Milavec-adapting Jesus and Torah

I am reading Aaron Milavec’s The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary.

He moves on to chapter three and four of the Didache. These chapters several times address someone as “my child.” This is a way to address a novice or disciple in the community. Milavec concludes from the fact that the address is not “my son” that the novices included women. He contrasts this with the Sermon on the Mount, which he says exclusively addresses men and their concerns. This is one of the points where he believes the teaching of the Didache is counter to the gospels.

In contrast to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells men that if they lust after a woman they have already committed internal adultery, Didache 3:3 begins in Milavec’s translation, “My child, do not become lustful, for lust_is the path_leading to illicit sex.” Whereas, Matthew 5:28 speaks of adultery, the Didache speaks of illicit sex (porneia), The word is usually translated as fornication and speaks to both men and women, married and single. It may have been code for crossing any of the boundaries set in Hebrew Bible passages like Leviticus 18.

Milavec interprets this as another instance of the Didache adapting the Ten Commandments to Gentiles enmeshed in Roman culture.

The Ten Commandments included a prohibition of adultery and coveting your neighbor’s wife. But the Greeks and Romans were kinkier than that. So the trainers brought in other Bible passages that deal with a broader range of sexual sins. (I would argue that Leviticus 18 targeted things that would mess up social life in villages, so even that did not touch the possible perversities of Roman city culture.) The Didache expands the commandments in a way similar to some Hellenistic Jewish writings.

Notice the pattern of this maxim: don’t do this (become lustful) because it will lead to this (illicit sex). This same pattern returns in most of the injunctions addressed to “my child”.  Don‘t practice magic because it will lead to idolatry. Don’t be a money-lover because it will lead to theft. Don’t be a whiner because it will lead to blasphemy.

Milavec’s most interesting observation about chapter 4 is that the household rules there show that novices in the Didache community often had both children and slaves.

Regarding child rearing, he notes that there is no mention of infant baptism or even training children in the faith. The parents guide their children and protect them. But apparently joining the community was an adult decision.

The members of the community are reminded to treat their slaves well. After all, they hope “in the same God as you.” I wonder why it is assumed that this would always be the case.

Near the end of the chapter it says “You slaves shall be subject to your masters.” Milavec sees in the fact that slaves are directly addressed a hint that spiritual mentors typically taught in the home where servants would be present. He interprets the situation as that slaves would overhear the teacher dealing with possible sins and weaknesses of their owners. So there was a need to remind the slaves not to use that as an excuse to disrespect their masters or take advantage of them.

Milavec’s theme is that the master teachers or mentors of the Didache community adapted the Jewish law into a new Way for Gentile followers of Jesus, and that they did this either independently of or in opposition to the viewpoints enshrined on the four gospels.

He goes to great lengths to show that they adapted the Torah to the needs of their disciples.  I do not understand why they might not have also adapted the teachings of Jesus–even if they drew them directly from Matthew’s gospel–in the same way.

I admit, though, that the variations from Matthew mean that our version of that gospel was probably not their source for the teachings of Jesus.  Maybe it was a source behind Matthew–what some source critics have called M.  They were creative in their use of the Hebrew Bible.  So they may have been creative with the teachings of Jesus.  To me, though, that is not the same as being independent.


Posted in Bible, Early Church | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Milavec-a new way for displaced people

The main and most interesting part of Aaron Milavec’s The Didache is the commentary. His subtitle is Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary. I had expected the analysis in a separate section, but what he means by analysis is the way he has broken down and outlined the translation. So the commentary is the longest section of the book.

I am always unsure how to proceed when summarizing and reflecting on a commentary. This one moves through the document chapter by chapter and section by section. Milavec often refers to more detailed discussions that are in his longer book. Since I am not making the effort to read that, I am going to try not to bash him for assumptions he makes here which he defends there.

So I guess I will just proceed with some thoughts about how he deals with the Didache’s first two chapters.

If you read the first chapter you will see that it draws heavily from what we know as teaching of Jesus, especially as found in Matthew’s gospel. There is the great commandment, the golden rule, the call to turn the other cheek, pray for enemies and give to anyone who asks of you. There are differences too. For instance, you are supposed to fast for your enemies as well as pray for them. The maxim about giving to those in need is balanced by a criticism of those who receive when they are not in need.

