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Once More: The Interesting Text Called the Didache

QUESTION:

I was surprised to see that in the Didache the form of the Golden Rule is in the negative.  I’ve read that the positive formulation in the Sermon on the Mount may be original to Jesus.  If the Didache used Matthew as a source, how does one account for that reversion?

 

RESPONSE

I started writing up a simple answer to this question but then I realized that the answer doesn’t make much sense without some more extended background.  Just a few months ago on the blog – this past December — I talked about the intriguing early Christian writing known as the Didache.  But everything I said then may not be fresh in everyone’s mind (I know it’s not fresh in *my* mind: I had forgotten I even posted about it!!).  So let me explain again what the book is – not in the same terms as I did as before but by way of a general overview, as I lay it out in my undergraduate textbook on the New Testament.  In my next post I’ll give then a direct answer to the question this reader has raised.

*****************************************************************

The early second-century book known as The Didache of the Twelve Apostles (didache literally means “the teaching”) was virtually unknown until the end of the nineteenth century, when it was discovered in a monastery library in Constantinople. Since then it has made a tremendous impact on our understanding of the inner life of the early Christian communities. Among other things, it (a) preserves our earliest account of how the early Christians practiced their rituals of baptism and the eucharist, (b) discloses the kinds of prayers that early Christians said, (c) indicates the days on which they fasted, and (d) demonstrates the existence of itinerant Christian apostles, prophets, and teachers who roved from town to town, addressing the spiritual needs of the Christian communities in exchange for daily food and shelter.

The first six chapters of the book …

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The Golden Rule
Do We Know How Paul Died?

46

Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  March 12, 2018

    Regarding The Golden Rule, I’ve long felt that the positive formulation is more heroic, more compassionate and open-hearted, but also problematic. How do you know that others want the same things done unto them as you?

    The negative formulation is, I think we must admit, more practical. Things that are deeply unpleasant to you will be so to many others, and nobody can be offended or hurt by what you don’t do unto them (there are exceptions to this as well, as there are to all things).

    In both formulations, it’s the best rule of thumb that I know of. And the hardest to apply in daily life.

  2. Avatar
    jhague  March 12, 2018

    “When they celebrate the Eucharist they are first to bless the cup with a prayer that the author provides and then to bless the broken bread, with another set prayer (9:1–4). This way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper by starting with the cup and ending with the bread has long puzzled scholars, since the typical practice of the early Christians appears to be reflected in the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper, where Jesus distributes first the bread and then the cup”

    Does this relate to Luke 22:17-20 where the author has Jesus take the cup, then take the bread, then take the cup again?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      Yes, it’s often to thought to represent a variation, possibly (though not certainly) reflected in Luke as well (though there the cup is taken twice).

  3. Avatar
    jmmarine1  March 12, 2018

    In light of the name of this document, in light of its reliance on Matthew and (the Epistle of)James, does the Didache show any specific signs of being anti-Pauline?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      No, not really. Precisely those parts of Matthew and James that can be read as opposing Paul are not found in the Didache.

  4. Avatar
    rivercrowman  March 12, 2018

    Perhaps the writer of the Didache (and Matthew and Luke) had some Buddhist sources? In the book “Jesus and the Buddha — Parallel Sayings,” edited by Marcus Borg, (2004), the Buddhist version of the Golden Rule (parallel to Luke 6:31) is “Consider others as yourself.” (DHAMMAPADA 10.1). Since the Buddha lived about 600 years before Jesus lived, there was plenty of time for Buddhist missionaries to reach Alexandria by the first century. “Some have posited that Jesus might have traveled there or that Buddhist teachings may have reached the cities of the Jewish homeland, including Sepphoris, a major city in Galilee only four miles from Nazareth.” From Borg’s Editor’s Preface, p. 10.

  5. Avatar
    Jon1  March 12, 2018

    Bart,

    You said a while back that you were going to post on your debate with Mike Licona, but I have not seen anything. I hope a question about that here is ok. I think you convincingly showed in the debate that the NT has errors, but you did not seem to adequately address Licona’s main point that the gospels should be *mostly* reliable with respect to the teachings and events surrounding Jesus since they were written within only a couple generations of the events. Your example in the debate of a map being wrong 10% of the time implies it is correct 90% of the time. So can you please give an example of ancient biography written within a couple generations of a person’s death that has as little historical core in it as you think the gospels have in them or, if there is no such example, can you please explain why the gospels should be treated differently from other ancient biographies written within a couple generations of events?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      I don’t know of any biography from antiquity that has less historically reliable material in it than the Gospels, except for some of the lives of Plutarch that are dealing with the most ancient figures from hundreds of years earlier whose lives are shrouded in legend (e.g., Romulus).

