Odes and John: Introduction to the Odes of Solomon

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

Following J. Rendel Harris’ publication of the Odes in 1909,[1] scholars came to the consensus that they represented an early hymnbook which had quite possibly influenced the Gospel of John.[2] For example, Adolph von Harnack believed that the Odes predated the Fourth Gospel and influenced its author.[3] For much of the 20th century it was assumed that the Odes were a “Gnostic” text, though this perspective has become increasingly rejected.[4] As for who composed the Odes, little can be said with any degree of certainty—the attribution to Solomon is clearly pseudonymous and accurate authorial attribution seems lost to time.[5] The consensus for the dating of the Odes offers more solid conclusions, as most contemporary scholars place their composition firmly between 100 and 125 CE.[6]

As for the language of original composition, though some posit theories of a Hebrew or Armenian formation, the linguistic and stylistic features of the Odes indicate their composition in either Greek or Syriac. [7] Unfortunately, scholars remain divided on the original language of writing. On the one hand, James Charlesworth concludes that “the Greek hypothesis is no longer tenable” and that the Odes were clearly composed in Syriac.[8] On the other hand, Michael Lattke argues that the Odes were originally composed in Greek and very quickly translated into Syriac, writing that “no cogent argument” has been offered for a Syriac original.[9] Compounding this problematic is the obfuscating style of Biblical allusions, which are too imprecise to clearly attribute to either the Syriac Peshitta or Greek Bible.[10] This study takes the position that the Odes of Solomon were composed in Syriac for the following reasons: the shared milieu of the Odist and certain Jewish interpreters,[11] the textual variants which may be best explained by an original Syriac manuscript, and the literary characteristics and word plays of the Odes which are evident only in Syriac.[12]

Numerous geographical locations have been suggested for the origin of the Odes, Alexandria, Ephesus, Edessa, and Antioch being the most common.[13] The parallels between the Odes and John’s Gospel make Ephesus or Western Syria appear likely.[14] Syria—either Edessa or Antioch—seems probable given the argument that the Odes were composed in Syriac.[15] Furthermore, the rapid bi-lingual transmission again suggests Antioch or Edessa, both of which would have been sufficiently Syrian and Greek to account for both a Syriac original and Greek translation of the Odes.[16] While there are unquestionable connections between the Odes and the Jewish Scriptures—most notably the numerous Psalm-like qualities of these hymns[17]—the most striking references to written sources involve those writings often connected to early Antioch.[18] There are numerous parallels to Matthew’s Gospel,[19] the Apocalypse of John,[20] and Pauline literature,[21] which—while not specifically suggesting Antioch—do suggest the Odist’s situation within a center which had access to a profusion of Christian literature. Further suggestive of Antioch is James Brownson’s argument that the Odes represent a successionist community which has split from the “orthodox” community of Antioch, a split which Brownson finds indicated in both 1 John and the Odes’ numerous “co-options” of Johannine literature.[22] Most convincing are the connections between the Odes and non-canonical Antiochene literature, such as the Epistles of Ignatius,[23] the Ad Autolycum of Theophilus,[24] the Syrian Apostolic Constitutions,[25] and—though significantly later—the “Prayer for the Catechumens” found in John Chrysostom’s “Second Homily on Second Corinthians.”[26] The conclusion best fitting this evidence, therefore, is that the Odes were composed in or around Antioch in Western Syria and experienced significant circulation in that region during the early second century.

Having surveyed the general contours and background of the Odes of Solomon and found that they are an early Christian hymnbook of unknown authorship written in Syriac between 100-125 CE in or around Antioch, we now turn to the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of John.


[1] J. Rendel Harris, An Early Christian Psalter (London: James Nesbit, 1909). For a survey on the early reception of the Odes, see Charlesworth, Reflections, 21.

[2] Charlesworth, Reflections, 21: “Harris contended that they were a hymnbook of the first-century church. J. H. Bernard claimed they were written in the last half of the first century.”

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

[4] Michael Lattke, “The Apocryphal Odes of Solomon and New Testament Writings,” ZNW 73, 3 (1982): 296. James H Charlesworth and R. Alan Culpepper, “The Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of John,” CBQ 35, 3 (1973): 299 n4. Han J. W. Drijver, “The 19th Ode of Solomon: Its Interpretation and Place in Syrian Christianity,” JTS 31, 2 (1980): 337-8.

