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Odes of Solomon

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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It was in 1909 that Rendel Harris, whose researches in the domain of Christian antiquities have been so fruitful, enriched the learned world by the discovery of a collection of forty-two old Syriac hymns known as ‘The Odes of Solomon.’ Since their publication many useful essays by eminent scholars have been written to elucidate the difficult questions attaching to a composition which reflects the state of mind of communities belonging to so early a period as the first centuries of the Christian era. The result of these discussions has unfortunately not been such as to lead to unanimity of judgment. We shall try to analyze the principal theories, and examine which of them seems to be most in accordance with the original text and with the general course of ecclesiastical history.

1. Manuscripts and principal editions of the Odes.-Themanuscript [Note: This MS has been recently acquired by the Governors of the John Rylands Library of Manchester, and is at present found there as Cod. Syriac, 9.] from which Rendel Harris published his first and second editions is not very ancient. It cannot be older than the 15th cent.; but apart from occasional passages which point to a corruption of some words by careless copyists, it exhibits generally a text which can be relied upon for critical purposes. It is written in Syro-Occidental letters, and its editor tells us that it came from the valley of the Tigris, in Northern Mesopotamia. It is truncated at the beginning and at the end. Odes i and ii and some lines of Ode iii are missing; these stood, with the title of the book, on the three leaves which are lost at the beginning.

In 1911 Harris published a second edition, revised and enlarged, of the text, with a facsimile of Odes xxvi. 13-14, xxvii. 1-4. In the same year H. Grimme edited the Syriac text at Heidelberg, and translated it into Hebrew, with the intention of showing that the Syriac version was dependent on a Hebrew original. In 1914 Kittel published, at the close of a discussion of the Odes, a glossary of the words used in the text. [Note: Kittel, Die Oden Salomos, Leipzig, 1914.]

At the moment of writing we are informed that a third edition is being published at Oxford for the Rylands Library, with a complete reproduction in facsimile of all the pages of themanuscript . We expect that this publication will answer a legitimate desideratum felt everywhere for a critical editio princeps, which, so far as the text and its literal translation are concerned, will be a safe guide to all students of Christian antiquities and a solid basis for subsequent researches.

Besides the Syriac text, five Odes are preserved in Coptic in a fantastic book entitled Pistis Sophia. These are Odes i., v., vi., xxii., and xxv., which are not only quoted and given a Gnostic interpretation in that book, but cited as Solomon’s and commented on in extenso as if they were canonical portions of the Bible. The sentence which introduces them is προεφήτευσε per Salomonem, the subject being vis luminis.

In April, 1912, F. C. Burkitt published in the Journal of Theological Studies some variants, from amanuscript of the Nitrian collection in the British Museum, previously described by the skilled hand of W. Wright (Cod. Mus. Brit. Add. 14, 538). This newmanuscript , dating probably from the 10th to the 13th cent., is very important, but it frequently exhibits a truncated text, as many words are quite illegible, and it begins only at Ode xvii. 7. Being more ancient than Cod. H, it occasionally exhibits readings which, for critical reasons, have commended themselves to scholars.

As to the modern versions made upon these texts, besides the works that we have mentioned concomitantly with the editions of the original, the following publications appear to be the most important. (1) ‘Ein jüdisch-christlich Psalmbuch aus dem ersten Jahrhundert,’ in TU [Note: U Texte and Untersuchungen.] , new ser., v. 4 [1910]. The translation is by J. Flemming, and the critical study by A. Harnack. (2) G. Diettrich, ‘Eine jüdisch-christliche Liedersammlung aus dem apostolischen Zeitalter,’ in Die Reformation, ix. [1910]. (3) Les odes de Salomon: separate edition of articles printed in Revue Biblique vii. [1910] 483 ff., viii. [1911] 5 ff., 161 ff. The translation is due to J. Labourt, and the critical study to P. Batiffol. (4) F. Schulthess, ‘Textkritische Bemerkungen zu den syrischen Oden Salomos,’ in ZNTW [Note: NTW Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft.] xi. [1910]. This study contains some valuable remarks, its author being a good Semitic scholar. (5) A. Ungnad and W. Stärk, ‘Die Oden Salomos,’ in Kleine Texte für theol. und phil. Vorlesungen und Übungen, lxiv. [1910]. (6) J. H. Bernard, ‘The Odes of Solomon,’ in Texts and Studies viii. 3 [1912].

In addition, hundreds of useful articles are to be found in theological magazines of Germany, Great Britain, and France; and all of them testify to the importance of these beautiful Odes for Christian dogma. No book, not even the Teaching of the Apostles, has excited so keen an interest among Christian students; and its discovery is to be placed, from a theological point of view, among the events of which the 20th cent. may justly be proud. So far as the text is concerned, few amendments worth noticing have been suggested, and the very few linguistic difficulties that the original offers will remain for a long time insoluble, owing to the scarcity of Manuscripts and the lack of exact Patristic quotations.

2. Character of the Odes.-Three principal theories as to the nature of the Odes have been launched by scholars since their publication. (a) The first theory, put forward by Harnack, and fully endorsed by Grimme, considers them a Jewish composition, interpolated towards the end of the 1st cent. by a Christian hand. (b) The second theory regards them as entirely Christian hymns, and Bernard, a well-known holder of this view, goes so far as to believe them to be hymns recited by new proselytes, for baptismal purposes.

