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Odes of Solomon

Late First to Early Second Century A.D.

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James Charlesworth writes (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 189-190):

Forty of the forty-two Odes of Solomon are extant in Syriac, five are preserved in Coptic, and one in Greek. An eclectic text has been edited and translated into English by G. J. Charlesworth (no. 1292). Other translations into Egnlish were published by J. R. Harris and A. Mingana (The Odes and Psalms of Solomon, 2 vols. Manchester: University of Manchester; London, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1916-1920, Vol. 1, text and facsimile; vol. 2, transl.), by J. H. Bernard (The Odes of Solomon [T&S 8.3] Cambridge: CUP, 1912), and by M. MarYosip (The Oldest Christian Hymn-book, foreword by M. Sprengling. Temple, Text.: M. MarYosip, 1948).

The date of the Odes of Solomon is no longer as puzzling as it was at the beginning of the century. Most scholars now think they are from the years A.D. 70-125; the similarities to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of John indicate for some that they were written near the end of the first century A.D. (cf. Charlesworth, nos. 1297, 1295, 1290).

A few scholars claim that the original language is Greek (M. Testuz, ed., Papyrus Bodmer X-XII. Geneva: Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, 1959; p. 57; A. F. J. Klijn, nos. 1312, 1313; M. Philonenko, no. 1325; contast A. Adam, no. 1275; K. Rudolph, no. 1329), and J. Carmignac (nos. 1284, 1286) argues for Hebrew. The most detailed research, published independently, concludes that it is Syriac (cf. J. A. Emerton, no. 1302; Charlesworth, nos. 1288, 1289, 1292; A. Vööbus, Celibacy: A Requirement for Admission to Baptism in the Early Syrian Church [PETSE 1] Stockholm: Estonian Theological Society in Exile, 1951; p. 21; idem, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient [CSCO 14] Louvain: CSCO, 1958; p. 63; idem, no. 1337; J. C. L. Gibson, no. 1305a). Some specialists, especially in Germany, connect the Odes with second-century Gnosticism (viz. Rudolph, nos. 1328, 1329), but others deny this attribution (cf. Charlesworth, no. 1293; H. Chadwick, no. 1287; R. Murray, nos. 1320, 1321, 1321a; E. M. Yamauchi, no. 1338). A relationship with, and perhaps even direct influence from (cf. Carmignac, nos. 1284, 1285; Charlesworth, nos. 1290, 1295), the ideas peculiar to the Dead Sea Scrolls is widely acknowledged (viz. J. Licht, no. 1317; H. Nibley, no. 1323a); but the Odes are not Essene as M. Testuz (Papyrus Bodmer X-XII, p. 58) stated.

The original language, Syriac, and the affinities with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Johannine literature, and Ignatius of Antioch indicate that the Odes may have been composed in or near Syrian Antioch.

The forty-one extant odes are not Jewish but Jewish-Christian. The poetical style is not that of the Qumranic Hodayoth nor the Sibylline Oracles, but akin to and based upon the Davidic Psalter. Baptismal motifs abound, and two features from the life of Jesus of Nazareth given special attention are the walking on the water (Ode 39) and the baptism (Ode 24; cf. Charlesworth, no. 1296; E. E. Fabbri, no. 1303). Other prominent features are the pervasive present joy of salvation, the image of the cross (esp. Odes 17, 42), and the virginal birth of the Son (Ode 19).

These Odes clearly belong in the Pseudepigrapha, even through they are Jewish-Christian, because of their strong Jewishness, early date, and attribution to Solomon.

James Charlesworth writes: "Attempts to discern the historical importance of the Odes have been published in hundreds of scholarly articles and monographs, but it seems possible to summarize the discussion of their importance. First, the early concepts and images in the Odes, which were a shock and disappointment to many of the scholars who worked on them during the beginning of the century, preserve precious reminders of the first attempts to articulate the unparalleled experience of the advent of the Messiah. The Odist portrayed God with breasts that were milked by the Holy Spirit and from which came salvific milk that is described as the Son (Odes 19). The early and strong Jewish tone of the Odes, like some passages in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. especially Mt 10:5f.), portray the gentiles in unattractive terms (cf. 10:5; 23:15 [N]; 29:8). The Odist confessed the grandeur of the Messiah with the words that he is the 'most praised among the praised, and the greatest among the great ones' (36:4). This confession might have been unattractive to Arius and, of course, would have been horrifying to the father of Christian orthodoxy, Athanasius. For the historian, however, these expressions, ideas, and metaphors are a precious reminder of the attempts by the earliest Christians to articulate that which is paradigmatically new." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2, pp. 727-728)

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