tures is fascinating, but it has to be asked in different ways depending on
the apocryphal text under study. In this paper I look at the way the passion
narratives are retold in the Sibylline Oracles. The question is to be asked
specifically for the Sibyls who are “vaticinating” in Books 1, 6, and 8 of
the collection. A special place must be given to the first Book,
help in editing this text.
This book consists of 400 hexameters, an important part of which – verses 1 to 323
Christian who intended to complete it by adding a long section on Jesus and his earthly
ministry. Most scholars see Books 1 and 2, separated in the manuscripts by a colophon,
as a single writing. Some date its composition in the second or third century of the Chris-
tian era. Some others consider that there is no reason to distinguish a primitive Jewish
stratum and a Christian rewriting, and conclude that the double Book 1–2 is an entirely
Christian work of the second, third or fifth century (see the conclusion below). For recent
studies of this double book, see J.L. Lightfoot, The Sibylline Oracles. With Introduction,
muth, Sibyllinische Orakel 1/2: Ein apokalyptisches Dokument des kleinasiatischen Ju-
series “Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity” at Brill, Leiden, in 2010); and T. Beech,
Paul University, Ottawa, February 2008). A first review of J.L. Lightfoot’s book was
published by A. Kachuk in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, June 21, 2008; very recently a
shorter review has been published by G.L. Watley in The Classical Review 59/1 (2009),
101–103 (who is about to finish his own dissertation on the Sibylline Oracles 1–2). See
also M. Monaca, Oracoli Sibillini (Testi patristici 199; Rome 2008). Translations of the
sometimes emended, is taken from J. Geffcken, Die Oracula Sibyllina (GCS 8; Leipzig
1902; repr. Berlin 1967).
urrection but, still more surprisingly, she also predicts the gospel and the
end of the prophets (vv. 382 and 386). This means that the Sibyl, who is a
pagan prophetess, considers herself to be on the same level as the prophets,
prophesying the history of salvation with them, and also completes them,
explaining that their promises are realised in Jesus. And she even pretends
to a kind of superiority, since she predicts the teachings of the gospels (v.
382) and the end of prophecy (v. 386). In order to realize this divinatory
fiction – since it is obviously a fiction – the Sibyl intends to use both the
prophets and the Gospels, often combining the two, either by implicit
allusions, or by literal quotations, or even by precise lexical borrowings. In
order to build her passion narrative, the Sibyl selects elements from both
canonical and apocryphal traditions, sometimes identified and sometimes
not, which she illustrates with texts from the prophets.
The Passion Narrative in Books 1, 6 and 8
of the Sibylline Oracles (Sibyllina Oracula)
Thus this paper analyzes textual fragments related to the passion in Books
1, 6, and 8 of the Sibylline Oracles and compares them with the corre-
sponding passages in the New Testament. Subsequently, the paper evalu-
ates the Sibyl’s rewriting, points of contact between her work and the ca-
nonical Scriptures, possible dependencies, and discrepancies.
Sib Or 1:365–366 and Sib Or 8:287–290
In the Sibylline Oracles, the passion narrative proper starts with Christ’s
scourging, when he receives blows and spit. We find the scourging in Sib
Or 1:365–366 and Sib Or 8:287–289, while the canonical narrative can be
read in Matt 26:67 and 27:30; Mark 14:65 and 15:19, and Luke 22:63–65.
kai. to,te dh. kola,fouj kai. ptu,smata far&
Then indeed Israel, with abominable lips,
VIsrah.l dw,sei musaroi/j evni. cei,lesi
And poisonous spittings, will give this
Sib Or 8:287–290
eivj avno,mwn cei/raj kai. avpi,stwn u[steron
Later he will come into the hands of lawless
dw,sousin de. qew/| r`api,smata cersi.n av&
and they will give blows to God with un-
kai. sto,masin miaroi/j evmptu,smata
and poisonous spittings with polluted
to the whips.
Luke’s narrative, where there is no mention of the spit, is too different
from the text in the Sibylline Oracles to have served as a source for the
Sibyl. We can thus set it aside. The words r`api,smata
narrative, where we find the corresponding verbs evmptu,w and r`api,zw in
Matt 26:67, and the verb evmptu,w alone in Matt 27:30. The same terms
also show a link with Mark’s narrative, where
in 14:65 we find the verbs evmptu,w and the substantive r`api,smata
and we have set aside the third evangelist, we can conclude for now that
the closest parallel is with Matthew. Several other passages in the Sibylline
Oracles confirm that Matthew was the Gospel par excellence, as is
generally the case for most Christian apocalyptic literature of the second
and third centuries.
