Assyrian / Babylonian wisdom: Sibyl of Babylon on the superiority of the Judean people (second century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Assyrian / Babylonian wisdom: Sibyl of Babylon on the superiority of the Judean people (second century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 11, 2024,

Ancient authors: Anonymous Egyptian Judean as the Assyrian / Babylonian Sibyl (second century BCE), Sibylline Oracles 3.97-349, 489-829 (link to Greek; link to full translation).

Comments: The present oracles are among the earliest of the so-called Sibylline Oracles produced by Judeans / Jews (sometimes including Jesus adherents) posing as a non-Judean Sibyl or prophetess. The consistent mention of a seventh Egyptian king (3.193, 318, and 608) suggests an Egyptian Judean author who is identifying God’s special end-time royal functionary as one of the Ptolemaic kings, most likely Ptolemy Philometer, Neos Philopater, or Physkon (all between 180-117 BCE). This expectation of installment of a native Egyptian king in some (imminent) future time has some commonalities with the Egyptian Oracle of the Lamb and the Oracle of the Potter (link). Parts of Sibylline Oracle 3 that are excluded here (1-96, 350-488) date from a later time.

The oracles (in Greek dactylic hexameter verse) translated below are important evidence for ethnic relations in a variety of ways, three of which I will briefly mention. First of all, the focus on characterizing other peoples makes this an excellent source for understanding how an Egyptian Judean who speaks Greek would view and stereotype those of other ethnic groups. In this respect, here we encounter Judean stereotypes about “the peoples” (traditionally rendered “the gentiles”) much like those of Paul (link) and the Wisdom of Solomon (link): Our author caricatures peoples (beyond God’s people) as (1) tending towards worshipping inappropriate things (“idolatry” in Judean terms) and (2) engaging in perverted sexual customs. The latter point – that those considered “foreigners” engage in upside down sexual customs – is widespread in Greek ethnographic discourses as well (see category eight). But in this case the stereotype is interpreted in Judean moralistic terms as one of the key causes of the Israelite or Judean god’s judgment on and destruction of certain peoples.

Second, in these oracles non-Israelite peoples are not merely clumped together as a monolith. The author spells out an awareness of numerous named peoples. In doing so, the author incidentally engages in ethnographic descriptions and demonstrates to the Greek-speaking listener of the oracles the author’s attention to or knowledge about these numerous peoples. There are too many peoples to discuss here, but a couple are worth highlighting. Particularly noteworthy is the attention to Chaldeans (sometimes interchangeable with Babylonians), who are directly critiqued despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that the Israelites or Judeans are here portrayed as descendents of Abram from Ur of the Chaldees. Judeans are, in a sense, Chaldeans but as “God’s people” are imagined to be completely set apart, as you’ll see. Also worth noting is that the Egyptians are both associated with the Israelite god’s action in saving the righteous Israelite people via the seventh king, on the one hand, and worthy of condemnation like other peoples, on the other. In this world of Assyrians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Phrygians, Lycians, Libyans, and many others, the oracles of the Sibyl seem aimed primarily at portraying the Israelite or Judean people as superior to all others. Although this might seem like an obvious point when dealing with Israelite or Judean characterizations of themselves, it is particularly noteworthy in connection with the ethnic hierarchies that come through in many other sources on this site. Many Greek or Roman ethnographic discussions give Judeans a very low rung on the ethnic ladder (e.g. Tacitus at this link). Assertion of superiority might at times (though not always) relate to this Greek and Roman denigration.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, these oracles are framed as the product of a foreign, non-Israelite Sibyl or prophetess (in other words, sort of a wise barbarian figure). Although a favourite persona to employ among Judean authors, the figure of the Sibyl herself is, most often, expressly a non-Israelite or non-Judean figure. Although one option is to speak of a “Hebrew” Sibyl, in most cases she is a foreigner, a non-Hebrew, non-Israelite or non-Judean (in our cases employed by a Greek-speaking Egyptian Judean author or authors). In fact, by the time of Varro (first century BCE), attempts to enumerate the Sibyls might present at least ten different well-known Sibyls of this type: Persian, Libyan, Delphian, Kimmerian (from Scythian territory north of the Black Sea), Erythrean, Samian, Kumean, Hellespontian, Phrygian, and Tiburtine (as cited by Lactantius, Divine Institutions 1.6). Incidentally not mentioned by Varro this time is our present Assyrian, or Babylonian Sibyl, which is clearly identified at the very end of our oracles. (Powerful eastern peoples are at times interchangeable or confused by Greek-speaking outsiders, as is the case with the use of Assyrian for what we might call a Babylonian figure here). Therefore the usage of this foreign figure by Judeans has many affinities with Greeks who emphasize foreign (non-Greek) or “barbarian” sources of wisdom or truth, or who appeal to such sources of superior knowledge as a way of claiming superiority over others.


