Sung in Christian liturgies from the earliest period, biblical Odes—a set of songs excerpted from the biblical and apocryphal books—were central to emerging Christian practices and texts, yet their significance as textual witnesses has rarely been studied. Overlooked by text critics and editors, the Odes have largely been omitted from contemporary critical editions of the biblical books, including the very recent twenty-eighth edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. This analysis suggests, however, that the liturgical setting of the Odes had a double impact: whereas some of the readings possibly reflect liturgical adaptation, public performance could also set limits on how much these texts could change.
Comparison of the biblical Odes as they appear in the great fifth-century majuscule Codex Alexandrinus, both in their place among the Odes and within their appropriate biblical book, demonstrates that these songs are in fact a valuable textual resource, a conclusion that is further confirmed by an examination of the textual and paratextual features of early Odes manuscripts. A more focused study of the Song of Mary offers additional support to the hypothesis: this song remained remarkably fixed even as Odes traditions and collections remained unsettled. As this study shows, interactions between oral and written forms of transmission are complex, and thus no textual witness can be dismissed solely on the basis of its liturgical setting.