Roman Emperors – Sibylline Oracles, Book 12

This Oracle continues the themes of book 11, extending the history into the currant era. Augustus is described as a ruler no other Roman will ever exceed, a man God approved for this hour (14-35). There is a brief “Christian insertion” in 30-34 which predicts the coming of the Messiah, the “bright star like the sun.

Roman EmperorsThe book includes sections on the emperors of Rome, including a comment about their character and history, usually a comment about their appearance, hair color, etc. and a hint at their name (the one with the number three hundred as his first initial). This serves to show the “riddle” of Rev 13:18 (the number of the beast) was common enough in the ancient world. NB: the numbers in parenthesis are lines in the oracle, not dates.

  • Tiberius (37-47, he will rule wearing purple, and “sack the city with high gates”).
  • Gaius (48-66, a man with “deceitful locks”).
  • Claudius (68-75, terrible signs accompany his reign, darkness at noon). OTP 1:447, note m states there were four solar eclipses during his reign.
  • Nero (78-94), “a terrible snake, an athlete, charioteer and murderer” who later flees and perishes wretchedly).
  • Galba, Otho, and Vitelius (95-98)
  • Vespasian (99-116, a “great destroyer”).
  • Titus (117-123, a noble lord who falls by deceit).
  • Domitian (124-143, all mortals will love him but he will receive a wound in the middle of his chest). This is rarely mentioned as a potential background to the wounding of the beast in Revelation 13, which is remarkable since Domitian is often cited as the emperor in the immediate context of Revelation.
  • Nerva (143-146, a majestic man, slain and gone to Hades).
  • Trajan (147-163, a mighty warrior who will die on foreign soil).
  • Hadrian (164-175, a silver-haired man who will bring a long peace).
  • The Antonines (176-185, three who rule for three decades).
  • Marcus Aurelius (186-205, a man who knows many wise things, at whose prayer it will rain).
  • Commodus (206-223, he will live dangerously and will suffer evil in a bath).
  • The Death of Commodus (224-235, when the destructive time is near for Rome).
  • Pertinax (236-244, a man who will shed blood with sharp bronze swords).
  • Didius Iulianus (245-249, he will have a swift fate, mighty in war and smitten by iron).
  • Pescennius Niger (250-255, another warrior, will die on the Assyrian plains).
  • Septimus Severus (256-268, a resourceful and crafty man who knows what is expedient).
  • Alexander Severus (269-288, he will reign with an infant and have the name of a Macedonian prince).

The conclusion to the book is a warning that those who honor God and forget idols will have joy (289-299).  What is remarkable about this conclusion is that none of these kings could be said to have honored God in the least.  In general this review of history is quite complimentary to the Roman emperors.  One might expect a Christian writer to have portrayed Domitian, for example, as a great evil ruler because of his persecution of the church. Unless, of course, Domitian was not a great persecutor as many scholars have claimed.

This may help several scholars who have argued external persecution is not the problem in the book of Revelation.  See for example Alan James Beagley, The “Sitz Im Leben” of the Apocalypse with Particular Reference to the Role of the Church’s Enemies (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1987).  For a brief summary of Beagley’s position, see his article “Babylon” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity, 1997), 111-112.

5 thoughts on “Roman Emperors – Sibylline Oracles, Book 12

  1. At first glance, the Sibylline Oracles seem to be more of a history, or some sort of satirical, or written caricature of the Roman emperors than a book that could even possibly be considered divine or inspired by God. It is quite interesting the comments made about each emperor, I wonder if they held more significance in that time or given the right context? To me, they seem almost random, or somewhat funny, making it seem like some sort of satirical writing or the written form of a caricature. My favorite descriptions of the emperors are Galius, a man with deceitful locks, Hadrian, a silver-haired man who will bring a long peace, and Pertinax, a man who will shed blood with sharp bronze swords. I did not realize that locks could be so deceitful, and that apparently, your hair says a lot about you, like if you will be trustworthy or not, or if you are going to bring peace to the land. And I thought the description of Pertinax was a bit comical because it specifies bronze swords, so does that mean if he uses iron or some other metal, he does not actually end up hurting his enemies, and he cannot shed their blood? It is very interesting that the point of the book is to warn people to honor God and forget idols. Roman emperors are not exactly who you would expect to be examples of forgetting idols and honoring God, especially considering some of them persecuted Christians. If anything, they were idols to the people and drew them away from God. As a whole, while this book seems like an interesting way to learn about Roman emperors, it really does not seem to have any divine inspiration and really seems like more of a satirical history, than anything else.

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