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The Oracles: “Hell-Tourism” and More

Bryn Mawr Classical Review takes note of a new edition of a very ancient, and very unusual, Christian work: The Sibylline Oracles: With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on the First and Second Books (ed. J.L. Lightfoot). The Oracles are “Judaeo-Christian texts that adopt the narrator, form, and language of Greek hexameter poetry and oracles.”

L. sees the author of Books I-II unequivocally as a Christian of the second century AD (150), basing her terminus post quem on her revivification and expansion of the thesis of M.R. James that sees Books I-II (but especially II) as particularly indebted to the Apocalypse of Peter. L. brings further order to the text by convincingly showing how the borrowings of hellish scenes from Apoc. Petr. interact with the wholesale importation of the ethical teachings of ps.-Phocylides. L. shows that this section, far from being embarrassingly discrete, in fact is the “positive correlate of the depiction of hellish punishments” (147) in the “hell-tourism” of Book 2.254-283, thus bringing order and sense to what before was considered proof of the generic chaos of apocalyptic literature.