      • Avatar
        Jon1  March 13, 2018

        You missed the second part of my question: Why should the gospels be treated differently from other ancient biographies written within a couple generations of events; i.e., why do they have so much less historical core?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 15, 2018

          Because in addition to being biographies they are documents of faith, based largely on oral traditions in wide circulation for decades among believers.

  6. Avatar
    Jon1  March 12, 2018

    Bart,

    There is one other question I wanted to ask you about your debate with Licona. In the debate (at the 44:15-35 mark) you chastise Licona saying, “[Jesus] never gives the same speech more than once in the New Testament. So why does Mike think that he did? Because Mike thinks he did. That’s just like, well, that makes sense, so that must have been how it happened! But what’s the evidence? Historians prefer evidence.”

    But isn’t your idea that the Romans removed crucifixion victims from the cross and buried them also conjecture without evidence (not a single reference for either mentioned anywhere as far as I know)? Why does Licona’s conjecture require evidence but not yours? Seems like a double standard.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. What is the option to someone taking crucified victims from their crosses? Do you mean they are still on their crosses today?

      • Avatar
        Jon1  March 13, 2018

        The other option is that crucifixion victims just rotted and were eaten away until their remains were gone from the cross. Why do you not propose that this happened to Jesus since that is what the evidence indicates?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 15, 2018

          I don’t think skeletons just disappear. And it’s usually thought that the crosses were reused.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  March 15, 2018

            Bart,

            You seem to have a Hollywood view of skeletons where, after the flesh rotted away and was eaten by carrion birds (for a live video of the latter see here! — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiDVkooFNs8), the skeleton would have stayed on the cross. But as soon as the ligaments were gone, the bones would haven fallen on the ground and been carried away by wild animals. All of the primary sources say crucified bodies were food for carrion birds and wild animals; none speak of the Romans removing bodies from the cross, let alone burying them. So why do you think the latter happened? What’s the evidence? Historians prefer evidence.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 16, 2018

            OK, if you say so! But, well, what evidence are you citing for skeletons hanging on crosses until the ligaments break and animals carrying the bones away? And are you saying that they did *not* reuse the crosses for months?

          • Avatar
            Jon1  March 16, 2018

            Bart,

            The ligaments would probably never get the chance to “break”, they would most likely get *eaten* by the carrion birds, and probably a *lot* sooner than a “months”. There are forensic body farms that study this stuff. For example, one says:

            “The game cameras show that they [the birds] often arrive within minutes of the body being dropped off, and that hordes of them — sometimes as many as 40 at once — can surround a body, picking it clean *within a few hours*. They won’t eat the skin, but rip holes in it to get at the innards. At times, they’ll perch on top of the rib cage and “display” — violently flapping their wings up and down in a show of dominance — which can crack the ribs. Other times, they’ll *drag the skull and other pieces of the body in different directions* [so the ligaments are gone!], which is why a visitor observing a vulture-ravaged body needs to look out for bones underfoot.” (https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?146388-The-science-of-human-decay-WARNING-GRAPHIC-PHOTOS)

            What more evidence do you need!? Do you want evidence that gravity would cause the bones of a crucifixion victim to drop to the ground after the ligaments were gone and that wild animals would have liked to eat those bones? Again, all of the primary sources say crucified bodies were food for carrion birds and wild animals; *none* speak of the Romans removing bodies from the cross, let alone burying them. So why do you think the latter happened? What’s *your* evidence?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 18, 2018

            I assumed when you asked me for evidence that Romans disposed of bodies that had been crucified you were asking for a source that says so. If I had an hour to do the work, I could dig out some references for you. But in any event, I was asking you for a source that says bodies were left on the crosses until they fell off and animals carried them off.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  March 19, 2018

            Bart,

            I’ll donate $100 to your blog (for charity) if you can provide one primary source that says the Roman authorities further disposed of bodies that had been crucified in peacetime. None are in Martin Hengels book (Crucifixion) that I can find, and this seems to be your main scholarly source for the details of Roman crucifixion. It appears to me that you have just *assumed* that the Roman authorities further disposed of bodies that had been crucified because you did not realize how quickly carrion birds could devour a body and did not realize the bones of a skeleton would fall to the ground once the ligaments were gone. I am not meaning to criticize here; it just seems to me you overlooked something (or I have!). In the name of scholarly honesty, please provide a primary source as asked for above (and that you claim exists!) or acknowledge that you are just *assuming* that the Roman authorities further disposed of bodies that had been crucified.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 19, 2018

            How much will you donate if you can’t find a text that says bodies were left on crosses until the ligaments broke and animals then carried away the bones?

