Odes of Solomon

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For a book included in some editions of the Septuagint, see The Book of Odes.

The Odes of Solomon is a collection of 42 odes attributed to Solomon. Various scholars have dated the composition of these religious poems to anywhere in the range of the first three centuries AD. The original language of the Odes is thought to have been either Greek or Syriac, and to be generally Christian in background.

Manuscript history[edit]

The earliest extant manuscripts of the Odes of Solomon date from around the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century: the Coptic Pistis Sophia, a Latin quote of a verse of Ode 19 by Lactantius, and the Greek text of Ode 11 in Papyrus Bodmer XI. Before the 18th century, the Odes were only known through Lactantius' quotation of one verse and their inclusion in two lists of religious literature.

The British Museum purchased the Pistis Sophia (Codex Askewianus BM MS. add. 5114) in 1785. The Coptic manuscript, a codex of 174 leaves, was probably composed in the late 3rd century. The manuscript contains the complete text of two of the Odes, portions of two others, and what is believed to be Ode 1 (this ode is unattested in any other manuscript and may not be complete). Pistis Sophia is a Gnostic text composed in Egypt, perhaps a translation from Greek with Syrian provenance.

After the discovery of portions of the Odes of Solomon in Pistis Sophia, scholars searched to find more complete copies of these intriguing texts. In 1909, James Rendel Harris discovered a pile of forgotten leaves from a Syriac manuscript lying on a shelf in his study. Unfortunately, all he could recall was that they came from the 'neighbourhood of the Tigris'. The manuscript (Cod. Syr. 9 in the John Rylands Library) is the most complete of the extant texts of the Odes. The manuscript begins with the second strophe of the first verse of Ode 3 (the first two odes have been lost). The manuscript gives the entire corpus of the Odes of Solomon through to the end of Ode 42. Then the Psalms of Solomon (earlier Jewish religious poetry that is often bound with the later Odes) follow, until the beginning of Psalm 17:38 and the end of the manuscript has been lost. However, the Harris manuscript is a late copy — certainly no earlier than the 15th century. In 1912, F. C. Burkitt discovered an older manuscript of the Odes of Solomon in the British Museum (BM Add. 14538). The Codex Nitriensis came from the Monastery of the Syrian in Wadi El Natrun, sixty miles west of Cairo. It presents Ode 17:7b to the end of Ode 42, followed by the Psalms of Solomon in one continuous numbering. Nitriensis is written in far denser script than the Harris manuscript, which often makes it illegible. However, Nitriensis is earlier than Harris by about five centuries (although Mingana dated it to the 13th century).

In 1955-6, Martin Bodmer acquired a number of manuscripts. Papyrus Bodmer XI appears to be a Greek scrap-book of Christian religious literature compiled in Egypt in the 3rd century. It includes the entirety of Ode 11 (headed ΩΔΗ ΣΟΛΟΜΩΝΤΟS), which includes a short section in the middle of the Ode that does not occur in the Harris version of it. Internal evidence suggests that this additional material is original to the Ode, and that the later Harris manuscript has omitted it.

Themes and origin[edit]

Technically the Odes are anonymous, but in many ancient manuscripts, the Odes of Solomon are found together with the similar Psalms of Solomon, and Odes began to be ascribed to the same author. Unlike the Psalms of Solomon, however, Odes is much less clearly Jewish, and much more Christian in appearance. Odes explicitly refers not only to Jesus, but also to the ideas of virgin birth, harrowing of hell, and the Trinity. Adolf Harnack suggested the work of a Christian interpolator, adjusting an originally Jewish text.