Book 3

(/ = hexameter verse breaks)

[Tower of Babel]

(97-109) But when the threats of the almighty God / had been fulfilled, with which he once threatened those / who made a tower in the land of Assyria . . . / They all spoke one language, and resolved / to ascend to starry heaven. / Quickly the immortal added to the winds / a mighty force, and tempests from above / threw down the huge tower, and among humankind / he raised up confusion. Therefore mortals gave / to that city the name of “Babylon.” / But when the tower fell, and the tongues of men / became discordant, all the earth was filled / with mortals and divided among kings. / Then was the tenth generation / of mortal men, after the time when the flood / came on the earlier generation.

[Humanizing / Euhemerizing explanation of Greek gods]

(110-155) And Kronos reigned, / as well as Titan and Iapetos, whom men considered / fairest of Gaia and Ouranos born, / and gave them also names of “Earth” and “Sky [or: Heaven],” / because they were most excellent of men. / The earth was divided into three parts, / according to the inheritance of each, / and each ruled his own portion, without strife. / For they were bound by the paternal oath, / and their portions were equal. But old age / came on the father [Ouranos], and his time was full, / and he died. But the sons, infringing oaths, / contended with each other in fierce strife / over who should hold royal honour, and rule / over all mortals. Then Kronos and Titan / fought with the rest. But Rhea, Gaia, / garland-loving Aphrodite, Demeter, / Hestia, and Dione golden-haired / brought them to friendship, / and called a council of all kings, brothers, family, / and also others of ancestral blood. / They decided Kronos should be king, / for he was the oldest and most noble. / But Titan placed on Kronos serious oaths / to rear no male children, that he / himself might reign when age and fate should fall / on Kronos. So whenever Rhea bore, / beside her sat the Titans who destroyed / all the male offspring. But the female lived / and were left to the mother’s nursing care. / But when at the third birth the honoured Rhea / brought forth illustrious Hera, and they saw / with wondering eyes a group of females born, / the savage Titans took themselves away. / Then when Rhea gave birth to a male child / she sent him quickly into Phrygia / to be reared there in secret, having bound / three Cretans by an oath to do her will. / They called him Zeus (Dia), for he was sent away. / She also secretly sent Poseidon / and Ploutos, third, by women’s helping hand / did Rhea, coming to Dodona, bear / from where Europos’ flowed, / and, with Peneios mixed, pours in the sea / its water, and men call it Stygian. / But when the Titans heard of hidden sons / begotten by king Kronos and his wife, / quickly assembled Titan sixty youths, / bound Kronos and his wife Rhea in chains, / hid them in earth, and kept them under guard. / And then the sons heard mighty Kronos / and they stirred up a tumultuous war, / and this was the beginning of dire war / among all mortals, for it was indeed / the primal origin of war among men.

