Odes of Solomon

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

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.


Language and Date

Although earlier scholars thought the Odes were originally written in Greek[1] or Hebrew,[2] there is now a consensus that Syriac/Aramaic was the original language.[3] Their place of origin seems likely to have been the region of Syria. Estimates of the date of composition range from the 1st[4] to the 3rd[5] century, with many settling for on the 2nd century. Some have claimed that Ode 4 discusses the closing of the temple at Leontopolis in Egypt which would date this writing about 73 CE.[6] One of the strong arguments for an early date is the discovery of references and perhaps even quotations from the Odes in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch,[7][8] who was writing around 100 CE.

Liturgical Use

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,[9] Aune, Pierce[10] 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.[4]



The Odes reflect a surprising emphasis on spreading the knowledge of God, and conversion of others.[11]

Relation to the Psalms of Solomon

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.

Relation to Catholic and Canonical Texts

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. Harris lists the following similarities in theme between the Odes and the Johannine literature:

It has been suggested that Ode 22.12 ("the foundation of everything is Your [God's] rock. And upon it You have built Your kingdom, and it became the dwelling-place of the holy ones."[13]) may be an earlier version of the saying in Matthew 16.18[14]

Relation to Gnosticism

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, 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 Clement of Alexandria and the Johannine literature).


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.[15] 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.[16]

See also


  1. W. Frankenburg, “Das Verständnis der Oden Salomos “(Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttenstamentliche Wissenschaft 21; Giessen, 1911).
  2. H. Grimme, Die Oden Salomos: Syrisch-Hebräisch-Deutsch (Heidelberg, 1911).
  3. J. R. Harris, A. Mingana, A. Vööbus, J. A. Emerton, and James H. Charlesworth
  4. 1 2 Charlesworth, James H (1977). The Odes of Solomon. Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press. ISBN 0-89130-202-6.
  5. Drijvers, Han Jan Willem (1984). East of Antioch. Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum. ISBN 0-86078-146-1.
  6. Rutherford Hayes Platt "The lost books of the Bible and The forgotten books of Eden." (Collins-World Publishers, 1926).
  7. R.M. Grant: “The Odes of Solomon and the Church of Antioch,” Journal of Biblical Literature 63 (1944) 363-97
  8. V. Corwin, “St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch” (Yale Publications in Religion 1; New Haven, 1960), pp. 71-80
  9. Bernard, JH (1912). "The Odes of Solomon" in Texts and Studies VIII.
  10. Pierce, Mark (1984). "Themes in the Odes of Solomon and other early Christian writings and their baptismal character" in Ephemerides Liturgicae XCVIII".
  11. Odes of Solomon 6; 10.3
  12. Harris, J. Rendel (1911). The Odes And Psalms Of Solomon: Published From The Syriac Version (PDF) (2nd ed.). pp. 74f.
  13. Charlesworth, James. The Odes of Solomon.
  14. Harris, J. Rendel (1911). The Odes And Psalms Of Solomon: Published From The Syriac Version (PDF) (2nd ed.). p. 73.
  15. "Vision". The Odes Project. Archived from the original on December 10, 2013. cf. their new website
  16. "Interview – Arthur Hatton, founder of Linescratchers". Linescratchers.

Primary published sources

Secondary published sources

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