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.

Romans 13:1-7 – Paul and Empire (Part 1)

The transformed life ought to effect one’s relationship with government.  This is based on common idea in the Hebrew Bible that God ordains the rulers and the nations.  Since Paul is speaking about the Roman empire, it must mean that the Christian ought to obey even an evil government. Paul uses the same verb here in Romans 13 as he did in 8:7, with reference to submitting to the will of God.  Paul therefore means that the transformed believer must obey the government because it is God’s appointed authority.  Perhaps by extension, when you obey the government, you obey God.

PowerBut most people immediately ask: if that government abuses its power and rules unjustly, is it then appropriate for a Christian to rebel to change that government?  Usually Christians will say they will obey the government insofar as the government commands that are not contrary to God’s commands.  I can hear many former students asking about life under an oppressive government that does not allow personal freedom or abuses citizens.  What if the government restricts my personal freedom?  What if the government wants to take my guns away?  What if the government permits same-sex marriage, abortion, or the use of marijuana?  What if the government were to be controlled by Islam and Sharia law is imposed on us?  Should we rebel and against the government then?

I think it is critically important to realize that in the first century, no member of Paul’s congregation would have ever asked this question.  No one would have plotted the fall of the Roman empire, nor would a Roman Guy Fawkes attempt to blow up the Senate.  Rome really did bring peace to the world and Rome did really provide services which raised the social and economic fortunes of everyone.  No one would have considered joining the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest the outrageous economic practices of the Roman Empire, nor (in the interest of being fair and balanced), would anyone dream of complaining about their taxes and joined the Tea Party.  Those categories simply do not exist in the first century, and if they did, Rome would have silenced them with extreme prejudice!  The young lady with the sign in this picture needs to realize that protesters did not burn Rome, Nero did!

Big-BrotherConsider what the Roman empire was like in the mid-first century.  They did oppress people, the enslaved millions, they promoted the worship of every god imaginable, and they imposed their religious laws on everyone.  Infanticide was practiced and homosexual relationships were permitted (although nothing like gay marriage really existed).  Paul does not add any sort of condition to the command to obey the established government, despite the fact that the Roman government was one of the most oppressive regimes in history!

I do not read anything in Romans 13 or in Paul’s relationship with Rome that sounds anything like a protest against the government.   Paul’s method for dealing with social ills was far more subtle than mass protests – and much more effective.  He told the church to fix the problems themselves by caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan.  There is nothing here in Romans 13 which would support the overthrow of Rome, either in the first century or the twenty-first.

Romans 13:1-7 – Paul and Occupy Wall Street (Part 1)

The transformed life ought to effect one’s relationship with government.  This is based on common idea in the Hebrew Bible that God ordains the rulers and the nations.  Since Paul is speaking about the Roman empire, it must mean that the Christian ought to obey even an evil government. Paul uses the same verb here in Romans 13 as he did in 8:7, with reference to submitting to the will of God.  Paul therefore means that the transformed believer must obey the government because it is God’s appointed authority.  Perhaps by extension, when you obey the government, you obey God.

But most people immediately ask: if that government abuses its power and rules unjustly, is it then appropriate for a Christian to rebel to change that government?  Usually Christians will say they will obey the government insofar as the government commands that are not contrary to God’s commands.  I can hear many former students asking about life under an oppressive government that does not allow personal freedom or abuses citizens.  What if the government restricts my personal freedom?  What if the government wants to take my guns away?  What if the government permits same-sex marriage, abortion, or the use of marijuana?  What if the government were to be controlled by Islam and Sharia law is imposed on us?  Should we rebel and against the government then?

I think it is critically important to realize that in the first century, no member of Paul’s congregation would have ever asked this question.  No one would have plotted the fall of the Roman empire, nor would a Roman Guy Fawkes attempt to blow up the Senate.  Rome really did bring peace to the world and Rome did really provide services which raised the social and economic fortunes of everyone.  No one would have considered joining the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest the outrageous economic practices of the Roman Empire, nor (in the interest of being fair and balanced), would anyone dream of complaining about their taxes and joined the Tea Party.  Those categories simply do not exist in the first century, and if they did, Rome would have silenced them with extreme prejudice!  The young lady with the sign in this picture needs to realize that protestors did not burn Rome, Nero did!

Consider what the Roman empire was like in the mid-first century.  They did oppress people, the enslaved millions, they promoted the worship of every god imaginable, and they imposed their religious laws on everyone.  Infanticide was practiced and homosexual relationships were permitted (although nothing like gay marriage really existed).  Paul does not add any sort of condition to the command to obey the established government, despite the fact that the Roman government was one of the most oppressive regimes in history!

I do not read anything in Romans 13 or in Paul’s relationship with Rome that sounds anything like a protest against the government.   Paul’s method for dealing with social ills was far more subtle than mass protests – and much more effective.  He told the church to fix the problems themselves by caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan.  There is nothing here in Romans 13 which would support the overthrow of Rome, either in the first century or the twenty-first.