Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pseudepigrapha continued: The Sibylline Oracles, Book 2

Book Two:

The original Jewish text was probably written between 30 B.C. to 250 A.D., with the hated Roman Empire singled out for destruction.

The oracle begins with grim prophecies of the future in the “tenth generation,” followed by a Messianic recovery. A time of deep peace and understanding.

Our writer envisions “a great contest for entry into the heavenly city.” Notes to the passage suggest affinities to the Apostle Paul’s manner of writing, the “agon-motif.” Similes of athletic prowess are found, that the modern editor links to Stoic thought, (2:40-55) with which Paul would have been familiar.

The winners of this contest adhere to rules of piety, such as those detailed herein from a passage of Pseudo-Phocylides.
In the end-times, the Hebrews will have vengeance upon their enemies and rule triumphant, accompanied by the returning Elijah in his chariot.

The earth will then be cleansed by a river of fire -- a fire through which all souls must pass at Judgment Day. Passage through a river is an ancient motif, found in Psalm 18:5 and 69:2 -- but through fire is a Persian concept. The idea of hell eternally on fire seems to be a Jewish development (fn. p. 352).

A jarring Judgment Day scenario is detailed, clearly with Christian interpolations – as it condemns “all the Hebrews after Jeremiah.” Certainly that is at odds with the previous passages.

The sins of the wicked are detailed, including the Hesiodic abandonment of parents (W&D 186). But there is intercession for the condemned – an idea which some medieval editor found abhorrent, along with Origen’s idea that there is a limit to God’s punishment.
But the celestial earth is a glorious place of rest, beauty and equality -- no poor among them.

Excluding the interpolations, I see this writing as a vision of hope by some ancient, pious Jew, building upon his understanding of Jewish scripture as well as mythological concepts. It has never been easy to be Jewish, and meditating upon a future free of persecution and suffering, with the wicked divinely punished, certainly brings some comfort.

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