‘The conclusion which seems to the present writer to emerge most clearly from an examination of the Odes is, … that they are baptismal hymns intended for use in public worship, either for catechumens or for those who have recently been baptized.… A few parallelisms here and there might be set down to chance, but when we find that this scheme of Interpretation, applied to every Ode, provides a consistent explanation of their phraseology in every case, and in some cases illuminates obscure phrases for which no other explanation has been suggested, we are entitled to claim for it serious consideration’ (op. cit. p. 42). ‘The Odes do not differ in this respect from Ephraim’s baptismal hymns’ (ib. p. vi).

(c) The third theory, upheld by Harris, who put it forward at the very beginning, considers the Odes (or most of them) to be the work of a Jewish-Christian, but rejects entirely the idea of an Ebionite source.

Before we try to form a judgment as to which of these three principal theories is likely to receive most support, it is useful to know how the Odist introduces his subject, what person he uses in speaking, and what kind of man he believes himself to be.

In Ode xx, the author speaks as a priest of the Most High: ‘I am a priest of the Lord, and to Him I do priestly service: and to Him I offer the sacrifice of His thought.’ In the following Ode the writer believes himself to be a bondman that God has released by His grace: ‘My arms I lifted up on high, even to the grace of the Lord: because He had cast off my bonds from me.’ In Ode xlii, we read the following lines: ‘I stretched out my hands and approached my Lord: for the stretching of my hands is His sign: my expansion is the outspread wood which was set up on the way of the Righteous One. And I became of no account to those who know me, for I shall not reveal myself to those who did not take hold of me; and I shall be with those who love me. All my persecutors are dead; and they have sought me who announced me, [Note: Or ‘set their hope on me.’] because I live, and I rose and am with them; and I will speak by their mouths.… And I was not rejected, though I was reckoned to be so.… Death cast me up, and many along with me. I was gall and bitterness to him.’ Few will read these passages without immediately thinking of Christ as the speaker.

In many other passages the Christ is spoken of in the third person. Ode xxiv.: ‘The Dove fluttered over the Christ, because He was her head; and she sang over Him, and her voice was heard.’

In some passages the tone of the Odist is homiletic and didactic, referring, as in some prophetical books, neither directly nor indirectly to Christ. Ode xxiii.: ‘Joy is of the saints! and who shall put it on, but they alone? Grace is of the elect! and who shall receive it, except those who trust in it from the beginning? Love is of the elect! and who shall put it on, except those who have possessed it from the beginning? Walk ye in the knowledge of the Most High, and you shall know the grace of the Lord without grudging.’ This change of tone may have been one of the reasons which gave birth to the theory of interpolation referred to above. But, as Syriac hymnology constantly exhibits this characteristic of an interchange of speakers, no serious conclusion can be drawn from it in favour either of diversity of authorship or of the theory of interpolation. On the contrary, the main idea which may be gathered from a group of three or four Odes remains the same throughout, and the author lays stress continually on the same theme. The features which principally strike a reader of the Odes, besides some general counsels of piety, may be summarized as follows.

(1) Love.-iii. 2-4: ‘And my members are with him. And on them do I hang, and He loves me: for I should not have known how to love the Lord, if He had not loved me. For who is able to distinguish love, except the one that is loved?.’ vi. 2: ‘So speaks in my members the Spirit of the Lord, and I speak by His love.’ See, further, viii. 2, 14, 23; xi. 2; xii. 11; xvi. 4; xviii. 1; xxiii. 3; x. 7.

(2) Knowledge.-vi. 5: ‘The Lord has multiplied the knowledge of Himself, and is zealous that these things should be known, which by His grace have been given to us.’ vii. 24: ‘For ignorance hath been destroyed, because the knowledge of the Lord hath arrived.’ See, further, vii. 4; viii. 13; xi. 4; xii. 3; xv. 5; xxiii. 4.

(3) Faith.-viii. 11: ‘Keep my secret, ye who are kept by it.’ iv. 5: ‘Thou hast given thy heart, O Lord, to thy believers: never wilt thou fail, nor be without fruits: for one hour of thy Faith is more precious than all days and years.’ See, further, xvi. 5; xxviii. 4; xxix. 6; xxxix. 11; xli. 1; xlii. 12.

(4) Truth.-viii. 9: ‘Hear the word of truth, and receive the knowledge of the Most High.’ xxxviii. 1-7: ‘I went up to the light of truth as if into a chariot: and the Truth took me and led me.… And it went with me and made me rest, and suffered me not to wander, because it was the Truth.… And I did not make an error in anything because I obeyed the Truth; for Error flees away from it, and meets it not: but the Truth proceeds in the right path.’ See, further, ix. 8; xi. 3, 4; xii. 1, 11, 12; xvii. 5, 7; xxv. 10; xxxii. 2; xxxiii. 8.

(5) Rest.-iii. 6: ‘And where His rest is, there also am I.’ xi. 10: ‘And the Lord renewed me in His raiment, and possessed me by His light, and from above He gave me rest in incorruption.’ See, further, xx.8; xxvi. 13; xxviii. 4; xxx. 2; xxxvi. 1; xxxvii. 4; xxxviii. 4.

(6) Grace.-v. 2-3: ‘O most High, thou wilt not forsake me, for thou art my hope: freely I have received thy grace, I shall live thereby.’ iv. 7: ‘For who is there that shall put on thy grace, and be hurt?’ See, further, vii. 12, 25; ix. 5; xi. 1; xv. 8; xx. 7; xxi. 1; xxiii. 2; xxv. 4; xxxiii. 1; xxxiv. 6.

