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

Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Bibliography

This post is the final in our series on Women in the Apostolic Fathers. For a complete copy of this paper, please email me at prahlowjj [at] slu.edu.

Ancient Syriac ManuscriptAncient Sources

Acts of Thecla. Edited and translated by Jeremy W. Barrier. The Acts of Paul and Thecla: A Critical Introduction and Commentary. WUNT 2, 270. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

Apostolic Constitutions. Edited and translated by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Cox. Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume 7: Fathers of the third and Fourth Centuries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951. Continue reading

Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Conclusions

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Apostolic FathersThrough consideration of several pericopes from the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, this study has argued that these authors conceived of women as having properly ordered roles in the Christian Church, roles which could include familial and visionary functions. In First Clement, biblical women were employed as examples for the congregation at Corinth. Second Clement reinforced the Pauline idea that the relationship between Christ and the Church was akin to that of husband and wife, both of whom contain fleshly and spiritual components. The epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp reveal an emphasis on church order and ecclesiastical hierarchy which affects how all Christians—both women and men—should live their lives. These epistles also demonstrate that women held positions of some standing in certain Christian communities, including groups of “virgins called widows”, house-holding women, traveling (diaconal?) women, and individually outstanding women. In the Shepherd of Hermas, women serve as revelers of God’s truths, images of the Church herself, and teachers of women and children. Continue reading

Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Visionary Women in Hermas (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.1-3[1]

Ἀπεκαλύφθη δέ μοι, ἀδελφοί, κοιμωμένῳ ὑπὸ νεανίσκου εὐειδεστάτου λέγοντός μοι· τὴν πρεσβυτέραν, παρ᾿ ἧς ἔλαβες τὸ βιβλίδιον, τίνα δοκεῖς εἶναι; ἐγώ φημι· τὴν Σίβυλλαν. πλανᾶσαι, φησίν, οὐκ ἔστιν. τίς οὖν ἐστιν; φημί. ἡ ἐκκλησία, φησίν. εἶπον αὐτῷ· διατί οὖν πρεσβυτέρα; ὅτι, φησίν, πάντων πρώτη ἐκτίσθη· διὰ τοῦτο πρεσβυτέρα, καὶ διὰ ταύτην ὁ κόσμος κατηρτίσθη. 2. μετέπειτα δὲ ὅρασιν εἶδον ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ μου. ἦλθεν ἡ πρεσβυτέρα καὶ ἠρώτησέν με εἰ ἤδη τὸ βιβλίον δέδωκα τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις. ἠρνησάμην δεδωκέναι. καλῶς, φησίν, πεποίηκας· ἔχω γὰρ ῥήματα προσθεῖναι. ὅταν οὖν ἀποτελέσω τὰ ῥήματα πάντα, διὰ σοῦ γνωρισθήσεται τοῖς ἐκλεκτοῖς πᾶσιν. 3. γράψεις οὖν δύο βιβλαρίδια καὶ πέμψεις ἓν Κλήμεντι καὶ ἓν Γραπτῇ. πέμψει οὖν Κλήμης εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις, ἐκείνῳ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται. Γραπτὴ δὲ νουθετήσει τὰς χήρας καὶ τοὺς ὀρφανούς. σὺ δὲ ἀναγνώσῃ εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊσταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας. While I was sleeping, brothers, I received a revelation from a very beautiful young man, who said to me: “The elderly woman from whom you received the little book—who do you think she is?” “The Sibyl,” I replied. “You are wrong,” he said; “it is not she.” “Who then is it?” I asked. “The church,” he said. I said to him, “Why then is she elderly?” “Because,” he said, “she was created first, before anything else. That is why she is elderly, and for her sake the world was created.” 2. And afterward I saw a vision in my house. The elderly woman came and asked if I had already given the book to the presbyters. I said that I had not. “You have done well,” she said. “For I have some words to add. Then, when I complete all the words, they will be made known through you to all those who are chosen. 3. And so, you will write two little books, sending one to Clement and the other to Grapte. Clement will send his to the foreign cities, for that is his commission. But Grapte will admonish the widows and orphans. And you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church.”