[Rise and fall of successive hegemonies and the seventh king]

(156-195) Then God sent evil on the Titans, / and all the offspring from Titan and Kronos / died. But as time rolled on these kingdoms rose: / Egyptian, Persian, Median, Ethiopian, / Assyrian-Babylon, and Macedonian, / Egyptian yet again, then that of Rome. / And then a message of the mighty God / pressed on my [the Sibyl’s] heart, and ordered that I prophecy / on all the earth, and in the minds of kings / those hidden things which are yet to be. / And first the only God delivered me / what kingdoms of humankind will be raised up. / And first the house of Solomon will rule / the horsemen of Phoenicia and of Asia, / and those of other islands, and the people (genos) / of the Pamphylians, Persians, Phrygians, / Carians, Mysians, and Lydians, famed for gold. / And then the arrogant Greeks, / impure, and another Macedonian people, / much mixed, will rule, and they will bring on men / a fearful cloud of war. But the God of heaven / will utterly destroy them from below. / And then another kingdom will arise, / white and many-headed from the western sea, / which will rule and shake many a land, / and afterward bring terror to all kings. / Much gold and silver will she take by force / from many cities, yet in the vast earth / there will be gold, silver and elegance. / And they will completely afflict humankind, and then / to those same men will come a ruinous fall / when they attempt unrighteous insolence. / On them will be the bond of wickedness: / male will consort with male and they will set / children in dens of shame. And in those days / a great affliction will come among men / to confuse and wound and fill everything with evil / through shameful covetousness and ill-gotten gain / in many lands, but mostly in Macedon. / And hatred and deceit will spring up / until the seventh reign of an / Egyptian king of Greek birth will rule. / And then the people of the mighty God / will be again strong and be guides of life / to all humankind.

[Judgment on various peoples]

(196-217) But why should God now / lay it upon my spirit to declare / what is the first, second and final evil / upon everyone, and how they will begin? / First God will send evil on the Titans, / for mighty Kronos’s sons will take vengeance, / because they bound the king and mother dear. / Again tyrants will rule the Greeks / and they will be proud, arrogant, and vicious kings, / adulterous and completely bad. / No more will there be a rest from war. / The dreadful Phrygians will all perish / and Troy will meet misfortune in that day. / Evil will also come to the Persians, / to the Assyrians, and to all Egypt as well, / as well as Libya, the Ethiopians, / Carians, and Pamphylians. On all mortals / evil will be imposed. Why then do I speak / of each? When the first things end, / immediately the second things will fall upon humankind. / And yet I will first proclaim to you: / An evil will come upon pious men / who dwell by the great temple of Solomon, / descendants of righteous men. / Among these I also will declare the tribe (phylē), / the line (genos) of fathers, and the people of them all, / all very thoughtfully, O crafty mortal.

[Critique of other Chaldeans]

(218-233) There is a city . . . [text missing in manuscript] in the land / of Ur of the Chaldees, from which came a people (genos) / most upright, always fond of good counsel / and noble deeds. For they seek not with care / the circling pathway of the sun and moon [i.e. astrology], / nor monstrous deeds on earth, nor the blue depth / of sea or ocean, nor the signs of sneezing, / nor interpreters of bird-flight, nor diviners, / nor poisoners, nor enchanters, nor the frauds / and silly stories of the story-tellers, / nor studies of Chaldean astrologers, / nor oracles they gather from the stars. / For all these things are errors, which vain men / search day by day, and exercise their souls / in pointless labours, and then teach / their error to other thoughtless men. / From this many evils have come to men, / and turned them from good and righteous ways.

[Superiority of the Judean people]

(234-264) But they [Abram’s people] seek with care for righteousness / and virtue, and do not have the avarice / which causes unnumbered ills among mortal men: / continuous war and famine without end. / Just measure they observe in field and town. / They steal not from each other in the night, / nor drive off herds of oxen, sheep, and goats. / Nor do they move away neighbours’ boundary-marks. / Nor does the wealthy man upset the poor / or oppress widows, but he rather aids, / The wealthy man always provides wheat, wine and oil, / and always provides a share to those that have nothing / and to the poor at harvest-time. / So they fulfill the word of the great God, / the hymn of the law. / For the one who dwells in heaven created earth / to be a common property for everyone. / But when the people of twelve tribes depart / from Egypt and with joy pursue their way / with leaders sent of God, they will proceed / in a pillar of fire by night and one of cloud / at morning of each day as they go on. / And God will appoint a leader for them, / a great man, Moses, whom a princess found / beside a marsh and carried off and reared / and called her son. But when he soon came / as leader of the people whom God brought / away from Egypt to the Sinai mount, / then God delivered them the law from heaven / and wrote upon two tablets all just things / which he enjoined to do. If, perhaps, / someone gives no heed, he must to the law / make satisfaction, either at men’s hands, / or, if he escapes man’s notice, he will / by ample satisfaction be destroyed. / [Omitted two sentences not in all manuscripts.] / For he who rules in heaven completed earth / to be a common property for everyone. / And he placed most noble thought in all breasts.

