Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.52

Jesús María Nieto Ibáñez, Cristianismo y profecías de Apolo: los oráculos paganos en la Patrística griega (siglos II-V). Colleción Estructuras y procesos. Serie Religión.   Madrid:  Editorial Trotta, 2010.  Pp. 224.  ISBN 9788498791532.  €22.00 (pb).  



Reviewed by Frederick Naerebout, Leiden University (f.g.naerebout@hum.leidenuniv.nl)

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Jesús Maria Nieto Ibáñez, of the University of León, offers a succinct, but neat and precise discussion of pagan oracles in patristic literature, in a mere 150 pages, fully referenced in the footnotes to the primary sources and to the very full 17-page bibliography at the end of the volume. In addition, bold figures in the main text refer to an appendix with translated texts, to which we will return below. The volume is concluded by a chronological table of all authors mentioned in the book, an index of proper names, and an index locorum. It is all of a very high standard, as one might expect of an author who has been publishing about the Christian-pagan polemic concerning divination, oracles in particular, since at least 2005, and who has published widely on Greek-language Jewish texts of the Second Temple period (including the Sibylline Oracles and the Chaldean Oracles) and early Christian texts, and has translated Flavius Josephus, besides all the other things he has been working on, in Greek philology, early modern reception of patristic texts, epigraphy…

Nieto argues that oracles and oracular texts were a central concern of Christian authors, not as an antiquarian interest, but because these pagan practices (together with astrology) maintained their attractiveness for a long time, well into the 5th century, as can be concluded from the critique by Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and Theodoret of Cyrus (5th century). Also, oracles are the crucial ingredients of a wider debate about Fate. In the first stage of the Christian reception of the pagan oracular tradition, from the Apostolic Fathers to Irenaeus of Lyon (2nd century), there is formulated a distinction between profeteia, which comes from God, and mantike, which is demonic – which of course fits in with the general demonization of ancient polytheism. Demons produce obscure and contradictory oracles, which lead the credulous pagans astray. From this derive disaster and death, or pointless and vain undertakings which make people appear ridiculous. In a second stage, with Origen (3rd century) and Clement of Alexandria (2nd half 2nd century) we see a slightly more positive view of divination arising. In the 4th century any oracular material that can be integrated into a Christian context (often after considerable editing) is accepted, but everything else is still firmly rejected. What we end up with is “a more or less ambiguous stance towards the oracles of Apollo” (153), where we see the reinterpretation of Apollonian oracles in a Christian theological manner, seemingly contradicting the demonic origin of all kinds of non-Judeo-Christian prophecy. In the course of either condemning the oracles, or enlisting them for the Christian cause, many oracular pronouncements are quoted by Christian authors, deriving from a wide range of oracular sanctuaries, and taken from many different sources.

The only work that stands comparison with the present volume is the study by Aude Busine, Paroles d’Apollon. Pratiques et traditions oraculaires dans l’Antiquité tardive (iie-vie siècles), Leiden 2005. That is, however, a 500-page book ranging across a much wider field than Nieto, taking in both late-antique divination in its pagan setting and its Christian reception. Within this wider context, in her Christian chapters Busine addresses much the same issues as Nieto, in exactly the same systematic fashion – addressing themes rather than authors – that characterizes Nieto’s work (albeit with a somewhat different categorisation of the material, and Nieto does have a separate second chapter outlining the authors). Neither Nieto nor Busine mention H.C. Weiland, Het oordeel der Kerkvaders over het Orakel [The patristic judgement on oracles], Amsterdam 1935, a Utrecht dissertation, which even more succintly than Nieto discusses patristic texts concerning oracles (again in the systematic thematic arrangement that apparently is deemed appropriate for this subject). It is of course rather unsurprising that Weiland’s contribution, being in Dutch and 75 years old, remained unknown to both authors. But if they had seen his text, it might very well have led the way to some more relevant sources and literature. As it is, for those primarily interested in the Christian side of the argument, one could consider the book by Nieto to be an excellent introduction to the subject, with Busine filling in the larger contextual picture. In that way, the two books could be considered to be complementary.