[5] Michael Lattke, “Die Oden Salomos: Einleitungsfragen und Forschungsgeschichte,” ZNW 98 (2007): 283-5. Han J. W. Drijvers, “The Peshitta of Sapientia Salomonis,” History and Religion in Late Antique Syria (Brookfield, V.T.: Variorum, 1994), VI.16-17. Michael Lattke, Odes of Solomon: A Commentary (ed. Harold W. Attridge; trans. Marianne Ehrhardt; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 5. W. R. Newbold’s argument that Bardaisan stands behind the Odes is intriguing, but ultimately speculative; see William R. Newbold, “Bardaisan and the Odes of Solomon,” JBL 30, 2 (1911): 161-204.

[6] Charlesworth and Culpepper, “Odes,” 314. Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition. (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2004), 25. Grant, “Antioch”, 369. Lattke, Commentary, 10. Worth noting is Han Drijvers’ dating of the Odes to the “second half of the third century”; Hans J. W. Drijvers, “Apocryphal Literature in the Cultural Milieu of Osrhoene,” Apocrypha 1, 1 (1990): 245. For an excellent introduction to the history and textual tradition of the Odes of Solomon, see Lattke, Commentary, 1-26 and Lattke,“Die Oden Salomos”, 277-307.

[7] Murray, Symbols, 24. Charlesworth, Reflections, 133. J. A. Emerton, “Notes on Some Passages in the Odes of Solomon,” JTS 28 (1977): 512-9. The issue of bilingualism must at least be considered as a possibility for the author of the Odes, especially given the work’s rapid transmission in both Greek and Syriac. On the topic of bilingualism in the ancient world, see J.N. Adams, Mark Janse, and Simon Swain (eds.), Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[8] Charlesworth, Reflections, 133.

[9] Lattke, Commentary, 10-1: “The quotations in the Pistis Sophia and in Lactantius’s magnum opus are without doubt translated from the Greek. That, however, has not decided the question whether the original language was Greek.”

[10] Murray, Symbols, 24. Sebastian Brock, The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, Second Revised Edition (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2006), 3-35. See also Brock’s Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity, ii-iv (London, 1984) and Studies in Syriac Christianity, x (London: Variorum, 1992). For some discussion on the relationship between Syriac texts and their interaction with Greek manuscript traditions, see P. J. Williams, Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels (Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literatures Third Series; ed. D. C. Parker and D. G. K. Taylor; Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2004), 1-22.

[11] Charleworth, Reflections, 133.

[12] Lattke, Commentary, 79. For a particularly striking word play, see Ode 6.7.

[13] Lattke, Commentary 11. Murray, Symbols, 25.

[14] Lattke, Commentary, 11. Charlesworth, Reflections, 23. In arguing for the Odes connection with Antioch and the Fourth Gospel, I am not arguing that the Fourth Gospel was composed and/or completed in Antioch, only that the Antiochene church would have had access to the Fourth Gospel by the end of the first century.

[15] Charlesworth, Reflections, 23. Drijvers, “Apocryphal Literature”, 236-7, 244-7. Grant, “Antioch,” 375-7. Grant postulates thus: “the Odes of Solomon, composed in Syriac at Edessa, were known to the bi-lingual Ignatius either there or at Antioch. Perhaps he obtained them from the Docetists, as Serapion was to obtain the Gospel of Peter. The Fourth Evangelist, who was perhaps the teacher of Ignatius, did not know the Odes, but was influenced by the spiritual atmosphere of the city. Afterwards he made public his Gospel at Ephesus.”

[16] Murray, Symbols, 24. Charlesworth and Culpepper, “Odes,” 320. Charlesworth, Reflections, 23.

[17] James H. Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon (SBLTT 13 and SBLPS 7; ed. Robert Kraft; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977), 20 n5. Jack T. Sanders, “Nag Hammadi, Odes of Solomon, and NT Christological Hymns,” in Gnosticism and the Early Christian World: In Honor of James M. Robinson (ed. James E. Goehring et al; Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1990), 60. J. A. Robinson, The Odes of Solomon (Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, Third Series; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912; repr. Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint Limited, 1967), 26-7. Brian McNeil, “The Odes of Solomon and the Scriptures,” OrChr 67,1 (1983): 104. James Kugel has also noted possible connections with Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical literature such as Sirach, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Judah, and Testament of Issachar. James L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 49, 133-4, 211-2. Also suggesting a Western Syrian provenance are parallels between the Odes and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[18] Susan Ashbrook Harvey,“Syria and Mesopotamia,” in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1: Origins to Constantine (ed. Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 353-7.

