Apocrypha: Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles 4

milton s. terry


{p. 98}


Introduction, 1-28. Blessedness of the righteous, 29-60. The Assyrian kingdom, 61-65. The Medes and Persians, 66-82. Woes on Phrygia, Asia, and Egypt, 83-100. Sicily burned by fire of Ætna, 101-104. Strife in Greece, 105-108. Triumphs of Macedon, 109-129. Triumphs of Italy, 130-168. Italy’s punishment, 169-180. Woes of Antioch, Cyprus, and Caria, 181-197. Wrath in reserve for the impious, 198-209. Exhortations and threatening, 210-230. Resurrection, judgment, and reward, 231-248.

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PEOPLE of boastful Asia and of Europe,
Hear how much, all too true, I am about,
Through a month many-toned, from my great hall
To prophesy; no oracle am I
5 Of lying Phœbus whom vain men called god,
And further falsified by calling seer;
But of the mighty God, whom hands of men
Formed not like speechless idols carved of stone.
For he has not for his abode a stone
10 Most dumb and toothless to a temple drawn,
Of immortals a dishonor very sore;
For he may not be seen from earth nor measured
By mortal eyes, nor formed by mortal hand;
He, looking down at once on all, is seen
15 Himself by no one; his are murky night,
And day, and sun, and stars, and moon, and seas
With fish, and land, and rivers, and the month

[1. This fourth book was probably written by a Jew who lived during the latter part of the first century A. D. In lines 162-165 we find allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and lines 169-174 are most naturally explained as referring to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A. D., which overwhelmed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Nero legends also appear in this book (lines 154-159, 178-180), and serve to prove the date not earlier than about 80 A. D.

5. Phœbus.–The god of archery, prophecy, and music, who had temples at Delos, Delphi, Patara, Claros, Miletus, Grynium, and other places, in all of which he gave forth oracles of the future. His oracles were, according to Herodotus (i, 66, 75), often ambiguous and misleading,

5-8. Cited by Clem. Alex., Cohort. ad Græcos, iv [G., 8, 111].]


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Of springs perennial, creatures meant for life,
And rains at once producing fruit of field
20 And tree and vine and oil. This God a whip
Struck through my heart within to make me tell
Truly to men what things have now befallen
And how much shall befall them yet again
From the first generation to the eleventh;
25 For he himself by bringing them to pass
Will prove all things. But do thou in all things,
O people, to the Sibyl give all ear,
Who pours from hallowed mouth a truthful voice.
Blessed of men shall they be on the earth
30 As many as shall love the mighty God,
Offering him praise before they drink and eat;
Trusting in piety. When they behold
Temples and altars, figures of dumb stones,
[Stone images and statues made with hands]
35 Polluted with the blood of living things
And sacrifices of four-footed beasts,
They will reject them all; and they will look
To the great glory of one God and not
Commit presumptuous murder nor dispose
40 Of stolen gain, which things most horrid are;
Nor shameful longing for another’s bed
Have they, nor vile and hateful lust of males.
Their manner, piety, and character

[24. Eleventh.–Or tenth? Comp. lines 58 and 110. The reckoning begins with the first generation after the flood. Comp. lines 64 and 65. By generation the author evidently means a long period, an age, but its duration is left indefinite.

29-37. Cited by Justin Martyr, Cohort. ad Græcos, xvi [G., 6, 273]; also by Clem. Alex., Cohort. ad Græcos, iv [G., 8, 161].

41,42. Cited by Clem. Alex., Pæd., ii, 10 [G., 8, 516].]

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Shall other men, that love a shameless life,
45 Not ever imitate; but, mocking them
With jest and joke like babes in senselessness,
They’ll falsely charge to them as many deeds
Blameful and wicked as they do themselves.
For slow is the whole race of human kind
50 To believe. But when judgment of the world
And mortals comes which God himself shall bring
Judging at once the impious and the pious,
Then indeed shall he send the ungodly back
To lower darkness [and then they shall know
55 How much impiety they wrought]; but the pious
Shall still remain upon the fruitful land,
God giving to them breath and life and grace.
But these things all in the tenth generation
Shall come to pass; and now what things shall be
60 From the first generation, those I’ll tell.
First over all mortal shall Assyrians rule,
And for six generations hold the power
Of the world, from the time the God of heaven
Being wroth against the cities and all men
65 Sea with a bursting deluge covered earth.
Them shall the Medes o’erpower, but on the throne
For two generations only shall exult;
In which times those events shall come to pass:

[49-67. Cited with verbal variations by Lactantius, Div. Inst., vii, 23 [L., 6, 807].