Many allusions are made to crowns or garlands (see i. 1; v. 10; ix.8; xvii. 1; xx. 7); several passages are found also in which the Christian is compared to a harp on which the Spirit seeks to play (see vi. 1; xiv. 8; xxvi. 3). The idea of God being a helper of man is also expressed in many verses (see vii. 3; viii. 7; xxi. 1; xxv. 2). For the transfiguration of the face of the believer, see xvii.; xxi.; xl.; xli. For the offering to God of the fruit of the lips (Hebrews 13:15) see viii.; xii.; xiv.; xvi. For the figure of milk from the breasts of God, see viii.; xiv.; xix.; xxxv.; iv. For the joy felt by good people, see xxxii.; vii.; xxxiii. On the rescue from bonds effected by Christ, see below. For the peace in which true believers shall live, see viii.; ix.; xxxv. 2; x. 2. On the good fruits to be offered to the Lord, see xiv.; xi.; viii. 3; xxxviii. 18. On the light of the Lord, see vii.; viii.; xii. 3; xxv. 7; xl. 6; x. 7. For the putting on of Christ, see vii.; xii.; xi. 10; xxxiii. 10. On the hope of the believer, see xxix.; v. 2, etc.

These are the ordinary themes that the Odist emphasizes chiefly, and it is difficult to find an Ode in which the above scheme is not explicitly developed. They constitute a kind of spiritual mysticism, of which the Johannine writings and some Pauline doctrines convey a vague but true idea. We cannot find in them any clear implication of sacramentalism, or any special interest in legal observances, either Judaic or Christian; but, as the reader has already surmised, all the forty-two Odes are closely joined together in a series whose keynote is the Johannine theology and experience.

The ideal of holiness, of which the Odist is the champion, is so marked in all the Odes that it appears very difficult not to ascribe the whole collection to a single man. It seems, therefore, that the theory of interpolation launched by Harnack has little to commend it. On the contrary, a study of the Syriac text makes it highly probable that all the verses which have been bracketed as Christian interpolations of a Jewish composition are in spirit, thought, and vocabulary so intimately related to the genuine passages that nothing short of identity of authorship can satisfactorily account for them (cf. R. H. Connolly in Journal of Theological Studies xiii. [1912] 298 ff.).

Harnack’s hypothesis postulates many things that even a priori are not to be easily admitted. We have seen that the thread of the narrative is unmistakably one throughout the book; to suppose that a second writer changed some verses that savoured of Judaism and gave them a Christian tone, or to believe that he interpolated existing passages with sentences altogether opposed in spirit to those he wished to modify, would imply that this second writer was a consummate artist. He had to conform his thoughts and his phraseology, and sometimes to assimilate even his personality, to that of the Jewish Odist; both writers must have been deeply influenced by the same Johannine atmosphere; and the Christian interpolator must have lived in a milieu not far removed from that of the original Jewish writer. All these are suppositions for which stronger evidence is demanded.

The passages which Harnack considers as Christian interpolations are the following: iii. 9; vii. 4-8, 14, 15, 18; viii. 23-26; ix. 2; x. 4-6, 8; xvii. 10-14, 15; xix.; xxiii. 16, 19; xxiv. 1; xxvii.; xxix. 6-7, 8; xxxi. 3-11; xxxvi. 3; xxxix. 10; xli. 1-7, 11-17; xlii. 1-3, 17-25. We shall examine the last passage (xlii. 17-25), which, according to Harnack, exhibits the most distinct traces of interpolation:

‘Sheol saw me and was made miserable: Death cast me up and many along with me; I was gall and bitterness to him, and I went down with him to the utmost of his depths: and the feet and the head he let go, for they were not able to endure my face: and I made a congregation of living men amongst his dead men, and I spake with them by living lips: in order that my word might not be void: and those who had died ran towards me: and they cried and said, Son of God, have pity on us and do with us according to thy kindness, and bring us out from the bonds of darkness: and open to us the door by which we shall come out to thee. For we see that our death has not touched thee. Let us also be redeemed with thee: for thou art our Redeemer.’

Before we compare this passage with other verses of the Odes which exhibit the same idea, it is useful to notice that the Descensus ad inferos which is so clearly represented in these verses is one of the commonest themes of the Syrian writers when speaking of the death of Christ. The breviaries of the two branches of the Syrian Church are full of such ideas, and the Syrian Fathers deal with them in more than one homily. Two citations will suffice for our purpose: ‘He bought us and saved us by His precious blood, and He went down to Sheol, and loosed the bonds of death’ (Missale juxta Ritum Ecclesiae Syrorum Orientalium, Mosul, 1901, p. 76); ‘O Living One who went down to the dwelling of the dead, and who proclaimed good hope to the souls which were bound in Sheol … and who by His death rent asunder the tombs and quickened the dead’ (Breviarium Chaldaicum, Paris, 1887, vol. ii. p. 370). Then follows on the same page a long hymn in which all the good men of the OT are summoned to rise and look at their Saviour. See, further, the following passages of Syrian authors which would be too long to quote here: Acts of Judas Thomas, ed. W. Wright, London, 1871, pp. 155, 288; S. Ephraemi Syri Hymni et Sermones, ed. T. J. Lamy, Malines, 1882-1902, vol. i. p. 145, etc. For Aphrahaṭ, see Patrologia Syriaca, ed. R. Graffin, Paris, 1894, vol. i. col. 524, etc.

Many other verses of the Odes contain indubitable allusions to the idea of Christ loosing bonds and descending into Hades, and, if we try to detach these from their context, the whole structure of the passage breaks down. For instance, Ode xvii.: ‘And from thence He gave me the way of His foot-steps and I opened the doors that were closed, and brake in pieces the bars of iron; but my iron melted and dissolved before me; nothing appeared closed to me: because I was the door of everything. And I went over all my bondmen to loose them; that I might not leave any man bound or binding: … and they were gathered to me and were saved; because they were to me as my own members and I was their Head.’ Ode xxii.: ‘He who scattered my enemies and my adversaries: He who gave me authority over bonds that I might loose them … and thy hand has levelled the way for those who believe in thee: and thou didst choose them from the graves and didst separate them from the dead. Thou didst take dead bones and didst cover them with bodies; they were motionless, and thou didst give (them) energy for life.’ See, further, Odes xv., xxv., xxi., x.

