Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Book of Odes - a forgotten biblical text

I want to take a break from the St Mary's issues tonight and return to a bit of biblioblogging. This will be my first biblical piece for March. I thought I'd write about one of the forgotten biblical texts that no longer appears in any Christian bibles. I'm talking about the Book of Odes. What you may ask is the Book of Odes? Quite frankly it's a text found in one of the ancient Christian bibles, the Codex Alexandrinus, the oldest most complete codex of the Greek bible. The Odes are appended to the Psalms. The Odes also appear in the Psalms codex, Codex Turicensis, where again they are appended to the Psalms. So what are these Odes?

Basically they are a collection of prayers and canticles from the Old and New Testaments. The Rahlfs Septuaginta orders them as follows:

1. First Ode of Moses (Exodus 15:1-19)
2. Second Ode of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-43)
3. Prayer of Anna the Mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
4. Prayer of Habbakuk (Habbakuk 3:2-19)
5. Prayer of Isaias (Isaiah 26:9-20)
6. Prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2:3-10)
7. Prayer of Azariah (Daniel 3:26-45, a deuterocanonical portion)
8. Song of the Three Young Men (Daniel 3:52-88, a deuterocanonical portion)
9. The Magnificat; Prayer of Mary the Theotokos (Luke 1:46-55) and Canticle of Zachariah (Luke 1:68-79)
10. Canticle of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-9)
11. Prayer of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:10-20)
12. Prayer of Manasseh, King of Judah when he was held captive in Babylon (ref. in 2 Chronicles 33:11-13 and appears also as a separate deuterocanonical book)
13. Nunc dimittis; Prayer of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32)
14. Gloria in Excelsis Deo; Canticle of the Early Morning (some lines from Luke 2:14, Psalm 144:2 and Psalm 118:12)

I have not yet found any real studies on this quite intersting little text. Clearly as it is mostly texts from the Old and New Testaments any scholars that do know of it are likely more interested in those component texts in their other contexts.

This book interests me for two reasons. First, it was probably the vehicle that delivered the Prayer of Manasseh into scripture. Secondly I think it testifies to the close links between liturgy and scripture. Odes clearly has some liturgical role either in the Mass or in the liturgical rounds of daily prayer. Ode 14, incorporating as it does the Canticle of the Early Morning indicates that could most likely be its purpose.

So finally, lets bring back this little Book of Odes and return it to our Bibles so that it nestles snuggly once more behind the Psalms


  1. Shame on me. Never heard of this. Thanks for the post.

  2. No shame, I only found out about it recently myself. Indeed some references I found to this text even confused it with the Odes of Solomon, which is a very different text that never made it into any bible as far as I can see. I'm planning to write on the Odfes of Solomon at some time because I think it's a great text

  3. IANAT - I am not a theologian, just a church musician!
    It's not obvious from your description, but I presume that the Odes use the same words as the corresponding Bible verses. If so, what purpose does it serve to print them as you suggest?
    The collection was presumably made some time after the liturgy/s in which they featured had been standardised. In fact, the collection resonates very strongly with the Daily Office with which I am most familiar - that of the Anglican Church in Australia (maybe the compilers knew about the Book of Odes already !)
    I'd be really interested to know whether there are textual variations that would indicate any changes to accommodate changes in the music that would have been applied. (AFAIK, the music itself is practically all conjecture.)

  4. The only complete text I have is the Greek text in Rahlfs Septuaginta. I hadn't thought to check if the versions in Odes correspond with the mirroring sections in the other biblical texts.

    I'd like to pout them back in because it's a link to the early church and its understanding of these texts and of Psalms. Odes is almost like an appendix to Psalms. AS whether the compilers of the Anglican Daily Office knew of Odes I can't say. I suspect it's mole likely that Odes is a precursor to the Offices of the various Churches hence the resonance you detect. THat in itself would be another reason for restoring Odes to our bibles.

    I can check for textual variations as you suggest but whether that might marry up to musical styles let alone changes in them I couldn't say. AFAIK there's no musical annotations in either of the Odes manuscripts and as you say what the music was is practically all conjecture

  5. Thanks for that, Michael. I've always been fascinated by the cavalier treatment that OT quotes get in the NT. I just wondered whether the supposition that the Odes were a "liturgical convenience" indicated a shift to a more poetical style of writing, which has some bearing on the possibility of a musical setting.

  6. I'm wondering, do the Odes have any nuances in terminology? Or do they quote from the corresponding hymns perfectly?