The Earliest Christian Hymnbook by James H. Charlesworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Charlesworth’s “The Odes of Solomon” book is interesting in many ways. Firstly, the content is fascinating, it is essentially an early Christian hymnbook from a time period when Rabbinic Judaism, Proto-Gnosticism, and Orthodox Christianity are all still decidedly intertwined, or at least can all fit in a single codex.
Secondly, the way the book is set up is interesting, it is set up as a devotional. Think of all those 40 days with Bonheoffer, Scripture for Mothers, etc… a reading, then an excerpt from the reading plastered on the other side of the page. Well, imagine that genre, except with non-canonical scripture. It’s fascinating; it gives you the feel of what an early Christian devotional practice might have been like. You can almost experience it as a living tradition.
The whole thing allows the reader to look at present Christianity sideways—it is the Faith told slanted (to borrow from Dickinson). Here are a few of the metaphors describing God, just to give a sense:
Ode 6 The Spirit plays people like wind plays a harp.
Ode 11 The author’s heart is pruned, grace flowers from it, which in turn produces fruit for God.
Ode 19 Describes the Trinity strangely, the Spirit milks the Father and pours the milk into the Son, who in turn is on offer to the believer.
Ode 24 Describes Jesus’ baptism in terrifying terms—the dove flutters over the Messiah’s head, but then soon enough untrue thoughts are threatened by the Spirit and the Messiah’s presence.
So, if you want to get an experiential sense of an alternative Christianity pick up this book and read it devotionally for 40 days or so.
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