[Dispersian and return]

(265-294) To them alone the bounteous field yields fruit, / a hundred-fold from one, and thus completes / God’s measure. But to them will also come / misfortune, nor will they escape every plague. / Even you [descendents of Abram], forsaking your fair shrine, / will flee away when it becomes your lot / to leave the holy ground, and you will be / carried to the Assyrians [i.e. Babylonians], and will see / wives and young children as slaves to hostile men. / All means of life and wealth will be destroyed. / Every land and sea be filled with you / and everyone will take offense at your customs. / Your land will be desolate. The fenced altar / and sacred temple and extended walls / will all fall to the ground because in heart / you have not kept the holy law of God. / Instead you have erred and served meaningless images / and have not feared the immortal begetter of gods / and of all people, nor chosen to honour him. / Instead, you have honoured images of men. / Therefore for seven decades will your fruitful land / and the wonders of the temple be desolate. / And yet a good end remains for you, / and highest glory from the immortal God. / But wait and confide in God’s pure laws / when he lifts your weary knee to the light. / Then God will send out of heaven a king / to judge each man in blood and light of fire. / There is a royal tribe (phylē), whose progeny / will be unfailing and in course of time / it will rule and build God’s temple again. / All the kings of Persia will assist / with gold, brass and well-wrought iron and God / himself will give by night the holy dream. / Then the temple will be as it was before.

[Woes against peoples]

[Assyrians / Babylonians]

(295-313) Now when my spirit had ceased its sacred song, / and I prayed the great begetter to be released, / again a message of Almighty God / rose in my heart. He commanded me / to prophecy over all the earth, and place / in royal minds the things which are to be. / And God first gave to my mind to tell about / what bitter woes he planned for Babylon, / because they had destroyed God’s great temple. / Woe to you, O Babylon, / and Assyrian men, when the clash / of weapons will destroy all the sinful earth, / and the shout of war will ruin every land, / and the affliction of God, leader of hymns, will come. / For it will come as from the air above, / Babylon, and from the holy ones / of the high heaven will descend on you, / and eternal wrath will destroy your children. / And then you will be as you were at first, / as things which are not, and with blood / will you be filled, as you previously shed / the blood of many good and righteous men, / whose blood yet cries out to the lofty heaven.

[Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans]

(314-349) A great plague will come against you, Egypt, / against your homes, and what you hoped for / may never happen. For a sword will pass / through you. Separation, death, / and famine will prevail until the seventh / generation of kings, and then cease. / Woe to you, land of Gog and Magog, / in the midst of the rivers of Ethiopia! / What pouring out of blood will you receive, / and be called house of judgment among men! / Your land with much dew will drink black blood. / Woe to you, Libya, and woe to you, / land and sea! You daughters of the West / will experience a bitter day! / And you will come pursued by cruel strife, / dreadful and harsh. Dire judgment will begin, / and you will all come to ruin by force, / because you marred the Immortal’s mighty house, / and with iron teeth you chewed it terribly. / So you will see your land full of the dead, / by war, by every spirit of violence, / by famine, by pestilence, / and by barbarian-spirited (barbarothymoi) enemies, / your land all desert and the city destroyed. / And there will shine at evening-time a star / which they will call a comet, baleful sign / to mortals pointing to famine, sword, death, / and ruin of great leaders and chief men. / And there will be great signs again among men, / for the deep-flowing Tanais [Don] will forsake / Maiotis’ [Sea of Azov’s] marshy lake, and the deep stream / will flow along a fruitful furrow’s mark, / and the vast flood a neck of land will stop. / And there will be wide chasms and yawning pits, / and many cities with their men will fall: / In Asia: Iassos, Kebren, Pandonia, / Kolophon, Ephesos, Nike, Antioch, / Tanagra, Sinope, Smyrna, Myrina. / In Europe: Kyagra, Klitos, Basilis, / Meropeia, Antigone, Magnesia, / Mykene, Pantheia, and most happy Gaza, / Hierapolis and Astypalia. / Know, then, that Egypt’s destructive people is near its end, / and then for Alexandrians / gone by years will be better.