The numerous verses of the Odes which contain allusions to the remaining eighteen topics mentioned above exhibit the whole collection as so coherent in its unity that any critic who should seriously try to break it up into different pieces would find himself face to face with strong and sometimes unanswerable objections.

On the other hand, Bernard’s theory, while recognizing the perfect unity of the Odes and their Christian character, assigns to them too narrow a scope in restricting them to exclusively baptismal purposes. The nineteen features already mentioned, which, generally speaking, form the essence of the Odes, are cast into a baptismal mould, by means of some coincidences of speech found in the style of Christian Fathers or in the phraseology of baptismal rituals. An example will show the nature of this process. In the first verses of the first Syriac Ode (iii.) we find the following passage: ‘I love the Beloved, and my soul loves Him.’ To prove that this verse alludes to baptism, a sentence is cited from the book entitled Exposition of Baptism by the Syrian writer Moses Bar Kéfa (9th cent.): ‘The betrothals of Rebecca, Rachel, and Zipporah were beside water. So also are the betrothals of the Holy Church beside the waters of Baptism.’ Several other alleged coincidences are much nearer the point. For instance, as parallels to the following sentence of the same Ode, ‘for he that is joined to Him that is immortal, will also himself become immortal,’ a quotation from Clement and another from Ephrem are cited which run thus: ‘Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal’ (Paed. i. 6); ‘Go down to the fountain of Christ, and receive life in your members, as armour against death’ (Epiphany Hymns, vii. 17). For many other verses there are even stronger Patristic quotations, but in the opinion of the present writer none of them can be regarded as decisive. On theoretical grounds this hypothesis has to face the following objections.

(1) It is scientifically inexplicable that a book written for baptismal purposes should not so much as name baptism, or even allude with any clearness to immersion, aspersion, or affusion, essential ceremonies of this sacrament. Bernard answers this objection by falling back on the so-called disciplina arcani. But such an argument is a dernier ressort. Why should we extend the ‘secret discipline’ to the simple practice of washing with water represented in Israelite circles by various ablutions with which the commonest pagan was familiar? How then could Tertullian have written his treatise de Baptismo? The field that this theory gives to the disciplina arcani is probably too extensive to be taken seriously into consideration.

‘There is no trace of this “reserve” or disciplina arcani in the writers of the New Testament, who never shun to declare unto us the whole counsel of God. We do not find it either in the subapostolic Fathers; and Justin has no hesitation in fully describing the observance of the Lord’s Supper in writing to the heathen emperor. Yet he tells us that Baptism was already called φωτισμός (illumination)-the technical term for initiation in the mysteries. Clement speaks of Christianity as a mystery, and uses freely the language of the mysteries in the invitation to the heathen which is the peroration of his Protrepticus’ (H. M. Gwatkin, Early Church History, 2 vols., London, 1909, i. 272 f.).

(2) We are also unable to subscribe to the possibility of a constant relation between the Odes and the Baptismal Hymns of St. Ephrem. The hymns of this Father, written exclusively for baptism, contain always in their tone allusions which unmistakably refer to this sacrament, while the Odes are devoid of anything that would turn the thought of a reader in this direction.

There are two verses which might seem to point to baptismal practices. Ode xxiv. 1: ‘The Dove fluttered over the Christ, because He was her head; and she sang over Him, and her voice was heard.’ Ode vi. 17: ‘And in water they lived an eternal life.’ But it is obvious that the first quotation refers to the baptism of Christ in the same manner as other Odes refer to the mysteries of the Incarnation or of redemption; and we are not entitled to infer from it that either this Ode or the whole collection has any special interest in the ritual of baptism. As to the second quotation, it is possible that it alludes to the grace of God, and by extension, to Christian doctrine, the word ‘water’ being frequently used in Syriac literature to express this idea. St. Ephrem, speaking of Judas, says: ‘He drank living water’ (Breviarium Chaldaicum, ii. 380). At all events, even if the word ‘water’ be taken in its material sense, it affords no support for the notion that the forty-two Odes as a whole were written for baptismal purposes.

With regard to the third theory, the only passage that might suggest the work of a Jewish, or, more probably, a Jewish-Christian writer, is the following (Ode iv.): ‘No man, O my God, changeth thy holy place; and it is not [possible] that he should change it and put it in another place: because he hath no power over it: for thy sanctuary Thou hast designed before Thou didst make places: that which is the elder shall not be altered by those that are younger than itself.’ These sentences seem to allude to the Temple of Solomon, the principal place of worship for Judaism. No other verse points with any clearness to a Judaizing writer; but the above statement is precise, and we cannot wholly ignore it. On the other hand, allusions to Christian mysteries and Christian doctrine in general are, as we shall see, numerous and undoubted, and compel us not to exclude from our mind a Christian author. Our Odes are separate hymns, extolling sometimes special articles of faith, but exhibiting always a high ideal of mysticism. By their outward form they are not linked closely together, and we could invert the order in themanuscript without doing the slightest injury to the sense. In this respect they resemble their prototype, the canonical Psalms of the prophet king, and there is no internal evidence to prevent us from holding that they are simply an attempt to imitate, in Christian circles, the Davidic Psalms.