Now Milavec does not believe that the Didache depends on Matthew. He thinks the gospels all came after the Didache. His belief is that the oral tradition about Jesus got applied to the particular situation of this early community. That situation (for which the detailed argument is in the other book) is that the community consists of people who have been rejected, often cruelly, by their families. They have sought to follow Jesus and for this find themselves domestically persecuted. They find themselves attacked and shunned by their families and friends.

This is why instructions about dealing with persecution and enemies is the very first part of this catechism or training program. Each person who comes to the community gets an individual master teacher. This teacher’s task is not to impart intellectual knowledge but to, first of all, train new members of the community in how to deal with the hostility and baggage from their abusive pasts.

As the first chapter draws from the teaching of Jesus, the second chapter depends on the Ten Commandments and related commands from the Hebrew Bible. These all retain the thou-shalt-not form. Some of them, however, bring out implications of the commandments. Among these is the command not to kill a child by abortion! Milavec’s outline relates this chapter back to the opening words of the Didache where the golden rule is given in negative form as avoid “as many things as you might wish not to happen to you”. My interpretation of the prohibition of abortion then would be that the living are glad abortion didn’t happen to them, so– .

Milavec says this chapter is an example of how the community applied the Decalogue  to gentiles. The Didache only explicitly deals with the last five commandments. This was because some of the first five were just unworkable for gentiles. In order to abandon graven images they would have to abandon their buildings, their cities and their money. In order to keep the Jewish Sabbath they would have to become unemployable in the Roman world. But members of this community depended on making a living by the work of their hands. To honor father and mother in Roman context would have meant not turning away from ancestral gods. In the situation of the Didache community, family values and Roman filial piety would not work.

Milavec says that the community would have understood that even God does not demand the impossible.

All the commands have a future tense. This means that the novices adopted them as a future life-style. They had probably broken them in the past. Some of them may have practiced sorcery, slandered others, or committed fornication . Milavec does not see these commandments as condemning them. The attitude of the master trainer would be that they should not be depressed or weighed down by regret. Rather, although they should reflect on how they were formerly ignorant or misled, from this point on they were expected to live by the new Way.
Was this community formed mostly of those displaced by hostility from their own families? For more detail about this, Milavec refers to his longer book. Although it seems he is making a big leap, such domestic alienation must have often occurred. The gospels seem to show that many of the original disciples of Jesus were cut off from their families. To think of such people and their needs does allow for a novel and insightful approach to the Didache.

Posted in Early Church | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

You want it darker

Most of us are familiar with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.  Bon Jovi even has a version.

He has some new stuff out. Here Seth Rogovoy asks if this is not Cohen’s most Jewish song yet: You Want if Darker.

The lyrics talk about crucifixion and healing the lame.  But the Messiah has not come for Cohen.  Love has not come.  There is a post-Holocaust sense of struggle for faith.

Anyway, I think it is great, thought-provoking music.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Milavec-the Didache as individual training manual

Aaron Milavec’s The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary is my subject again today.

Milavec deals with a few introductory questions about the Didache. I’ve already mentioned that he thinks the work comes from the mid-50s of the first century, about the same time as many of Paul’s letters but before the written gospels. However, he says that the Didache is steeped in orality and clearly existed  in an oral form for a while before there was any need to write it down. So I am not sure how he knows when this happened or  whether he could really show that the Didache existed in writing before the four gospels did.

One important matter is what he thinks the Greek word “didache” means. The full title is “the Teaching of the Twelve Disciples” or, in a longer version, “the Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles”. In each case the initial word is “didache”, which we often translate as “teaching”. The English word “didactic” derives from it.

However, Milavec wants to translate the word to mean “training” or “apprenticeship” instead. Part of this is because he thinks the word gives contemporary people the wrong impression–they think “teaching” involves lecturing in a class room. Instead of that, he believes that what happened in the Didache’s community is that each novice had a single mentor who trained him or her or to whom each was apprenticed.

This is the basis for his gender inclusive treatment of the Didache. Male students would be assigned male mentors and female students would be assigned female mentors. So the teachers and students would be both men and women.