[Omitted series of oracles (lines 350-488) against peoples that date from ca. 31 BCE].


(489-503) Now when my spirit had ceased from sacred song, / again a message of almighty God / rose in my heart, and he commanded me / to utter prophecies upon the earth. / Woe to you, Phoenician people (genos), both men and women, / also woe to all the cities by the sea. / None of you will come to the sun’s light / in common light. No longer will there be / number and tribe, because of unjust speech / and lawless, unholy life in which all indulged, / opening a foul mouth and uttering fearful words, / false and unrighteous words. They set themselves / in opposition to the mighty God, / and opened a polluted mouth to lie. / Therefore they will by dreadful strokes be slain / in all the earth, and bitter destiny / will God send on them, burning from the ground / their numerous cities and foundations.

[Cretans, Thracians, Anatolians, Libyans, etc.]

(504-544) Woe to you, Crete, burdened with pain, / on you will come a stroke. Terribly / you will be destroyed forever. / And every land will see you black with smoke, / and fire will never leave you, but will burn. / Woe to you, Thrace, for you will bend / beneath a yoke of slavery. When the Galatians, / mixed with the Dardanians, hurriedly destroy / Greece, then will terrible evil come on you. / In a strange land you do not give and yet receive. / Woe to you, Gog, and so with all, / one by one, Magog, Marson, and Aggon. / How many an evil lot will fall to you! / Many will also fall on Lycia’s sons, / as well as those of Mysia and Phrygia. / And many peoples (ethnē) of Pamphylia / and of Lydia will fall, as well as Maurians [in northern Africa] / and Ethiopians, barbarous tribes, / and Cappadocians and Arabians. / How can I now speak of each / according to his lot? For to all the peoples, / as many as are dwelling on the earth, / will the Most High send forth an evil plague. / When now a very barbarous people comes / against the Greeks, it will slay many chiefs / of chosen men. Many fattened sheep / and horses will be torn, and mules and herds / of bellowing oxen, and in lawlessness / they will burn the well-made houses with fire. / And many will as slaves be led by force / into a foreign land, and children too. / Women from bed-chambers, girdled low, / delicate, falling down with tender feet, / will be seen chained and suffering all abuse / by hostile, barbarous men. Nor will they have / any help in life, nor any help in war. / But they will see their goods and all their wealth / enriching enemies. Their knees will tremble. / A hundred flee, but one will slay them all, / And five will rouse an ambush heavy-armed. / But they, among themselves mixed shamefully / in fearful war and tumult, will bring joy / to the enemy, but sorrow to the Greeks. / Then will a yoke of slavery be on all Greece, / and all at once will war and pestilence / with mortals yet remain. And God will make / the mighty heaven on high like brass, and drought / on all the earth, which itself will be iron. / And then men will bitterly lament, / the land uncultivated and unplowed. / He who made the heaven and earth will place / a massive fire on earth, and only one third / of all humanity will remain alive.


(545-572) O Greece, why have you trusted mortal men / as leaders, who cannot escape from death? / And why do you bring your foolish offerings / to the dead, and sacrifice to idols? / Who  put the terrible error in your heart / to do these things and leave the mighty God? / Honour the name of the father of all and let it not / escape you. There have been a thousand years, / yes, and five hundred more, since arrogant kings / ruled over the Greeks. They were the first to bring / evils to mortal men, making many images / of god that are dead. / From this you were taught to think about pointless things. / But when the anger of the mighty God / will come upon you, then will you find out / the face of the mighty God. All souls / of men, in great distress, will lift their hands / up to the broad heaven and begin to call / on the great king, the helper, and to seek / a rescuer from the mighty judgement to come. / But come, learn this and lodge in your hearts / what troubles will come as the years move on. / When Greece brings her sacrifice of oxen / and bellowing bulls, a whole burnt-offering / to the temple of mighty God, / she will escape the hateful sound of war, / fear, and famine. She will go forth again / away from underneath a yoke of slavery. / But such a group of godless men will be / until that fatal day receives its end. / For you will not bring sacrifice to God / until all things come to pass, whatever things / the one God wills to be not without end. / Everything will take place, as strong fate impels.

