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CHRISTIAN SIBYLLINE ORACLES (80-250 AD) 6 Questions (SOLVED)

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The Christian Sibylline Oracles are a set of Christian poems written in Greek in the style of pagan oracles. The original pagan Sibylline oracles are lost to us except for some fragments. The oracles that have survived in a complete form were composed or edited by Christian writers in 80-250 AD. Those surviving 14 "Books" / Volumes of the Sibylline Oracles, translated by Milton Terry (1899), along with 7 fragments found in Lactantius and Theophilus of Antioch, can be found here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/

(Question 1: SOLVED) Why should the second half of Book VIII have been written a century after the first half as the Catholic Encyclopedia claims? Is the claim about the century-long difference based only on the supposition that the first part is from the 2nd century and Jewish, and that the second part is Christian and therefore must be written much later?
The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that Books I,II, VI,VII,VIII, XI, XII, XIII, and XIV are Christian or Christianized, and that VI,VIII,XI,XIV likely date to the 2nd to 4th centuries. For example, it says: "Book VIII offers peculiar difficulties; the first 216 verses are most likely the work of a second century AD Jew, while the latter part (verses 217-500) beginning with an acrostic on the symbolical Christian word Icthus is undoubtedly Christian, and dates most probably from the third century AD." (SOURCE: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13770a.htm)

James Charlesworth writes in his book "The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha":

Quote

The date of verses 1-216 can be fixed with some precision. Verses 65-74 envisage the return of Nero before the death of that emperor in AD 180. Verses 148f. say that Rome will have completed 948 years before it is destroyed. Strictly speaking, that should point to a date of AD 195. However, given that this destruction of Rome is still in the future, and that Sibylline chronology is never exact, this statement is quite compatible with a date about AD 175.

The latest possible date for the second half of the book is provided by Lactantius, who quotes extensively from the entire book. THere is no closer indication of date. Geffcken notes similarity of style throughout the book and suggests that there was no great lapse of time between the various parts.

 

(Question 2: Solved) What does the Sibylline Hexameter sound like in Greek?
In translating the Sibylline Oracles, Milton Terry commented that the English language naturally fits a Pentameter structure, whereas the Greek language fits hexameter. So when he made his translation of the Oracles, he deliberately translated them into English with a Pentameter verse from the Greek original, which was in hexameter.
So I would like to hear the Sibylline Oracles read in Greek hexameter. Are there recordings of this?
The Karavaki blog discusses the Sibylline oracles in Greek and has excerpts from it ("Ποιές ήταν οι Σίβυλλες; Τι έλεγαν για τον Αδάμ και τον Χριστό; Ο χρησμός του Απόλλωνα", 12/01/2014, LINK: https://karavaki.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/sibylle/)

Homer's Odyssey and Iliad were written in Hexameter. The first 21 lines of Homer's Odyssey is read here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d39VrPwBGkQ
Excerpts from the Iliad can be heard here: https://www.podium-arts.com/3346/iliad-excerpts-16-feb-15/
Prof. Leonard Mueller explains Dactylic Hexameter and gives a reading here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4trBxZyjkk

I don't know if the following songs actually quote the Sibyl:
Maria Farantouri's song "Oracles of the Sibyl": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mC6k5wBrS4
Her 2011 performance of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGa06iFcqtk
Merlin Beggar's "Son of the Sybil" song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G26WoSqpiGw
Nenas Venetsanou's 1982 "Oracles of the Sybil": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqqMB4hSa70

(Question 3: see below) What other early Christian writings besides the Sibylline Oracles described the "cessation of prophets"?
Book I of the Christian Sibyllines appears to describe the foundation of the church of the Christians who follow the New Covenant, then the leading of the church by the apostles, then maybe the killing or suppression of the apostles by governments, then the defeat of the Judean rebels and looting of Judea by Rome's armies, all of which happened in the 1st century:

Quote

But when he [ie. apparently Christ] comes to light again in three days
and shows a model to men and teaches all things,
he will mount on clouds and journey to the house of heaven
leaving to the world the account of the gospel.
Named after him, a new shoot will sprout
from the nations, of those who follow the law of the Great One.
But also after these things there will be wise leaders,
and then there will be thereafter a cessation of prophets.
Then when the Hebrews reap the bad harvest,
a Roman king will ravage much gold and silver.