He thinks the work is anonymous and not really from the Twelve.  Didache (11:3-6) talks about apostles. In context, these apostles seem to have been passing charismatics who were sometimes unscrupulous. The Twelve are never mentioned in the body of the work.

In this book he does not deal directly with the question of where the community was located. His commentary seems to be compatible with the widely held view that the Didache comes from some place in ancient Syria.

He outlines the main divisions as follows:

I. Training program in the Way of Life (44%) Did. 1:1-6:2

II. Regulations for Eating, Baptizing, Fasting, Praying (22%)Did. 6:3-11:2

III. Regulations for Hospitality/Testing Various Classes of Visitors (15%) Did. 11:3-13:2

IV. Regulations for First Fruits and Offering a Pure Sacrifice (10%) Did. 13:3-15:4

V. Closing Apocalyptic Forewarnings and Hope (9%) Did. 16:1-8

He argues against the proposal that the last section is an apocalypse added on and not an original part of the Didache.

I especially appreciated his pointing out that the idea of the two ways comes first from the Hebrew Bible (for instance, Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 21:18). It was picked up by the New Testament. It seems a very old way of speaking about the Jesus movement was to call it the Way (Acts 9:2 and several other passages in Acts). Milavec seems to view the Didache as a window into “the Way”. He says his commentary’s goal is to “recover the passion, the content, and the methodology” used to transform the lives of some early followers of Jesus.

Posted in Early Church | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Milavec-a preference for the difficult reading

Aaron Milavec, in The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary, devotes several pages to his rendition of the Greek text. He follows this with his English translation.

Textual criticism comes into play in understanding the Didache. The text discovered in Istanbul dates to 1056 CE. The transcriber of that text calls himself Leon, scribe and sinner. Leon’s text uses some abbreviations and shorthand typical of the middle ages. So a translator is not just translating words, but interpreting more cryptic signs.

Some scholars have assumed a connection with second century church practice. So they have felt justified in modifying some difficult readings in light of known liturgies and writings. An example is the use of a word that means fragment in reference to the bread of the Lord’s Supper. Since this word in the singular is hard to understand (after the breaking of the bread there are fragments), some have changed it to loaf in the light of second century Egyptian Christian liturgies.

Milavec does not assume that second century material has any relevance. More importantly, he adopts the principle that the more difficult reading is preferable. He says that he does not try to harmonize what the Didache says with other practices or writings.

On the other hand, he sees some 20th and 21st century ideas as relevant. He defends making his translation gender inclusive. He says that every other translation assumes the Didache is about men addressing men about manly things, thus misrepresenting it’s intent.

I have no problem with this so long as his version really does express the intent of the original. However, I should point out that Milavec lives in a world where he felt it was necessary to use part of his “Acknowledgements” to apologize to forests and wildlife for the making of books.  So, should we trust that his Progressive ideology will not impinge on his historical work?

His translation looks a little odd. He uses an outline format to show how he thinks the argument develops. Also he tries to make up for the deficiencies of English over against Greek. For instance, he puts an umlaut over the “y” in you and your to show when these pronouns are plural. He uses parenthesis and brackets to show words and phrases that are understood, but not actually in the Greek text.

I have read part of his translation alongside the Roberts translation. Here is how they each begin, just to give you a flavor.


 There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.


There are two ways: one of life and one of death! (And) {there is) a great difference between the two ways.

{A.} On_the_one_hand, then, the way of life is this:

{1} first, you will love the God who made you

{2} second: {you will love} your neighbor as yourself.

{B.} On_the_other_hand {the way of life is this}:

as many {things} as you might wish not to happen to you,

likewise, do not do to another.

Notice how Milavec tries to approximate the Greek reading experience by showing what is one word in Greek but has needed multiple words to translate into English.

Anyway, I am grateful to Milavec for his effort in working out the text and contributing a new and interesting translation.

Posted in Early Church | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Milavec-the Didache and early Christian community

Today I begin writing about The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary by Aaron Milavec.51l-bmoc1nl-_sx330_bo1204203200_


The Didache is an important document because it lies right on the edge between the New Testament and the church fathers.  Milavec believes that it is an extremely early document, mid first century.  Most scholars put it either in the second century or at the end of the first.  That is still very early.  It would pre-date most of the church fathers and probably all of the Gnostic-Christian writings that we have.