          • Avatar
            Jon1  March 19, 2018

            Bart,

            You seem to be getting defensive, so let’s hit the reset button and restate the problem.

            As far as I can tell, all primary sources describing Roman crucifixion say the victim was food for carrion birds and wild animals, but they do not comment on whether or not the Roman authorities removed crucified bodies from the cross for some kind of further disposal. You seem to *speculate* that the Romans removed crucified bodies from the cross for some other kind of further disposal so they could reuse the crosses, which is fine, but I asked you how your speculation is any different than Licona speculating that Jesus gave the same speeches over and over (which seems to be pretty reasonable speculation to me). For Licona’s speculation you require evidence; for your speculation you do not require evidence — seems like a double standard to me and basically a sort of debate tactic. I am merely asking you to apply the same standard to your speculation that you seem to demand of others, and I do not think you can deliver (if you disagree, please provide one primary source that says the Roman authorities further disposed of bodies that had been crucified in peacetime).

            Your response is to flip the argument around and require that I provide an ancient text that says bodies were left on crosses until the bodies were eaten by birds and animals carried away the bones that fell to the ground (my position). But I never claimed that such a text exists. I merely pointed out that all primary sources say the crucifixion victim was food for carrion birds and wild animals, *and then I provided* actual video and forensic evidence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiDVkooFNs8 and https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?146388-The-science-of-human-decay-WARNING-GRAPHIC-PHOTOS) that indicates bodies on the cross would have been devoured very quickly by carrion birds (probably within a few days), including the ligaments holding the bones together, and so the bones of the skeleton would naturally fall to the ground, where it is logical to assume that other wild animals would take them away. This seems a better fit with the primary sources indicating crucifixion victims were food for carrion birds and wild animals, and it answers the question of how crosses were able to be reused without the Romans ever removing crucified bodies for further disposal. Your responses indicate to me that you have had an incorrect view of skeletons, where the bones would hang on the cross for a long time (years?), so the Romans would have needed to remove the bodies in order to reuse the crosses. That is clearly not true. So I am asking you to reassess your position in the light of new video and forensic evidence that you may not have been aware of before.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 21, 2018

            OK, my sense is that this back and forth is not going to go any where!

          • Avatar
            Jon1  March 21, 2018

            Bart,

            I’ll up my offer to $200 for your blog (for charity) if you can provide one primary source that says the Roman authorities further disposed of bodies that had been crucified in peacetime. It is very strange to me that you are not interested in this issue. The consumption of bodies by Vultures and other carrion bird is even attested in the bible: “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Mt 24:28); “Where the slain are, there it is” (Job 39:30); “With a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in mid-heaven, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders’” (Rev 19:17-18). Here is a website listing all the carrion bird of Israel (http://www.tatzpit.com/site/en/pages/inPage.asp?catID=9&subID=12). Here is a website about the largest of those carrion birds (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griffon_vulture). Bart, this seems a big deal for your hypothesis, so why not pursue it and admit a mistake if that is the case? Don’t be like Licona who is so committed to his position that he refuses to admit that there is error and contradiction in the bible. Why would the Romans take bodies off the cross for further disposal when carrion birds would devour the body in short order?

          • Avatar
            Jon1  March 23, 2018

            Bart,

            Here is a 2013 news report of a woman who fell to her death and then was eaten by Griffon vultures, one of the carrion birds that exist in Jerusalem: “There were only bones, clothes and shoes left on the ground…They took 40 to 50 minutes to eat the body” (https://www.livescience.com/29371-griffon-vultures-devour-hikers-body.html). There is no reason for, nor any evidence of, the Romans *ever* removing bodies from the cross for further disposal by the Romans. If Pilate did not give Jesus’ body to the Jewish authorities for burial as an exception and out of concern for a mass riot on a major Jewish holiday, then how do you account for the earliest leaders of the Jesus movement saying within a few years of Jesus’ death and before there was a legend of a discovered empty tomb that Jesus was “buried” (1 Cor 15:4)?