Charlesworth ascribes the looting by the Romans in the final verse above to what occurred under Vespasian in c. 70 AD. Peter, Paul, and James had been killed earlier, in c.62-63 AD. So I get the sense that the passage means that the "prophets" ceased (eg. with the deaths of leading apostles like Paul, Peter, and James), then a Roman leader (ie. Vespasian) destroyed and looted the Temple.
The best example of early writings describing the Cessation of prophets that comes to mind is the commentary by St. John Chrysostom or St. Augustine that in the beginning period of Christianity's spread, miracles and signs were used, but that after the Church got founded and strong enough, the Church switched to emphasizing reason and logic to spread its message.

(Question 4: See Below) How should a good person address this personal and emotional challenge of dealing with past trauma?
Book II of the Sibyllines says, "Do not vex thy heart With evils that are past; for what is done Can never be undone."
This is hard because there is trauma that has been done to people and even if one doesn't desire revenge, the trauma can still be hard to deal with. Consider for example how in Revelation, the martyrs cry out to God for justice.

(Question 5: SEE BELOW) Can you please explain William Deane's sentence below about editors adding in verses?
William Deane writes in his book "Pseudepigrapha" about Book IV of the Christian Sibylline Oracles:

Quote

 

An epilogue [in Book IV] about the condition of men after the judgment was thought to be sufficiently orthodox and in accordance with Christian notions to be transferred bodily to the Apostolical Constitutions, where it will be found in Book v. chap.7. The episode there is indeed somewhat longer than that contained in the MSS. of the Sibyllines, and the editors of the latter have added the verses thus preserved to their editions, judging rightly that there is sufficient authority for the insertion.

SOURCE: https://biblehub.com/library/deane/pseudepigrapha/the_sibylline_oracles.htm#1

 


Does Deane mean that an epilogue in Book IV was copied in a longer form into the Apostolic Constitutions and that afterwards the editors of Book IV ("the latter"?) inserted this longer form into Book IV, thinking that the Apostolic Constitutions were sufficient authority for the insertion?

(Question 6: SEE BELOW) Have you heard of the idea that Christ's cross was taken to heaven, which is mentioned in Book 6?
Book VI has an address to the Cross:

Quote

    O the Wood, O so blessed, upon which
    God was outstretched; the earth shall not have thee,
    But thou shalt look upon a heavenly house,
    When thou, O God, shalt flash thine eye of fire.


James Charlesworth writes in his book "The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha" regarding this passage: "The idea expressed in verse 37, that the cross would be taken up to heaven, was popular in later Christian writings."(For this he cites: Rzach-Wissowa 2A, col. 2141.)

One place that comes to mind for me is the talking cross that followed Christ and two beings out of the tomb in the Gospel of Peter.

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For Question 1 (Why it would have been written in the 3rd century), I was not able to find more online about why Book VIII would be from the Third Century, although I did find other sources like the translator Milton Terry himself making this assertion. It could just be that they are using the Third Century as a broad date to tend to fix Sibylline books with Christian features to. Some instances of how they can estimate the Third Century for Books in this text are:

Quote

Some authors (Mendelssohn, Alexandre, Geffcken) describe Book VI as an heretical hymn, but this contention has no evidence in its favour. It dates most probably from the third century. ...Book XI might have been written either by a Christian or a Jew in the third century...

So it looks like the answer is that

  1. Lactantius quotes Book VIII, thereby giving the latest date possible as Charlesworth says, and Lactantius was born in 240 AD.
  2. The Catholic Encyclopedia supposed that the first half was Jewish and non-Christian, so a Christian work in the second half of the same Book would tend to come later and would come from a different author.
  3. Catholic Encyclopedia dates two other works in the text, Book VI and Book XI to the 3rd century.

But despite looking for other sources and information on claims that it was from the 3rd century, I didn't find any more, and Charlesworth who is a top expert on Old Testament Pseudepigrapha writes that there is "no closer indication of date." Personally, I agree with Geffcken's theory that since the style is the same through the Book, the whole Book was more likely written at the same period, ie. about the 2nd century AD.

