Didache (Pre-Christian Christianity)

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (July, 2005)

A document called "The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles" was discovered in 1875 in the patriarchal library in Constantinople. It is known as the Didache, the Greek word for "teaching" (pronounced "didakee")

In 1875 it was greeted with admiration, and it was recognised at once that it must represent a very early form of Christianity. It was obvious that it had close links, including parallel passages, with the Epistle of Barnabas from the period of the apostolic fathers. But sound scholarship saw that there was something more. Kirsopp Lake wrote in 1912 (in the Loeb Library edition): "The problem arises whether Barnabas used the Didache or the Didache used Barnabas, or both used a common source. The matter is not clear, but probably the majority of scholars incline to the last view, and many think that the common source - the original Two Ways - was a Jewish pre-Christian document."

They were right, nearly. It may now be seen that the original common source was the Community Rule (1QS) from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Compare the following three passages, all on the Two Ways:

Community Rule: "He (God) has created mankind to rule the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the season of his visitation. They are the spirits of truth and falsehood. Those born of truth come from a spring of light, but those born of falsehood come from a source of darkness. In the hand of the Prince of Light is the rule of all the sons of righteousness, and they walk in the ways of light, but in the hand of the Angel of Darkness is the whole rule of the sons of falsehood, and they walk in the ways of darkness (1QS 3:17-21)."

The Didache opens with: "There are two Ways, one of Life, and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways". It goes on to analyse the two moral choices between right and wrong.

Epistle of Barnabas: "There are two Ways of teaching and power, one of Light and one of Darkness. And there is a great difference between the two Ways. For over the one are set light-bringing angels of God, but over the other angels of Satan. And the one is Lord from eternity and to eternity, and the other is the ruler of the present time of iniquity." (18, 1-2).

The most famous and beautiful passage in the Didache concerns the sacred meal of bread and wine, with an unfamiliar interpretation:

"And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: First concerning the Cup, 'We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child'......Concerning the broken bread: 'We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child ...As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom...."'(9, 1-4).

With this compare the Qumran Community Rule .

" They shall eat in common and bless in common and debate in common. In every place where there are ten men of the Council of the Community there shall not lack a priest from with them.....And when the table has been prepared for eating, and the new wine for drinking, the priest shall be the first to stretch out his hand to bless the firstfruits of the bread and new wine." (1QS 6:2-6)

Another Scroll, the Messianic Rule, repeats this ritual, and refers it to a future time when the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel will be present: "When they shall gather together for the common table... when the common table shall be set for eating and the new wine poured for drinking, no man may extend his hand over the firstfruits of bread and wine before the Priest (the priestly Messiah) .....After that, the Messiah of Israel shall extend his hands over the bread....."(1QSa 2: 17-21).

The Didache sets out regulations, obviously born of experience, for an institution of travelling prophets. The regulations include an acceptance of the Jewish tithing laws, which were abolished by Christians.

"And concerning the apostles and prophets....Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet. And when an apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night's lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet... If he who comes is a traveller, help him as much as you can, but he shall not remain with you more than two days, or, if need be, three. And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread...A true teacher is himself worthy, like the workman, of his food. Therefore thou shalt take the firstfruit of the produce of the winepress and of the threshing-floor and of oxen and sheep, and shalt give them as the firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have not a prophet, give to the poor....Of money also and clothes, and of all your possessions, take the firstfruits, as it seem best to you, and give according to the commandment". (11,3- 13,7)

The last sentence shows that the tithes may take the form of money. In CD 14:12-15, in the rules for the "camps"(village and Diaspora members), the welfare arrangements are in the form of money tithes. The earnings of a tenth of the 30 day month, three days, are to be handed over. It is implied that the first day is for the priests, and stated that the next two days are for the poor, to be entrusted to the bishop (Heb. mebaqqer) and the judge.

In the passage on the Eucharist, the two features that catch attention are the phrases "the Holy Vine of David thy child...through Jesus thy child" and the scattering of the broken bread on the mountains, so as to make a worldwide community into one. Why the distinction between David and Jesus? Why the theme of geographical expansion, which is not found in the New Testament eucharistic formulas?

Could the reason be the history that we have been studying through sources previously disregarded, the Apocrypha and DSS? Very early, perhaps as early as 100 BC in the time of Alexander Jannaeus and Salome - compare the praise of King Jonathan in the DSS fragment 4Q448 - the increasing influence of Hellenism caused Jannaeus and his advisers to change their politics. The philosophical and scientific content of Hellenism, with its civilising advantages, was merging naturally with the monotheistic and ethical content of Judaism, so that many Jews in the Diaspora wanted to become hellenised, and many Gentiles wanted to become Jewish proselytes.

Travelling teachers of hellenised Judaism, called prophets, based at Qumran, were welcomed by some Gentiles in the Diaspora, and an institution was formed, ensuring that they taught and behaved acceptably. Their central rite was the sacred meal of bread and wine that the Qumran ascetics practiced. Their leaders included the current descendant of King David, the royal dynasty whom the Essenes were committed to preserve, along with the descendants of the Zadokite high priests. The heir of David was particularly revered by Gentiles, who recognised and valued the mystical doctrine of sacred kingship that his dynasty had preserved. His representatives officiated at the sacred meal, permitted to bless the wine as well as the bread, for in the Diaspora there was a shortage of levitical priests to serve the wine. When the final form of the Didache was written, by Christians, the name Jesus was added to the text as that of the current representative. But the rest of the text does not mention Jesus.

This early mission, covering the whole of the Diaspora from Babylon in the east to Rome in the west, was so successful that it became a unifying force for hellenised Jews and Gentile proselytes. Its next big step was taken in the 1st century AD, when it separated from nationalistic Judaism altogether. But its essential organisation, derived from Qumran, was well in place in the previous century.

A passage that seeems to be quite anomalous is in Didache 8, 1. "Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays." This seems to have no connection with New Testament Christianity. In fact - as it is possible to show from the close calendar study that underlies my research - it is vital information when taken with the Qumran solar calendar and their derived lunisolar calendar, the Mishmarot. It is calling the Pharisees who kept the Mishmarot calendar "hypocrites". They had organisational reasons for preferring the 30th of the solar month, a Monday, to the 31st, a Tuesday, for their fasting day, while the Magian Essenes preferred the 1st of the month, a Wednesday, to the 31st. For reasons to do with their methods of intercalation, both parties also added a later version of the day, the Pharisees Thursday and the Magians Friday. The Friday version was that which determined Good Friday. The Didache's statement of preferred days identifies them as Diaspora Magian Essenes.

The Didache is yet another proof that the many books that have been regarded as less valuable historically are, in fact, a more authentic record of the earliest stages of Christianity.