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

Scripture in Ephrem’s Madrashe

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syriac Christianity.
Ephrem the Syrian

Ephrem the Syrian

While most analysis of Syrian madrashe has focused on its metrical form, authorship, origins, and liturgical setting, comparatively little attention has been paid to the contents of the madrashe. To form a fully contextualized understanding of Syrian madrashe, additional attention should be paid to the theological nature and contents of madrashe, especially its relationship to scripture. Finally, the particular manner in which Ephrem “rewrites” scripture for his community of faith is worthy of additional attention, as this feature of his writing points to the need for study on how madrashe employ and co-opt scripture. The essay which follows reflects on the place and function of scripture in Ephrem’s madrashe. Continue reading

Book Review: As One Devil to Another (Platt)

978-1-4143-7166-5Many readers of C. S. Lewis have enjoyed reading his Screwtape Letters, a series of correspondences between two demons, the instructor Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, as they attempt to secure the damnation of their human “patient.” As delightfully diabolical and insightful as Lewis’ work is, however, few writers have adopted his style of “apologetics-by-dialogue” from the beyond. That has all changed with Richard Platt’s As One Devil to Another. Continue reading

Origins of the New Testament

New TestamentThe two most common questions that I am asked are some variation of “Where did we get the New Testament?” or “Why are these specific books included in the New Testament?”1 Obviously complete answers to these questions are long, nuanced, and complex (i.e., scholarly discussions of dissertation length answer). But there are also relatively straight-forward and easy-to-understand answers to these questions. Today, I want to tackle the first of these queries: Where did we get the New Testament? Continue reading

C. S. Lewis on Myth (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining C. S. Lewis’s view of “myth.”

Lewis on MiraclesIn Miracles, Lewis reflects on the importance of myth in regards to the Old Testament and Israel. Lewis writes that “The Hebrews, like other people, had mythology: but as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology –the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step in that process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical” (Miracles, 218). For Lewis, myth is historically important in creating the context of beliefs for the truly factual, the person and work of Jesus Christ. He writes that “Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact. The story of Christ demands us, and repays, not only a religious and historical but also an imaginative response” (Ibid., 218) Continue reading

C. S. Lewis on Myth (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining C. S. Lewis’s view of “myth.”

An Experiment in CriticismIn An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis approached “myth” in several ways, most importantly as a story which has “a value in itself –a value independent of its embodiment in any literary work” (Experiment in Criticism, 41). Here Lewis defined myth in several ways. First, myth is ‘extra-literary’ as it has value outside its manifestation within a literary context. Second, myth elicits pleasure from the reader, but not pleasure based upon any specific literary device such as surprise or suspense (Ibid., 43). Third, human sympathy is minimal –the reader generally does not project himself into the myth (Ibid., 44). Fourth, myth is fantastic and deals with the seemingly impossible (Ibid., 44). Fifth, the experience of the myth, while possibly joyful or sad, is always serious and grave (Ibid., 44). Finally, even within the midst of the seriousness, the myth is awe-inspiring, portraying the communication of some great truth to the reader (Ibid., 44). From this literary perspective, the importance of myth to Lewis was the experience: “When I talk of myths I mean myths as we experience them: that is, myths contemplated but not believed, dissociated from ritual, held up before the fully waking imagination of a logical mind” (Ibid., 45). Myth is to be thought-provoking, awe-inspiring, and contemplated. Yet, the appreciation of myth does not necessarily have to be literary and scholarly. While any man can read myth, only the truly literary will be impacted by both the literature for its own sake as well as the delight that accompanies the meaning behind the myth (Ibid., 46-47). Having viewed Lewis’ literary approach, we now turn to examining his perspective on myths in terms of their historicity. Continue reading

American Christianity and the Hell of Paradise Lost

HellfireIn at least some contemporary circles, the topic of the afterlife and Hell are hot topics (pardon the pun). This is especially true within numerous Christian communities as they react to the perspectives of various pastors and scholars on hell and the state on non-Christians after death. It seems safe to say that most Americans know something about the concept of hell—that fiery place of torment that you go to if you’re not up to snuff with St. Peter (or something like that). And while numerous religious perspectives conceive of something similar to the Christian conception of hell (think of Hades for the ancient Greeks), what many people don’t realize is that the hell commonly conceived of by Americans isn’t really based on Biblical portrayals of someplace called hell. Indeed, much of what we think about hell and its prince, Satan, comes not from any scriptural text, but instead from the epic poetry of John Milton.[1] In this post, we will examine some of the Hell portrayed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Continue reading

Book Review: The Genesis of the Dead (Casberg)

Genesis of the Dead (Casberg)As a PhD student, I read a lot. I read for work, school, and fun—hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages each week. Very rarely, however, do I encounter a book that is uproariously funny. Even rarer are books which are simultaneously hilarious and theologically sound. C. T. Casberg’s Genesis of the Dead: A Zombie Comedy of Biblical Proportions, however, fits this bill perfectly. Continue reading

100 Best Books of the Christian Tradition

Top 100While I’m the last person who is truly qualified to offer such a list, Church Times recently offered a list of the 100 Best Books of the Christian Tradition, and, as a graduate student studying the History of Christianity, I happen to read a lot of books belonging to the Christian tradition. And I like making lists. So I figured I would try my hand at listing the 100 Best Book of the Christian Tradition. Before starting, three notes: 1) these are not intended to strictly be the “best” books (I still have a lot to read), bur rather important works worth reading; 2) while the list is in some sort of order, the hierarchy is not overly rigid; and 3) his list contains only books I’ve read at least substantial portions of, and does not include works I have not read in some fashion. Continue reading