An Ode of Solomon March 27, 2011Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.
I have an Internet acquaintance who is an enthusiastic evangelist for the mainline church he attends, even though in his e-mails to me he appears to have little or no idea what he himself actually believes about the doctrines he is promoting. A few days ago, I ran across the Odes of Solomon. These are a collection of 42 religious poems; they are attributed to Solomon (who lived around 1000 BCE), even though they are generally Christian in orientation, and often in subject matter, referring explicitly to Jesus, the virgin birth, and the “harrowing of Hell.” The odes were probably written in Greek or Syriac; their earliest known copies date from the third or fourth century CE. Most scholars date the Odes from the second century CE.
Ode 11 made me think about my Internet friend, and especially his apparent preference for inarticulate charism over the age-old search for Logos. Below appears my own translation of this ode; I rely heavily on the translations of James H. Charlesworth, the Gnostic Society, Brahmachari Prangopal (Simeon Goldstein), and Stephen Mitchell.
Odes of Solomon, 11
My heart was split open; its flower appeared,
grace sprang from it,
and my heart bore fruit for God.
It was God’s Holy Spirit that opened me —
that filled me with God’s Love.
This bursting of the shell transformed me,
as your Spirit poured into me,
and I began to know you.
Speaking waters touched my lips
from your fountain, the Source;
I drank, and became drunk
with the living water that cannot die.
My drunkenness was insight, intimacy with God;
I gave up wrongdoing; I gave up uselessness
and foolish wastes of time;
I stripped them off
and flung them from me,
and you dressed me instead in your clothing,
which is Light, which is Purity.
I became like the land that blooms,
like a garden whose fruit is joy,
irrigated by a river of gladness,
rooted in your eternity.
And you were like the sun,
shining on the face of the land.
My eyes are radiant with your light;
my ears delight in your music;
my face received your dew;
my nose filled with your fragrance.
You carried me to Paradise, which consists of
the abundance of
the pleasure of your presence.
And I worshiped you and your magnificence;
I said, “Blessed, O God, are
the women and men
who are planted in your Garden;
as your shining fruits and flowers grow.
They have changed
from darkness to light,
from bitterness to faithfulness,
from decadence to good works,
and the pleasure that is God.”
All those who love you are beautiful, God.
They overflow with your waters;
they can do nothing but good.
There is room enough in the Garden
for everyone. Nothing is useless there,
But everything is full of your fruit.
All men, all women, all childen, all infants,
all are welcome here;
the only thing they need to do is enter.
Glory be to You, O God;
you are the delight of your Garden.
Many mainline denominations believe in Hell, at least officially. (When I was in seminary, my systematic theology professor remarked one day, “People who take the Bible as a history book are required to believe in Hell, but no Christian is required to believe that anyone is actually IN Hell.” As a general rule, it seems to me, the more often a given denomination talks about Hell, the less likely it is to have a well-educated, non-judgmental leadership.)
But Hell as people understand it today (flames, pitchforks, devils, yadda yadda) was invented in the Middle Ages, centuries after the Bible’s canon was closed. There is no physical place where demons inflict eternal torment on unbaptized babies; children and adults who lived out their entire lives without ever having heard the word “Jesus,” much less the dogma of Christianity; or Christians who have performed the moral equivalent of stepping on a crack and breaking their mother’s back.
Hell is not a place. Hell is refusing to enter the Garden, or even to see it there all around you. . . .