THE ODES OF SOLOMON (1st - 3rd century AD) Questions

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THE ODES OF SOLOMON (1st - 3rd century AD) Questions

Post by rakovsky » Mon Feb 25, 2019 12:32 pm

The Odes of Solomon are considered to be originally written in Greek or Syriac, and are quoted by Lactantius in the early 4th century. They were found in the Bodmer papyri (200 - 7th c. AD) near the monastery of St. Pachomias. The 6th c. "Synopsis Sacrae Scripture" says that they are read to catechumens.

One of the Odes was quoted in the gnostic Pistis Sophia (c. 3rd century AD), and some scholars propose that the Odes were gnostic, written maybe by the gnostic Bardeisan of Edessa. For this, they point to some Odes like those in my questions below. ("Bardaisan and the Odes of Solomon", by Wm. Romaine Newbold, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 30, No. 2 (1911), pp. 161-204 (44 pages), ... b_contents) One difference that comes to mind is that Bardaisan supposedly rejects the resurrection of the body, whereas the Odes affirm it. For the view that it isn't gnostic, see: "THE ODES OF SOLOMON—NOT GNOSTIC", by James H. Charlesworth, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3 (JULY 1969), pp. 357-369 (13 pages)( ... b_contents)

Charlesworth's translation of the Odes can be found here:

(Question 1) Why does Ode 25 say that the narrator removed his garments of skin? Is this referring to the resurrection?
Ode 25 goes:
I was rescued from my chains, and I fled unto You, O my God.
Because You are the right hand of salvation, and my Helper.
You have restrained those who rise up against me, and no more were they seen.
Because Your face was with me, which saved me by Your grace.
But I was despised and rejected in the eyes of many, and I was in their eyes like lead.
And I acquired strength from You, and help.
A lamp You set for me both on my right and on my left, so that there might not be in me anything that is not light.
And I was covered with the covering of Your Spirit, and I removed from me my garments of skin.
Because Your right hand exalted me, and caused sickness to pass from me.
And I became mighty in Your truth, and holy in Your righteousness.
And all my adversaries were afraid of me, and I became the Lord's by the name of the Lord.
And I was justified by His kindness, and His rest is for ever and ever.
The garments of skin refers to how after God's judgment of Adam, Eve, and the serpent, Genesis 3:21 says: "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them." James Rendel Harris in his book on the Odes notes that Philo and others took this to mean that this passage in Genesis refers to God creating human, material skinly flesh for Adam and Eve, who lacked it before the Fall. For this concept, Harris also looks to Psalm 104:2's description of God, "Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain".
Harris points Paul's concept of putting off the Old Man and putting on the New Man, like in Colossians 3:9-10. He also points to Clement of Alexandria (Paedegogus I.6), who wrote: "Truly, then, are we the children of God, who have put aside the old man, and stripped off the garment of wickedness, and put on the immortality of Christ; that we may become a new, holy people by regeneration, and may keep the man undefiled. ... "And I will be," He says, "their Shepherd," Ezekiel 34:14-16 and will be near them, as the garment to their skin. He wishes to save my flesh by enveloping it in the robe of immortality, and He has anointed my body.
He notes that Ode 11 says: "And I rejected the folly cast upon the earth, and stripped it off and cast it from me. And the Lord renewed me with His garment, and possessed me by His light."
I see the concept in 1 Cor 15:42-47 of a person dying with a natural earthly body and being raised in a spiritual body that reminds me of Ode 25's reference to removing the garments of skin. But this would fit best if Ode 25 was referring to resurrection. This would fit with the preceding Ode, 24, being about the Lord sealing up the chasms, alluding to the Lord putting an end to dying. Harris leaves open the possibility that Ode 25's reference to removing the garment of skin implies the anti-flesh theology of gnosticism. But I note that Ode 22 talks about taking dead bones from graves and giving them flesh: "And It [God's right hand] chose them ["those who believe in You"] from the graves, and separated them from the dead ones. It took dead bones and covered them with flesh. But they were motionless, so It gave them energy for life."

