Appendix: The Sibylline Oracles
Books 1 and 2 of the Sibylline Oracles contain Christian redaction and may be from the second or third century. Following M. R. James's example (ANT 521–4) I include a translation of lines 190–338 of the second book. This section seems to have been taken from the Apocalypse of Peter. The final lines of the extract seem to point to the ultimate salvation of all sinners, an idea to be found in the Appendix of the Ethiopic text of the Apocalypse of Peter (see above, at end of text). The Coptic Apocalypse of Elias (Elijah) also contains this conclusion:
The righteous will behold the sinners in their punishment, both those who have persecuted them and those who have handed them over to death. Then the sinners will see the place of the righteous and be partakers of grace. In that day that for which the righteous often pray will be granted to them. 1 See K. H. Kuhn, ‘The Apocalypse of Elijah’, in H. F. D. Sparks (ed.), The Apocalypse Old Testament (Oxford, 1984), 753–73, esp. 772–3.See also the Epistula Apostolorum 40.
The oracles, written in hexameters, are a collection of fifteen books in Greek, worked up by Jewish and Christian authors in imitation of the pagan Sibylline texts. Not all these fifteen books survive but those with the strongest Christian elements are books 1, 2, 6, 7, 8. The motive for the composition is likely to have been to win pagans to Jewish or Christian doctrines. The Christian additions seem to date from the late second century onwards.
Texts and Translations
J. Geffcken, Die Oracula Sibyllina (Leipzig, 1902; repr. Berlin, 1967) (= GCS 8).
J. J. Collins, ‘Sibylline Oracles’, in J. H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, i (London, 1983), 317–472 (with introduction and full bibliography).
Portions of the text translated in Hennecke, (German) 3ii. 502–28 (A. Kurfess), 5ii. 591–619 (U. Treu); (English) 3ii. 703–45, 5ii. 652–85.
Italian translation of the Christian Sibyllines in Erbetta, iii. 486–540.
Sibylline Oracles 2, Lines 190–338
After saying (l. 187) that Elijah will descend and display three great signs, the text proceeds: Woe to all those who are found great with child in that day, and to those who give suck to infant children, and to those who dwell on the wave. Woe to those who shall behold that day. For a dark mist shall cover the boundless world, from east and west, south and north. And then shall a great river of flaming fire flow from heaven and consume all places, the earth and the great ocean and the gleaming sea, lakes and rivers and fountains, and merciless Hades and the vault of heaven; but the lights of heaven shall melt together in one into a desolate shape. For the stars shall all fall from heaven into the sea, and all the souls of men shall gnash their teeth as they burn in the river of brimstone and the raging fire in the blazing plain, and ashes shall cover all things. And then shall all the elements of the world be laid waste, air, earth, sea, light, heaven, days and nights, and no more shall the multitudes of birds fly in the air nor swimming creatures any more swim the sea; no ship shall sail with its cargo over the waves; no guided oxon shall plough the tilled land; there shall be no more sound of swift winds, but he shall fuse all things together into one, and purge them clean.
Now when the immortal angels of the undying God, Barakiel, Ramiel, Uriel, Samiel, and Azael, knowing all the evil deeds that anyone has previously done shall come, then out of the misty darkness they shall bring all the souls of men to judgement, to the seat of God the immortal, the great. For he only is incorruptible, himself the Almighty, who shall be the judge of mortal men. And then to those of the underworld shall the heavenly one give souls and spirit and speech, and their bones joined together, with all the joints and the flesh and sinews and veins, and skin over the flesh, and hair as before, and the bodies of earthly men shall be moved and arise in one day, joined together in immortal fashion and breathing.
Then shall the great angel Uriel break the monstrous bars of unyielding and unbreakable steel, of the brazen gates of Hades, and cast them down, and bring forth to judgement all the sorrowful forms, the ghosts of the ancient Titans, and of the giants, and all whom the flood overtook. And all whom the wave of the sea has destroyed in the waters, and all whom beasts and creeping things and fowls have feasted on: all these shall he bring to the judgement seat; and again those whom flesh‐devouring fire has consumed in the flames, these also shall he gather and set before God's seat.
And when he has overcome Fate and raised the dead, then shall Adonai Sabaoth, the high thunderer, sit on his heavenly throne and set up a great pillar, and Christ himself, the undying, shall come to the eternal in the clouds in glory with the pure angels, and shall sit on the seat on the right of the Great One, judging the life and character of godly and ungodly men.
