Today I begin writing about The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary by Aaron Milavec.
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.