1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sibylline Oracles
SIBYLLINE ORACLES, a collection of Apocalyptic writings, composed in imitation of the heathen Sibylline books (see Sibyls) by the Jews and, later, by the Christians in their efforts to win the heathen world to their faith. The fact that they copied the form in which the heathen revelations were conveyed (Greek hexameter verses) and the Homeric language is evidence of a degree of external Hellenization, which is an important fact in the history of post-exilic Judaism. Such was the activity of these Jewish and Christian missionaries that their imitations have swamped the originals. Even Virgil in his fourth Eclogue seems to have used Jewish rather than purely heathen oracles.
The extant fragments and conglomerations of the Sibylline oracles, heathen, Jewish and Christian, were collected, examined, translated and explained by C. Alexandre in a monumental edition full of exemplary learning and acumen. On the basis of his results, as they have been scrutinized by scholars like Schürer and Geffcken, it is possible to disentangle some of the different strata with a certain degree of confidence.
1. Book III. contains Jewish oracles relative to the Golden Age established by Roman supremacy in the East about the middle of the 2nd century B.C. (especially 175-181: cf. 1 Macc. viii. 1-16). The evacuation of Egypt by Antiochus Epiphanes at the bidding of the Roman ambassadors suits the warning addressed to “Greece” (732-740) against overweening ambition and any attempt upon the Holy City, which is somewhat strangely enforced by the famous Greek oracle, “Let Camarina be, ’tis best unstirred.” Older than these are the Babylonian oracle (97-154) and the Persian (381-387). A later Jewish oracle (46-62) refers to the wars of the second Triumvirate of Rome, and the whole compilation seems to come from a Christian redactor.
2. Book IV. is a definite attack upon the heathen Sibyl—the Jews and Christians did not attempt to pass off their “forgeries” as genuine—as the mouthpiece of Apollo by a Jew who speaks for the Great God and yet uses a Greek review (49- 114) of ancient history from the Assyrian empire. There are references to the legendary escape of Nero to Parthia (119-124) and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (130-136).
3. Book V. contains a more developed form of the myth of Nero redivivus in which a panegyric on him (137-141) has been brought up to date by some Jew or Christian, and eulogies of Hadrian and his successors (48-51) side by side with the legend of the miserable death of Titus in quittance of his destruction of Jerusalem (411-413) which probably represents the hope of the zealots who survived it.
4. The remaining books appear to be Christian (some heretical) and to belong to the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Editions.—C. Alexandre (Paris, 1841, 2 vols.; 1869, 1 vol.); Rzach (Prague, 1891; text and appendix of sources); Geffcken (Leipzig, 1902; text with full apparatus of variants, sources and parallel passages); see also his Komposition und Entstehungszeit des Oracula Sibyllina (Leipzig, 1902). An annotated Eng. trans, was undertaken in 1910 by H. C. O. Lanchester. For references to modern literature see Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes, iii. (4th ed.), 555-592. (J. H. A. H.)