However, many have doubted the 'orthodoxy' of the Odes, suggesting that they perhaps originated from a heretical or gnostic group. This can be seen in the extensive use of the word 'knowledge' (Syr. ܝܕܥܬܐ īḏa‘tâ; Gk. γνωσις gnōsis), the slight suggestion that the Saviour needed saving in Ode 8:21c (ܘܦ̈ܖܝܩܐ ܒܗܘ ܕܐܬܦܪܩ wafrîqê ḇ-haw d'eṯpreq — 'and the saved (are) in him who was saved') and the image of the Father having breasts that are milked by the Holy Spirit to bring about the incarnation of Christ. In the case of 'knowledge', it is always a reference to God's gift of his self-revelation, and, as the Odes are replete with enjoyment in God's good creation, they seem at odds with the gnostic concept of knowledge providing the means of release from the imperfect world. The other images are sometimes considered marks of heresy in the odist, but do have some parallel in early patristic literature. A number of scholars[who?], considering the links with gnosticism have been overworked, now see the Odes as gnosistic at most, due to the lack any kind of classical, gnostic doctrine, including dualism, opposition to the material world, remote supreme divinity, emanation of divine beings. Thus, the Odes may be seen as existing in a time and place where gnosistic terms among non-gnostic Christians were still acceptable (for example, as demonstrated by Johannine literature).[citation needed]

There are parallels in both style, and theology, between Odes and the writing of Ignatius of Antioch, as well as with the canonical Gospel of John. For example, both Odes and John use the concept of Jesus as Logos, and write in gentle metaphors. However, Odes appears more to be intended to use directly in religious services, mixing short sermons with songs and hymns. Odes also makes clear reference to a distinct style of prayer — the orant gesture of holding two hands up, apart, with palms outwards, that is rare in modern Christianity.

No all-convincing proof of the original language of the Odes of Solomon has been produced. The three suggestions that continue to hold merit among scholars are that the Odes were composed in Greek, in Syriac or in a bilingual Greek-Syriac community. Their place of origin seems likely to have been the region of Syria, but whether it was west Syria (for example Antioch) or northern Mesopotamia (for example Edessa) is moot. As for date, the slight majority of scholarship places the Odes in the 2nd century (with later in the century slightly favoured), but a date in the 1st (Charlesworth) and the 3rd century (Drijvers) is still argued.

The Odes of Solomon were, perhaps, composed for liturgical use. In the Syriac manuscripts, all of the Odes end with a hallelujah, and the Harris manuscript marks this word in the middle of an ode by the Syriac letter (ܗ). The use of plural imperative and jussive verb-forms suggest that on occasion a congregation is being addressed. Bernard, Aune, Pierce and others who have commented on the Odes find in them clear early baptismal imagery — water is an ever present theme (floods, drinking the living waters, drowning and the well-spring) as is the language of conversion and initiation. Charlesworth has led the criticism of this view, but its proponents believe that it is the only plausible argument for the original setting of the Odes that has been produced.


The Odes of Solomon have inspired modern musicians and their projects. In 2010, composer John Schreiner released a two-disc album called The Odes Project, which is an adaptation of the Odes of Solomon into modern music.[1] The album Odes by Arthur Hatton, creator of LDS music website Linescratchers, was inspired by the Odes of Solomon and incorporated lines from the poems into its lyrics.[2]

See also[edit]


Primary published sources[edit]

  • Bernard, JH (1912). "The Odes of Solomon" in Texts and Studies VIII.
  • Charlesworth, James H (1977). The Odes of Solomon. Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press. ISBN 0-89130-202-6.
  • Franzmann, M (1991). The Odes of Solomon: Analysis of the Poetical Structure and Form. Göttingen.
  • Harris, JR and A Mingana (1916, 1920. The Odes and Psalms of Solomon in 2 vols. Manchester.

Secondary published sources[edit]

  • Chadwick, H (1970). "Some reflections on the character and theology of the Odes of Solomon" in Kyriakon: Festschrift für J Quasten vol. 1, ed. P Granfield and JA Jungmann.
  • Drijvers, Han JW (1984). East of Antioch. Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum. ISBN 0-86078-146-1.
  • Pierce, Mark (1984). "Themes in the Odes of Solomon and other early Christian writings and their baptismal character" in Ephemerides Liturgicae XCVIII".
  • Vleugels, Gie (2011). "The Destruction of the Second Temple in the Odes of Solomon", in: Das heilige Herz der Tora Festschrift für Hendrik Koorevaar, ed. Siegbert Riecker and Julius Steinberg, Aachen: Shaker Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8440-0584-4, 303-310

External links[edit]