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

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Conclusions

This post is the final post in a series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

The Four Evangelists (Book of Kells)

What then can we conclude concerning claims that none of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the events that they describe? First, on one level it must be admitted that this position could be correct—none of the gospels bear explicit identification of the author or date of writing— and it bears repeating that none of the writers had to be an eyewitness for the gospel accounts to be authoritative. Second however, it must be remembered that the goal of undermining the historical reliability of the canonical gospels does not necessarily follow from any conclusion concerning the eyewitness status of the events recorded. As modern studies concerning trial testimony has demonstrated, eyewitnesses can be wrong. Each gospel account must stand or fall on its own historical merits. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? John

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

fourth-gospelThe Fourth Gospel, traditionally referred to as the Gospel According to John, provides the closest example of explicit reference to authorship, though it too remains originally anonymous. Church tradition has long linked the Fourth Gospel with three early epistles and the Apocalypse, which bears the author’s name, John.[1] While debated (as all good scholarly truth claims are), there exists a good deal of evidence (vocabulary, structure, grammar, theology) indicating that the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse were written by the same individual. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Luke

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

Gospel of LukeIt should be noted that Luke’s gospel immediately indicates that the author is likely NOT an eyewitness of the events that are recorded afterward. The introduction to the account reads, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”[1] Luke assures Theophilus that while he himself is not an eyewitness of the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he has done his research as a historian to demonstrate the veracity of the story that he is telling. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Matthew

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
Synoptic Relationships

Synoptic Relationships

Before diving into consideration of the possibility that the writer of Matthew was an eyewitness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we must first consider the “synoptic problem”, the relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospels found first and third in the canon, Matthew and Luke, respectively, have had a long and varied history of interpretation and understanding, especially with respect for their relationship to Mark. Approximately 76% of Mark finds itself replicated in both Matthew (45%) and Luke (41%), with an additional 18% of Mark finding its way into Matthew’s gospel (10%). These relationships have led to nearly-endless speculation concerning the reasons for the different uses of the same material and relationship between the three ‘Synoptic’ gospels.[1] Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Mark

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of MarkWe begin our examination of the question “Were the Gospel writers eyewitnesses?” with consideration of may have been the earliest written record of Jesus’ life, that narrative referred to as the Gospel According to Mark. Many modern scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was written between 50-70 CE,[1] placing its composition within one generation of the life and death of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.  Mark’s Gospel does not explicitly profess to have been written by an eyewitness to Jesus, though some traditions and interpreters have understood Mark’s account to have been based primarily upon the theology and understandings of the Apostle Peter (who would have been an eyewitness to the accounts recorded therein). Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses?

Gospel Writers

Gospel Writers

In light of the multitude of cable and internet exposes on early Christianity, I’m occasionally asked if the canonical Gospel writers were eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Since a great deal of modern Christian belief and practice finds its foundation in the words of Jesus recorded in the New Testament, this seems a perfectly legitimate query, and an important one too. Were the Gospel writers eyewitnesses? Continue reading

ECA: Lee McDonald on Early Christian Scripture

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.
Lee McDonald

Lee M. McDonald

Over at Bible Odyssey, Lee Martin McDonald has offered a brief response to a question about when the writings of the New Testament became scripture:

The New Testament (NT) writings were read in churches early on (Col 4:16), but were not generally called “scripture” until the end of the second century C.E., despite being used that way earlier. Ancient texts always functioned as scripture before they were called scripture. Only one New Testament author makes the claim that what he wrote was equivalent to sacred scripture (Rev 22:18-19; compare with Deut 4:2).

By the middle of the second century C.E., Justin Martyr (1 Apology 64-67) noted that the Gospels were read alongside of and occasionally instead of the “prophets” (Old Testament books). When New Testament writings were read in church worship, or served as an authority in matters of faith and conduct this was a first step in acknowledging the sacredness of the NT writings. The first writings acknowledged as scripture included the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John and some Pauline letters. Not all New Testament writings were called scripture at the same time or place. Irenaeus of Lyon was among the first to make explicit statements about the scriptural status of the canonical Gospels; however several others took much longer to be recognized, notably Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

Initially, early Christians also appear to have accepted other Christian writings as scripture. Some of the most popular Christian writings not included in the canon include Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Didache, and others that were read in churches well into the fourth and fifth centuries and in some cases even later.

Finally, decisions made about the sacredness of the church’s scriptures did not take place universally at the same time or location. One church father’s decision does not mean that all church leaders came to the same conclusions at the same time. By the fourth century C.E., most Christians had accepted most of the NT writings, but canon lists varied well into the eighth or ninth centuries.

Continue reading