In the case of Sib Or 1:365, the kinship with Matt seems to be
particularly clear, since Matt 26:67 uses kolafi,zw and evmptu,w, while the
Sibylline verse combines the substantives kola,fouj and ptu,smata; an
abbreviated form of evmptu,smata in Sib Or 8:288.
In the canonical Gospels the spit upon Jesus is mentioned twice and in
two different contexts. In Matt 26:67 // Mark 14:65 it is done in front of
the Sanhedrin, while in Matt 27:30 // Mark 15:19 it is done by the Roman
The context is not defined clearly in the Sibylline Oracles. But in
it is Israel. “Then indeed Israel, with abominable lips, / and poisonous
1 of the Sibylline Oracles, since it appears earlier, in lines 360–361: “And
party vague, because she introduces the scourging by saying that the Logos
“will come into the hands of lawless and faithless men” – Jesus is called
this two lines earlier (v. 285: “and the Logos, who creates forms, to whom
easily determined. Nevertheless, we may wonder if the words avno,moi and
refer to the Romans rather than to the Jews, because the latter had
In the fourth Gospel, Jesus is also struck twice, the first time by one of the guards of
guish two categories of unbelievers: on the one hand, the Romans, de-
prived of the Law (avno,moi), and, on the other hand, the Jews, who are
faithless (avpi,stoi). If so, the two adjectival nouns would echo the Gospel
narrative, where Jews and Romans alternately participate in the trial of Je-
sus. It is true that earlier in Book 8 (v. 220: “Both faithful and faithless
parousia and the Last Judgment, these two words are used interchangeably
in order to contrast “just” with “unjust” or “faithful” with “faithless.”
is obvious, the Sibyl announces that “when the raging wrath of the Most
the eyes of this Sibyl, there are Jews who are faithless (avpi,stoi).
In Book 8 (v. 290), the scene continues with a line which does not have
any parallel in Book 1: “Then he will stretch out his back and give it to the
The source here is not found in the canonical Gospels but in the
Three key words of this
ence: in the third song of the suffering Servant the scourging precedes the
T. Nicklas, “Apokryphe Passionstraditionen im Vergleich: Petrusevangelium und Si-
Lactantius (Divine Institutes, 4:18:15), Augustine (City of God, 18:23:2), and the
author of the Tübingen Theosophy (Beatrice, Anonymi Monophysitae Theosophia. An
Attempt at Reconstruction [VigChr.S 56; Leiden, Boston and Cologne 2001], 55,225 =
Erbse, Fragmente griechischer Theosophien [Hamburger Arbeiten zur Altertumswissen-
schaft 4; Hamburg 1941], 10,274) have a slightly different text: “But he will give for
their blows simply a holy back.” The last is the epitome of a collection of pagan testimo-
nia compiled at the end of the 5
or at the beginning of the 6
century of our era and
which relies mostly on Lactantius: see the bibliography in Beatrice and Lightfoot (n. 1),
Isa 50:6 LXX: To.n nw/to,n mou de,dwka eivj ma,stigaj( ta.j de. siago,naj mou eivj
r`api,smata( to. de. pro,swpo,n mou ouvk avpe,streya avpo. aivscu,nhj evmptusma,twn
. – e;mptusma
is a hapax legomenon in Isaiah. This biblical verse is also the background of Matt 26:67;
cf. U. Luz, Matthew 21–28. A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis 2005), 448, n. 11.
Jesus’ prediction of the Son of Man’s sufferings in the Synoptics (Mark 10:34 and paral-
lels) is surely inspired by this verse of Isaiah; see D.J. Moo, The Old Testament in the
similar to what we read in the Epistle of Barnabas 5:14 which quotes Isa
50:6–7 without 6b–7a: “Again he says, ‛See! I have set my back to whips
and my cheeks to blows; and I have set my face as a hard rock.’”
