Monday, September 7, 2015

Continuing with the Sibylline Oracles ... Book 8

So I continue my slow re-read of these strange pseudepigraphical books -- a great heap of supposed prophecies with nothing to unify them except their pseudepigraphical connection to the mythical, ancient Sibylline Oracles, thus their titles. They are a mixed up salad bowl of Jewish, Christian and pagan concepts -- sometimes impossibly obscure, now and then clear and beautiful.

Sibylline Oracles, Book 8:

This “book” is two writings fused together:
1) Verses 1-216 with exceedingly uncertain (but probably singular and Jewish) authorship dating to around 175 A.D., excepting 131-138, which are the work of an Egyptian Sibyllist. The latter were probably inserted, being pro-Hadrian, by an editor seeking to lessen the earlier attack on Hadrian.
2) Verses 217-500, by a Christian author, before the 4th century.

It is difficult today, when Rome is a tourist destination with all the political power of Lisbon, to fully grasp just what an entity it once was, inspiring fear and absolute loathing hundreds of miles away.

But this is a literary example of this phenomenon. In the era of Marcus Aurelius, the author is one of many who repeats the legend of the dreaded Nero’s return to life and power. One would think that such a loathsome and craven wretch as Nero would have been securely dead and buried in the popular imagination – but apparently not.

The hope and theme of this author is summed up in v. 125:
“No longer will Syrian, Greek, or foreigner, or any other nation,
place their neck under your [Roman] yoke of slavery.”

In the second half, the life and Passion of Christ is retold, the one who on the cross will “stretch out his hands and measure the entire world.” v. 302.

“I myself proposed two ways, of life and death ...” (399)

God as “self-begotten, everlasting, undefiled and eternal (429),” per our editor, is also found in pagan writings. He is Master of the Cosmic Treasury. And with the Word He counseled before Creation.

Several times in this work, the author expresses anti-temple sentiments, especially in the last stanza: saying we are never allowed to approach the sanctuaries of temples. Paul, who risked his very life to attend the Jewish temple, might have raised an eyebrow at that.


Why should anybody, in 2015, care about the musings of some anonymous, anti-Roman scribe from nearly 2,000 years ago?

Perhaps because there is utility in understanding the common psychological thread that runs through humanity, from earliest history to today. We look at awful, human-caused tragedies and vow, Never Again – but it WILL happen again until we understand why it ever happened, why it keeps happening.

And perhaps it is also useful to realize that humankind has always grappled with the same issues: we long for ourselves and our loved-ones to avoid the inevitable, the Reaper who comes for all. From one of the oldest books in the world, the Epic of Gilgamesh, through the pages of the Bible and in today’s science fiction, writers have pondered that deep-rooted concern and woven their words around it.

Conversely, our nightmares are haunted by the possibility of those whom we don’t love, succeeding at immortality. If the writer of this Oracle speculated on the possible return from supposed death, of Nero; so not too long ago people speculated that the madman Adolf Hitler had somehow survived WWII and was still hiding out somewhere. And of course, the endless return of villains, from supposed annihilation, is a staple of the horror genre.

Finally, the author of at least the second part of this work was familiar with the Apocalypse of John, i.e., the Revelation of John, living just a generation or so after it was written – so this book might be of importance to scholars of the New Testament seeking to understand the milieu, the theme, the motivation of the writer of said Revelation.

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