Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Sibylline Oracles and the End-time Flood

Michelangelo's Delphic Sibyl, in the Sistine Chapel

Another prophecy of great antiquity which follows the general outline of eschatological events I highlight in Unveiling the Apocalypse can be found in chapter IV of the Sybilline Oracles. As regular readers will know, in the book I argue that the eschatological earthquake that is foretold in various places in Scripture to accompany the Second Coming of Christ when he appears in glory over the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, will start a chain reaction of geophysical events that will culminate in a eruption of the volcano Cumbre Vieja on La Palma in the Canary Islands. Many geophycists believe that the next eruption of this volcano (especially if it is particularly powerful) could send a huge portion of the island cascading into the sea, generating a mega-tsunami that will engulf the eastern seaboard of America. I then go on to propose that this disaster will bring about the downfall of the United States, that will enable the rise to power of the Antichrist, possibly in Europe, who in turn will bring about the battle of Armageddon - which will be precipatated by an invasion of the land of Israel.
The Sibylline Oracles were highly respected by Medieval Christians due to their Messianic prophecies, with St. Thomas Aquinas using their example in his Summa Theologica to show how pagans were capable of geniune prophecy. However they are a composite work of pagan, Jewish and Christian origin, which was expanded and developed over many centuries before reaching their final form at some time in the 6th century AD.
The fourth chapter of the Sibylline Oracles is thoroughly eschatological in character, and narrates a sequence of events which include earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, as well as the devastation of many cities in the sea before the destruction of the world by fire and the subsequent General Resurrection of the dead. Like Jesus' eschatological discourse in the Gospels, and the Book of the Apocalypse itself, the Siblylline Oracles bases these end-time events in the background context of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 1st century AD (the preterist layer of interpretation concerning the abomination of desolation), and the tyrannous reign of Nero (the original beast of Revelation) - events which foreshadow the reign of the Antichrist towards the end of the world. And for good measure, it foretells that these events would take place in the backdrop of a period of apostasy - the Great Apostasy spoken of in numerous places throughout Scripture which we appear to be currently enduring today.
Although the place names obviously do not match with those that would be most seriously affected by the threat posed from Cumbre Vieja, we should remember that in prophetic tradition place names are substituted by other names with a deeper, symbolic meaning - "Babylon" is used to describe the ruling world power for example (which would have been Rome for Christians of the 1st century), and Jerusalem is symbolically referred to as "Sodom" and "Egypt" in Rev 11:8 - places that were destroyed by fire falling from heaven.
The relevant material is included below:

Sib Or IV vv60ff

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
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:

Dark night shall come at the mid hour of day
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.
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
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,
And murders, and disputes, and banishments,
And overthrow of towers and waste of cities,
His dark wave somewhere underneath the earth.
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
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.

[The identity of the city referred to as "Croton" is unknown]

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
To the tenth generation, also then
Upon the 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
Shall dwell in Tyre, and Tyrians be destroyed.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
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,
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.
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
Sometime upon thy conquest. And thy tower,

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
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,
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
To Solyma an evil blast of war

[Solyma is Jerusalem]

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
A mighty king
 shall like a runaway slave
Flee over the Euphrates' stream unseen,

Unknown, who shall some time dare loathsome guilt
Of matricide, and many other things,

 [The above "mighty king" who commits matricide is a reference to Nero]

Having confidence in his most wicked hands.
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,
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
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,
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

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
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,
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,
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,
. . . 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
In childish folly, in their violence
Exulting and in blood holding their bands;
Then know thou that God is no longer mild,

But gnashing with fury and destroying all
The race of men by conflagration great.
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,
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
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
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;
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
The fire unspeakable which he lit up,
The bones and ashes of men God himself
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,
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,]
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].

 See the full text, with additional commentary here.

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