[19] Ode 24.1 and Matthew 3.16; Ode 22.12 and Matthew 16.18; Ode 23.19 and Matthew 28.19. See Robinson, Odes, 27-8. McNeil, “Odes”, 116-7.

[20] Michael Anthony Novak, “The Odes of Solomon as Apocalyptic Literature,” VC 66:5 (2012): 527-550.

[21] Lattke, Apocryphal Odes, 299-300.

[22] James Brownson, “The Odes of Solomon and the Johannine Tradition,” JSP 2 (1988): 52. Brownson argues that the Odes represent the theological perspective of a group which has separated from the main Johannine community, as represented in 1 John. While this theory is fairly persuasive—providing a useful model for explaining the Johannine epistles, the extenuating circumstances of Ignatius of Antioch, and influence of Bardaisan—it is not my purpose here to investigate this claim, but only to note the connections of the Odes to the Antiochene community.

[23] Charlesworth, Reflections, 23. Grant, “Antioch,” 370-2. Prahlow, 80. Virginia Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), 69-72. Possible references include Ode 38 in Trallians 6:2 and Ode 11 in Romans 7:2. This connection would likely one of milieu, although if the Odes were written closer to 100 CE, it is possible Ignatius would have used them in the Antiochene liturgy.

[24] Grant, “Antioch,” 372; See also J. R. Harris and A. Mingana, The Odes and the Psalms of Solomon ii (1921).

[25] Robinson, Odes, 63-4.

[26] Ibid., 63-4. See also Ode 8.

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

Some Brief Reflections on Christian Leadership

In many circles, leadership is a common buzzword. Politicians, company executives, social scientists, pastors, teachers, professionals, generals, people who give TED talks, and seemingly everyone else is talking about leadership—what it means and how it works.

I must confess that I too am interested in leadership; from my desk, I count no fewer than seven different books with “leader” or “leadership” in their title.1 While I’ve found such books to contain much valuable information, I’ve recently been reminded of my need to revisit the Scriptures in order to learn what it means to be a God-honoring leader.2

In particular, I’ve been reading and reflecting on three passages in the New Testament on the expectations and qualifications for Christian leadership: 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.3 Through these reflections, I’ve come to understand Christian leadership as involving four primary characteristics: service, order, holiness, and confession. Let me explain each. Continue reading

On the Misuse of Christian Tradition: A Response

sola_scriptura_forumsThe proper relationship between the authority of Christian Scripture and authority of Christian Tradition avails itself to no easy answers. From a historical viewpoint, much of the early development of both remains hotly debated. From a theological perspective, centuries (and sometimes millennia) old debates continue to shape thinking and lead toward answers long before any explicit consideration of this relationship comes into focus.

Yet there seem to be boundaries—a “highway of orthodoxy” if you will—which suggest (or perhaps demand?) a certain perspective on the Christian understanding of the interplay between Scripture and Tradition, a stance which holds a) Scripture as inspired and authoritative (overly precise definitions aside); b) Tradition as important for properly interpreting Scripture (or, if you prefer more Protestant phrasings, “interpreting within the community” or even “Scripture interpreting Scripture”); and c) both Scripture and Tradition as necessarily in conversation with one another (i.e., neither allowed to dominate the other). Continue reading

MHT: Assessing Historical Metanarratives (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

Church-HistoryThe metanarrative that seems most appropriate as the general approach to the history of Christianity is that of development. An approach seeking authentic developments—those which retain the first principles of a tradition throughout their entire development—appears to find that delicate balance between the errors of the changeless and the ever-changing. The willingness to locate the movements of history through the dialectic of opposites, the alternations back and forth between extremes in order to locate the truth of the middle ground, also seems sagacious given the example of the past. The developmental possibility for the assimilation of new ideas and contexts is also of great importance, especially given the advances of technology and geography in recent centuries. The principle that developments should build upon and not replace earlier doctrines especially illuminates the possibilities for both continuity and improvement, that the present is neither supremely dictated by the past nor lived in isolation from its effects. As Newman rightly indicated, true growth is that which “illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds.”[35] Continue reading