other, the two passages from the Sibylline Oracles both qualify the spit
upon Jesus’ face as farmako,enta, i.e. “poisonous” or “venomous.” This is
not the case in the biblical text. Now, if the canonical Gospels merely say
that Jesus received spit on his face, literally “in his eyes,” the Sibylline
Oracles are more interested in stating that the spit comes from “abomina-
ble” or “unclean lips” (1:366) and “polluted mouths” (8:289). Although the
adjectives are not the same, the idea of “unclean lips” in Sib Or 1:366
surely comes from Isa 6:5, where the prophet accuses himself and the peo-
ple to whom he belongs, that is to say, Israel, of having “unclean lips”
(avka,qarta cei,lh e;cwn evn me,sw| laou/ avka,qarta cei,lh e;contoj). This par-
allel seems to be more than likely, because the verses quoted (Sib Or
1:360–361, 369–371) are a free rewriting of the same chapter in the Book
of Isa 6:9–10, where Israel is accused of stubbornness and stupidity: “And
Sib Or 8:289 is much less explicit in its
Some scholars state that these verses of the Sibylline Oracles (8:287–
290) are reminiscent of the Gospel of Peter 9
, but this is unproven. A de-
Barn. 5:14: Kai. pa,lin le,gei\ vIdou,( te,qeika, mou to.n nw/ton eivj ma,stigaj( kai. ta.j
. Translation by
B.D. Ehrman in: The Apostolic Fathers (vol. 1; Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge,
Mass. 2003); reprint in: id., Lost Scriptures. Books that Did Not Make It into the New
Isa 6:9–10 LXX: kai. ei=pe Poreu,qhti kai. ei=pon tw/| law/| tou,tw| VAkoh|/ avkou,sete kai.
mh,pote i;dwsi toi/j ovfqalmoi/j kai. toi/j wvsi.n avkou,swsi kai. th/| kardi,a| sunw/si kai. evpi&
stre,ywsi kai. iva,somai auvtou,j
tai/j o;yesi kai. avlloi ta.j siago,naj auvtou/ evra,pisan( e[teroi kala,mw| e;nusson auvto.n kai.
tinej auvto.n evma,stizon le,gontej\ tau,th| th/| timh/| timh,swmen to.n ui`o.n tou/ qeou/
similarities, and the latter are better explained by the imagery of the suffer-
ing Servant in Isa 50:6 than by a literary dependence between both texts.
after Isa 50:5–6 and Ps 34:15–16 in the Divine Institutes of Lactantius
(4:18:15), written at the beginning of the fourth century of our era, as
proofs of pagan prophecies of Christ’s Passion.
Augustine also cites
cusses the Sibyl’s famous acrostic. The Bishop of Hippo attempts to gather
into a coherent unity those verses of the Sibylline Oracles spread
throughout Lactantius’ work, “to support the progression of his
verses gathered by Augustine refer to the Passion of Jesus:
Afterwards, says she [= the Sibyl], he shall fall into the unjust hands of unbelievers; they
shall strike God with unclean hands and shall spit upon him the poisonous spittle of their
impure mouths; but he shall simply give over his holy back to their whips.
speak to hell as he is crowned with thorns.
For meat they have given him gall, and for
Thou fool –
crowned him with thorns and brewed him the cup of bitter-tasting gall.
But the veil of
for three hours.
And, having died, he shall sleep the sleep of death for three days; then
ginning of resurrection for those whom he has recalled.
(The City of God, 18:23:2)
and New York 2004).
This is also the point of view of Nicklas, “Apokryphe Passionstraditionen” (n. 3),
nay’s conclusions have been accepted by Mara, Évangile de Pierre (SC 201; Paris 1973;
²2006). 23; Ead., Il Vangelo di Pietro (Scritti delle origini cristiane 30; Bologna 2003),
19; M. Erbetta, Gli apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento. Vangeli I.1: Scritti affini ai vangeli
ker, Die theologiegeschichtliche Stellung des Petrusevangeliums. Ein Beitrag zur Ge-
They can also be found in the Tübingen Theosophy (Beatrice [n. 5], 55,222–225 =
Sib Or 8:287–290; Lactantius, Div. Inst., 4:18:15.
Sib Or 8:292–294; Lactantius, Div. Inst., 4:18:17.
Sib Or 8:303–304; Lactantius, Div. Inst., 4:18:19.
Sib Or 6:22–24; Lactantius, Div. Inst., 4:18:20.
Sib Or 8:305–306; Lactantius, Div. Inst., 4:19:5.
Sib Or 8:312–314; Lactantius, Div. Inst., 4:19:10.
Augustinus, The City of God, 18:23:2: “in manus iniquas”, inquit, “infidelium
three verses coming from Book 6). Book 1 apparently was unknown to
Lactantius (and consequently to Augustine, who relied on the latter for his
knowledge of these lines).
The first Book of the Sibyllline Oracles jumps directly from the scourging
and the spit to the food and drink given to Jesus on the Cross (1:367).
But in Book 8, verses 292–293, there is an interesting development in
Jesus’ attitude at the scourging: “Beaten, he will be silent, lest anyone rec-
ognize who he is, whose son, and whence he came, so that he may speak to
the dead.” The blows are noted by the same verb, kolafi,zw, that we find
in Matt 26:65 and Mark 14:65. This is nothing new, except that the order
of events here is closer to the canonical Gospels than in Book 1. As for Je-