An Extract from Pseudo-Phocylides – Sibylline Oracles, Book 2.56-148

Phocylides was a sixth century B.C. poet who was, in the ancient world, well-known as an author of maxims and proverbs applicable to daily life. Charlesworth has a separate section for Pseudo-Phocylides in the second volume of OTP.

Pseudo-PhocylidesIn the first century B.C. it appears a diaspora Jew created 230 lines of poetry in the name of Phocylides (hence, Pseudo-Phocylides) in order to demonstrate to the gentiles that Judaism is a rational religion. The point was not to convert, but to create “sympathizers” among the gentiles (OTP 2:566). In the Sibylline Oracles, these lines are used as “criteria” for the judgment just described (Collins, “Sibylline Oracles,” in ABD 6:4). There is a “frame” at the end of this section which returns to the idea of a context (lines 149-153). Since these lines will be covered in more detail in the section on Pseudo-Phocylides, suffice here to simply note the themes covered:

  • On Justice (56-77)
  • On Mercy (78-94)
  • On Moderation (95-108)
  • On Money (109-118)
  • On Honesty and Moderation (119-148)

The material following the Pseudo-Phocylides insertion returns to the theme of apocalyptic judgment and associated signs. Lines 154-173 give another series of prodigies which signal the last generation: children with grey temples from birth, famines, pestilence, war, changes of time, lamentations, and many tears. The time is near, we are told, when false prophets arise and do many signs (cf. Mt. 24:11, 24, Mk 13:22). Even Beliar will appear and do many signs, confusing even the holy and faithful men (Mt. 24:14, even the elect may be deceived by false Christs). Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. The Jews of the first century seem to have been looking closely at the signs performed by Jesus in order to determine if they were true (i.e. from God) or false (i.e satanically inspired.)

After the kingdoms of the world are judged (172-173) the Hebrews will rule over the world (174-186). The most high will “spread” [sic] over all men at that time. Elijah will come driving his chariot from heaven and display three signs (187-195). Then the fiery river of heaven will pour out on the earth and destroy nearly everything (196-213). Stars will fall from the sky (cf. Is. 34:4, Mk. 13:25, Mt. 24:29) and men will gnash their teeth (cf. Matt 8:12, 13:42, 50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, Luke 13:28). The archangels will lead people into judgment (214-220).

The gates of Hades will then be broken and all the dead will be raised to life (221-251). Christ himself will come on a cloud of glory and sit on the right hand of the Glorious One to judge all of the dead. The dead will be divided into the wicked and the righteous (252-282); the wicked are punished (283-312) and the righteous are rewarded (313-338), all quite parallel to the eschatological judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46. In this parable-like conclusion to the Olivet Discourse, the punishment of the wicked is also described as “a place of darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Unlike Matthew 25, people in the place of torment will request mercy from God in vain for “seven days of ages,” then they will come into repentance because of the intercession of the holy virgin. This last line is obviously a Christian idea, probably assigning a role to the “holy virgin” played by Ezra in 4 Ezra 7:101 (OTP 1:353, note a3; in much of the Ezra material, as the prophet witnesses some sinner tortured, he prays to the Lord for mercy on the sinner).

The righteous are rewarded with equality – there will be no more kings and leaders, no more rich and tyrants, “all will be on a par together” (324). Creation will also have an “equality” – there will be no more seasons. There will be no more marriage, death, sales or purchases, no sunset, no sunrise, etc. The righteous will enter into eternal life which is described as the Elysian plain and the Archerusian Lake (where Odysseus entered Hades).


Bibliography: P. W. Van Der Horst has four short articles on Pseudo-Phocylides:  “Pseudo-Phocylides” in OTP 2:565-582; ABD 5:347-348; “Pseudo-Phocylides and the New Testament,” ZNW 69 (1978) 187-202; “Pseudo-Phocylides Revisited.” JSP 3 (1988): 3-30).