Tuesday, July 22, 2008
In 1909, J. Rendel Harris (1852-1941), a professor of Biblical languages and ancient religious literature, discovered on a shelf in his office a pile of old documents, written in Syriac. He said they had been there for at least 2 years, but was vague, when questioned, about how they came into his possession. He may not have known. His only comment concerning their provenance was that they were brought "from the neighbourhood of the Tigris." Well, that's not helpful at all. The Tigris is 1,180 miles long and is the eastern of the two great rivers that enclosed what was once called Mesopotamia. Its source is in Turkey, and it moves south through Iraq. Bagdad sits on its banks. As Harris studied these documents, which had been copied onto 400-year old paper, he recognized among them the long-lost Odes of Solomon. The Odes are a collection of 42 short lyric poems, probably written in the first century of the Christian era. The first two Odes were missing from the book Harris discovered in his office. The name is misleading; they were not penned by Solomon, the son of King David, and for that reason they have generally been classed among the Pseudepigrapha, religious writings falsely attributed to a famous person. This title does not appear in the papers found by Harris on his office shelf. The Odes were mentioned in two ancient lists of religious literature, and some were quoted in the Pistis Sophia and in a work by Lactantius. I think it would be linguistically correct to refer to the Odes as the Odes of Peace or as the Odes of Rest, rather than to use the proper name. I love the Odes. Harris called them "a memorial of the first importance for rightly understanding the beliefs and experiences of the Primitive Church." I might quibble with his description of the apostolic church as primitive, because of connotations associated with the word. Nevertheless, the term is widely used to refer to the Christian church established after the death of Christ. The Odes do give us a beautiful statement of some of the doctrines, ordinances and sensitivities of Christians living in the first century of the common era. Temple-going Latter-Day Saints will recognize truths in these poems that are hidden from the world and that have come to us through the Restoration. Harris translated and published the Odes of Solomon in 1909, and his book caused a sensation throughout the world. A copy of his book contains an introduction and commentary by Harvey Martin, which is easy for me to remember. I accept the Odes of Peace as inspired literature. Often, the Lord Jesus Christ speaks in the first person, alternating with the poet. This is reminiscent of some of the Messianic Psalms in the Bible and of those sections of the Doctrine & Covenants written by Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. Some of the Odes resemble the Thanksgiving (Hodayot) Hymns from Qumran. Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Odes constitute, in my opinion, one of the great spiritual discoveries of the 20th Century. It is too bad that they are generally ignored or rejected by modern Christians of every denomination. In future posts, I will write about several of the Odes. I heartily recommend them to every believer in Jesus Christ.