The Sibylline oracles.

Counted among the pseudepigrapha.

Attributed author(s).

Text(s) available.
Sacred Texts: Sibylline Oracles (English only; Milton S. Terry).
Fragments of the Sibylline Oracles (English only; Milton S. Terry).
Google Books: Oracula Sibyllina (text title page) and supplement (Charles Alexandre; Greek; full view).

Useful links.
Sibyl in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
Sibylline Oracles in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Sibylline Oracles, Sibyl, and Sibylline books at Wikipedia.
EJW (Peter Kirby).
ECW (Peter Kirby).

Jewish background texts (Jim Davila).

The Sibylline oracles are counted among the pseudepigrapha. They purport to be prophetic utterances delivered by the Sibyls, ancient ecstatic female prophetesses. Their contents, however, are decidedly Jewish and Christian. The Romans had their own set of Sibylline books, but they are not extant.

Peter Kirby (Early Jewish Writings).

Peter Kirby surveys scholars writing on the Sibylline oracles:

Raymond F. Surburg writes: "Book 1 begins with creation and relates the history of the human race till the exit of Noah from the ark. This is followed by the history of the life of Christ, a portrayal of His miracle of the loaves, His crucifixion, and the destruction of the Jews. In this book, Hades is derived from Adam [Thomson]. Like the Book of Enoch, it has an allusion to the holy watchers and an arithmograph which seems to be fulfilled in Theos Soter. Book 2 is patterned afer the eschatological discourses of Jesus Christ, and there appear to be echoes of them in this book. As also in Enoch, four archangels are introduced: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. Book 3 is by far the largest: it contains a mass of confused material. It has a number of historical allusions, for example, the building of the tower of Babel, the establishment of the Solomonic kingdom, as well as events of historical importance to other nations. There is an early reference to the conquest of Egypt by Rome, the siege of Troy, the conquests of Alexander the Great, a sketch of the history of the Jews up to the time of Cyrus, and a series of oracles predicting judgment against Babylon, Egypt, Gog, Magog, Troy, and Lybia for their sins of idolatry. It also has prophecies directed against Antiochus Epiphanes, Phrygia, Cyprus, and the Hellenes, and predictions about the coming judgment against Babylon, Egypt, Gog, Magog, Troy, and Lybia for their sins of idolatry. It also has prophecies directed against Antiochus Epiphanes, Phrygia, Cyprus, and the Hellenes, and predictions about the coming judgment on a wicked world, terminating in the coming of the Messiah. In the prophecies the Jews are lauded as a people who are faithful to the law of God, and conversely, the paganism of other peoples is denounced, and the heathen are exhorted to embrace Judaism. Book 4 is Jewish throughout. It contains a sketch of the history of great empires, beginning with that of Assyria and ending with Alexander the Great. The fifth book tells the story of the successive emperors from Julius Caesar to the Antonines. The sixth has only 26 lines in which the Cross is praised. The next, 7, is fragmentary. The eighth book has an arithmogram and acrostic: IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER STAUROS." (Introduction to the Intertestamental Period, p. 147)

