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What Is the Didache?

In the recent exchange that I posted on the blog (dealing with the existence of Q) the document known as the Didache was mentioned – especially by guest contributor Alan Garrow, who thinks that the Didache was a source used by the authors of Matthew and Luke.  I think even Alan will agree that this is a highly anomalous view; I don’t know of any other scholar who accepts it (though if Alan knows of any who do, I’m sure he can tell us in a comment).  The Didache is almost always assumed to have quoted the Gospels – or at least the traditions found in the Gospels – not vice versa.

But what is the Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay)?  Ah, that’s the prior question.  And I realized this morning that I haven’t talked about it much on the blog.  I better do so!

I published a translation of the Didache (the title means “Teaching”) in my two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers in 2003, in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press).   In that edition I talk about what the book is, whether it is one book or several documents that have been cut and pasted together, when it was written, and so on.   That may be useful information for the blog, and so I will give it over the course of two or three posts.

I have edited my Introduction slightly to make it a bit more user friendly (it was written for scholars and advanced students).   Here is the opening of the Introduction, where I explain briefly something about its discovery and contents.

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

Few manuscript discoveries of modern times have created the stir caused by the discovery and publication of the Didache in the late nineteenth century. Found by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873 in the Library of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople and published by him ten years later, the Didache was immediately seen to be one of most important literary remains of early Christianity outside of the New Testament.  For here was not only…

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For here was not only an early presentation of the ethical teachings known as the “two paths” (or the “two ways”), familiar already from the Epistle of Barnabas and later texts (see below), but also the earliest surviving descriptive account of the Christian rituals of baptism and eucharist, along with instructions involving itinerant Christian apostles and prophets in an age before the church hierarchy of bishop, presbyters, and deacons was firmly in place.

Some scholars immediately recognized the antiquity of the account, dating it to the beginning of the second century or the end of the first, before even some of the books of the New Testament were written.  Almost everyone realized that here at last was a book that had achieved near-canonical status in some early Christian circles, known by title from discussions of the church Fathers but for the most part lost to history sometime after the fourth century.

Overview

The Didache is given two titles in the only complete manuscript: “The Teaching (Greek: DIDACHE) of the Twelve Apostles,” and, immediately following, “The Teaching of the Lord Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles.”   Neither title claims that the book was actually written by the apostles, simply that it conveys their teachings; it is, therefore, anonymous rather than pseudonymous.  The book as a whole is usually considered a “church manual” or a “church order,” the first of its kind to survive.

The Didache begins with a set of ethical instructions known as the “two paths, one of life and one of death” (1.1).   The path that leads to life involves following the commandments of God, principally the commandment to love God and one’s neighbor, and to adhere to the “Golden Rule” (1.2).  The first four chapters of the book explicate these commandments, first in words that reflect the teachings of Jesus (without naming him), especially as found in the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 1), then in a series of positive and negative ethical injunctions (chs. 2-4).  The path that leads to death involves contrary sorts of behavior, as delineated in chapter 5.

After a transitional chapter, the author shifts to discuss church ritual, explaining how to baptize (ch. 7), fast (8.1), pray (8.2), and celebrate the communal thanksgiving meal or eucharist (chs. 9-10; giving the appropriate eucharistic prayers).

Attention then shifts in chapter 11 to the question of how to deal with itinerant Christian teachers, apostles, and, especially, prophets, indicating their special status before God but warning of possible abuses.  Following then some further instructions for communal worship (ch. 14) and life (ch. 15),  including the need to “elect … bishops and deacons,” the discussion moves to a concluding apocalyptic scenario, which indicates what will happen in the final days when havoc breaks out on earth before the final coming of the Lord “on the clouds of the sky.”  The text breaks off abruptly at this point.  Possibly its original ending was lost.

