The Burning Sun among the Stars – Sibylline Oracles Book 5.155-531

A series of oracles against nations follows (163-227, 286-360). Rome, Egypt, the Gauls, and the Ethiopians are listed for special condemnation in the first section, Asia and Europe in the second. The city of Corinth is singled out for special attention in 214-227. There are various exhortations interspersed in this section along with occasional returns to the theme of the coming enemy. These are consistently identified by Collins as “The Return of Nero” despite some being very vague and not at all clearly referring to the Nero myth. 214-227, for example, is a condemnation of Corinth and only very peripherally about Nero, if at all. That there is a short condemnation of arrogance (228-238) following this section may be related to the arrogance of the Roman emperors.

A long section praises the Jews as the people of God (238-285). This section looks forward to the time when Israel will once again be the “center of the world” and the world will come to Jerusalem to worship, including a prayer for the “fertile and luxurious land of Judea (328-332).

destroy-templeThe coming enemy of God is described again in 361-385. He is a matricide and devises evil schemes in his mind. He will conquer all the lands and like a wintery blast he will make war everywhere. His end comes when fire rains down on men from heaven and all war ceases. An exhortation is attached to this description, encouraging people (Rome) from all sorts of sexual sins presumably associated with Nero (matricide, pedophile, etc., 386-396).

The oracle describes the destruction of the temple by a great horde of illustrious men (397-413). The king who destroyed the temple is said to have died by the hand of the Immortal after he left the land, which is odd since Titus did not die in any unusual way.

A blessed man comes from the “expanses of heaven” with a scepter in his hand which he was given by God himself (414-433). He will return wealth to those from whom it was stolen and make the city of God shine as a brilliant light, more brilliant than the sun and moon. The temple will be rebuilt as an ornament and all the righteous will see it. Both the east and west will sing the glory of God; all the wretched will be judged.

In the context of judgment, the oracle turns against Babylon, the classic enemy of God (434-446). They had been the sole kingdom ruling the earth, but in the end they had to send to Rome for assistance. Catastrophic disasters will happen in those days (447-484): The seas will dry up, Roman ships will no longer sail (Revelation 18, the lament of the seaman). Apocalyptic signs include locust, bloody war, and invasions over frozen rivers, wild animals attacking people, and weakness all over earth, moonless nights and a mist covering the whole world.

Egypt will be converted in the last days (448-511). People in Egypt will decide to build a temple to God in an attempt to worship God correctly, but it will be destroyed; God will therefore rain terrible judgments on the land. This may be a reference to the temple at Leontopolis (Collins OTP 1:405, note i4, but the prediction could be taken as eschatological as well).

The Oracle concludes with a terrible battle in the stars – the constellations themselves are destroyed and the sky becomes starless (512-531). This seems odd, but there may be a subtle condemnation of astrology here. It is possible judgment has come to such a point that the stars are no longer able to guide so it is as if they have gone away.

A Star Will Shine – Sibylline Oracles Book 5.1-154

The Fifth Sibylline is eschatological, similar in many ways to book 3. There is a clear expectation of an enemy of God who will oppress the people and a savior sent from God to rescue his people. Collins considers this an example of Diaspora / Egyptian Judaism (OTP 1:390-391). As such it may be a guide to Jewish expectations in the first century with more to say about the context of Revelation than the ministry of Jesus. Still, the general eschatological outline (oppression, salvation via a messiah, judgment, rest) seems to be present here as well.

This Sibyl begins with a review of the history of “the Latin race” (1-51). The history becomes most detailed in line 28, “one who has fifty as an initial” becomes commander, this is Nero. He is an “athlete, charioteer, murderer and one who dares ten thousand things.” The history concludes with Hadrian (one who will have his name on the sea – the Adriatic, line 46) and Marcus Aurelius, a “most excellent, outstanding, dark-haired one.”  While in some cases this is cryptic, it is not impossible to figure out these historical references.

Nero or Joffery

This is not really Nero

Egypt faces destruction in the final days (52-92). From the east will come “a savage minded man, much bloodied and raving nonsense” (93-110). This king will conquer the west then turn toward Egypt and lay everything to waste. Only a third of life will remain for “wretched mortals” after this evil man conquers. Collins relates this paragraph to the Nero myth. While I cannot disagree with him, it is not at all obvious this evil man from the east is the same evil one as in 28f. Lines 137-154 are far more explicit in identifying Nero as the eschatological man of evil.The east will be destroyed (111-134). This section mentions places in Greece and Asia Minor; islands will sink and earthquakes will rip apart cities.

A godlike man comes from Rome (a Nero-like figure? 137-154). He will come from the Medes and Persians and will seize the Temple and destroy it, burning the citizens of the city. Despite the fact Nero died before the Temple was destroyed, he was the emperor who ordered Vespasian into Palestine in the first place. He is therefore blamed for destroying Jerusalem and the Temple.