Emil Schürer writes: "The most ancient and certainly Jewish portions are in any case contained in the third book. All critics since Bleek concur in this opinion. Views, however, differ widely as to any nearer determination, whether of the date of composition or of the extent of the Jewish portions. According to Bleek, Book iii. 97-807 (according to another computation, iii. 35-746) is the work of an Alexandrian Jew of the time of the Maccabees (170-160 B.C.), and contains also a working up of older Jewish fictions (97-161, 433-488 [=35-99, 371-426]), and later Christian interpolations (350-380 [=289-318]). The majority of Bleek's successors regard the whole as Jewish. Gfrörer, Lücke, and Friedlieb concur with Bleek with regard to the date of composition. Hilgenfeld, on the ground of an ingenious exposition of the difficult section iii. 388-400, places the whole (iii. 97-817) about 140 B.C., and is followed herein by Reuss, Badt, and Wittichen. Zündel also accepted his exposition of iii. 388-400, but kept to Bleek's view of the earlier date of composition. Ewald went a little father forward than Hilgenfeld, by placing the composition of Book iii. 97-828 at about 124 B.C. But while all hitherto mentioned agree in assuming a Jewish authorship, Alexandre ascribes only the portions iii. 97-294, 489-817, to an Alexandrian Jew of about 168 B.C., and the intermediate portion, 295-488, on the contrary to a Christian writer. Larocque, while going still farther in the division, agrees with Alexandre in regarding the bulk of Book iii. 97-294, 489-828 as written about 168 B.C., but admits also later interpolations in the last section, and considers the sections iii. 1-96 and 295-488 as 'subordinate collections of heterogeneous pieces,' of which only certain individual portions belong to the author of the two first-named large portions. Delaunay also esteems the portions iii. 97-294 and 489-817 not as single productions, but as aggregates of separate unconnected oracles of different periods, ranging from about the beginning to the middle of the second century B.C." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, p. 277)

Martin McNamara writes: "Of the Collection of Sibylline Oracles, only books 3-5 are Jewish. The others are Christian. The bulk of book III is very old—from about the middle of the second century B.C.—although there are some later additions. Authors are not united as to how the book should be divided. Its main contents are as follows: verses 1-45: Jewish hatred of idolatry; 46-96: the reign of the Holy King and the destruction of the wicked, the destruction of Beliar (these 50 verses are apparently later than the main body of Sib. book III); 97-349: description of the fall of the tower of Babel, lists of kingdoms and a review of world history; 350-488: a collection of various oracles from different dates with many place names of Asia Minor. This latter collection may be connected with the Erythrean Sibyl (in Ionis). We have Jewish material again from 489 onward, as follows: 489-573: a series of Jewish oracles against the nations; 574 to the end: on the Jewish temple." (Intertestamental Literature, pp. 228-229)

James C. VanderKam writes: "If the parts of the third sibylline oracle sketched above are a mid-second-century Jewish work from Egypt, it seems quite reasonable to suppose that a Jewish supporter of Philometor such as Onias may have had something to do with the work. Sibylline oracles in antiquity had a decidedly political import, and the same would be the case with this one. It may seem strange that a Ptolemaic king woul be hailed in what appear to be quasi-messianic terms, but the third sibylline oracle is a good reminder of what at least some Jews may have understood a messianic leader to be: a human king who would effect God's will in the perilous and frightening time of the author. It is not entirely clear that the third oracle qualifies as an apocalypse because the picture of the end is not developed very far beyond biblical teachings, but it is a revelation that deals with the last times and promises salvation to the faithful people of God and a life of peace around his temple." (An Introduction to Early Judaism, pp. 109-110)

