Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John: Common Milieu or Literary Dependence?

The Odes of Solomon are a collection of hymns generally veiled and relatively neglected by those studying early Christianity. Yet this “Earliest Christian Hymnbook” [1] contains numerous insights into how first and second century followers of Jesus conceived of such important matters as worship, scripture, and interpretation. Here, I investigate one of the many facets of this ancient Christian text, namely, the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

Comparison of these two texts is not without precedent. As far back as J. Rendel Harris’s original publication of the Odes in 1909, scholars have consistently noted that, “The Odes and John share numerous, striking, and often unique expressions.”[2] No less a figure than Adolph von Harnack believed that the Odes predated the Fourth Gospel and influenced its author.[3] More recent scholarship, such as the works of James H. Charlesworth and Robert M. Grant,[4] has suggested a relationship of “common milieu” between the Odes and John’s Gospel. Unfortunately, this methodology of milieu largely neglects the insights garnered by those studying other Christian writings of the post-Apostolic period, especially those findings which are useful for understanding instances of literary dependence.[5] To address this lacuna, there are two major emphases of this project: an examination of the methodology used by those studying the Odes of Solomon and consideration of the direct relationship between the Odes and John’s Gospel.[6] In accordance with this dual focus, I argue that by reevaluating the contextual methodology surrounding literary citation, genre, linguistic difference, geography, and purpose in writing, we may discover the telltale signs of literary dependence which exist between the Odes and John’s Gospel.

After considering the background of the Odes and the various perspectives which scholars such as Charlesworth and Michael Lattke have taken on these hymns’ relationship to the Gospel of John, this study turns to consideration of some problems with the methodological assumptions of contemporary scholarship on the Odes, offering a reevaluation of several important principles for understanding and determining literary dependence in the ancient world. Next, this project analyzes the relationship between Odes of Solomon and John’s Gospel, paying special attention to Ode 3’s connections with the Upper Room Discourses of John’s Gospel. In the end, the application of reassessed methodological criteria indicates that minimalist perspectives regarding the literary relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John are no longer preferable.


[1] Term taken from James H. Charlesworth, The Earliest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon (Eugene, OR: Cascade Publishers, 2009).

[2] J. Rendel Harris, An Early Christian Psalter (London: James Nesbit, 1909). For a survey on the early reception of the Odes, see James H. Charlesworth, Critical Reflections on the Odes of Solomon: Volume One: Literary Setting, Textual Studies, Gnosticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of John (JSPSup 22; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998), 21. James H. Charlesworth and R. Alan Culpepper, “The Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of John”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35, 3 (1973): 300.

[3] Adolph Harnack and John Flemming, Ein Jüdisch-Christliches Psalmbuch aus dem ersten Jahrhundert (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1910).

[4] Charlesworth, Reflections, 255-7. Robert M. Grant, “The Odes of Solomon and the Church of Antioch,” JBL 63, 4 (1944): 368.

[5] For a discussion of such insights, see Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher Tuckett, “Reflections on Method: What constitutes the Use of the Writings that later formed the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers?,” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, (ed. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 61-82, and Jacob J. Prahlow, Discerning Witnesses: First and Second Century Textual Studies in Early Christian Authority (Wake Forest University, 2014), 1-16.

[6] Of course, these emphases are closely connected, for without a contextualized methodology one cannot properly understand the relationship between the Odes and Fourth Gospel

Spectrums of Scripture: Bibliography

This post is the final in our series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

Primary Sources

Athanasius of Alexandria. Letter to Marcellinus. Edited and translated by Robert C. Gregg. The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1980.

Aristotle. Art of Rhetoric. Translated by J. H. Freese. Loeb Classical Library 193. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926.

Clement of Rome. 1 Clement. Edited and translated by Bart D. Ehrman. The Apostolic Fathers: I Clement, II Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Didache. Loeb Classical Library 24. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Graphing Addenda

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

Graphing Addenda

  • Color: Text (i.e., blue for 1 Clement, red for Ignatius, green for Hermas)
  • Size: Length (i.e., bigger the dot/sphere, the longer the passage)
  • Brightness/Translucence: Clarity (i.e., the brighter/more solid a point, the more certain its use; analogy of quantum location for specific locations on spectrum)

Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Conclusions

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

Open BibleThis series has sought to begin developing a common methodological language for discussing ancient textual borrowing. Building from blocks of common concerns within the subfields of the study of late antiquity, I have outlined a methodological framework for approaching ancient literary citations and for offering arguments about what these uses indicate. My central contention has held that a composite methodology for understanding uses of one ancient source in another requires considerations of the verbal, thematic, and authoritative schemata through which ancient authors viewed and redeployed the sources available to them. In constructing the method, I have employed a “three dimension Cartesian coordinate system.” In this system the verbal correspondence axis has outlined a range from quotation to echo. The thematic correspondence axis considered thematic uses from explication to echo. And the third axis examined authoritative correspondences from formal quotations to unknown uses. Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Stream of Thought

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome

The third level of authoritative correspondence includes “stream of thought” and “somewhere” references. These citations cast their source texts as implicitly authoritative: not so important that they bear explicit mention but important enough to creatively insert into the discussion at hand.[1] Many times use of a particular text will occur in a stream of thought, a series of references to the argument of a source text but without clear indication of that text.[2] David Downs has demonstrated such a use of Romans 5-6 in 1 Clement 32-33, which expands upon Paul’s teaching on justification through repeated return to the language and authority of Romans.[3] Such references often appear in slightly modified form, since it is the meaning of the text rather than its explicit authority to which an author appeals.[4] Finally, there is the ever enjoyable που reference, where an author offers a citation located “somewhere” but without knowledge (or care) from whence it came. 1 Clement 28:2-3 employs this formula, saying “For the Scripture somewhere says, ‘Where will I go and where will I hide from your presence?’”[5] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Formal Authority and Name Dropping

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

it-is-writtenWhat then are the various forms of authoritative correspondence? On one end of the authoritative spectrum are formal quotations, commentaries, and translations. Formal quotations denote the highest level of attributed authority within general literary works, while commentaries and translations reveal the importance of a text through sustained treatment of that text.[1] In contrast to scholars who argue that quotation does not indicate what an author thought of the work being quoted or that quotations were surface embellishments,[2] formal quotations consistently carry authoritative weight in arguments.[3] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Authoritative Correspondence

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

The Early Church Fathers

The Early Church Fathers

The authoritative correspondence spectrum constitutes the third and final method of tracking how texts were received by other ancient texts. This spectrum ranges from obviously high attributions of authority to unknown levels of authority. I say “unknown” authority rather than “no” authority because texts which are utilized by others are prima facia accorded some measure of authority.[1] A lack of clear indicators, however, makes the assignment of exactly how much authority difficult to accurately represent. Consideration of authority also raises the issue of functionality, and in large part, an authority correspondence indicates how one text functions in another.[2] On this Christopher Stanley says, “Words are spoken (or written) with the aim of doing something to the hearer(s), that is, evoking some sort of response.”[3] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Thematic Echoes

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

Apostle Paul WritingThe most amorphous and difficult to trace form of thematic correspondence is the thematic echo, where certain words or short phrases used in one text appear in another.[1] These resonances are particularly difficult to place when multiple sources employ the theme or when the text using these echoes employs different themes in close proximity.[2] As an example of multiple possible sources using one theme, consider Romans 10:7, which reads “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’”[3] One could argue that here Paul was using Deuteronomy 30:13 (“Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and get it for us?”),[4] Baruch 3:30 (“Who has gone over the sea, and found her, and will buy her for pure gold?”),[5] or the Wisdom of Ben Sira 24:5 (“Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss.”).[6] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Typology

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

1aredsea-crossTypology involves an ancient author’s building upon a specific concept, idea, or symbol found in another text.[1] This is among the most common thematic correspondences, where a writer takes a particular theme and makes it the point of their writing.[2] 1 Clement does this concerning the theme of concord (ὁμόνοια), weaving a range of citations into his discussion. Ancient writers employed a variety of typologies, including literary, theological, and historical themes.[3] Particularly common were Summaries of Israel’s Story, which would often trace a particular theme throughout Israel’s history.[4] Even more widespread were brief mentions of persons and circumstances, drawing thematic connections between an ancient exemplar and the contemporary audiences of a writing.[5] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Rewriting

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

hebrew-bibleBrugge’s final category—rewriting—is far and away the most discussed method of thematic explication, in no small part due to Geza Vermes’s creation of the category of “Rewritten Bible” and the ongoing discussion of that term, its usefulness, and meaning.[1] Sidnie White Crawford defines rewritten bible as “a close attachment, either through narrative or themes, to some book contained in the present Jewish canon of Scripture, and some type of reworking, whether through rearrangement, conflation, or supplementation of the present canonical biblical text.”[2] Continue reading