In "Odes of Solomon: Early Hymns of the Jewish Christian Mystical Tradition", on the other hand, Pam Denzer sees Ode 25 as referring to being covered with the Spirit and removing the garment of skin as happening before one's death:
It was believed that if a person lived their life according to ...God and Jesus’ 1Ways (Jewish Christian), then after death theperson would be resurrected into the being they would have been were it not for the fall... But the mystics took this view one
step further, believing that the lost “image of God” could be temporarily reinstated prior to death and that Paradise and its fruits could be experienced during one’s lifetime. In the Odes of Solomon,imagery and expressions of this theme are found throughout, but especially in Ode 11: 11-12, “And the Lord renewed me with His garment, and possessed me by His light. And from above He gave me immortal rest, and I became like the land that blossoms and rejoices in its fruits.” Later, in Ode 11, the Odist describes being taken to Paradise. In Ode 25:17-18, the Odist loses his “garment of skin” and is covered with the light of the spirit.[26]
[26] Eugene H. Merrill, "Odes of Solomon and the Acts of Thomas: a comparative study," Journal of TheEvangelical Theological Society 17, no. 4 (September 1, 1974): 233.
(Question 2) Is Ode 34 gnostic?:
The Syriac can be found here:

Charlesworth's translation goes:
There is no hard way where there is a simple heart, nor barrier for upright thoughts,
Nor whirlwind in the depth of the enlightened thought.
Where one is surrounded on every side by pleasing country, there is nothing divided in him.
The likeness of that which is below is that which is above.
For everything is from above, and from below there is nothing, but it is believed to be by those in whom there is no understanding.

Grace has been revealed for your salvation. Believe and live and be saved.
If one is to make sense of this in an Orthodox way, one can say that God, who is in heaven, created everything, so that everything ultimately only comes from heaven.

"What is above" would be the "heavenly" because it's above, ie. spiritual, holy, divine. What is "below would mean either what's on earth below heaven or else whats in hell, below. "The imagination of those that are without knowledge" would be the imagining or illusion of those who lack the Christian "gnosis".

The Forgotten Books of Eden translated this differently, as:
1. No way is hard where there is a simple heart. 2. Nor is there any wound where the thoughts are upright: 3. Nor is there any storm in the depth of the illuminated thought: 4. Where one is surrounded on every side by beauty, there is nothing that is divided. 5. The likeness of what is below is that which is above; for everything is above: what is below is nothing but the imagination of those that are without knowledge. 6. Grace has been revealed for your salvation. Believe and live and be saved. Hallelujah.
Harris translates this as: "The likeness of what is below is that which is above; for everything is above: what is below is nothing but the imagination of those that are without knowledge." Harris comments: "All the hard things are easy, where the soul itself is right: no storms invade the hidden place of communion with God. Evil itself becomes unreal, and that which is beneath exists not before that which is above.

J. H. Bernard ans J. Armitage Robinson write in their book The Odes of Solomon (Texts and Studies)
What he says is that the Ideal is the archetype of the Real - 'earth but the shadow of heaven' as Milton put it. This is the common language of all Idealists from Plato to Bishop Berkeley. 'What is below is nothing but the imagination of those that are without knowledge.' We may compare Ode xxiv 8 'The Lord destroyed the imaginations of all them that had not the truth with them"; for while the Odist's language expresses the Berkeleian Idealism, his thought is probably more concrete, viz. of the destruction of corruptive things by Christ.
Eugene Peterson in The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language associates "Do what's best – as above, so below" with the words in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." I note that the Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah has a vision of the firmament and says, "there I saw Sammael [the Devil] and his hosts, and there was great fighting therein. above so on the earth [below] also; for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is here on the earth."

Asteriktos, an Orthodox Christian, wrote to me that the Ode <<might be talking about the concept that evil has no substance in itself, and is merely the absence or distortion of good, and so for those with "a simple heart," whose "thoughts are upright," and who is "surrounded on every singe by beauty," the good things they experience on earth are through grace, and thus the good below is the same as the the good above, and evil things are just the "imagination of those without knowledge.">>

On the other hand, the idea that "what is below is nothing but the imagination of those that are without knowledge" reminds me of the Advaita/pantheistic Hindu concept that everything is "Maya", or an illusion, except for the ultimate reality, Brahman, is the same as God. In Advaita Hinduism, a key goal is to escape the "illusory" world by "yoga" or one-ness with Brahman or with God.
Swami Nirmalananda Giri writes in his Katha Upanishad Commentary: "We need to realize that the inner is always more real than the outer." He then cites Ode 34, “The likeness of that which is below is that which is above. For everything is above, and below there is nothing, but it is believed to be by those in whom there is no knowledge.” He comments: "This is also true in yoga. Everything real happens in the head–the Sahasrara, the Thousand-petalled Lotus, the astral/causal brain." ( ... c376340097)
Swami Nirmalananda Giri also comments about this Ode, "Physical creation veils the true reality of which it partakes, but this veil must be pierced and transcended for true gnosis or knowledge to be attained." ( ... -for-yogis)

Dvaita Hindusim, on the other hand, is not pantheistic, and it distinguishes God from the ultimate reality. "The theory of māyā was developed by the ninth-century Advaita Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara. However, competing theistic Dvaita scholars contested Shankara's theory, and stated that Shankara did not offer a theory of the relationship between Brahman and Māyā." ( I think that Orthodox Christianity is non-pantheistic and wouldn't agree with the pantheistic theory of Maya, either.