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In my next post I will discuss the book’s “integrity” – a term that, for scholars, does not refer to its “honesty” but to its compositional history, that is, whether it was a single book written by a single author or if it represents several writings cut and pasted together.   If it is a cut-and-paste job, when was that job completed?  And when were the writings that were cut and pasted together themselves written?  Intriguing questions for the literary historian of early Christianity!

 


The Ethical Teachings of the Didache
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Comments

  1. RonaldTaska  December 20, 2017

    Very interesting! Does the Didache include anything about the early role of women and whether they could be elders or bishops? Does it say anything about homosexuality?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      It indicates that the elected bishops and deacons are to be men, but doesn’t talk about women’s roles. And it does condemns certain sexual “sins” (pederasty, adultery, and, generally, immorality) but it does not number homosexual activity among them, or say anything about it.

  2. Lev
    Lev  December 20, 2017

    I’m really pleased you’re blogging about the Didache – it’s a fascinating text and I’m looking forward to learning more about it.

    What’s your opinion on Didache’s Eucharistic ritual?

    It seems especially interesting to me because it deviates from the tradition Paul passed onto the Corinthians (1Cor11) and none of the words used in the Didache relates to the accounts found in the Synoptic Gospels.

    Didache describes Jesus as God’s servant, rather than Lord, so it appears to have a lower Christology. It also contains no reference to the atonement aspect, or the blood or broken body of Jesus, and instead draws attention to King David and the unity of the Church.

    What do you make of it all?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      My sense is that the Didache was not meant to be a theological treatise and so it’s very hard to know what its author’s theology actually was. The eucharistic materials are very interesting for lots of reasons, one of which is that the eucharistic prayers are very different from what one might expect and clearly come out of a Jewish-Christian environment (vine of David, and so on). I don’t see these as contradictory to what one finds in Paul and the Synoptics — just different. (The NT passages do not indicate what prayers should be said at the eucharist; and the Didache does not indicate what Jesus did at the last supper — so they are talking about different things)

  3. godspell  December 20, 2017

    It doesn’t take long to read. And I don’t see any way this could have been a significant influence on Matthew or Luke–certainly not an explanation of the similarities between them. It does seem to be written during the period when Christians still thought the Kingdom might come at any moment (thus making it necessary to be prepared to accept judgment at any moment). Very basic instructional manual for the soul, is how I’d describe it.

    Reminds me a little of the (much) later “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. Same basic concept and format. Much less sophisticated (and since this is clearly meant for gentile converts, it would have to be).

    Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see passages that resembled anything from Matthew or Luke (there are no narrative segments in the Didache). Now I understand Garrow is saying that the similar passages in those gospels are explained by Matthew copying from Luke. But I don’t see where the Didache comes in.

    One problem Garrow has is that he’s not convincing fellow scholars–but his writing is basically geared to scholars. He brings things up without explaining them, as if everyone will know what he’s talking about, but even after spending some years reading books about early Christianity (on and off), I was not familiar with the Didache. Of course, if I had been, I’d have been even more skeptical. So maybe being clearer would not be in Garrow’s favor, but it would at least make the conversation more coherent.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      See today’s post; you’ll see parallels to the sayings material in Matthew and Luke

      • godspell  December 21, 2017

        Parallels, yes. Line for line similarities, no. And easily explained by the fact that Jesus’ basic teachings on how to live were well known and widely disseminated among believers before any gospel was ever written. This is basically a primer for somebody just getting started. Without any biographical material on Jesus at all, that I can see. Without a lot of mention of Jesus, to be honest. He’s presented more as a teacher to be listened to than as a deity to be revered.

      • Rogers  January 13, 2018

        The parallels seem more like the parallels of Gospel of Thomas logia in respect to verses of the Synoptics – one has recognition for the parallel of the thought/idiom/construct but not much in the way of duplicated text.

        Doesn’t that indicate that all these writings that bear such similarities via their parallels, but lack of actual redaction, are drawing from a common well spring of a Christian movement, but not necessarily drawing on common text sources?