3. The original language of the Odes.-The question of the original language of the Odes is very important, because it may furnish a good starting-point for the solution of many problems dealing with the country, the age, and the aim of the whole collection. Critics here again have adopted three different views. The majority (but we ought to say at once that some of them are not good Semitic scholars) hold to a Greek original. A second opinion, represented by Grimme, favours Hebrew, this theory being essential to the establishing of a Jewish authorship. The present writer has ventured to suggest that Aramaic may have been the language in which they were originally written. [Note: ‘Quelques mots sur les odes de Salomon,’ in ZNTW xiv. [1914] 234 ff.]

Before we discuss this tangled question, a preliminary remark will not be out of place. After the invasion of Palestine, Syria, and neighbouring countries by the Hellenic troops, under the leadership of Alexander, the Greek language acquired a firm footing in these countries, and from the time of the Seleucids onwards it began to supersede, in great centres, the Canaanitish and Aramaic dialects which were doomed to disappear. Thousands of Greek words were introduced into Aramaic, which had come to be the vernacular of all the Semitic tribes, inclusive of the remnants of the once prosperous people of Jahweh. The ordinary population spoke Aramaic, and the sacred national documents were written also in Aramaic, but the official decrees and the general regulations of the State were worded, at least at the beginning of the Christian era, in Greek. This fact is not surprising; Hellenic culture had, with the glorious arms of the Macedonian hegemony, conquered the old civilized world, and in Rome itself it was considered an honour to speak the language of Homer. The Aramaeans were far more influenced by this current than any other Semitic people, and distinct traces of Hellenism are frequent in books originally written in Aramaic, or directly translated from the Hebrew. The OT Peshiṭta is an irrefragable testimony to this assertion, and the literary compositions of Aphrahaṭ and Ephrem, in which Greek words and Greek expressions are counted by hundreds, would not tend to weaken it. The instance of these two writers, who could not even understand Greek, may easily be extended to scores of pcems and historical lucubrations, of which Edessa and the neighbouring countries are justly proud. But in this matter there is a difference between the style of a writer who knew Greek and that of one who did not. How deep, for instance, is the gap between the stylistic method adopted by Ephrem in his hymns, and that used by Narsai in his homilies. As concerns the style of the Odes, we may assume that it is not moulded on that of Ephrem, but it would be precarious to assert that it is completely foreign to that of Narsai, or of Bardesanes. The only conclusion that we can safely draw from the arguments of some critics for a Greek original of the Odes, is that their problematic author was a man of good Hellenic culture; and, as a matter of fact, in Syria and in Palestine, from the 1st to the 8th cent., the writers were few who were without any Hellenic culture.

We may open our discussion with an examination of Grimme’s theory of a Hebrew original. In spite of the excellence of his Hebrew translation of the Syriac text, we are unable to discern any strong philological foundations for his view. His argument is two-fold. He tries, first of all, to find in the Odes an acrostic arrangement of their reconstructed text, which should suggest a dependence of the Syriac upon the supposed Hebrew.

Here is the order of this complicated acrostic system: Ode i begins with א; Ode ii and the beginning of Ode iii are missing. Odes iv and v have again א; Odes vi and vii have a ב; Odes viii., ix. נ; Odes x., xi., xii., xiii., xiv. a ה; Odes xv., xvi., xvii. a נ; Ode xviii. a ה; Odes xix., xx., xxi. a כ; Odes xxii., xxiii. a מ; Odes xxiv., xxv., xxvi. a ג; Ode xxvii. a פ; Ode xxviii. a ב; Ode xxix. a שׂ; Odes xxx., xxxi., xxxii., xxxiii. a שׁ; Ode xxxiv. an א; Ode xxxv. a ר; Ode xxxvi. a נ; Ode xxxvii. a פ; Ode xxxviii. a ע; Ode xxxix. a ג; Ode xl. a כ; Ode xli. a י; Ode xlii. a פ.

The reader will readily observe that, despite the good will of the editor, this alphabetical arrangement is very defective, and we cannot rely upon it for critical purposes. If in the future other scholars should undertake, with better success, a Hebrew translation which would exhibit this acrostic system in a more constant manner, then the same method might be applied to the Aramaic language generally. Moreover, this acrostic arrangement is much in use in Syriac literature; several hymns of Ephrem, all the pcems called soghiathas, and innumerable other literary compositions, exhibit such an acrostic system (cf. Brev. Chald. vols. i., ii., iii. pp. 35, 185, 195 f.; A. Mingana, Narsai Homiliae et Carmina, Mosul, 1905, vol. ii. ad fin.); the idea might have been suggested to Aramaean writers from some pcems of the OT which exhibit this strophic arrangement, but the work of these Aramaeans is independent of a Hebrew text, and does not involve a Hebrew original.

Grimme’s second argument is more scientific. He brings forward a number of morphological and syntactical features which, according to him, point to an original Hebrew text. It would take too long to examine in detail every word that he quotes to corroborate his opinion, but we may be allowed to say that none of the 35 instances that he gives carries conviction. He emphasizes, and very justly, the fact of the double meanings of some Hebrew words, in order to deduce from them the explanation of some grammatical and lexicological difficulties of the Syriac text, but we shall wait until more convincing proofs are given to Syriac scholars. But, although Grimme’s theory is certainly not in all points invulnerable, it has opened the way for further investigation in the domain of the general Semitic stock.

Those in favour of a Syriac original support their view by the following proofs.