[Judeans as a holy people]

(573-600) Once again there will be / a holy people, devoted to the mind / and counsels of the highest. They will honour / the great God’s temple with drink-offerings, / burnt-offerings, and holy hecatombs, / with sacrifice of well-fed bulls, choice rams, / firstlings of sheep, and the fat parts of lambs, / sacredly offering whole burnt sacrifice / on the great altar. But in righteousness, / having obtained the law of the Most High, / blessed they will dwell in cities and rich fields. / And prophets will by the immortal one / be exalted and bring great joy to men. / For to them only has the great God given / his kindly counsel, and put in their hearts / faith and most noble thought. They do not / pointlessly hold in awe the works of men, / of gold, brass, silver, ivory, / wood, stone, and clay idols of dead gods, / red-painted representations of beasts, / whatever mortals honour with empty-minded desire. / But they lift up their holy arms to heaven. / At daybreak they rise from their beds to cleanse / their hands with water and to pay appropriate honours / to God the immortal, who is always great, / as well as to parents. But above all people / they keep the bed of marriage undefiled, / and do not mix with boys or with males in impure acts, / like the Phoenicians, Latins, Egyptians, / spacious Greece, and many more peoples: / Persians, Galatians, and of all peoples of Asia, / transgressing the immortal God’s pure law.

[Idolatry of the peoples and God’s judgement]

(601-618) And so the immortal will inflict on men / delusion, famine, sufferings, groans, / war, pestilence, and mournful woes. / Because they did not want to honour righteously / the immortal Father of everyone. / Instead, they honoured idols made with human hands, / that even men themselves will throw away / in clefts of rocks, concealing them from shame. / When a young seventh king of Egypt will rule / his own land, reckoned in the dynasty of the Greeks / which Macedonia’s mighty men will rule, / then will there come from Asia a great king / with eagle’s fire. With his foot and horse he / will cover all the land, break down all things, / and fill all things with evil. He will cast down / the Egyptian kingdom, seize all goods, / and ride upon the broad back of the sea. / And then before the mighty God, the king / immortal, they will bend their knees / on the all-fostering earth. And all the works / made with hands in a flame of fire will fall.

[Restoration and call for reconciliation]

(619-634) Then God will grant great joy to men. / For land, trees, and countless flocks of sheep / will yield humankind the genuine fruit of wine, / sweet honey, white milk, and wheat, / which is for men the very best of all. / But you, mortal versed in various skills / and evil-minded, will not be like this. / Turn around and be reconciled to God. / Offer to God whole hecatombs of bulls, / lambs, and goats, at the recurring times. / Propitiate him, the immortal God. / Perhaps he will show mercy. For he himself / alone is God, and there is none other. / Hold righteousness in honour, wrong noone / with oppression, for the immortal one / enjoins these things on miserable men. / But you, be on your guard against the wrath / of the great God, when to all men will come / the height of famine, and, being overpowered / They meet dire judgment.

[Further judgement on peoples]

(635-651) King will seize king / and take his land away. Peoples will plunder / peoples, leaders, and tribes. / Leaders will all flee to another land, / and earth itself be changed. Barbarous rule / will ravage all Greece, and the rich land of wealth / will become exhausted, and they will face / strife because of gold and silver / in a strange land. Love of gain will be / an evil guide for cities. And they will all / be unburied and their flesh will be / destroyed by vultures and wild beasts of earth. / When these things are finished, the huge earth / will consume all that remains of the dead. / Earth will be completely unsown and unplowed, / proclaiming woefully the abomination / of countless men through many circling years, / as well as shields, javelins and all sorts of weapons. / Nor will the forest wood be cut for fire.