In the Tenth Generation – Sibylline Oracles, Book 4

As described by Collins, the Fourth Sibylline is a “political oracle” updated by a Jew in the late first century (OTP 1:381). Of special interest is the scheme of history the book presents: four kingdoms, a conflagration, then the resurrection and judgment. Since this is not a Christian work, we are reading a view of history and eschatology that may be used as context for New Testament studies, especially in describing messianic hopes during the ministry of Jesus.

madonnaandred200The Sibyl describes herself as speaking “unfailing truths” (1-5). This opening sets the prophecy compatible with the Old Testament in the mouth of a pagan prophetess. Despite being a pagan, the Sibyl condemns idolatry as an offense against the great God (6-23). God has comprehensive knowledge: “He sees all at once but is seen by no one himself” (12). Therefore, this oracle of ten generations is true. The righteous will receive great blessing from the Great God (24-39). The righteous are described in terms or behaviors: rejection of idolatry, sexual misconduct, mockery of the foolishness of pagans.

Lines 40-48 form an introduction to the Ten Generations / Four Kingdoms. Men are slow to respond to God, but his judgment is coming nonetheless. Eventually God will enable pious men to serve him after the accomplishment of the tenth kingdom. The first kingdom is Assyria (49-53). The first six generations occur while Assyrians rule the world, from the time of the flood. The second kingdom is the Medes (54-64). They only rule for two generations. Their time will end when the Euphrates flows with blood and the Medes and Persians both flee over the great waters. The third kingdom is Persia, the greatest of the kingdoms (65-87). They will be overcome by Greece, although Greece itself will be in political chaos. This kingdom will last until the tenth generation. The fourth kingdom is the least described; many nations are listed as falling to the final kingdom, but no actual kingdom is mentioned in this section (88-101). Likely each line could be related to some battle or political movement in early Roman history.

The rise of Rome is detailed in (102-114), described as a “great Italian war” under which the whole world will serve. When an evil storm of war will come from Italy, Jerusalem will be destroyed (115-129). The invaders will commit repulsive murders in front of the temple. A leader of Rome will come from Syria and burn the Temple and slaughter many men and women (a reference to Titus). There will be a great earthquake which destroy Salamis and Paphos and flood Cyprus.

A series of cataclysmic signs are described which will occur after the fall of Jerusalem (130-151). Vesuvius is used as an example in 130-134; the wrath of the God of Heaven caused the mountain to explode (The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompey may be in the background of the imagery of the trumpet judgments in Revelation 8. Wars and famine will occur throughout the world.

People in the last times will be “unworthy men” doing “unholy deeds (152-161). They are foolish and infantile; God is “gnashing his teeth in wrath” and will destroy them “at once in a great conflagration.” In the light of the imminent conflagration, the writer urges his readers to stop provoking God and seek forgiveness (162-170). Remarkably, Collins (or the editor of OTP 1:388) describes this section as “Conversion and Baptism” despite the fact baptism is not mentioned, nor is conversion to the Jewish faith. The earth will be destroyed in fire and a very great sign, with sword and trumpet, at the rising of the sun (171-178).

Finally, the Sibyl describes the resurrection of the dead (179-192). After the conflagration, God will “put to sleep” the fire and fashion bones from the ashes and “raise up mortals again.” This resurrection imagery is similar to Ezekiel 37 in that bodies are re-created from bones. People are raised to face judgment and will be assigned either to Tartarus and Gehenna for punishment or to the “delightful and pleasant light of the sun.”

Prophecies of Disaster – Sibylline Book 3.489-544

This section (489-544) begins with a long prophecy of disaster against a variety of city states and peoples including the Phoenicians, Crete, and even Gog and Magog (513), but the main enemy judged in this section is Greece (520, 534, 537).  In 544 there is reference to only a third of mankind surviving the judgment by fire of that day, not unlike several Revelation judgments in when a “third” is destroyed.  The reference may be to Ezekiel 5:12, however, who used his hair as a prophecy to demonstrate that only a third of the nation would survive.

Sibyl by Ghirlandaio, 1485

Sibyl by Ghirlandaio, 1485

The Greeks continue as the focus in 545-573. They will recognize God when the planned disaster falls upon them (555-557).  Unlike the Greeks, the Jews do recognize God and are greatly praised in 573-600. They fully honor God in the temple, they properly sacrifice in a holy manner, the do not commit idolatry, they are “mindful of wedlock” and do not commit grotesque acts of immorality (pedophiles are mentioned in line 596). The Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks are specifically mentioned in contrast to the Jews in this section (598).