For Question 3, both Milton Terry and Charlesworth use the phrase "cessation of prophets" in their translations.

James Ash writes about Origen's position in "The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church" (http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/37/37.2/37.2.2.pdf):

Quote

In spite of the fact that there are no Christian prophets in Origen, there exists something not unlike the charisma of prophecy: "And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events (hörosi tina peri mellontön), according to the will of the Logos."139 This "foreseeing" is not called prophecy, to be sure. And the word "traces" does imply some kind of decline. But Harnack's verdict that Origen "looks back to a period after which the Spirit's gifts in the Church ceased"140 represents an exaggeration of Origen's position.

In the "Cessation of the Charismata", Benjamin Warfield writes:

Quote

Tertullian reverts to the matter. He is engaged specifically in contrasting the Apostles with their "companions," that is, their immediate successors in the church, with a view to rebuking the deference which was being paid to the Shepherd of Hennas. Among the contrasts which obtained between them, he says that the Apostles possessed spiritual powers peculiar to themselves, that is to say, not shared by their successors. He illustrates this, among other things, by declaring, "For they raised the dead."80

I didn't find other early Christian writings denying the continuation of prophecy among Christians. In fact, Christians considered Melito of Sardis in the 2nd century to have a prophetic gift.

For Question 5, the term "latter" in a sentence that is preceded by a juxtaposition of two things generally refers to the second. So for instance when elsewhere in the same work Deane refers to the "latter" in the following sentence, he means the "Persians": "We are told of a battle between the Medes and Persians at the Euphrates, which resulted in the victory of the latter".

Deane's sentence in Question 5 is underlined as follows:

  • An epilogue [in Book IV] about the condition of men after the judgment was thought to be sufficiently orthodox and in accordance with Christian notions to be transferred bodily to the Apostolical Constitutions, where it will be found in Book v. chap.7. The episode there [in the Apostolic Constitutions] is indeed somewhat longer than that contained in the MSS. of the Sibyllines, and the editors of the latter [the Sibyllines] have added the verses thus preserved to their editions, judging rightly that there is sufficient authority for the insertion.

 

 
The answer is that the grammar and context require one to interpret the sentence as: "The episode there (in the Apostolic Constitutions) is indeed somewhat longer than that contained in the MSS. of the Sibyllines, and the editors of the latter (the Sibyllines) have added the verses thus preserved (in the Apostolic Constitutions) to their editions (of the Sibyllines), judging rightly that there is sufficient authority for the insertion (into the Sibyllines)."
So I would take Rev. Deane to mean that the editors of the "latter", the Sibyllines, added the longer verses preserved in the Constitutions into the Sibyllines.
The "latter" must refer to the MSS. of the Sibyllines, since they are listed last in the preceding clause. "Their editions" must refer to their editions of the Sibyllines, because the editors are responsible for them. The insertion must refer to the insertion that they make. The verses "thus preserved" must mean those preserved in the Constitutions, because it doesn't make sense for them to be inserting verses preserved in the Sibyllines into the Sibyllines.
 
You can read Milton Terry's 19th century translation of Book IV of the Christian Sibylline Oracles, including the Epilogue here:

https://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/sib06.htm

  • But when now all things shall have been reduced
  • To dust and ashes, and God shall have calmed
  • The fire unspeakable which he lit up,
  • The bones and ashes of men God himself
  • 235. Again will fashion, and he will again
  • Raise mortals up, even as they were before.
  • And then shall be the judgment, at which God
  • Himself as judge shall judge the world again;
  • And all who sinned with impious hearts, even them,
  • 240. Shall he again hide under mounds of earth
  • [Dark Tartarus and Stygian Gehenna].
  • But all who shall be pious shall again
  • Live on the earth [and (shall inherit there)
  • The great immortal God's unwasting bliss,]
  • 245. God giving spirit life and joy to them
  • [The pious; and they all shall see themselves
  • Beholding the sun's sweet and cheering light.
  • O happy on the earth shall be that man].

Milton Terry's Footnote on Lines 231-248. 