        Am thinking of the creed Paul recites in the opening of the Romans epistle – evidently the early Christian church movement had a lot of knowledge that got widely propagated – but not necessarily via sharing of textual manuscripts??? (Until later decades when that floating knowledge base became distilled to textual manuscripts.)

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2018

          Possibly. Or they’re just lifting verses/sayings out of context. But yes, if they included redactional features then the matter of borrowing would be much more clear.

  4. AnotherBart  December 20, 2017

    ||Bart E. Said: ||||||||||
    ||| I published a translation of the Didache (the title means “Teaching”) in my two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers in 2003, in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press).|||||
    ||||||||||||

    |||AnotherBart reacts:|||||||||
    I have it in the Maxwell Staniforth trans./Andrew Louth intro.& revis./Penguin Classics/Early Christian Writings version. Now I look forward to reading yours!! Thx!! 🙂
    ||||||||||||||||||

  5. AnotherBart  December 20, 2017

    Do you find this as funny as I do?

    “Thus if a prophet should happen to call out for something to eat while he is in the spirit, he will not actually eat of it; if he does, he is a fraud” —-Didache, Of Apostles and Prophets, 11. / penguin classics version p. 196.

    Can you picture it?
    “I now prophesy that this household….[sniff sniff]…….. boy that chicken sure smells good, pass me a wing, would you? ”

    And I would agree…. DEFINITELY a moochin’ fraud!! LOL!!!

  6. Seeker1952  December 20, 2017

    It sounds like the Didache was already known from, say, the writings of the Church Fathers prior to the discovery of the actual manuscript. Have there been any modern era (say from 1500 CE on) discoveries of early Christian writings that were completely new, i.e., there were no references to them in previously known writings and came as a complete surprise?

    Sometime it would be interesting to have a rundown of all the lost early Christian writings that have been discovered since 1500. Before I started reading in this area in some depth I had been aware of only the Dead Sea Scrolls (not even sure any of those are Christian) and the other big discovery, I think at Qumran.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      Yes indeed! Most of the writings of the Nag Hammadi library, e.g. Or the letter to Diognetus.

  7. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  December 20, 2017

    Is there anything written within that either confirms or changes orthodox beliefs?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      It is a decidedly proto-orthodox text, but theology is not really its central interest.

  8. mannix  December 20, 2017

    Thanks for the pronounciation…to show you the level of my scholarship, I thought it was (dye-DASH)!

  9. Michael Toon  December 20, 2017

    Bart,

    When the writer talks about the apocalyptic scenario, does he imagine it will transpire soon, as in his lifetime?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      The author urges his readers to be prepared because the end could come at any moment.

  10. talmoore
    talmoore  December 20, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, something interesting I’ve noticed about the Didache is that the version of the Lord’s Prayer is Matthew’s, not Luke’s (which, I would think, creates another hole to fill in Garrow’s argument). I’ve spent several years now trying to reconstruct what I think could be the original Lord’s Prayer, as taught not by just Jesus, but by John the Baptist himself. And what I came to realize one day was that the actual contribution by John the Baptist is what I would call the Invocation or Preamble. That is, the part that was actually constant in the prayer was the first three or four lines, and that everything after that was what I call the Request. This explains, to my eyes, at least, why Matthew and the Didache (but not Luke) would have “on earth, as in heaven” appended to these first four lines, because that part (the Invocation) was originally separate and unique from what came after (the Request), which varied depending on the request. In the case of the Lord’s Prayer as it has come down to us, the Request became permanent when whoever first committed it to paper offered the examples of “give us our daily bread” and “forgive us your sins” and “do not lead us to the test” and so on. The actual Request could vary and grow with circumstances. Therefore, I would argue the original prayer, as taught by John the Baptist to his first followers, consisted of the fixed Preamble and various forms of the Request. The Preamble was probably in Hebrew, and I have reconstructed it as follows:
    (אבינו (השמים
    שמך הקודש
    מלכותך הבא
    (רצונך נעשה)
    “Our (heavenly) father, your holy name, your coming Kingdom, (your will will be done)”
    And then follows the Request. The version preserved for us might have by then been either in Hebrew or Aramaic. In Hebrew the original items could have been:
    תן היום את הלחמנו (“Give today our bread/meal.”)
    כפר חטאנו (“Forgive our sins/debts.”)
    Etc.