Because of the great sin which is in the world God will judge all mortals with disaster, wars, famines, etc. (601-619).  The Greeks, Macedonians and Egyptians will all be overthrown and their “handmade works” will be thrown on the fire. God will then transform the earth and cause great joy and prosperity for men (619-623).

The writer exhorts his readers to respond to God with great sacrifices in order to propitiate God (624-634). The writer describes “signs of the end,” primarily political chaos and military conquests (635-651). The next brief section appears to be a reference to a messiah-like person (652-656).  God will send a “king from the sun” who will stop war from happening on the earth by being obedient to the “noble teachings of God.” Collins mentions the common theme in Egyptian material that war will cease when Isis wills it.  In the Potters Oracle, a king from the Sun is sent by Isis (OTP 1:376 note x3). The Sibylline Oracles seem to be taking an Egyptian messiah-figure and converting it to the Jewish idea that the Messiah will stop war when he comes.

An assault on the temple is predicted in 658-668.  The Temple of the Great God will be attacked and destroyed and “abominable kings” will set their thrones around the city. A series of cosmological signs are given in 669-701.  These physical signs of the end of the age are not as spectacular as in other apocalypses (even Revelation in the New Testament), but they serve to show even this Oracle predicts a time of natural chaos before the kingdom arrives.

Amid this chaos, the elect will be rescued by the Great God (702-731). The hand of the Holy One will be fighting for them and all the people of the earth will notice how much the Mighty One loves his chosen people. Playing on Ezekiel 39, the Oracle describes the massive bloodshed of the final battle in terms of how long it will take to collect all of the weapons of war (“seven lengths of annually recurring times,” i.e. seven months). The Greeks are advised to “desist from proud thoughts” and seek the “great-hearted Immortal” (732-740).  If they serve the great God they will share in his things.

The time after the great day of God’s judgment is described in 741-761.  It will be a time of prosperity and riches, God himself will institute a “common law” which the whole earth will follow so that his will is done by all “wretched mortals.” A brief exhortation to “shun unlawful worship” interrupts the description of the kingdom (762-766).  This section includes a prohibition on unnatural sexual relations and the killing of infants. The description of the kingdom is resumed in 767-795.  Much here is drawn from passages in Isaiah and expanded imaginatively.  (Wolves and lambs eating together, lions eating husks at a manger, serpent and asps will sleep with babies, etc.) Signs of the end are listed in (796-808).  These include signs in the stars and eclipses, drops of blood and gore on rocks, infantry and cavalry in the clouds.

The book ends with a “confession” from the Sibyl herself (809-829).  This Jewish book attempts to put prophecies into the mouth of a pagan seer in order to show the universality of the Jewish hope for a messiah and a final judgment. She is the daughter of Circe and Gnostos (Circe is a witch in Odyssey 10.210, the identity of Gnostos is unknown.  OTP 3:380 note g4 suggests an emendation to agnostos, meaning an “unknown” father) but now she is a prophetess of the great God, who put all of the future in her mind.

Oracles against the Nations – Sibylline Oracles Book 3.295-488

This section seems to have been inserted into the third book from another source as it interrupts the flow of the apocalyptic section ending in 294.

  • Babylon is judged first because they destroyed the temple (303-313). Babylon will be “filled with blood” because they poured out the blood of good men and righteous men, whose blood even now cries out to high heaven.”
  • Egypt will be judged until the seventh generation (314-318).
  • Gog and Magog, between the Ethiopian rivers (319-323), “your dewy earth will drink black blood.”
  • Lybia, because they destroyed the house of the great immortal (324-340). Lybia and Ethiopia are among the followers of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38:5. Their land will be full of corpses, chasms and yawning pits.
  • Many cities will fall (341-349). The list includes nineteen cities in Asia Minor and Egypt.
  • Rome is condemned (350-380). Rome will fall in poverty and “become a street” (364). Rome will be liable to pay ten-thousand times so “what man would want to live in those days?” (371). Collins suspects line 357, “often drunken with your weddings with many suitors” is an allusion to the many weddings of Cleopatra, called “the mistress” in the oracle.
  • Macedonia will greatly afflict the world (381-388). Alexander the Great is described as from the “race of Cronos” and he will conquer even Babylon.
  • Alexander will go throughout the world conquering whomever he pleases (389-401). Lines 397-398 make reference to ten horns and another which will sprout out the side, similar to Dan. 7:7 and the various other “horn” prophecies in Dan. 8 and Rev. 13.

The remaining section is a collection of prophecies against cities in Greece and Asian Minor, beginning with Phrygia (402-413). Illium, Sparta, Cyprus, Ephesus, etc. are all mentioned in this section (414-488). The oracle also refers to Homer as “certain false writer, an old man, of falsified fatherland” (419-420), a writer who “he will especially embellish the helmeted men of war” (426).