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Post by halibot » Thu May 30, 2019 5:35 pm

The Christian Sybilline Oracles are poems written in Greek by Christian authors in the style of oracles ascribed to pagan sibyls.

The 14 "Books" (Volumes) of the Christian Sibylline Oracles, along with 7 fragments found in Lactantius and Theophilus of Antioch, can be found here:

(Question 1) Does Book VIII identify the Star of Bethlehem as Christ in a non-incarnate form, or does it associate the Star with Christ?
I guess that the Biblical story of Christ's birth implies that Christ is the Star before His birth, or else that the star has some association with Christ. Ancient cultures like the Greeks and Babylonians associated their gods with stars and planets, and Jesus referred to Himself in Revelation 22:16 as "the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
Book VIII, Lines 600-650 include this passage:
And coming late from the virgin Mary's womb
610) A new light rose, and going forth from heaven
Put on a mortal form. First then did Gabriel show
His strong pure form; and bearing his own news
He next addressed the maiden with his voice:
"O virgin, in thy bosom undefiled
615) Receive thou God."
The heavenly throne laughed and the world rejoiced.
635) And the prophetic new-appearing star
'Was honored by the wise men, and the babe
Born was shown in a manger unto them
That obeyed God, and keepers of the herds,
And goatherds and to shepherds of the lambs;
Wikipedia's article on the Star of Bethlehem notes: "In Orthodox Christian iconography, the Star of Bethlehem is often depicted not as golden, but as a dark aureola, a semicircle at the top of the icon, indicating the Uncreated Light of Divine grace, with a ray pointing to "the place where the young child lay" (Matt 2:9)."

(Question 2) Is the fourth power responsible for killing Christ the Jewish people in the courtyard in front of Pilate?
Zechariah 11 predicts three shepherds rejecting the Good Shepherd, which Christians traditionally interpret as three leaders (eg. Pilate, the Judean King Herod Antipas, and the High Priest Caiaphas) rejecting the Messiah:
3. There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds; for their glory is spoiled: a voice of the roaring of young lions; for the pride of Jordan is spoiled.

4. Thus saith the Lord my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter;

5. Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not.
8. Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul lothed them, and their soul also abhorred me.
The reference to a number of rulers rejecting Christ reminds me of Book VIII of the Christian Sibyllines. The Sibylline writer sees the 4 wounds on Christ's limbs as representing the world, as well as 4 royal powers that condemned Christ.
Milton Terry's translates the passage as:
And first then openly unto his own
Shall he as Lord in flesh be visible,
As he before was, and in hands and feet
Exhibit four marks fixed in his own limbs,
Denoting east and west and south and north;
For of the world so many royal powers
Shall against our Exemplar consummate
The deed so lawless and condemnable.
Charlesworth translates the last sentence as: "For so many kingdoms of the world will accomplish the unlawful blameworthy action as our archetype."

William Deane comments: "In Christ's hands extended on the cross the writer recognises the comprehension of the whole world in the benefits of the Passion; in the wounds in His hands and feet he finds a representation of the four quarters of the globe as being concerned in His death."

I think that three of the powers are Pilate (Rome), Herod (The Judean king), and the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious authorities).

(Question 3) Does Book VIII, Lines 650-670, oppose the Old Testament sacrifices of animals, which were part of the Day of Atonement in Judaism? Or does Book VIII.650-670 only oppose sacrificing animals as part of certain banned pagan rituals?
First, let me note that Book VIII, Lines 395-400 (per Milton Terry's numbering), following the examples of Isaiah and Jesus, promotes abandoning or dissolving some of the religious laws that the Jews were following.
The Book of Isaiah had complained about Jewish worship rules not really being from God: "Therefore the Lord said: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men.'"(Isa. 29:13)
Jesus cited this passage in Isaiah while criticizing Jewish religious rules, calling them "the commandments of men": "Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, '...But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matthew 15:7,9)
This discussion brings to mind Paul's criticisms of religious rules and restrictions in His Epistle to the Colossians (2:20-23):
20. If you have died with Christ to the spiritual forces of the world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its regulations:
21. ...“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”?
22.These will all perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.
23. Such restrictions indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-prescribed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body; but they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
In Milton Terry's translation, Book VIII of the Oracles predicts the release of laws given by the "decrees of men", whereas in Charlesworth's translation, the same passage refers to the dissolution of laws given in "teachings to men" (ie. the laws could be from God to men). Unfortunately, without the Greek text I don't know which translation is more accurate, but Charlesworth's tends to be better.
Here is Terry's translation:
They shall pierce his side
With a reed that they may fulfill their law;
For of reeds shaken by another spirit
395) Were nourished inclinations of the soul,
Of anger and revenge. But when these things
Shall be accomplished, of the which I spoke,
Then unto him shall every law be loosed
Which from the first by the decrees of men
400) Was given because of disobedient people.
Charlesworth translates the passage as:
They will stab his sides with a reed on account of their law.
For by winds shaken by another wind
the inclinations of the soul are turned from wrath and change.
But when all these things of which I have spoken are fulfilled,
then for him every law will be dissolved which from the beginning
was given in teachings to men, on account of a disobedient people.
Lactantius, in Book IV,14 of his Divine Institutes, comments on this passage:
For Micah announced that He would give a new law, in these terms: Micah 4:2-3 "The law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations." For the former law, which was given by Moses, was not given on Mount Zion, but on Mount Horeb; and the Sibyl shows that it would come to pass that this law would be destroyed by the Son of God:—

"But when all these things which I told you shall be accomplished, then all the law is fulfilled with respect to Him."
Second, the early Church apparently did not abandon all the Old Testament rituals and sacrifices, since Paul was involved in the Old Testament Nazirite sacrifices in agreement with the Church's instructions to him in Acts 21:24-26.