57. Comp. Acts xvii, 25.

61. First … Assyrians.–Comp. Gen. x, 11. 63-65. Cited by Lactantius, de Ira Dei, xxiii [L., 7, 144].

66. The Medes o’erpower.–Comp. Herod., i, 95: “When the Assyrians had ruled over upper Asia five hundred and twenty years, first the Medes began to revolt from them, and, having thrown off their slavery, became free.”]


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Dark night shall come at the mid hour of day
40 And from the heaven the stars and circling moon
Shall disappear; and earth in tumult shaken
By a great earthquake shall throw many cities
And works of men headlong; and from the deep
They shall peer out the islands of the Sea.
75 But when the great Euphrates shall with blood
Be surging, then shall there be also set
Between the Medes and Persians dreadful strife
In battle; and the, Medes shall fall and fly
‘Neath Persian spears beyond the mighty water
80 Of Tigris. And the Persian power shall be
Greatest in all the world, and they shall have
One generation of most prosperous rule.
And there shall be as many evil deeds
As men shall wish away–the din of war,
85 And murders, and disputes, and banishments,
And overthrow of towers and waste of cities,
When Hellas very glorious shall sail
Over broad Hellespont, and shall convey
To Phrygia sorrow and to Asia doom.
90 And unto Egypt, land of many furrows,
Shall sorry famine come, and barrenness
Shall during twenty circling years prevail,
What time the Nile, corn-nourisher, shall hide

[69. Night . . . day.–Probably to be understood of a notable eclipse of the sun. Herodotus (i, 74) relates that during the wars of the Medes and Lydians it happened that in the heat of battle the day was suddenly turned into night. This event, he observes, Thales had foretold, designating beforehand the very year in which it actually occurred.

87-89. Reference to the Trojan War according to most critics, but according to Badt (Das vierte Buch d. Sibyl. Orakel, 10) to the beginning, of the Persian War by the revolt of southwestern Asia Minor, and the attack on Sardis by the Greeks.]

{p. 103}

His dark wave somewhere underneath the earth.
95 And there shall come from Asia a great king
Bearing a spear, with ships innumerable,
And he shall walk the wet paths of the deep,
And shall sail after he has cut the mount
Of lofty summit; him a fugitive
100 From battle fearful Asia shall receive.
And Sicily the wretched shall a stream
Of powerful fire set all aflame while Etna
Her flame disgorges; and in the deep chasm
Down shall the mighty city Croton fall.
105 And strife shall be in Hellas; they shall rage
Against each other, cast down many cities,
And fighting make an end of many men;
But equally balanced is the strife with both.
But, when the race of mortal men shall come
110 To the tenth generation, also then
Upon thc Persians shall a servile yoke
And terror be. But when the Macedonians
Shall boast the scepter there shall be for Thebes
An evil conquest from behind, and Carians
115 Shall dwell in Tyre, and Tyrians be destroyed.

[95-100. Reference to Xerxes’ invasion of Greece.

104. Croton.–No city of this name is known to have existed in Sicily, and the well-known Croton, or Croto, in southern Italy, cannot be thought of as perishing by lava streams of Etna. Another reading {Greek Brotw^n}) is, “the great city of men.”

105-108. Reference to the Peloponnesian War.

110-120. Reference to the Macedonian power, which, under Alexander the Great, subdued the Persian Empire, and spread Greek colonies over its broad territory. The illusions are to be understood poetically, and were probably not designed to be altogether strict statements of fact.