(1) There is a constant relation between the style of the Odes and Syriac hymnology in general. Syrian and Arab writers are fond of repeating the same word several times in one sentence, to make it and the principal idea expressed by it more emphatic. Confining ourselves to Syriac literature, we may see, for instance, how the word meaning ‘star’ is repeated seven times by Ephrem in two lines of a hymn which is preserved in Brev. Chald. (vol. i. p. 338); the word meaning ‘man’ and the verb meaning ‘to eat’ are repeated four and three times respectively in one line of a homily of Narsai (the present writer’s edition, vol. i. p. 21). When we examine the Odes, we find that this characteristic note occurs more than once in the text. Ode xxxviii. repeats the word meaning ‘to corrupt’ five times in one short verse; the verb meaning ‘to impede’ is repeated three times in another verse of Ode vi., etc.

(2) There is a constant use by the writer of the mimmed infinitive, or of the noun of action derived from the verb immediately following this verb, to give energy to the sentence, e.g., ‘the error erred’ (Ode xxxi.), ‘the truth flowed as a flow of water’ (Ode xii.). There are in all 24 verses in which this linguistic phenomenon is represented, and if some of them may be explained by the too pronounced freedom of the translator, as is sometimes the case in books translated from the Greek, it is highly uncritical to suppose that all of them are a play of words invented by the translator.

(3) There are some words which seem to point in an indubitable manner to an Aramaeo-Syriac original. Ode xix, contains the following remarkable passage: ‘She did not require a midwife, because Himself facilitated her pains.’ The word ‘midwife’ (in Syriac, ‘the living,’ the ‘giver of life’) is derived from the verb which comes just after it: ‘He facilitated her pains’ (in Syriac, ‘He gave life’). This curious derivation would have been impossible in any other language than Aramaic. This sentence, in the absence of any adequate objection, is decisive.

The supporters of a Greek original point to certain incidences of speech of which the following are the most striking.

(1) There are some Syriac words which, in their present context, do not explain or amplify the idea that the Odist had in mind. Three principal instances are given in proof of this assertion. In Ode vii, the expression ‘by His simplicity’ would be used to translate the phrase ἐν τῇ ἁπλότητι αὐτοῦ. In Ode xxxiv, the sentence ‘No way is hard where there is a simple heart, nor is there any wound in right thoughts’ would contain the Greek words ἁπλοῦς for ‘simple’ and ἔκπληξις for ‘wound’; the expression ‘in the midst’ in Ode xxx., ‘and until it (the spring of water) was given in the midst, (they did not recognize it),’ would be also a translation of a Greek εἰς τὸ μέσον τιθέναι, because such an expression, it is said, is not Semitic.

(2) Great stress is laid on the use of the privative alpha. It is suggested that almost all the words beginning in Syriac with the negative particle are a translation from the Greek. The Syriac expression meaning ‘without grudging,’ ‘abundantly,’ which is employed several times in the Odes (cf. Ode xi.), would be the Greek ἀφθόνως; the word ‘indescribable’ in the sentence ‘the swiftness of the Word is indescribable’ would be a translation of ἀνεκδιήγητος. We must remark, however, that the first expression is found twice in the Book of the Laws of Countries of Bardesanes, which is surely a genuine Syriac composition.

We do not wish to dwell on some other Hellenic features discovered in the book of the Odes, such as the concept of ‘taking refuge,’ which is the real meaning in the first verse of Ode xxv., while the Syriac verb suggests only the idea of ‘fleeing’; likewise the argument taken from the employment of the possessive particle, which is used eight times only in all the Odes, does not seem to be convincing. Cf. on this question the article of Connolly in Journal of Theological Studies xiv. [1913] 530, and that of D. Willey, ib. p. 293 ff.; and cf. it with our study referred to above.

Finally, on account of the remarkable variants which sometimes differentiate the Syriac and the Coptic versions from one another, the supporters of a Greek original need also to resort to the hypothesis of two different Greek texts, one underlying the Coptic version preserved in Pistis Sophia, and another underlying the Syriac version of our Manuscripts . This is a fact worthy of study; and, so far as we are aware, no sufficient explanation of it has been given. On the other hand, as Harris has rightly pointed out, a sacred book entitled Ψαλμοὶ καὶ Ὠδαὶ Σολομῶντος is mentioned by pseudo-Athanasius, and in the Stichometry of Nicephorus (9th cent.). On the hypothesis that this title refers to our Syriac Odes, it is almost certain that a Greek version was in circulation several centuries before the time of these ecclesiastical writers.

4. Their relation to the Bible.-Though the main ideas that the Odist expresses are drawn from figures used in the Old and New Testaments, no direct quotation from a sacred book can be clearly pointed out; it would almost seem that the author had made up his mind not to use quotations. A list of the principal semi-quotations, or, as Wellhausen calls them, ‘Biblisms,’ will be found below.

The title itself, ‘Odes of Solomon,’ brings the whole collection, at least in the mind of the copyists and of some ecclesiastical writers, such as Lactantius, into relation with the Bible. The last-named writer seems to have believed the Odes to be as canonical and authoritative for Christian doctrine as the Davidic Psalter. No sufficient explanation has yet been given of their attribution to Solomon, in preference to all other sacred writers. The question is not in itself very important; but, if it were cleared up, the problem might prove not to be devoid of interest with regard to many obscure points arising from this precious discovery.

Critics have generally fallen back, in this matter, on the statement of 1 Kings 4:32, in which we are informed that Solomon wrote 1005 odes. Solomon was known to have written odes, and our actual Odes, by a natural course of events, readily assumed his name. This assumed Solomonic authorship would account, as F. C. Burkitt (Journal of Theological Studies xiii.) has pointed out, for the obstinate silence that the anonymous writer maintains with regard to some elementary Christian practices and his avoidance of any clear prophetical or evangelical quotations.