Emil Schürer writes: "For determining the date of composition, the following limits exist. The author is acquainted with the Book of Daniel (vers. 388-400), and the expeditions of Antiochus Epiphanes to Egypt (vers. 611-615). On the other hand Rome is still a republic (ver. 176: πολυκρανος). But the most accurate limit is furnished by the threefold recurrence of the assurance, that the end will appear under the seventh king of Egypt of Hellenic race (vers. 191-193, 316-318, 608-610). Hence the author wrote under Ptolemy VII. Physcon, who at first reigned together with his brother Ptolemy VI. Philometor (170-164 B.C.), was then banished from Egypt, but attained after his brother's death to the sole sovereignty (145-117 B.C.). When Zundel thinks, that because the king is called βασιλευς νεος (ver. 608), only the years from 170-164 B.C. can be thought of, since Ptolemy Physcon could by no means be any longer called young after the year 145, it must be answered, that νεος means not only 'young,' but 'new.' The proper sovereignty however of Ptolemy Physcon did not begin till the year 145. And that the author intended just this period of sole sovereignty is already in and by itself probable; for he would have designated the joint government of the two brothers as the sixth kingship. This too is confirmed by the plain allusions to the destruction of Carthage and Corinth (vers. 484 sq., 487 sq.), both which cities were, as is well known, destroyed in the year 146 before Christ. The section vers. 388-400 also leads, according to the ingenious, but not indeed quite certain explanation of Hilgenfeld, to the same period (Apokalyptik, p. 69 sq.; Zeitschr. 1860, p. 314 sqq., 1871, p. 35). Here Antiochus Epiphanes is first referred to, and his overthrow then prophesied: 'He will himself destroy their race, through whose race his race also will be destroyed. He has a single root, which also the manslayer (Ares) will eradicate out of ten horns. But he will plant another shoot beside it. He will eradicate the warlike progenitor of a royal race. And he himself is exterminated by the sons. And then will a horn planted near rule.' The race which Antiochus Epiphanes will destroy is that of his brother Seleucus IV. The sole root of Antiochus Epiphanes, viz. his son Antiochus V. Eupator, is murdered by Demetrius I., son of Seleucus IV., or, as the author expresses it, he is eradicated out of ten horns, i.e. as the last of ten kings. The shoot, which the god of war plants near, is Alexander Balas. He will exterminate the warlike progenitor of a royal race, viz. Demetrius I. But he will be himself destroyed by Demetrius II. and Antiochus VII. Sidetes, sons of Balas. And then will the upstart Trypho rule (146-139 B.C.). According to this explanation of Hilgenfeld, our author would have written about 140 B.C. And to this we must in any case adhere, even if the details of the explanation should not be all correct. Traces of a later time can scarcely be found. For the western nation, which according to vers. 324, 328 sq. is to take part in the destruction of the temple, is not the Roman, but according to Ezek. xxxviii. 5 the Libyan (so Lücke, Hilgenfeld). Only vers. 464-470 seem to turn upon later Roman times, and to be an insertion (Hilgenfeld, Apokal. p. 72; Zeitschr. 1871, p. 35 sq.)." (The Literature of the Jewish People at the Time of Jesus, pp. 281-282)

Leonhard Rost writes: "The individual sections derive from different periods. The earliest date from the early Maccabean period (e.g., 3:46ff.); the latest date from the Christian Era (e.g., 4:128-29, 143-44, dating from A.D. 76). The Jewish oracles were taken over by the Christian church at an early date, probably because of their Old Testament content, their rejection of idolatry, and their hostility toward Rome. With this, the Jewish community lost interest in these documents. However, the increase in Christian fabrication of sayings attributed to the Sibyls and the frequent citation of these sayings down to the Middle Ages and beyond (cf. the Sibyls of Michelangelo in the Sistene Chapel) attest their popularity." (Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon, pp. 114-115)

Martin McNamara writes: "The Fourth Book of the Sibylline Oracles appears to be a unity, from a single author. The plan of this work is fairly simple. First we have a description of God as the source of inspiration (lines 1-23), followed by a picture of the joy of the righteous and the fate of the wicked (24-46). Next the author gives a sketch of the history of the ten generations of the world, but breaks off into a series of oracles against various countries and towns after two generations (47-51). The book ends with an eschatological passage (152-192), within which we have an exhortation to repentance (162-178). From internal references the book can be dated to about A.D. 80: lines 107-8 speak of the restoration of Laodicea after the earthquake (of A.D. 60); 115-118 speak of internal struggles in Jerusalem during the siege (in A.D. 69); 125-6 speak of the destruction of the temple (A.D. 70); 119-24 speak of the disappearance of Nero, the expectation of his return, and the struggles of A.D. 76. There has been doubt as to whether the book is a Jewish or Christian composition, arguments for the latter being drawn from the book's attitude on temples (line 28), sacrifices (29), mention of the folly of the Jews (117) and the emphasis on repentance (168). The work, however, is generally taken to have been composed by Jew." (Intertestamental Literature, pp. 237-238)