And the great Moses, friend of the Most High, shall come, clad in flesh, and the great Abraham himself shall come, and Isaac and Jacob, Joshua, Daniel, Elijah, Habakkuk, and Jonah, and those whom the Hebrews slew; and all the Hebrews who were after Jeremiah shall be judged at the judgement seat, and he shall destroy them, so that they may receive a due reward and expiate all that they did in their mortal life.
And then shall all men pass through a blazing river and unquenchable flame, and all the righteous shall be saved whole, but all the ungodly shall perish for all ages, as many as formerly did evil, and committed murders, and all who were privy thereto, liars, thieves, deceivers, cruel destroyers of houses, gluttons, adulterers, slanderers, insolent, lawless, idolaters, and all that forsook the great immortal God and became blasphemers and ravagers of the godly, breakers of faith and destroyers of righteous men. And all who look with guileful and shameless face—reverend priests and deacons 1 Something is lost or corrupt here. and judge unjustly, dealing perversely, obeying false rumours . . . more deadly than leopards and wolves, and very evil; and all who are arrogant, and usurers that heap up in their houses usury out of usury and injure orphans and widows continually; and they who give alms from ill‐gotten gains to widows and orphans, and they who, when they give alms of their own toil, reproach them; and they who have forsaken their parents in their old age and not repaid them at all, nor recompensed them for their nurture; and they who have disobeyed and spoken hard words against their parents; they also who have received pledges and denied them, and servants who have turned against their masters; and again they who have defiled their flesh in lasciviousness, and have loosed the girdle of virginity in secret union, and they who make the child in the womb miscarry, and who cast out their offspring unlawfully; sorcerers also and sorceresses with these shall the wrath of the heavenly and immortal God bring near to the pillar, around which the untiring river of fire shall flow. And all of them shall the undying angels of the immortal everlasting God chastise terribly from above with flaming scourges, and shall bind them fast in fiery chains and unbreakable bonds. And then shall they cast them down in the darkness of night into Gehenna among the beasts of hell, many and frightful, where there is darkness without measure.
And when they have dealt out many torments to all whose heart was evil, later out of the great river shall a wheel of fire encompass them, because they devised wicked works. And then shall they lament, one here, one there, in miserable fate, fathers and infant children, mothers and sucklings weeping, nor shall they be sated with tears, nor shall the voice of those who mourn piteously here and there be heard; but far under dark and squalid Tartarus shall they cry in torment, and in unhallowed places shall they abide and expiate threefold every evil deed that they have done, burning in a great flame; and shall gnash their teeth, all of them wasting away with fierce thirst and violence, and shall call death lovely and it shall evade them; for no more shall death nor night give them rest, and often shall they beseech in vain the Almighty God, and then shall he openly turn away his face from them. For he has granted the limit of seven ages for repentance to men who err, by the hand of a pure virgin.
But the residue who have cared for justice and good deeds, and godliness and righteous thoughts, shall angels bear up and carry through the flaming river to light, and life without care, where the immortal path of the great God is found, and three fountains, of wine and honey and milk. And the earth, common to all, not divided with walls or fences, shall then bring forth of her own accord much fruit, and life and wealth shall be common and undistributed. For there shall be no poor man, nor rich, nor tyrant, nor slave, none great nor small any longer, no kings, no princes; but all men shall be on a par together. And no more shall any man say ‘night is come’, nor ‘the morrow’, nor ‘it was yesterday’. He is no longer concerned with days, nor spring, nor winter, nor summer, nor autumn, neither marriage, nor death, nor selling, nor buying, nor sunset, nor sunrise. For God shall make one long day.
And to the godly, shall the almighty and immortal God grant another boon, when they shall ask it of him. He shall grant them to save men out of the fierce fire and the eternal torments; and this will he do, for he will gather them again out of the everlasting flame and remove them elsewhere, sending them for the sake of his people to another life eternal and immortal, in the Elysian plain where are the long waves of the Acherusian lake exhaustless and deep bosomed.
1 See K. H. Kuhn, ‘The Apocalypse of Elijah’, in H. F. D. Sparks (ed.), The Apocalypse Old Testament (Oxford, 1984), 753–73, esp. 772–3.
1 Something is lost or corrupt here.