All this is pure speculation; the important point is that no proper biblical name and no direct biblical quotations are to be noticed in the Odes, though their nucleus mainly consists of biblical elements. On this subject the most striking semi-quotations are the following:

Ode v. 8: ‘For they have devised a counsel, and it did not succeed’ (cf. Psalms 21:11).

Ode xxvi. 11: ‘Who is able to interpret the wonders of the Lord?’ (cf. Psalms 106:2).

Ode xxix. 10: ‘Like the stubble which the wind carries away’ (cf. Psalms 1:4).

Ode xxix. 1: ‘The Lord is my hope: in Him I shall not be confounded’ (cf. Psalms 71:1).

Ode xiv. 1: ‘As the eyes of a son to his father, so are my eyes, O Lord, at all times towards thee’ (cf. Psalms 123:2).

Ode xvii. 8: ‘I opened the doors that were closed, and brake in pieces the bars of iron’ (cf. Isaiah 45:2, Psalms 107:16).

Ode xxii. 9: ‘Thou didst take dead bones and didst cover them with bodies; they were motionless, and thou didst give them (energy) for life’ (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-11).

Ode xxii. 12: ‘That the foundation for everything might be thy Rock: and on it thou didst build thy Kingdom’ (cf. Matthew 16:18).

Ode xxix. 8: ‘That I might subdue the imaginations of the peoples; and the power of the men of might to bring them low’ (cf. Luke 1:51-52).

Ode iii. 3: ‘I should not have known how to love the Lord, if He had not loved me’ (cf. 1 John 4:19).

Ode xvi. 20: ‘The worlds were made by His word’ (cf. John 1:3).

See, further, Ode xli. 16, and cf. 1 Peter 1:20; Ode xii. 5, and cf. Hebrews 4:12; Ode xxiii. 17, and cf. Hebrews 1:2; Ode iv. 12, and cf. Romans 11:29; Ode xxxi. 4, 5, and cf. John 17:6; John 17:11; Ode xxi. 1, and cf. Luke 1:69-73; Ode vi. 7, and cf. Ezekiel 47:1; Ode xxviii. 11, and cf. Psalms 22:16; Ode xlii. 10, and Matthew 11:29, etc.

5. Probable date of their composition.-It is very difficult to fix a precise date for the composition of the Odes. The absence from them of definite historical data gives critics some 130 years within which to exercise their historical and geographical skill. The Odes are merely devotional hymns, and safe criteria found in hymns of this kind for the fixing and delimitation of a definite period of time are naturally scanty, and those that are available do not generally justify a categorical conclusion. If we exclude Harnack’s theory of interpolation, and assume that the Odes are either wholly Christian or else Judaeo-Christian, they would fall within the period a.d. 80-210. The point of divergence amongst critics is how near to the earlier or to the later date they seem likely to belong.

Lactantius (Div. Inst. iv. 12) has the following clear quotation from Ode xix.: ‘Salomon [in ode undevicesima] ita dicit: Infirmatus est uterus virginis et accepit fetum et gravata est, et facta est in multa miseratione mater virgo.’ This important quotation, noted by Harris, shows that before 310 (see H. J. Lawlor, ‘Notes on Lactantius,’ in Hermathena, xxix. [1903] 459) not only was the existence of the Odes known to Lactantius, but at his time, at least in the district of Nicomedia, they even had the same order as that exhibited by our Manuscripts . The citation does not appear to be due to hearsay, but to be drawn from a book before the writer. From it we cannot positively prove that a Latin version of the Odes was current in Western Churches, but we are not at liberty to assume the contrary.

Between 250 and 295 larger quotations from the Odes are found in the Gnostic book called Pistis Sophia, which contains five complete Odes of the collection, as we have stated above. It is, on the whole, difficult to ascertain the inter-connexion between the Coptic and the Syriac texts; but the present writer thinks that, apart from a short verse that seems to be lost in Syriac, there is a certain literary ascendancy which establishes the superiority of this last version over the Coptic. The words which have disappeared from the Syriac text come in the middle of v. 8 of Ode v.: ‘And they are overcome, although they are powerful.’ The lack of some words due to the carelessness of copyists cannot a priori point to the dependence of one composition upon another. On the contrary, the Coptic is generally inferior to the Syriac, and seems to be a translation of it; e.g. Ode vi. 9 says: ‘And the restrainments of men could not restrain it, nor the arts of those who restrain water.’ The repetition of the verb is, as we have seen, in accordance with the usage of Syriac and Arabic poetry; the Coptic substituted ‘loca aedificata’ for the word ‘restrainments.’ This curious variant could not have occurred if the Coptic translator was not translating from a language in which these words resemble each other in writing; and this language is Syriac.

The existence of these five Odes in the Gnostic book involves their priority to it by several years; and consequently it becomes almost certain that they cannot be ascribed to a period later than the first quarter of the 3rd century. We may, therefore, assume as highly probable that the extreme limits of our whole collection are, as stated above, a.d. 80-210. Of these 130 years, it is historically impossible, in the present state of our knowledge, to fix upon a definite date, and no probable hypothesis has so far been put forward. We shall set forth briefly the reasons which suggest a date nearer to 80, and those which appear to postulate one not far from the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 3rd century.

We have already quoted the sentence of Ode iv, which declares that the sanctuary of God cannot be changed. If this sentence is to be taken literally, it may perhaps suggest by its vividness that the author wrote at a time not far removed from the destruction of the Temple.