113. Thebes, in Bœotia, which was razed to the ground by Alexander before his expedition into Asia.]


{p. 104}

And Babylon, great to see but small to fight,
Shall stand with walls that were in vain hopes built.
In Bactria Macedonians shall dwell;
But those from Susa and from Bactria
120 Shall all into the land of Hellas flee.
It shall take place among those yet to be,
When silver-eddying Pyramus his banks
O’erpouring, to the sacred isle shall come.
And Cibyra shall fall and Cyzicus,
125 When, earth being shaken by earthquakes, cities fall.
And sand shall hide all Samos under banks.
And Delos visible no more, but things
Of Delos shall all be invisible.
And to Rhodes shall come evil last, but greatest.
130 The Macedonian power shall not abide;
But from the west a great Italian war
Shall flourish, under which the world shall bear
A servile yoke and the Italians serve.
And thou, O wretched Corinth, thou shalt look
135 Sometime upon thy conquest. And thy tower,

[118. Bactria.–The northeastern extreme of the Persian Empire, bordering on northern India.

119. Susa.–The biblical Shushan, one of the capital cities of the Persian Empire.

122. Pyramus.–A river of Cilicia flowing southward from Mount Taurus and emptying into the Mediterranean. Strabo (book i, chap. iii, 7) describes it and quotes these lines of the Sibyl as all ancient oracle.

123. Sacred isle.–Referring probably to Cyprus, which word Strabo here reads.

124. Cibyra.–City of Asia Minor, in Phrygia, near the border of Caria. Cyzicus was a city of Mysia, on an island of the same name in the Propontis.

126, 127. On Samos and Delos comp. book iii, 454.

134. Corinth.–Destroyed by the Romans the same year as Carthage, B. C. 146.]

{p. 105}

O Carthage, shall press lowly on the ground.
Wretched Laodicea, thee sometime
Shall earthquake lay low, casting headlong down,
But thou, a city firmly set, again
140 Shalt stand. O Lycia Myra beautiful,
Thee never shall the agitated earth
Set fast; but falling headlong down on earth
Shalt thou, in manner like an alien, pray
To flee away into another land,
145 When sometime the dark water of the sea
With thunders and earthquakes shall stop the din
Of Patara for its impieties.
Also for thee, Armenia, there remains
A slavish fate; and there shall also come
150 To Solyma an evil blast of war
From Italy, and God’s great temple spoil.
But when these, trusting folly, shall cast off
Their piety and murders consummate
Around the temple, then front Italy
155 A mighty king shall like a runaway slave
Flee over the Euphrates’ stream unseen,

[138. Lay low.–Read {Greek strw’sei}. Comp. book v, 587 (Greek text, 438). So Mendelssohn, favored by Rzach.

140. Myra.–Chief city of Lycia, on the southern coast, about a league from the sea. Its ruins witness to its ancient wealth and beauty.

147. Patara.–Sec book iii, 551.

148. Armenia.–There was Armenia Major, the vast territory south of the Caucasus Mountains and between the Euxine and Caspian Seas; and Armenia Minor, a, small section on the west of Armenia Major, and east of Cappadocia. All these lands were subject to Alexander, then to the Syrian princes, and were made a Roman province under Trajan.

150. Solyma.–That is, Jerusalem.

155. Mighty king.–Nero, whose murder of his mother is notorious, and whose flight beyond the Euphrates and expected return as antichrist was a superstitious tradition long maintained.]


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Unknown, who shall some time dare loathsome guilt
Of matricide, and many other things,
Having confidence in his most wicked hands.
160 And many for the throne with blood
Rome’s soil while he flees over Parthian land.
And out of Syria shall come Rome’s foremost man,
Who having burned the temple of Solyma,
And having slaughtered many of the Jews,
165 Shall destruction on their great broad land.
And then too shall an earthquake overthrow
Both Salamis and Paphos, when dark water
Shall dash o’er Cyprus washed by many a wave.
But when from deep cleft of Italian land
170 Fire shall come flashing forth in the broad heaven,
And many cities burn and men destroy,
And much black ashes shall fill the great sky,
And small drops like red earth shall fall from heaven,
Then know the anger of the God of heaven,
175 For that they without reason shall destroy
The nation of the pious. And then strife
Awakened of war shall come to the West,
Shall also come the fugitive of Rome,
Bearing a great spear, having marched across

[162-165. This evidently refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the subjugation of all Palestine by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus.

167. Salamis and Paphos.–Famous cities, one at the east and the other at the west end of Cyprus. “How often,” says Seneca (Epist. 91), “has this calamity (earthquake) laid Cyprus waste? How often has Paphos fallen into ruin?”