In his introduction, Milavec does not go into detail about why he thinks it is so early. He says it is earlier than the gospels because it comes from a time when “the message of Jesus was not yet encapsulated in stories about Jesus”.  That is the same argument I am familiar with from those who put the Gospel of  Thomas before the canonical gospels.  It doesn’t convince me.

But Milavec has another argument.  He has a book where he made a more detailed analysis of the Didache.  There he says he has demonstrated that “the internal logic, theological orientation, and pastoral practice of the Didache run decisively counter to what one finds within the received gospels”

Hmmm.  That sounds interesting and controversial.  Some of this theory may become clearer when I get to the commentary part of this book.

The more detailed analysis is in his much more expensive work, The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. which the Amazon reviewer, Redbird, cuttingly describes as “a lengthy academic tome of over 1,000 pages to explain the 1,000 to 1,100 words of the Didache.”  I am intrigued by Milavec’s theory.  But, for the moment, I am going to stick with the shorter book.

From what I can gather from the introduction, much of the longer book is an argument for the unity of the Didache.  Many scholars have treated it as a loose, disorganized compilation. Milavec, however, claims to have found an organizing thread that reveals the Didache as a well-organized catechism,

What interests me most about Milavec’s approach is that he sees the Didache as a guide to prepare gentile converts to fully join in the life of early Christian assemblies. In other words, it might shine a light upon the transition of some churches from representing an alternative form of Judaism to becoming more what we would think of as Christian.

While the letters of Paul and the Book of Acts give us a few insights into community life among the early followers of Jesus, the Didache gives us a fully developed view of their life together.

Milavec tells us how the Didache came to us.  There were references to the Didache in church fathers like Eusebius and Athanasius, but the full document was lost until 1873.  A Greek Orthodox teacher and Archbishop,  Philotheos Bryennios, was browsing in an Istanbul library when he found a previously unnoticed copy of the Didache in a bound volume of  early church writings.  Bryennios was fascinated and, as a reformer, began calling attention to the implications of the work for the church.  This threatened some and led to charges that the document was a forgery.  But it only took a few years for the authenticity of the Didache to become universally recognized.

Posted in Early Church | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis 1 and chicken sexers

The priests whose views come to us in Genesis 1 believed that God had made humans male and female. This belief laid the foundation for a binary understanding of human sex. Now we have people who claim other genders and orientations. We have people who explicitly say that they are non-binary.

Underlying this non-binary view is the notion that masculinity and femininity are socially constructed. Anatomy and hormones are less important than social conditioning.

There is something to this idea. I have often found myself in the waiting room while my wife has undergone some medical procedure. My job is to watch her stuff. This includes her purse. If I need to leave the waiting room for any reason I have to take her purse with me. I have an aversion to doing this. I cover my embarrassment by making a joke about how I know it doesn’t match my outfit.

Now there is no biological reason for either the male aversion to purses or the female propensity to accessorize. These are indeed socially constructed.

Also modern life does not require the same kind of division of labor that once made sense. The male advantage in upper body strength is unimportant for tasks like driving a car or typing on a keyboard. Infant formula means it has not been true, even for my father’s generation, that men can’t feed the baby. Family planning means that women’s lives no longer have to be so consumed by child rearing. Moreover, men can sometimes lighten up on the provider role.

Still there is one huge binary factor. Men cannot bear children. Men who want a family absolutely need women. I read somewhere that the word man–in Old French or something like that–has links to the word barren. I haven’t been able to confirm that. But men are, in fact, barren. We have no ability to give life by ourselves. This is not socially constructed. That comes out in this hilarious scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

I once lived in a town where a major industry was chicken hatcheries. A highly prized skill in that business was the ability to rapidly sort chicks into future roosters and future hens. It is not easy to tell with chicks. People who had this skill were called chicken sexers. I always laughed at the idea that if someone asked you what you did for a living, you would proudly say, “I am a chicken sexer.”

As binary as that was, it served an important practical purpose. And, as long as reproduction and child rearing remain a key part of human life, the sexual binary for us will also still have an important practical purpose. This does not mean we cannot have empathy for people who do not find masculinity and femininity so clear cut.

Posted in Ethics, Genesis | Tagged , | Leave a comment