Multiple sources

The ‘wooden house’ of Sibylline Oracles 8:198 and the appearance of the messiah

Sibylline Oracles 8:198 goes as follows: αἰφνίδιος δἑ βροτοὑς ξύλινος δόμος ἀμφικαλύψῃ. In Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 1, J.J. Collins translates this verse as follows: Suddenly a wooden house will cover men round about. Collins does not comment this verse, nor does C. Alexandre in his 1856 edition. Milton S. Terry (1899) comments ‘Wooden house – A coffin’. Below I will attempt to decode this enigmatic verse.

The basic meaning of the Greek noun δόμος is structure, erection, and understandably the preferred translation is house. However, I suggest to use the basic ‘structure’ meaning of δόμος in order not to exclude any kind of construction. I also translate the verb ἀμφικαλύπτω as ‘to enfold’ instead of ‘to cover’: Suddenly a wooden structure will enfold men.

Also the first word of this verse (αἰφνίδιος – suddenly) is clarifying as it emphasizes the swiftness of the construction process. There is a specific wooden structure from the era that has been erected remarkably quickly. Josephus describes how Titus and his generals organized the construction of the wooden siege wall around Jerusalem as a competition between their legions and companies (The Jewish War V:502-503). In verse 509 Josephus concludes as follows: The whole was built in three days, such rapidity, over a work that might well have occupied months, being well-nigh incredible. (J. St. J. Thackeray, Loeb Classical Library 210).

The ‘wooden house’ verse does not stand on its own. Although in a veiled way as well, the following verses also point in the direction of the war of the Jews against the Romans. Verse 203-204 mentions signs in sun and stars that accompanied the fall of Jerusalem. Verse 205 speaks of the devastation of ‘the land’, apparently the land of Israel, and of the survival of the moribund (cf. gospel of Matthew 27:51-53).
Slightly different translation choices, the suddenness of the construction process that parallels Josephus’s War V:509, and the following verses describing the final phase of the war, point in the direction of verse 198 mentioning the construction by the Romans of the wooden siege wall around Jerusalem in June 70 CE.

Just before these warlike sentences, verse 196 speaks of the messiah as ‘the sacred child, the destroyer of all’. The messiah seems to make his appearance during the war of the Jews against the Romans.