We have elsewhere (in our study referred to above) pointed to two incidents which would perhaps require a date earlier than the end of the 2nd century. There are, we have said, nine semi-quotations from the canonical Psalter, whose wording differs from that used in the Odes. The author, or, in the case of a Greek original, the translator, ought reasonably to have employed the same words as those found in a previous sacred book known, read, and generally learnt by heart by every Eastern Christian. If this argument may claim a certain plausibility, it can also be used in favour of an Aramaic original of the Odes. We cannot, indeed, discover any good reason why this Syrian writer or translator did not employ the words used in the OT Peshiṭta, if he knew them, and we cannot reasonably suppose that he did not know them if he was writing long after the end of the 2nd century.

We have also noticed that the Johannine concept of the ‘word’ is rendered five times by the term petghâma, which means ‘word’ in concreto, instead of melltha, which is used in all the Syriac versions of the NT, and which means ‘word’ in abstracto. A good acquaintance on the part of the Odist with Johannine Syriac writings would have prevented his using frequently such an inadequate word.

Mrs. M. D. Gibson has called our attention (Athenaeum, April, 1914, p. 530) to the fact that several Church historians, notably Theodore of Mopsuestia, report that in the Apostolic Age there were people who wrote ‘Odes’ and ‘Psalms’ like the ‘blessed David.’

Some supporters of the hypothesis of the later date (i.e. a.d. 210) would attribute the whole collection of the Odes to the famous Bardesanes of Edessa (154-222), who played so important a rôle in the history of the Church. The grounds of this hypothesis may be summarized as follows. On the one hand, it is historically established that Bardesanes wrote 150 psalms in imitation of those contained in the canonical Psalter; on the other hand, the presence of these odes in the Pistis Sophia would suggest that their author was, at least in the mind of the Gnostic writer of this last book, imbued with Gnostic ideas, otherwise he would not have had sufficient reason to quote them; and, since Bardesanes is represented by some Fathers of the Church as inclining towards Gnosticism, he might very easily have been their first writer. The existence of a Greek savour in the style of the Odes would easily be explained by the good Hellenic culture that this Mesopotamian writer had received.

There are some linguistic features which tend to corroborate Bardesanes’ authorship. The expression which means ‘without grudging,’ very seldom used by other Aramaean writers but found twice in the Book of the Laws of Countries, would lend a certain amount of plausibility to this hypothesis; and the frequent occurrence in the Odes of the Semitic phenomenon of a noun of action or a mimmed infinitive placed immediately before or after its respective verb, is also a favourite stylistic method of the semi-Gnostic Christian writer, whose orthodoxy is very doubtful.

Finally, if, as Bernard remarks (op. cit. p. 42), the allusions which abound in the Odes are always to beliefs and practices current in the East, and if they have little affinity with Western doctrine or Western ceremonial, their attribution to an Eastern writer would indeed account for many difficulties otherwise insoluble. So the present writer has tried elsewhere (op. cit. supra) to show that the puzzling Ode xxiii., which deals with a mysterious letter descending from heaven, contains in its phraseology a clear reference to the mystery of the Incarnation, which, according to the ecclesiastical books of the Syrian Church, was accomplished by means of a letter confided to the archangel Gabriel.

6. Their Christian doctrine and orthodoxy.-The doctrine of the Trinity is clearly expressed in the Odes. Ode xix. 2: ‘The Son is the cup, and He who was milked is the Father: and the Holy Spirit milked Him’ (see also Ode xxiii. 20).

The belief in God the Father as Creator is also emphasized. Ode iv. 14: ‘Thou, O God, hast made all things’; vii. 28: ‘He hath given a mouth to His creation’; ix. 4: ‘Be enriched in God the Father.’

The Odist’s doctrine of the Son is as follows. xli. 14, 29: ‘The Son of the Most High appeared in the perfection of His Father; and light dawned from the Word that was beforetime in Him; the Christ is truly one; and He was known before the foundation of the world.’ He is ‘the Lord Messiah’ (xvii. 14), ‘our Lord Christ’ (xxxix. 10), ‘the Lord’s Christ’ (xxix. 6). ‘We live in the Lord’ (xli. 3). He was born of a virgin (xix. 6). ‘He became like me, in order that I might receive Him’ (vii. 5). The Crucifixion is perhaps alluded to in xlii. 3: ‘The outspread wood which was set up on the way of the Righteous One’ (see also xxvii. 3). The gall and vinegar of the Passion are mentioned in xlii. 17: ‘I was gall and bitterness to him.’ The purpose of the humiliation of the Son was ‘that I might redeem my people’ (xxxi. 11).

The Holy Spirit frequently underlies the thoughts of the writer (xi. 2): ‘for the Most High circumcised me by His Holy Spirit and revealed my reins towards Him’ (see also xiv. 8, xxviii. 2, xxxvi. 1).

The believer has immortality in his soul (iii. 10): ‘for he that is joined to Him that is immortal, will also himself become immortal’ (see also ix. 3).

On the other hand, there are many Christian topics about which the Odist maintains a deep and astonishing silence. There is no mention of sin, repentance, forgiveness, or the resurrection of the body. Sacramentalism is generally absent; it is only by forcing the context that one verse may be referred to the Eucharist; but the notion of priesthood and sacrifices is expressed in some verses already quoted.

Strictly speaking, Gnosticism has no strong support in the Odes. Ode xii., singled out as containing some Gnostic technicalities, savours probably but little of such aberrations. On the other hand, there are sentences which seem to betray slight tendencies towards Docetism. Ode xxviii. 14 f.: ‘And I did not perish, for I was not their brother nor was my birth like theirs, and they sought for my death and did not find it’; vii. 6: ‘He was reckoned like myself in order that I might put Him on’; xix. 8: ‘She brought forth, as it were a man, by the will [of God].’

Literature.-This is indicated in the course of the article.

A. Mingana.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Odes of Solomon'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​o/odes-of-solomon.html. 1906-1918.
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