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Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Visionary Women in Hermas (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 1.2.2-4.1[1]

1.2 ταῦτά μου συμβουλευομένου καὶ διακρίνοντος ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ μου βλέπω κατέναντί μου καθέδραν λευκὴν ἐξ ἐρίων χιονίνων γεγονυῖαν μεγάλην· καὶ ἦλθεν γυνὴ πρεσβῦτις ἐν ἱματισμῷ λαμπροτάτῳ, ἔχουσα βιβλίον εἰς τὰς χεῖρας, καὶ ἐκάθισεν μόνη καὶ ἀσπάζεταί με· Ἑρμᾶ, χαῖρε. κἀγὼ λυπούμενος καὶ κλαίων εἶπον· κυρία, χαῖρε…. 3.3 μετὰ τὸ παῆναι αὐτῆς τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα λέγει μοι· θέλεις ἀκοῦσαί μου ἀναγινωσκούσης; λέγω κἀγώ· θέλω, κυρία. λέγει μοι· γενοῦ ἀκροατὴς καὶ ἄκουε τὰς δόξας τοῦ θεοῦ. ἤκουσα μεγάλως καὶ θαυμαστῶς ὃ οὐκ ἴσχυσα μνημονεῦσαι· πάντα γὰρ τὰ ῥήματα ἔκφρικτα, ἃ οὐ δύναται ἄνθρωπος βαστάσαι…. 4.1 Ὅτε οὖν ἐτέλεσεν ἀναγινώσκουσα καὶ ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῆς καθέδρας, ἦλθαν τέσσαρες νεανίαι καὶ ἦραν τὴν καθέδραν καὶ ἀπῆλθον πρὸς τὴν ἀνατολήν. 1.2 While I was mulling these things over in my heart and trying to reach a decision, I saw across from me a large white chair, made of wool, white as snow. And an elderly woman came, dressed in radiant clothes and holding a book in her hands. She sat down, alone, and addressed me, “Greetings, Hermas.” And I said, still upset and weeping, “Greetings Lady.” … 3.3 When she finished these words, she said to me, “Do you want to hear me read?” I replied to her, “Yes, Lady, I do.” She said to me, “Be a hearer and hear the glories of God.” I heard great and amazing matters that I could not remember. For all the words were terrifying, more than a person can bear…. 4.1 Then, when she finished reading and rose up from the chair, four young men came and took the chair and went away to the east.

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Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Visionary Women in Hermas (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Shepherd of HermasPerhaps no other piece of early Christian literature gives women such prominent and significant roles as does the Shepherd of Hermas.[1] Of course, the visionary character of Hermas allows commentators to conclude little about the meanings of the visions and even less about the lives of real Roman women. Nonetheless, an investigation of some women in Hermas reveals the revelatory authority that females could have for some early Christians. Continue reading

Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Greetings in Ignatius and Polycarp

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Ignatius’s Epistle to Polycarp 8.2-3[1]

ἀσπάζομαι πάντας ἐξ ὀνόματος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἐπιτρόπου σὺν ὅλῳ τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτῆς καὶ τῶν τέκνων. ἀσπάζομαι Ἄτταλον τὸν ἀγαπητόν μου. ἀσπάζομαι τὸν μέλλοντα καταξιοῦσθαι τοῦ εἰς Συρίαν πορεύεσθαι. ἔσται ἡ χάρις μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ διὰ παντὸς καὶ τοῦ πέμποντος αὐτὸν Πολυκάρπου. 3. ἐρρῶσθαι ὑμᾶς διὰ παντὸς ἐν θεῷ ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ εὔχομαι, ἐν ᾧ διαμείνητε ἐν ἑνότητι θεοῦ καὶ ἐπισκοπῇ. ἀσπάζομαι Ἄλκην, τὸ ποθητόν μοι ὄνομα. ἔρρωσθε ἐν κυρίῳ. I greet all by name, and the wife of Epitropus, along with the entire household of her and her children. I greet Attalus, my beloved. I greet the one who is about to be deemed worthy to go to Syria. God’s grace will be with him constantly, and with Polycarp who sends him. 3. I bid you constant farewell in our God Jesus Christ. May you remain in him, in the unity and care that comes from God. I greet Alce, a name dear to me. Farewell in the Lord.

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Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Familial Expectations in Ignatius (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Ignatius’s Epistle to Polycarp 5.2[1]

εἴ τις δύναται ἐν ἁγνείᾳ μένειν εἰς τιμὴν τῆς σαρκὸς τοῦ κυρίου, ἐν ἀκαυχησίᾳ μενέτω. ἐὰν καυχήσηται, ἀπώλετο, καὶ ἐὰν γνωσθῇ πλέον τοῦ ἐπισκόπου, ἔφθαρται. πρέπει δὲ τοῖς γαμοῦσι καὶ ταῖς γαμουμέναις μετὰ γνώμης τοῦ ἐπισκόπου τὴν ἕνωσιν ποιεῖσθαι, ἵνα ὁ γάμος ᾖ κατὰ κύριον καὶ μὴ κατ᾿ ἐπιθυμίαν. πάντα εἰς τιμὴν θεοῦ γινέσθω. If anyone is able to honor the flesh of the Lord by maintaining a state of purity, let him do so without boasting. If he boasts, he has been destroyed, and if it becomes known to anyone beyond the bishop, he is ruined. But it is right for men and women who marry to make their union with the consent of the bishop, that their marriage may be for the Lord and not for passion. Let all things be done for the honor of God.

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