This lecture assesses a collection of overlooked Hellenistic Jewish oracles as prophetic reactions to moments of crisis experienced by Roman Egypt’s Jewish population. These oracles, so-called the Sibylline Oracles, are written in Greek and are attributed to a traditionally pagan prophetess, known as the Sibyl. In analyzing this corpus, I take an approach informed by postcolonial and post-structural theories to illustrate the subversive and creative potential of the various prophetic expressions found in each text. These oracles reinterpret earlier oracular material to reconstruct Mediterranean history and decipher the fate of both Jews and pagans. In this lecture, I advance the idea that the Jewish Sibyl reimagines the calamities of the first and second centuries CE, such as the loss of the Jerusalem temple and the failed Jewish revolts, in ways that affirm the Jewish God’s continued provenance, while also accurately predicting continued violence as a result of cultural contact. By doing so, the Sibyl frames these crises in a larger historical framework of violent cultural interactions.
Miguel M. Vargas is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He holds the Center’s Dissertation Completion Fellowship for this academic year.