(Question 3) Is the speaker in Ode 42 depicted as Christ Himself or as the composer of the Odes, or does the speaker switch from one to the other?
Ode 36, which precedes Ode 42, has the speaker, who is the Odes' composer, describe himself with Christian titles and attributes for the Messiah:
I rested on the Spirit of the Lord, and She lifted me up to heaven;
And caused me to stand on my feet in the Lord's high place, before His perfection and His glory, where I continued glorifying Him by the composition of His Odes.
The Spirit brought me forth before the Lord's face, and because I was the Son of Man, I was named the Light, the Son of God;
Since the speaker composed the Lord's Odes and was named the Light, the Son of God, it sounds like the speaker is the Odes' direct composer and was not actually the Light, the Son of God. Besides that, the composer was a "Son of Man."
I take this to mean that the speaker was spiritually raised up, experienced theosis, grace, and union with Christ to the point where Messianic attributes or experiences (eg. being anointed with the Lord's perfection) were shared with the composer. By comparison, I note that Galatians 3 uses the title "sons of God" for Christians because of their affinity with Christ: "26. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Plus, Isaiah and Zechariah in their Messianic prophecies used a speaker's voice as if the speaker were the Messiah. (eg. Zech.11:12: "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.")
So the composer could have the speaker talk the same way in Ode 42.

Ode 42 begins:
1. I extended my hands and approached my Lord, for the expansion of my hands is His sign.
2. And my extension is the upright cross, that was lifted up on the way of the Righteous One.
It sounds like the speaker is the composer, not Christ, because he speaks of the Lord and "the Righteous One" in the third person. It seems that the speaker is praying with his arms outstretched like a cross, the Lord's "sign".

Like verse 2 ("and my"), the next two verses begin with "And I", as if the speaker were the same. But the self-description of the speaker in the rest of the Ode sounds like Christ:
3. And I became useless to those who knew me not, because I shall hide myself from those who possessed me not.
4. And I will be with those who love me.
5. All my persecutors have died, and they sought me, they who declared against me, because I am living.
6. Then I arose and am with them, and will speak by their mouths.
7. For they have rejected those who persecute them; and I threw over them the yoke of my love.
8. Like the arm of the bridegroom over the bride, so is my yoke over those who know me.
9. And as the bridal chamber is spread out by the bridal pair's home, so is my love by those who believe in me.
10. I was not rejected although I was considered to be so, and I did not perish although they thought it of me.
11. Sheol saw me and was shattered, and Death ejected me and many with me.
12. I have been vinegar and bitterness to it, and I went down with it as far as its depth.
13. Then the feet and the head it released, because it was not able to endure my face.
14. And I made a congregation of living among his dead; and I spoke with them by living lips; in order that my word may not be unprofitable.
15. And those who had died ran towards me; and they cried out and said, Son of God, have pity on us.
16. And deal with us according to Your kindness, and bring us out from the bonds of darkness.
17. And open for us the door by which we may come out to You; for we perceive that our death does not touch You.
18. May we also be saved with You, because You are our Savior.
19. Then I heard their voice, and placed their faith in my heart.
20. And I placed my name upon their head, because they are free and they are mine.
21. Hallelujah.
I guess that this implies that Christ is speaking through the narrator in verses 4-21, which is how I read ODe 36. Notice that 42 v.6 says "I arose and am with them, and will speak by their mouths", suggesting that the risen one could speak with others' mouths, like the narrator's.

(Question 4) When Christ in v.5 in Ode 42 says "All my persecutors have died", does this mean that the Ode was composed sometime after 70-100 AD, when the Sanhedrin leaders would have died?
J.R. Harris writes that this Ode depicts Christ's "Harrowing of Hell." So maybe in this verse having descended into hell to raise the dead, Christ is speaking outside of time, or at the Last Judgment?

My research on the prophecies of the Messiah's resurrection:

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