And Book VIII, Lines 332-335 (below) declare that God doesn't care about sacrifices, except when they are accompanied by intelligent hymns.
Honor him and keep him in your heart and love him from your soul and bear his name. Set aside the forner [customs ~Charlesworth] and wash from his blood, for he is not propitiated by your laments or prayers. Since he is imperishable he pays no attention to perishavle sacrifices except when intelligent mouths bring forth a hymn.
Third, the Sibylline Oracles' Lines 505-520 (below) appears to reject some forms of burnt offerings, but not all forms. In Milton Terry's translation of Lines 506-520 (below), the Sibyl criticizes forms of worship that humankind used to worship God, including idolatry, burnt offerings, pouring blood in honor of spirits ("demons"), and lighting fires or candles:
Forsaking the Creator they were slaves
To lewdness. Men possessing everything
Bestow their gifts on things which cannot aid,
As if they for my honors deemed these things
All useful, with the smell of sacrifice
Filling the feast, as if for their own dead.
For they flesh and bones full of marrow burn
Offering on altars, and they pour out blood
To demons, and they kindle lights to me
The giver of light, and as to a god
That thirsts do mortals drunken pour out wine
For nought to idols that can give no aid.
I have no need of your burnt offerings,
Nor your libations, nor polluted smoke,
Nor blood most hateful.
In Charlesworth's translation, the sacrifices that the Sibyl criticizes seem to be for one's dead children:
All have gifts from me but give them to useless things,
and they think all these things useful, like my honors,
making burnt offerings at meals, as to their own dead.
For they burn flesh and, sacrificing bones full of marrow on altars,
they pour blood to demons and light lamps for me, the giver of light.
Charlesworth references Wisdom of Solomon 14:15-21, which criticizes the practice of fathers making sacrifices to their dead children as if the children were gods. He translates the following lines as:
Mortals pour libations of wine as if to a thirsty god,
getting drunk to no purpose, for useless idols.
I have no need of your sacrifice or libation
or polluted burnt offerings or most hated blood.
For they will do these things to the memory of kings and tyrants,
for dead demons, as if they were heavenly beings,
performing a godless and destructive worship.
In the passage above, the Sibyl rejects the burnt sacrifices because they are dedicated to dead kings and dead demons.

Finally, with this background in mind let's turn to Lines 650-670. The Sibyl beings the passage by forbidding readers from honoring and embellishing statues and listing the ways, such as by pouring blood "libations" from bull sacrifices. Then she adds a ban on using sheeps' blood as a propitiation for "earthly penalty".
Here is Terry's translation:
650) Not ever are we suffered to approach
The inmost sanctuary of the temples,
Nor pour libations to carved images,
Nor honor them with prayers, nor with the smells
Much-pleasing of flowers, nor with light of lamps,
655) Nor yet with shining votive offerings
Adorn them, nor with smoke of frankincense
That sends forth flame of altars; nor do thou,
Adding unto the sacrifice of bulls
And taking pleasure in defilement send
660) Blood of sheep-slaughtering outrage, thus to give
Ransom for penalty beneath the earth;

Nor by the smoke of flesh-consuming pyre
And odors foul pollute the light of heaven;
But joyful with pure minds and cheerful soul,
665) With love abounding and with generous hands,
With soothing psalms and songs that honor God,
We are commanded to sing praise to thee,
The imperishable and without deceit,
All-father God, of understanding mind,
Here is Charlesworth's translation, with my interpretation inserted in brackets:
We are never to approach the sanctuaries of temples
nor to pour libations to statues nor to honor them with prayers,
nor [to honor statues] with delightful scents of flowers
nor [to honor them] with gleams of lamps,
nor even to embellish them with offerings,
nor [to embellish statues] with breaths of incense sending up a flame on altars
nor [to embellish them] with libations from the sacrifice of bulls, rejoicing in gore, to send blood from the slaughter of sheep as propitiatory offerings for earthly penalty;
nor to defile the light of the sky with smoke from burnt offerings and polluted breezes from a fire that burns flesh.
Judaism banned honoring statues as part of religious worship and also banned blood drinks or "libations" (Lev. 17:10). On the other hand, the annual Mosaic ritual of "Yom Kippur", the Day of Atonement used a ram (a male sheep) among its sacrifices to atone for the people's sins.
So it isn't clear to me whether this passage bans using sheepsblood to atone for sin, or only bans using it as part of pagan worship, such as venerating idols.

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