The Sibylline Oracles are a series of prophetic texts akin to those found in Roman and Grecian literature. Non-biblical literature Sibylline oracles were prophetic texts by a female prophetess that were either used in serious crises or as political propaganda. The Sibylline Oracles in the Pseudepigrapha consist of eight books and were written between the mid-second century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. These oracles combined the Mediterranean medium of a prophetic Sibyl and and incorporated them into Jewish literature. J. J. Collins notes that “willingness to incorporate material from pagan oracles shows a significant readiness to build on the common human basis of Jews and gentiles” (OTP, vol. 1, 322). Even with the shared prophetic medium, prophecy still changed and developed, reflecting the time period in which the different books were written. – The Biblical Review: click here for source.
It should be noted that this is my third time examining the Sibylline Oracles. I will primarily focus on one passage in order to illustrate why the descriptions of practices in a historical document are so significant for reconstructing an accurate portrayal of history. In book three of the Sibylline Oracles, the Sibyl writes about idolatry: “You neither revere nor fear God, but wander to no purpose, / worshiping snakes and sacrificing to cats, / speechless idols and stones statues of people” (3.29-31). Through briefly examining this passage, we will demonstrate the value of the understanding the condemnation of non-ideal practices, at least from the viewpoint of the author.
Cats and Egypt
As J. J. Collins notes, the statement about “worshiping snakes and sacrificing to cats” is a polemic specifically against Egyptians. Other portions of the text, likewise, speak specifically of events which took place in Egypt and involved Egyptians Jews. Consequently, Collins proposes that the text was composed in an Egypt. This is significant for historians. First, it provides a better understanding as to how Jewish identity, or identities, formed. There was not single strand of tradition that formed from a void of nothingness into “Judaism”; rather, ideological conflict and cultural exchange contributed the Jewish author’s ability to define identity through establishing Egypt as the Other. In this case, witnessing Egyptian culture(s), war(s), and religious practice(s) became what permitted this Sibyl of Jewish Egyptians to offer an identity for her own community.
So, when the author speaks of “worshiping snakes”, it takes on a cultural meaning because it is a polemic comment. Henceforth, from the author’s perspective, “worshiping snakes” becomes something that is outside of the boundaries of what constitutes the Sibyl’s version of Judaism. The same is true with worshiping cats.
To summarize, we are able to understand a strand of Jewish tradition and identity primarily because of their cultural exchange and polemic with Egypt. Due to these two factors, cultural exchange and polemic, people are able to form an identity with more clear boundaries as to what is correct practice and what is wrong practice.