  • This picture of resurrection, judgment, and awarding of {footnote p. 109} punishments and rewards embodies the substance of familiar Christian doctrine. This passage is quoted in the Apostolical Constitutions, book v, 7 [G., 1, 844], where we find a somewhat abbreviated text.]

Here, Milton Terry is saying that a shorter, abbreviated version of this Epilogue shows up in the Apostolic Constitutions Book V, Chp. 7.
James Charlesworth's 21st century translation is practically the same as Terry's and also contains the references to Tartarus and Gehenna, which are missing from James Donaldson's 19th century translation of the section in the Apostolic Constitutions, Book V.

For Question 6, one place that comes to mind for me is the talking cross that followed Christ and two beings out of the tomb in the Gospel of Peter. I looked up the German Encyclopedia that Charlesworth's book cites to, and the only early Church writing that it mentions for this story is the Gospel of Peter. It's hard for this to have been a common story in Orthodoxy that people would have heard of because the finding of the Cross by Helena contradicts it. If it was a common tradition that the early believers accepted, it's unlikely that the Romans would have claimed to have found the Cross.


 

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For Question 4, Rev. Charles Wadsworth said in a Thanksgiving Sermon:

  • In regard of evils that are past. Yesterday's evil fulfilled yesterday its mission. It may have been a great and sore sorrow—the loss of all your possessions ; nay, the loss of that which gave possessions all their value. Parents, brothers, sisters, children, friends—alas, they may have gone from your bosom to the pitiless grave ! The sorrow may seem colossal, overmastering! But what then; must you refuse to be comforted'? Because the Divine hand has led you into the valley of the shadow of death, must you therefore pitch tent in the ravine and abide in the darkness? Should you not rather take hold on the Divine staff, following the lead of the great Shepherd up from the gloom to the green pastures and still waters that lie beyond if? A great grief falls on a man as a tempest on a cedar. But may not the tree rebound from the stroke, flinging again its remaining branches to the breeze and the sunshine? If I have lost a fortune, shall I sit down in sackcloth amid its ashes, or rise up like a man and go forth to make another? Because one beloved one is dead, shall I refuse to cast the green turf on the dear dust, and keep an embalmed mummy-grief in my household till the cherished ones that are left to me grow pale and spectral as dwellers in a sepulchre...
  • https://caleb-cangelosi-437x.squarespace.com/s/Wadsworth-Charles-The-Joy-in-Harvest.pdf

In Wise Sayings of the Great and Good, L. C. Gent. quotes the maxim "Evils that are Past should not be Mourned." Then he cites the Duke's Proverb in Shakespeare's Othello, Act  1, Scene 3:

  • When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
  • By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
  • To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
  • Is the next way to draw new mischief on.
  • What cannot be preserved when fortune takes
  • Patience her injury a mockery makes: 
  • The robb'd that smiles steals something from the thief;
  • He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.

SparkNotes gives this modern paraphrase of the Duke's Parable:

  • If you can’t change something, don’t cry about it. When you lament something bad that’s already happened, you’re setting yourself up for more bad news. A robbery victim who can smile about his losses is superior to the thief who robbed him, but if he cries he’s just wasting time.

(https://www.sparknotes.com/nofear/shakespeare/othello/page_42/)

 

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The answer to Question 2 is that it sounds like Homer's dactylic hexameter, although it varies a bit from it. I posted some links to Greek language performances of Homer's poetry that give you an idea of its sound. Unfortunately, it looks like there are no recordings of Greek quotes from the Sibylline oracles online, and the links that I posted don't include Greek language quotes from them.

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For Question 3 (What other early Christian writings besides the Sibylline Oracles described the "cessation of prophets"?), my best answer is that the only writings mentioned online that I found were the ones by Tertullian and Origen. I discussed the question on the Ancient Way Orthodox forum and the forum users didn't know of others either. One of the issues must be that the cessation was more of a decline, and the early period, like the 1st and late 2nd centuries, which included people who lived in the time when the apostles themselves were still alive, was too early to have strongly experienced a decline to such an extent that it was very noticeable in the writings of that period that have survived. Sure, there was the battle against the Montanists by the Church, but the Montanists were not rejected for having prophetic gifts per se, so much as for their heretical ideas and deviant or outlying actions, like their claim that their region in Asia Minor was the New Jerusalem.

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