  11. tompicard
    tompicard  December 20, 2017

    Bart
    thanks for posting on this.
    a couple of months ago when you blogged about your translations of the ‘Apostolic Fathers’ you mentioned the Didache, and after some googling (what was that??) I decided i wanted to read it, and so purchased your ‘After New Testament’ book.

    It seemed to me that figuring out what is ‘path to life’ and what is ‘path to death’ are pretty important . . .. Really what could be MORE important than that? anyway i haven’t gotten to that part of the book yet, as everything prior has been fascinating.

    I have asked you several times previously if ‘life’ and ‘death’ in the old and new testaments or at least in Jesus’ and Paul’s minds always refer to phsyical life or death and and you have invariably responded ‘yes’ .
    whether you believe that’s also the case in the minds of the author and listeners to of this document, i don’t know.
    It seems to me that the two paths cant be meant literally. I mean christian listeners of this text must have been dying at the same rate as other people though out history, so if they thought the path to ‘life’ meant avoidance of physical death, then they would have immediately realized the book is a bunch of baloney.

    So I think it important to determine an appropriate meaning for ‘life’ and ‘death’ as referred to in this document. and if i can find a reasonable metaphorical meaning for the words, then it would also be reasonable to consider that Jesus and Paul may have used the words in similar, symbolic ways.

    without debating whether a ‘spiritual life’ is/isn’t consistent a ‘physical body’s death’, we should at least be able to understand ‘life’ to often have meant in 1st century as ‘being loved by God’, and similarly ‘death’ to have meant ‘being distant from God’.

    • Rogers  January 13, 2018

      > we should at least be able to understand ‘life’ to often have meant in 1st century as ‘being loved by God’, and similarly ‘death’ to have meant ‘being distant from God’

      That understanding reminds me (especially the definition of ‘death’) of the writings on the subject of what happens to souls after they die by the 18th century Swedish Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg – and really is a common understanding in modern times for any group in the West that does not strictly adhere to textual literal interpretations of Biblical scriptures (e.g., damnation in hell is not eternal punishment as per Dante’s depiction, but a separation from God brought about due to one’s consciousness state)

  12. ardeare  December 20, 2017

    Some time ago, I purchased your book, “Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament.” From the get go, I anticipated using it as a ready reference book, but had no idea how often I would actually rely on it to expound on blog posts and my own personal inquiries. Sure enough, the Didache is included within this valuable resource. I highly recommend it.

    • Rogers  January 13, 2018

      Bart’s college text book on the New Testament also has some discussion on the Didache in chapt 29

  13. Leovigild  December 20, 2017

    “But what is the Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay)?”

    I had two years of undergraduate Greek and two and a half years of advanced graduate-level Greek and this sounds off to me. The conventional pronunciation of Διδαχὴ would be did-ah-KAY. Your proposed pronunciation sounds like it might be a British pronunciation more than an American one.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      Yes, if you’re reading it in Greek, it is obviously accented on the ultima. But for some reason the standard English translation / pronunciation accents it on the antepenult.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 21, 2017

      I’ve always pronounced it DI-də-kee. I think my pronunciation should be standard.

  14. jhague  December 20, 2017

    This is very interesting. I have read about the Didache but do not know much about it. I look forward to the future posts.

    1. If the Didache had not been lost initially, do you think it would have been included in the NT?

    2. A side question…you mentioned that you edited the intro to make it more user friendly due to it originally being written for scholars and advanced students. I have read some pieces written for scholars and I find it painful to get through. Why are scholarly pieces written in the way they are rather than in a more user friendly way?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      1. No, I think the opposite: since it was *not* included among the Scriptures, it was lost 2. I suppose the reason is the same for all academic disciplines: scholarly jargon serves as a kind of short hand so assumptions and established knowledge do not have to be spelled out for the reader.