Emil Schürer writes: "Very divergent are the decisions of critics concerning the fifth book. Bleek distinguishes the following portions as Jewish:—(a) vers. 260-285, 481-531, written about the middle of the second century before Christ, by an Alexandrian Jew; (b) vers. 286-332 by a Jew of Asia Minor soon after A.D. 20; (c) perhaps also vers. 342-433 by a Jewish author about A.D. 70. While Lücke entirely, and Gfrörer at least partly, agree with Bleek, Friedlieb ascribes the whole fifth book to a Jew of the beginning of Hadrian's reign, and Badt to a Jew of about A.D. 130; Ewald, Hilgenfeld (Zeitschr. 1871, pp. 37-44) and Hildebrandt regard at least Book v. 52-531 as the work of a Jew of about A.D. 80 (Ewald) or a few years earlier (Hilgenfeld, Hildebrandt); while Alexandre, Reuss and Dechent (Zeitschr. f. Kirchengesch. ii. 497 sqq.) attribute the book to a Christian Jew. It seems to me a vain effort to attempt to settle in detail the origin and date of composition of the pieces combined in this book. For it is palpable, that we have here no compact whole, but a loose conglomerate of heterogeneous portions. The greater number are certainly of Jewish origin; for the sections, in which Jewish interests and views are brought more or less plainly forward, run through the whole book (comp. especially vers. 260-285, 328-332, 344-360, 397-413, 414-433, 492-511). On the other hand the remarkable passage vers. 256-259, in which 'the excellent man coming from heaven who spreads out his hands on the fruit-bearing tree' (Jesus) is identified with Joshua (Jesus the son of Nave) is certainly Christian. Thus Jewish and Christian pieces are at all events combined in this book. The summing up of the discrepant elements under the common term 'Judaeo-Christian' is as unhappy an expedient as it is e.g. in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. When however the mixture of Jewish and Christian pieces in this fifth book is acknowledged, it cannot in many instances, where religion is a matter of indifference, be determined to which side they belong. So much only is certain, that the Jewish element preponderates. With such characteristics it is also impossible to determine the respective dates of composition. In the Jewish pieces the destruction of the temple at the Onias-temple in Egypt (so far as vers. 492-511 refer to this) are lamented. These pieces and consequently the main body of the book might then have been written in the first century after Christ. On the other hand, the chronological oracle at the beginning (vers. 1-51) certainly leads as far as to the time of Hadrian. Quotations are first found in Clemens Alexandrinus [Protrept. iv. 50; Paedag. ii. 10. 99]." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 286-287)

Peter Kirby (Early Christian Writings).

Peter Kirby surveys scholars writing on the Sibylline oracles:

Ursula Treu writes (New Testament Apocrypha, p. 653): "the so-called Oracula Sibyllina are preserved in a collection of twelve 'books' of very differing length, from 162 to 829 hexameters. Book VI, the Christ hymn, is an extreme case with only 28 verses. Altogether there are over 4000 verses of the Sibylline Oracles. The Sibyl constantly speaks in the first person, and the tense is almost always the future. Since Book VIII originally appears in three separate parts, we find occasionally, especially in earlier scholars, a reckoning of fourteen books. We can only conjecture as to the details of who combined the poems into a unity, and when and where this was done."

Ursula Treu writes (New Testament Apocrypha, p. 654): "the several books came into being somewhere in the period from 180 B.C. to the 3rd Christian century. This has to be deduced from the persons and events mentioned in the poems themselves, which leaves room for many an error, insofar as quotations in other writers of this period do not provide a terminus ante quem. Here of course we can only deal, briefly, with the texts in the present selection, and Books IX-XII are also left aside. Book III in its original Jewish form was probably the first to be composed, in Alexandria; Book VI, as purely Christian, certainly came into being later, while VII and VIII are predominantly Christian. In Book VIII there is a famous acrostic (lines 217ff.): Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour Cross. According to Eusebius (Constant. or. c. 18, Euseb. I, p. 179, GCS 1902) the emperor Constantine quoted this, and Augustine also cites it in a Latin translation (Civ. Dei XVIII c. 23)."