Book Review: The Gospel of the Lord (Bird)

The Gospel of the Lord, BirdGospel Studies exists as a relatively neglected filed which has long taken a back seat to the study of the Historical Jesus or perspectives on Paul. Yet—argues Michael F. Bird—this realm of study stands ripe with opportunities for research and theological growth. To begin addressing the historical problem of how the life and teachings of Jesus became the four-fold gospel accounts of the New Testament, Bird offers The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014. 394 pp). Driven by four guiding questions—Why pass on Jesus stories? How was the Jesus tradition transmitted? What is the gospel and what are the sources behind the gospels? Why four gospels and why the four gospels that we have?—this historical, literary, and theological study provides offers readers rich perspective into some of the most pressing questions of this important area of Early Christian Studies. Continue reading

The Value of (Television) Narratives

TelevisionsAt the risk of shocking some of my readers, I want to start this article with a confession: I was raised in a household that did not watch television. Or, at least, did not watch television that was anything other than the Olympics, Presidential speeches, or the occasional Chicago Cubs playoff collapse. Although the primary reason for our not watching television was because of scheduling (we simply were too busy with other things to make watching TV any sort of a priority), we would also occasionally hear about the dangers of watching TV, especially the immoral values that it promoted. Continue reading

Book Review: Firsthand (Shook)

FirsthandNFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, speaking about Christianity, once said that “There comes a time when you can no longer cling to your parents’ coattails and you have to chose to make it your faith.” In Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own Ryan and Josh Shook tackle the issue of transforming the secondhand faith that many American Christians grow up with– their parents’ faith– into a vibrant firsthand faith of their own. Ryan and Josh grew up as preacher’s kids, got to a point where they were tired of Christianity and set out on their own, only to later realize that they needed an authentic relationship with God– not merely secondhand religion that had grown up with. Continue reading

The Importance of Narrative in the Axial Age

This post is the first in a series of reflections concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which various world religions conceive of and interpret the Ultimate Being of the cosmos. In today’s reflection I consider some of the implications of the “Axial Age”, a term first coined by Karl Jaspers to designate the period of development among the major world religions, wherein these movements transitioned from “primitive cultures” to developed religions.

World ReligionsIn “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” Robert Bellah argues that the central development of the Axial Age involved the transition from mythic culture to theoretical culture with second-order thinking and ideas concerning transcendence (78). Perhaps the most critical point from this article concerns the ongoing connection between theoretical culture and mythic culture. Throughout the “Axial Age” Bellah argues for a shift from thinking in terms of myth and narrative to analysis steeped in reflexivity and logic, a shift from primarily oral narrative to the use of external memory and graphic invention (79). However, this theoretical turn did not dispense with narrative and mythic culture entirely; indeed, analytic and theoretical thinking were added to the existing narrative worldviews and modified them. Thus, while second-order thinking during the Axial Age gave rise to considerations of the transcendent, these conceptions were ultimately born out a worldview that contained mythic narrative as well as analytical insights. It is within this context of the “radicalization of mythospeculation” that transcendental breakthroughs occurred, not merely with the insights of the theoretical (81). Recognizing the centrality of this point remains key for the study of conceptions of the Ultimate both because it touches upon the cumulative effects of ideas of the transcendent as well as because it notes the centrality of narrative within axial worldviews. Continue reading

Book Review: Religion in Human Evolution (Bellah)

Religion in Human EvolutionRobert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution stands as magnum opus of breathtaking proportions. Developed from the Merlin Donald’s work on cultural evolution, Karl Jasper’s insights on the axial age, and drawing upon a range of historical, anthropological, and biological sources, Bellah traces the evolution of religion within human culture from its origins in primordial play to the theoretical turns of the Axial Age. Central to this argument is that nothing is left behind during the evolution from episodic to theoretical culture through the mimetic and mythic. As a result of this massive study, Bellah argues that the evolution of human religion, which culminated in theoretical religious discourse in axial cultures and refigured preceding mimetic and mythic culture, continues to influence human religion and culture today. Bellah’s latest monograph stands as in-depth treatment of the evolution of human culture that is a must read for those involved in the study of the history and sociology of religions. Continue reading