      • Rogers  January 13, 2018

        would failure to be included among the Scriptures be due to not being identified with an apostle or important person connected to the apostles as its author?

        is it the earliest church manual or do the pastoral epistles attributed to Paul perhaps rank as being earlier?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2018

          1. Yes, without apostolic credentials, it would not be included; 2. And yes, it is usually thought to be the first “church order”

  15. fishician  December 20, 2017

    Curious that the Didache was “lost” until 1873, since it seems more in line with orthodox beliefs. I can understand why Gnostic texts were suppressed. Why wasn’t the Didache more widely used and preserved?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      It simply came to be considered out of date and not of much use. It wasn’t suppressed so much as not-copied.

  16. seahawk41  December 20, 2017

    Interestingly, just yesterday in the Jan/Feb issue of BAR, I read a review of an essay collection on the Didache edited by Draper and Jeffords. I don’t think I’ve ever read the Didache; sounds like I need to!

  17. Spiral  December 20, 2017

    Bart,

    Sorry for the off topic question.

    I realize that you have more knowledge in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. But I have read these really strange versus in the Old Testament and I wonder what on Earth the context of these verses could be.

    Deuteronomy 23:1 “No man with crushed testicles or whose male organ is cut off may come into the assembly of Yahweh.”

    Isn’t this a case of adding insult to injury?

    Also, this one.

    2 Kings 18:27 and Isaiah 26:12 “The chief commander said to them, “Is it solely to your master and to you my master has sent me to speak these words? Is it not for the men who sit on the wall to eat their feces and to drink their urine with you?”

    Huh?

    As the apostle Paul wrote: God is not the author of confusion. Well, he is certain a source of amazement.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      Yes, there is a lot of amazing and peculiar material in the Hebrew Bible. What a great book!

    • Tobit  December 21, 2017

      Deuteronomy 23:1 is about ritual purity, physical blemishes were seen as impurities that couldn’t come into contact with the holiness of Yahweh. Gential disfigurement was probably seen as particularly bad, so a physically emasculated man wouldn’t even be allowed among the assembly of worshippers. Similarly, priests with physical deformities had restrictions on which roles they could carry out (Leviticus 21:17-23).

      2 Kings 18:27 is the Rabshakeh, an Assyrian official, taunting the Israelites inside the beseiged Jerusalem, saying they’ll be starved out and reduced to drinking urine and eating faeces. He is specifically saying the taunt in Hebrew so that the ordinary soldiers “on the wall” will understand.

  18. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  December 20, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, have you encountered any hypotheses as to why Jesus was NOT named in a late-first/early-second century manuscript? Was it simply that it was unnecessary? Or might it have been that their high Christology wasn’t so developed yet?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2017

      It’s a good question, but I don’t think it has an obvious answer. At least none that I’ve ever come up with. (I don’t think there are “necessary” conclusions to draw from it….)

  19. Steven Ray
    Steven Ray  December 20, 2017

    I have a well-read copy of the Didache, translated by German-born American Jesuit James Kleist (1873-1949), which I have studied at length over the years. I have a hard time recognizing Alan Garrow’s thoughts (circa 2004), that it might have been a reference source for the books of Matthew and Luke. It reads more like a paraphrased catechism reference work than any type of “source” document on ethical teaching and instruction for forming church traditions and polity. A duty roster for office and participation, along with strict methods of baptism and how to partake of the Eucharist, among other definitive details.

    I realize there are some valid cross referencing with Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, including many identical words and phrases, with each other and with Didache 1:2-5. I can understand the idea that it might have been drafted between 70 and 100AD, since it does not make reference of the presbyterate as a third office, intermediate between the espicopate and the diaconate. It is possible proof of its early antiquity, borne during the formation of the Church when its institutions were unquestionably primitive. However I think it rather anachronistic, since such appellatives for proconsuls and other presiding officials were not used until a later date. Lightfoot documented other observations that showed it to be a later work.

