Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Being Caught up to Heaven: Ode of Solomon 36

I am doing some late-night reading of the Odes of Solomon, and I was struck by Ode 36:

I rested on the Spirit of the Lord,
and she raised 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 praising 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 most praised among the praised;
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 a gusher of righteousness.

And my approach was in peace,
and I was established in the spirit of providence.


(Trans. Charlesworth in Charlesworth, OTP 2)

Although this is Charlesworth's translation, I have omitted the words and phrases he has added. Most significantly, he adds a shift in speaker after the fifth line, suggesting the one caught up to heaven was the "Odist" and following was Christ himself. But it is interesting what happens when we consider this all one piece with one speaker. Indeed, the speaker probably is Christ, but the passage also resembles the transformation of Enoch (Similitudes of Enoch, 3 Enoch/Sefer Hekhalot) and even in some ways like the self-enthronement hymn (4Q491) from Qumran: "I am made to stand among the Gods." Christ's ascent to heaven by the Spirit enacts a transformation through a naming ceremony. Because he was the son of man, he is called the light and becomes the Son of God, becoming the most praised and greatest among the great. The Spirit, it seems, refashions Christ, remaking him in the direct image of God in all of God's greatness. She makes him according to God's greatness; in turn, God renews Christ. After being anointed and perfected, Christ becomes like one of the "near ones." Those who draw near to God in Hebrew literature are the priests, but in the heavenly setting they are of course angels--angelic priests who minister before God. As such, Christ becomes angelic. This entire Ode is about Jesus' exaltation and transformation, and now we know what he has been transformed into: a highly exalted angelic priest. As such, he is now reading to draw near: he approaches in peace.

I am not sure if we need to postulate a change of speaker, since the broader pattern of the hymn of ascent, exaltation, and transformation makes more sense if it is a single figure throughout. If assuming it is Christ (in the manner of Enoch and whoever the exalted figure in the Self-Enthronement Hymn as well as other texts from Qumran like some of the Thanksgiving Hymns is), the figure is taken up to heaven, made to stand before God, sings praises before God (as would be appropriate), and then is transformed by the Spirit to become more godlike in greatness and perfection, but ultimately becoming like one of those who draws near to God. It is a highly exalted angelification.

Yet the most interesting aspect of this angelification to me is that it assumes Christ did not have this status before. Beforehand, he was only the Son of Man--not yet the Light or the Son of God, not yet perfected, not yet fully anointed, and not yet angelified, although perhaps already praised and made great to some degree (only to be made greater). It was all something the speaker, Christ, had to attain. Although Johannine language can be found throughout the Odes, this particular image does not fit the Johannine Christology (although a lot of the other Odes, in fact, strongly resonate with the whole "word-made-flesh" perspective).

If indeed this is Christ--which the son of man/son of God lines suggest--when might this have happened? Baptism? Transfiguration? Or perhaps it is a post-resurrection event. Or is it simply unknowable.

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