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;
Because I was the most glorified among the glorious ones, and the greatest among the great ones.
For according to the greatness of the Most High, so She made me; and according to His newness He renewed me.
And He anointed me with His perfection; and I became one of those who are near Him.
And my mouth was opened like a cloud of dew, and my heart gushed forth like a gusher of righteousness.
And my approach was in peace, and I was established in the Spirit of Providence.
This is Ode 36 of Solomon from a collection believed to be great works of mystical depth, Divine insight, and spiritual illumination. These poems, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, are one of the truly great spiritual and literary discoveries of the Twentieth Century. The hymns were composed by an anonymous poet, and various scholars have dated their origin to anywhere in the range of the first three centuries AD, the slight majority placing the Odes in the second century, but also the first (Charlesworth) and the third centuries (Drijvers) are still argued. The three suggestions concerning their language and origin that continue to hold merit among scholars are that the Odes were composed in a Greek, Syriac or a bilingual Greek-Syriac community of Christian character. The earliest extant manuscripts of the Odes of Solomon date from around the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth centuries, as the Church Father Lactantius quoted from them, and the Pistis Sophia mentions about five complete Odes. Technically they are anonymous, but in many ancient manuscripts they are found together with the similar Psalms of Solomon, and so they began to be ascribed to the same author. Scholars classify them among the pseudepigrapha, i.e. works falsely attributed to biblical characters or times. But as the word Shalom or Sh’lom in Hebrew or Syriac means peace or rest, the title could be translated The Odes of His Peace (or Rest). This is especially fitting since the theme of rest is very significant in the Odes.
Some believe the Odes express a Gnostic, unorthodox point of view, and others vigorously defend their orthodoxy. Many arguments have been proposed to support both claims, and the issue remains debatable. But whatever exact beliefs the community they originated in held, they deal with things we all hold dear: the Incarnation, the union with Christ, the deifying and cleansing work of his Spirit (Theosis), and do it in a mystical, esoteric manner, thus providing us with a great source of inspiration to meditate, especially during the Pentecost time. My opinion is that their perspective differs significantly from what we associate with the Gnostic vision, even though knowledge (gnosis) is repeatedly mentioned in the text, its function being that of the means and sign of redemption. The fact is, however, that the Odes don’t express a call to abandon reality, but rather to transform it, to accept the transforming Spirit and trust Him/Her. There is also no trace of the “evil Demiurge”; on the contrary, Ode 22 presents the story of human fall and redemption as a process planned by God, intended to elevate the human being onto a higher level of existence and fellowship with God:
Incorruptible was Your way and Your face; You have brought Your world to corruption, that everything might be resolved and renewed.
The Odes focus on the relationship of God and his creation in the process of redemption and transformation, and the belief expressed most famously by St. Athanasius that God became man so that man could become god is one of their most important themes. Ode 7 literally confirms the proclamation of Athanasius, which is one of the foundations of Eastern theology:
He became like me in order that I might receive Him; in form he was considered like me so that I might put Him on.
Theosis, achieved through the Holy Spirit sent by God to transform us, is the prevalent topic in the hymns. As we read in Ode 11:
My heart was pruned and its flower appeared, then grace sprang up in it, and my heart produced fruits for the Lord. For the Most High circumcised me by His Holy Spirit, then He uncovered my inward being towards Him, and filled me with His love.
One Ode compares the human being to an instrument the Spirit plays on:
As the wind glides through the harp and the strings speak, So the Spirit of the Lord speaks through my members, and I speak through His love. For He destroys whatever is alien, and everything is of the Lord. For thus it was from the beginning, and will be until the end. (Ode 6)
Another one presents the Spirit as an instrument the human being uses to praise God:
And open to me the harp of Your Holy Spirit, so that with every note I may praise You, O Lord. (Ode 14)
God is spoken of as our justification and rescue, the spring which gives us the water of rest and life:
Fill ye water for yourselves from the living fountain of the Lord, for it has been opened to you. And come all ye thirsty and take a drink, and rest by the fountain of the Lord. For pleasing it is and sparkling, and it gives rest to the soul. (Ode 30); And I was justified by His kindness, and His rest is for ever and ever. (Ode 25)
Not only in Ode 36, which we reproduced at the beggining of the post, but also in many other fragments is described an image which we have written about on a few occasion on the blog, i.e. of God as a mother, feeding and caring for her creation. Here are some excerpts of interest concerning this:
A cup of milk was offered to me, and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness. The Son is the cup, and the Father is He who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him; Because His breasts were full … The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom, and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father. … The womb of the Virgin took it, and she received conception and gave birth. … She brought forth like a strong man with desire, and she bore according to the manifestation, and she acquired according to the Great Power. (Ode 19)
And I was carried like a child by its mother; and He gave me milk, the dew of the Lord. (Ode 35)
I fashioned their members, and my own breasts I prepared for them, that they might drink my holy milk and live by it. (Ode 8 )
An interesting vision can be derived from it in reference to what we sometimes say about the Theotokos: that in her God realised his dream (vide one of our previous posts) of the full, sanctified humanity. It is so because she accepted him and became his dwelling. The Mother of God was herself nourished with the milk of kindness, which she was given by the Holy Spirit from the Father, and conceived Christ. Every human being is, likewise, called to drink of it through the Spirit who brings transformation.
In Ode 19 we observe also a fascinating change of perspectives: the Father, usually described in orthodox theology by terms emphasizing his masculinity, that is strength, the power of his anger, etc., doesn’t play a typically male role. On the contrary, he is the one who gives nourishment of himself, and the Mother of God behaves “like a strong man,” acting with desire. The masculine and feminine roles are intertwined: on the one hand we are called to become pregnant with God’s inspiration, and on the other he is the one who cares for us and feeds us like a Mother.
This all, the way I understand the message of the Odes, enables us to point at the keywords or key-issues in them. It will certainly be an intimate relationship with God who, as we partake of him by mediaton of the Holy Spirit, gives us rest and cleanses us of sin, sickness and death: through his milk of kindness and water incomparably sweeter than honeycomb.