    I would argue that a source will have more weight of content as a reference, not isolated parallels. Hinging the idea that the Didache is a source document for either pseudepigrapha like Matthew or letters penned by Doctor Luke seems to be stretch when making a panoramic observation. I don’t have but wish I did own your “Apostolic Fathers” volumes among my Ehrman collection, which is a sad note to contend 😛

    • Blaircb  December 23, 2017

      Insightful. I was pleased to discover the draft date was as early as is now commonly thought. It’s interesting to read what early Christians thought and compare that to more modern references.

  20. PeymanSalar  December 21, 2017

    Bart, I know my question is not relevant to your talk here but I need to know it if you help me so.
    my question is, Does the St. Paul knew about the existing of the Gospel of Luke? if Not, then how he quotes it in Timothy 5:18 as scripture! and elsewhere? I think He mentioned it as an oral tradition even though he precisely wrote:” as scripture.” What would you respond?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      Luke was written after Paul’s death. 1 Timothy is thought by most critical scholars to be written by someone other htan Paul, *claiming* to be Paul (so too 2 Timothy and Titus)

      • essamtony  December 23, 2017

        If Luke was written after Paul’s death, then Acts must have been written after Paul’s death as well. If so, then why doesn’t Acts mention Paul’s end of life? Why does the narrative of Acts end in 63 AD, and seems to indicate the author is awaiting further developments, such as the outcome of Paul’s appeal to Nero?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2017

          It’s almost certainly because mentioning Paul’s death would have run precisely counter to the purpose of Acts, to show that NOTHING could stop Paul, because the Spirit was behind his work and ministry.

          • ftbond  March 5, 2018

            Dr Ehrman –

            re: “Luke was written after Paul’s death”
            re: “It’s almost certainly because mentioning Paul’s death would have run precisely counter to the purpose of Acts, to show that NOTHING could stop Paul…”

            In First Clement, the writer acknowledges Paul’s death: “…and when he [Paul] had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance…”
            (See 1 Clem 5:5-5:6)

            So, we see that First Clem was written *after* Paul’s death.

            But, we also see that at the time of the writing, the Temple was still standing and very much in use: “Not in every place, brethren, are the continual daily sacrifices offered, or the freewill offerings, or the sin offerings and the trespass offerings, but in Jerusalem alone. And even there the offering is not made in every place, but before the sanctuary in the court of the altar; and this too through the high priest and the afore said ministers, after that the victim to be offered hath been inspected for blemishes.”
            (See 1 Clem 41:2)

            So, this document appears to have been written after Paul’s death (in the 60’s), but before the destruction of the temple (AD 70).

            Furthermore, in reference to both Paul and Peter, the writer of First Clement says “But, to pass from the examples of ancient days, let us come to those champions who lived nearest to our time. Let us set before us the noble examples which belong to our generation” [followed by discussion of the two apostles]. Nobody writing 30 years after the death of men who would have each been between 50 to 70 years of age at the time of their deaths would refer to them as “our generation”.

            In short, it looks to me as if the writer had no problem acknowledging Paul’s death; no expectation whatsoever that “NOTHING could stop Paul”; he knows Paul is dead. But, it would also then appear there is therefore no purpose whatsoever in Luke writing Acts – after Paul’s death (if that’s when it was written) – to portray Paul as if “NOTHING could stop Paul”, when Paul’s death has already been acknowledged, in writing, from Rome…

            I confess: I have very serious doubts about your two aforementioned assertions. Do you have a book that covers these assertions?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 6, 2018

            Yes, 1 Clement does not share Luke’s agenda, and so does not have Luke’s concerns. 1 Clement wants to *celebrate* the deaths of Peter and Paul, and so has no qualms at all about mentioning them. Not so Luke. His entire point is that nothing can stop Paul — not even the Romans.

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