The Sibylline Oracles – Milton S. Terry
The Sibyls occupy a conspicuous place in the traditions and history of ancient Greece and Rome. Their fame was spread abroad long before the beginning of the Christian era. Heraclitus of Ephesus, five centuries before Christ, compared himself to the Sibyl „who, speaking with inspired mouth, without a smile, without ornament, and without perfume, penetrates through centuries by the power of the gods.“ The ancient traditions vary in reporting the number and the names of these weird prophetesses, and much of what has been handed down to us is legendary. But whatever opinion one may hold respecting the various legends, there can be little doubt that a collection of Sibylline Oracles was at one time preserved at Rome. There are, moreover, various oracles, purporting to have been written by ancient Sibyls, found in the writings of Pausanias, Plutarch, Livy, and in other Greek and Latin authors. Whether any of these citations formed a portion of the Sibylline books once kept in Rome we cannot now determine; but the Roman capitol was destroyed by fire in the time of Sulla (B. C. 84), and again in the time of Vespasian (A. D. 69), and whatever books were at those dates kept therein doubtless perished in the flames. It is said by some of the ancients that a subsequent collection of oracles was made, but, if so, there is now no certainty that any fragments of them remain.
The Sibylline Oracles.
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Contents of the Oracles (from wikipedia)
The so-called Sibylline oracles are couched in classical hexameter verses. The contents are of the most varied character and for the most part contain references to peoples, kingdoms, cities, rulers, temples, etc. It is futile to attempt to read any order into their plan or any connected theme.
Patrick Healy Catholic Encyclopedia (1912) suggests that their present arrangement represents the caprice of different owners or collectors who brought them together from various sources… Though there are occasionally verses which are truly poetical and sublime, the general character of the Sibylline Oracles is mediocre. The order in which the books are enumerated does not represent their relative antiquity, nor has the most searching criticism been able accurately to determine how much is Christian and how much Jewish.
Healy continues that Book IV is generally considered to embody the oldest portions of the oracles, and while many of the older critics saw in it elements which were considered to be Christian, it is now looked on as completely Jewish. Book V has given rise to many divergent opinions, some claiming it as Jewish, others as the work of a Christian Jew, and others as being largely interpolated by a Christian. It contains so little that can be considered Christian that it can safely be set down as Jewish. Books VI and VII are admittedly of Christian origin. 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 AD. Books I and II are regarded as a Christian revision of a Jewish original. 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. In the form in which they are now found the other four books are probably the work of Christian authors. Books XII and XIII are from the same pen, XII being a revision of a Jewish original. Book XI might have been written either by a Christian or a Jew in the third century AD, and Book XIV of the same doubtful provenence dates from the fourth century AD. The general conclusion is that Books VI, VII, and XIII and the latter part of Book VIII are wholly Christian. Books I, II, XI, XII, XIII, and XIV received their present form from a Christian. The peculiar Christian circle in which these compositions originated cannot be determined, neither can it be asserted what motive prompted their composition except as a means of Christian propaganda
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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