[King sent by God, reward for God’s people, threats against the temple, and cosmic judgment]

(652-701) Then from the sun God will send a king, / who will make all earth cease from evil war, / killing some and binding others with strong oaths. / Yet he will not do this by his own plans, / but by excellent teachings of God. / The temple of the great God will be weighed down / with gold, silver and purple ornament, / and earth and sea will be filled with good things. / And then kings of peoples (ethnē) will again begin / to envy one another and their hearts will / desire wicked projects. Envy brings / no good to wretched mortals. But again / will kings of peoples rush upon the land / in masses, bringing doom upon themselves. / For they will plan to destroy the shrine / of the great God and most excellent men. / When they reach the land, polluted kings / will sacrifice within the city’s walls, / each having his own throne and subject people (laos). / And then will God speak with a mighty voice / to all rude, empty-minded people (laos). / Judgments from the mighty God will come / upon them, and they all will be destroyed / by an immortal hand. Fiery swords / will fall down from heaven on earth, and mighty lights / will come down flaming in the midst of men. / And mother earth will be tossed in those days / by an immortal hand, and fish of the sea, / all earth’s beasts, countless flocks of birds, / all the souls of men, and all the sea / will shudder at the face of the immortal, / and there will be dismay. High mountain peaks / and huge hills of giants he will break, and / the dark abyss will appear to all. / Misty gorges in the lofty hill / will be full of the dead. The rocks will stream / with blood, and every torrent fill the plain. / And well-built walls of hostile men will all / fall to the earth. For they did now know the law, / nor God’s judgment, but with senseless soul / they rushed to the temple and lifted spears. / God judges all by war, sword, fire, / and overwhelming flood. And there will be / brimstone from heaven, as well as stones and frightening hail. / Death will come upon the four-footed animals. / Then will men come to know the immortal God / who judges these things. Lamentation / and uproar will come on the boundless earth, / because men perish. In speechless woe / will everyone be bathed in blood. Earth herself / will drink the blood of them that are destroyed / and the wild beasts will fill themselves with flesh. / The eternal God himself gave me / all these things to prophesy. Nor will they be / without complete fulfillment, for he put / them only in the heart. For without falsehood / the spirit of God continues in the world.

[Salvation for the Judean people]

(702-731) Again the children of the mighty God / will live in peace around the temple, / delighting in those things which he will give / who is creator, righteous judge, and king. / For he alone, standing wondrous near, / can shelter as a wall of flaming fire / from all around. And there will be no wars / in cities or in country. Rather than the hand / of cruel war, there will be with them / the immortal champion himself / and the hand of the holy one. And then the isles / and cities all will speak, and tell how much / the immortal loves those men. For he shares with them / in all conflict and delivers them. / And divinely formed heaven, sun, moon, / and mother earth will tremble in those days. / And they will lead forth a sweet word in hymns: / “Come, falling on the earth let us all pray / to the immortal king, great God, most high. / Let us send to the temple, since he is the / sole lord. Let us all observe the law / of God most high, who above all on earth / is the most righteous one. For we have strayed / Far from the path of the immortal one, / and have done reverence with a senseless soul / to works of human hands, to images / carved out of wood and of dead men.” / These things souls of the faithful cry aloud: / “Come, let us with God’s people fall down / upon our faces, and let us delight in our homes / with hymns to God the creator. Let us gather / the weapons of our foes in every land / for seven lengths of the revolving years, / even shields, helmets, and all sorts of weapons, / as well as a great store of bows and harmful arrows, / for forest wood will not be cut for fire.”


(732-740) But, wretched Greece, cease your willful / arrogance. Entreat the immortal and / great-hearted one, and be watchful. / Send to this city the thoughtless people / who have come from the mighty’s holy land. / Do not disturb Kamarina, for it is best / undisturbed, as a leopard from the lair, / an evil which you should by no means meet. / But keep away, and do not hold arrogance / in your heart, an overbearing soul, / ready for mighty contest. And serve God, / the mighty one, that you may share with them.