171-176. The great eruption of Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, A. D. 79, is construed by the Sibyl as a sign of God’s anger against the Romans for the slaughter of the Jews.

178. Fugitive of Rome.–Nero, referred to in lines 154-159 above.]


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180 Euphrates with his many myriads.
O wretched Antioch, they shall call thee
No more a city when around their spears
Because of thine own follies thou shalt fall.
And then on Scyros shall a pestilence
185 And dreadful battle-din destruction bring.
Alas, alas! O wretched Cyprus, thee
Shall a broad wave of the sea cover, thee
Tossed on high by the whirling stormy winds.
And into Asia there shall come great wealth,
190 Which Rome herself once, plundering, put away
In her luxurious homes; and twice as much
And more shall she to Asia render back,
And then there shall be an excess of war.
And Carian cities by Mæander’s waters,
195 Girded with towers and very beautiful,
Shall by a bitter famine be destroyed,
When the Mæander his dark water hides.
But when piety shall perish from mankind,
And faith and right be hidden in the world,
200 . . . Fickle . . . and in unhallowed boldness
Living shall practice wanton violence,
And reckless evil deeds, and of the pious
No one shall make account, but even them all
From thoughtlessness they utterly destroy
205 In childish folly, in their violence
Exulting and in blood holding their bands;
Then know thou that God is no longer mild,

[184. Scyros.–Large island of the Ægean Sea east of Eubœa.

191. Twice as much.–Comp. book iii, 434-441.

194. Mæander.–This stream, having its sources in Phrygia, ran westward between Caria and Lydia, and was famous for its many windings. Comp. Ovid, Metam., viii, 162-166.]

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But gnashing with fury and destroying all
The race of men by conflagration great.
210 Ah! miserable mortals, change these things,
Nor lead the mighty God to wrath extreme;
Put giving up your swords and pointed knives,
And homicides and wanton violence,
Wash your whole body in perennial streams,
215 And lifting up your hands to heaven seek pardon
For former deeds and expiate with praise
Bitter impiety; and God will give
Repentance; he will not destroy; and wrath
Will he again restrain, if in your hearts
220 Ye all will practice honored piety.
But if, ill-disposed, ye obey me not,
But with a fondness for strange lack of sense
Receive all these things with an evil ear,
There shall be over all the world a fire
225 And greatest omen with sword and with trump
At sunrise; the whole world shall hear the roar
And mighty sound. And he shall burn all earth,
And destroy the whole race of men, and all
The cities and the rivers and the sea;
230 All things he’ll burn, and it shall be black dust.
But when now all things shall have been reduced
To dust and ashes, and God shall have calmed

[209. See lines 224-230, and comp. 2 Pet. iii, 7; Cicero, de Natura Deorum, ii, 49; Ovid, Metam. i, 256-258. Justin Martyr refers to this passage in his first Apology, chap. xx.

212. Knives.–Read {Greek sto’nuxas} instead of {Greek stonaxa’s}. This emendation proposed by Mendelssohn seems more suitable than the reading groanings, and finds favor with Rzach.

214. Wash.–Reference to Christian baptism.

218-220. Cited in Lactantius, de Ira Dei, xxiii.

231-248. This picture of resurrection, judgment, and awarding of {footnote p. 109} punishments and rewards embodies the substance of familiar Christian doctrine. This passage is quoted in the Apostolical Constitutions, book v, 7 [G., 1, 844], where we find a somewhat abbreviated text.]


{p. 109}

The fire unspeakable which he lit up,
The bones and ashes of men God himself
235 Again will fashion, and he will again
Raise mortals up, even as they were before.
And then shall be the judgment, at which God
Himself as judge shall judge the world again;
And all who sinned with impious hearts, even them,
240 Shall he again hide under mounds of earth
[Dark Tartarus and Stygian Gehenna].
But all who shall be pious shall again
Live on the earth [and (shall inherit there)
The great immortal God’s unwasting bliss,]
245 God giving spirit life and joy to them
[The pious; and they all shall see themselves
Beholding the sun’s sweet and cheering light.
O happy on the earth shall be that man].


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