This also holds good for the anthology in Nieto and the catalogue in Busine. From a wide range of Greek early Christian literature, from the Pastor of Hermas to Theodoret of Cyrus and Cyril of Alexandria, Nieto has culled 124 pagan oracular pronouncements, and 10 longer texts discussing pagan divinatory practice. An appendix to the volume under discussion presents all of these texts, most of them taken from Eusebius, in a Spanish (Castilian) translation, and with full references to parallel passages in early Christian and in pagan sources. This collection is most useful, for those who read Spanish, and would in itself make this a valuable volume (even though it is a pity the Greek texts were not included as well). The only odd thing is that an introduction to and analysis of the anthology is hidden away in the general conclusion that closes the main text. The catalogue in Busine’s study covers more or less the same ground, but does not provide any texts in extenso, and has rather less to offer, because she limits herself to Apollo. However, the 77 texts in Busine’s catalogue (not counting 63 inscriptions of oracles by the Didymean and Clarian Apollo which Busine also lists), include some pagan authors and passages from the Theosophia (i.e., the so-called Theosophia of Tübingen, a Christian collection of pagan oracles, late 5th or early 6th century) which Nieto excludes from his anthology (though not from his discussion), together with the Sybilline Oracles and the interpolated passages in the Corpus Hermeticum. So again Nieto and Busine can be said to be complementary.

As already stated, Nieto’s book has much to offer that is worthwhile. My concern is with the question who will actually read it. Just as Nieto missed the relevant publication by the Dutch scholar Weiland, I am afraid that of the present generation of Dutch scholars very few will read Nieto, and of the oncoming generations probably none. Which all goes to show how sad our linguistic isolation from one another is – and it only increases. So should we hope that this excellent and helpful introductory book will be translated into English, or should we hope that those who stand to gain from it will make the effort to read the Spanish text?

Table of Contents

Prólogo: Emilio Suárez de la Torre 9
Abreviaturas más frecuentes 13
Introducción 17
I. Mántica pagana y profecía cristiana 23
1. La profecía en el judaísmo helenístico 23
2. La profecía en el cristianismo 24
3. Oráculos y adivinación en los siglos i y ii 27
4. La reflexión sobre la mántica en la filosofía del siglo iii 30
5. Porfirio de Tiro 32
II. Los protagonistas de la polémica. La mántica pagana en la patrística griega 35
1. La literatura apostólica 35
2. La apologética del siglo ii 35
3. La profecía pagana y la herejía. Ireneo de Lyon e Hipólito de Roma 37
4. Clemente de Alejandría 38
5. Orígenes de Alejandría 40
6. Atanasio de Alejandría 40
7. Eusebio de Cesarea 42
7.1. Las fuentes de la polémica antioracular en Eusebio 44
7.2. Eusebio y la profecía bíblica. La Demonstratio evangelica 46
7.3. Eusebio y la profecía pagana. La Praeparatio evangelica 47
8. La reflexión sobre la auténtica profecía después de Eusebio 53
9. Las últimas apologías: Teodoreto de Ciro y Cirilo de Alejandría 56
III. Apolo y sus oráculos en la literatura cristiana 59
1. Aceptación y reutilización de los oráculos paganos 59
1.1. Apolo y los judíos 59
1.2. Oráculos teológicos. Apolo cristianizado 63
2. Crítica a los oráculos paganos 71
2.1. Apolo, falso adivino 71
2.1.1. El concepto de profecía cristiana. La auténtica profecía 71
2.1.2. Los falsos profetas 74
2.2. Los oráculos y los démones 84
2.2.1. Demonología y profecía 84
2.2.2. Apolo es un demon 94
2.2.3. Adivinación y magia. Sacrificios y coacciones 96
2.2.4. La inspiración demónica de la Pitia 101
2.3. Los oráculos y la idolatría. El culto a las estatuas 103
2.4. Los oráculos y la astrología 107
2.5. Los oráculos son causa de muerte 118
2.6. Apolo es incapaz de ayudarse a sí mismo 119
2.7. Ambigüedad de los oráculos: causa de males 121
2.8. Los oráculos se burlan de los consultantes 127
2.9. Los oráculos no dan respuestas sobre hechos importantes 127
2.10. Los oráculos divinizan a poetas, atletas y tiranos 130
3. El final de la mántica pagana 138
3.1. El silencio de los démones 138
3.2. El argumento cronológico. Los cristianos y el final del paganismo 142
3.3. San Babilas y Apolo 144
3.4. Apolo y la victoria del cristianismo 146
Conclusiones 151
Antología 157
I. Antología de oráculos contenidos en la Patrística griega 157
II. Antología de textos sobre la profecía pagana en la Patrística griega 178
Bibliografía 187
Tabla cronológica 205
Índice de nombres propios 207
Índice de pasajes citados 213
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