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Christian Use and Valuation of Theological Oracles: The Case of Lactantius' Divine Institutes

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In four places in his Divine Institutes the Latin apologist Lactantius (about AD 250-325) quotes Greek hexameters from Apollinic oracles. An analysis of these quotations yields the following results: the oracles either provide rhetoric lumen in so far as the pagan God appears as witness for the Christian doctrine or they are introduced as a concession to this pagan readers. Within Lactantius' apologetic concept the oracles play but a small part both in quantity and argumentation. It is unclear which sources Lactantius draws his oracles from. Since most verses cited by Lactantius are transmitted elsewhere, too, and date from a time long before him, one will have to assume there was a collection of oracular responses generally accessible. No connection at all can be found with Porphyry's De philosophia ex oraculis. The theory supported in recent research that Lactantius refers to this work in his apology is untenable.


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