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 12, 2018

    Do any early Christian authors refer to the “Didache’? If so, that might give us a clue about its date?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      Yes indeed — that’s the first thing scholars look for when trying to establish the date of an ancient text. The Didache is mentioned by both Athanasius and Didymus the Blind in teh second half of the fourth century (both authors are from Alexandria; the latter appears to quote the text as Scripture). It *may* be quoted (loosely) by Clement of Alexandria around 200 CE.

  8. Avatar
    Ohaila68  March 12, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What is your take on which kind of group present at those days may have written the Didache ? To me it almost seems that the source could have been even the nazarenes or ebionites, but I may be totally wrong. Thus I would highly appreciate your opinion on this.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      My sense is that we have no idea what most groups were, where they lived, what they stood for, or much of anything else!

  9. Avatar
    inamkhat  March 12, 2018

    Can you please provide the reasons behind scholars’ assumption regarding how Christian traditions that Didache’s author(s) promote reflect the traditions that his (or their) community adopt or want to adopt?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      I’m afraid I’m not sure what you’re asking. What is the option to him representing (more or less) the views of those with whom he has chosen to associate?

  10. Avatar
    mikezamjara  March 13, 2018

    hi Dr Erhman, I would like to know what it is your position about Michael Rood and Nehemia Gordan who claim that since they have a manuscript in hebrew of Matthew therefore Matthew was written in hebrew originally, not greek. I think is a scam but here it is the link:

    https://youtu.be/wVUz5TKHbI4

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      Yes, well, I have a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in English, but I don’t think it was originally written in English.

      • Lev
        Lev  March 13, 2018

        HAHAHA!

        That got me proper belly laughing!

        10/10 response.

      • Avatar
        mikezamjara  March 13, 2018

        thank you very much for your response Dr Ehrman

  11. Avatar
    ardeare  March 13, 2018

    I remember it. A guest contributor and fellow scholar had suggested that the Didache may have been a source for “Q.” It occurred to me then that this would require the Didache to be written much earlier than 100 CE or the Book of Matthew to be written much later than currently accepted. Originally, Professor Goodacre (who volunteered a scholarly rebuttal) was as equally puzzled as I in trying to discern whether this guest was asserting the Didache was the lone source for “Q” or simply one of a basket of resources that constituted “Q.”. As it turns out, the contributor was suggesting it was one of a basket of resources he believes contributed to the sayings found in “Q.”

    As a side note, some of you may remember that this theory also relied on the Book of Luke being published prior to The Book of Matthew.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 13, 2018

    P.S. I was able to find that Eusebius and Athanasius both wrote about the “Didache” and that there were early disputes about whether or not it should be included in the New Testament canon. So, I think that answers my previous question. It was an early work, but how early I guess is the question.

  13. Avatar
    beachdaze  March 13, 2018

    “some itinerant Christians were scoundrels who had become traveling preachers solely for financial gain. For this reason, the author insists that visiting prophets not be allowed to have more than two days’ room and board at the community’s expense, and that they be considered false if they demand money while uttering a pronouncement from God. ” Even had a problem with “Televangelists” before there was a TV. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

  14. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  March 13, 2018

    I assume the Didache preserves Matthew’s version of the Our Father. Is Luke’s shorter version more likely the form it had in Q? Do any ancient liturgies use the Lukan form?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2018

      1. Yes, that’s usually what is thought; 2. Not that I know of.

  15. Avatar
    Jana  March 16, 2018

    Given the illiteracy of the era, for whom was it written? A Manual for those in leadership rolls who could read, and implement a structure? Interesting.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 18, 2018

      The leaders of the church would read it to all the others.

  16. Avatar
    jmaclean  March 20, 2018

    Dr. Erhman – thanks for your very good posting on the Didache. It has me thinking and I was wondering if you could recommend a book on the topic. Love your blog.

    Thanks.

    jmaclean

    • Bart
      Bart  March 21, 2018

      It depends on how deep you want to go. There are simple introductions to the Apostolic Fathers that have a chapter on it, for example, the ones by Clayton Jefford and by Paul Foster.

  17. Avatar
    tomruda  March 27, 2018

    Just a historical question, when did priest’s start showing up in Christian services? Or were they called something else?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 28, 2018

      For a Christain office, certainly by the 4th century — but I’m not sure about earlier. Rev. 20:6 talks about Xn “priests” but it’s not completely clear what it has in mind.

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