraph on ethics closed the book (480-500). The Christian reader is admonished to never “approach the sanctuaries of temples nor to pour libations to statues nor to honor them with prayers” (487-489) nor “to defile the light of the sky with smoke from burnt offerings” (494). Perhaps this exhortation to abstain from sacrifice reflects a period when Christians were not yet fully depaganized, making sacrifices in order to appear loyal to civic cults.

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