[Judgment and a peaceful existence for God’s people]

(741-761) When this fated day reaches its consummation, / and the judgment of immortal God comes upon mortals, / a great judgment and dominion will come upon men. / For earth, all-mother, will give / the best fruit, boundless wheat, / wine, and oil. And from the heavens will come a drink, / of delightful sweet honey, / trees, fruits of trees, fatted sheep, / oxen, young lambs, and young goats. / Sweet fountains of white milk will burst forth. / The cities will be full of good things, / and the fields will be fertile. There will be no sword / nor uproar on the earth. Nor will the earth / groan heavily and tremble any more. / Nor will there be war or drought any longer on earth, / nor famine, nor the fruit-destroying hail. / Instead, great peace will be upon all the earth. / King will be friend to king until the end / of time, and a new law on all the earth / will the immortal in the starry heaven / perfect for men, dealing with whatever things / have been done by miserable mortals. / For he alone is God, no other is, / and he will burn with fire man’s grievous power.

[Exhortation to good behaviour]

(762-766) But now, being quick to keep my thoughts in heart, / shun godless worship, serve the living God, / be on your guard against adultery / and all unclean things. Rear your own children / and do not murder. For the immortal one / is angry with those who commit these sins.

[Final kingdom for God’s people continued]

(767-795) And then he will establish an eternal kingdom / for all humanity. He will give a holy law / to the pious to whom he has pledged / to open up the land, the wide world, / portals of the blessed, all joys, / mind immortal, and eternal bliss. / And those from every land will bring frankincense, / and gifts to the house of the great God, / and there will be no other house / to be inquired of by future men, / except the one whom God gave to faithful men to honour, / [omitted one phrase – Christian interpolation] / All paths of the field, the rough hills, / the lofty mountains, and the sea’s wild waves / will in those days be easy to pass over. / For all peace of the good will come on earth. / And God’s prophets will take away the sword. / For they will be the judges of humankind / and righteous kings. For this is the judgment / of the mighty and sovereign God. / Be happy, maiden, and rejoice, / for the eternal who made heaven and earth, / has given you joy and he will dwell in you, / and he will be an immortal light for you. / And wolves and lambs together will eat / grass in the mountains, young goats will / graze with leopards, wandering bears will stay / among calves, the carnivorous lion / will eat straw in the manger like the ox, / and little children will lead them with ropes. / For beasts he made on earth will be tame, / and serpents will fall asleep with young babes / and no harm will come to them, / for God’s hand will be on them.

[Signs of the end]

(796-808) Now I will tell you a very clear sign / so that you may know when the end of all things / on earth will be. When in the starry heaven / swords will be seen by night toward west or east, / quickly will there be a dark cloud of dust / coming downward from the heaven over all the earth. / The sun’s brightness in the midst of heaven / will be eclipsed, and the moon’s beams will appear / and come again on earth. There will be / the sign of blood-drops issuing from stones, / And you will see a war of foot-soldiers and horse-men / in a cloud, like a hunting of wild beasts, / like a dark mist. This is the end of war / Which God who dwells in heaven will accomplish. / But everyone must sacrifice to the great king.

[Assyrian / Babylonian Sibyl’s conclusion]

(809-829) I, who madly left Assyria’s long Babylonian walls, / say these things to you and / prophesied to everyone about the fire, / God’s fury which will be sent on Greece, / so that I might prophesy to mortals / about divine mysteries. Throughout Greece / they will say that I am from another / homeland, born of Erythrai – shameless. / Others say that I am a Sibyl born of Kirke and / father Gnostos – crazy and false. / But at the time when all things come to pass / you will make mention of me. No longer / will anyone call me mad; / rather, they will call me God’s great prophetess, / because God will show me whatever things / belonged at first to my ancestors, / those things God laid down in his plans for me. / All future things God stored up in my mind, / so that I might prophecy about things to come and / things that were, and tell them to humankind. / For when the world was deluged with a flood / of waters, and one man alone was left, / a man of honour [i.e. Noah], sailing on the waves / in wooden house along with beasts and birds, / I was his bride and from his blood I came. / To him the first things and the last things / were all made known. And so from my own mouth / I have truthfully declared everything.


Source of translation: M.S. Terry, Sibylline Oracles Translated from the Greek into English Blank Verse (New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1890), public domain, adapted by Harland with reference to Geffcken’s critical edition of the Greek.

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