Any research on the Didache (Did.) and other similar texts dating from the fourth century B.C.E. to the second century C.E.—such as the so-called “Apostolic Fathers” (Barn., 1–2 Clem., Herm., Ign., Pap., Pol., etc.), and, more generally, the Jewish or Christian apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works (e.g., 1–3 Enoch, Jub., T. 12 Patr., Mart. Isa., Apoc. and As. Mos., Ep. Arist., Odes. and Pss. Sol., Sib. Or., Bib. Ant., 4 Ezra, 2 Apoc. Bar.)—must be viewed in a wider context and from within a historical debate that became lively during the last few decades of the twentieth century and that continues among scholars, especially of Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins.

The tendencies of some New Testament and Patristics scholars to divorce the New Testament from Judaism, and to isolate the Patristic texts from the New Testament and Jewish literature remain questionable, especially from an historical point of view. A better methodology should lead researchers of Christian origins and contemporaneous Judaism to consider the New Testament and other proto-Christian writings (including the apocryphal/pseudepigraphical works of the Old Testament and New Testament) not as unconnected bodies of literature but as parts of a common cultural and religious history. In particular, the period from circa 300 B.C.E. to circa 200 C.E., which some scholars refer to as “Middle Judaism,” is very complex and multifarious. This period could be regarded as the common matrix in and from which two great religious and cultural “innovations” developed, that is, Christianity and Rabbinism.


Didachē means “teaching.” The text, whose title is “The Teaching of the Apostles” (Gr. Didachē tōn dōdeka apostolōn), or more fully “The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles [or Nations]” (Codex Hierosolymitanus 54 [abbr. H], dated 1056 C.E.) is a collection of rules and guidelines on the conduct, organization, and rituals of an early Christian Jewish community. The first (and short) title is widely attested to in Patristic writings (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 1.20.100, and Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.25.4) though this may refer to the “Two Ways” only (chs. 1–6 of the Latin Doctrina Apostolorum). Both titles, documented in H, are not attested in secondary traditions, which speak of Didachē tōn apostolōn (Teaching of the Apostles) or Didachai apostolōn (Teachings/instructions of Apostles). Didachai apostolōn is the original title, which would mean that the “pseudepigraphical” literary status of the Didache—owing to its allusion to the “Twelve Apostles”—no longer applies. Therefore, the apostles mentioned in the title would actually be the itinerant missionaries mentioned in chapters 11–15 of the present text.

Canonical and/or Noncanonical Status.

Students of early Christian literature and ancient Christianity usually consider the Didache, like other above-mentioned “Apostolic Fathers,” as an apocryphal/pseudepigraphical work. However, the Didache might not always have been considered noncanonical. Circa 200 C.E., Clement of Alexandria referred to lines 3:5a of the Didache, “My child, do not be a liar, because lying leads to theft” (teknon mou, mē ginou pseustēs, epeidē odēgei to pseusma eis tēn klopēn; translated by Alfred Cody in Jefford 1995), saying, “It is such an one that is by Scripture called a thief. It is therefore said, ‘Son, be not a liar; for falsehood leads to theft’ ” (outōs kleptēs upo tēs graphēs eirētai phēsi goun uie mē ginou pseustēs odēgei gar to pseusma pros tēn klopēn; Strom. 1.20.100 translated by William Wilson), which leaves the question of the text's canonical status somewhat open and unsettled.

Sections of the text are found in the Latin Doctrina Apostolorum, the Greek papyrus fragment from Oxyrhynchus (POxy 1782), a partial text in Coptic (BrMus Or 9271), some portions in the Ethiopic Church Order, Ps-Athanasius's Syntagma doctrinae (PG 28,836A–845B), Fides CCCXVIII patrum (PG 28,1637A–1644B), the Arabic Life of Schenute, and in some ancient ecclesiastical ordinances, like the Apostolic Constitutions (the Didache is the main source of chs. 1–32 of Book VII), the Apostolic Tradition of Pseudo-Hippolytus (esp. chs. 31–32), and the Didascalia (in particular, Book II: 25.1–25; 27.1–4; 35.1–4). Because of these occurrences, one could reasonably suppose that the Didache had a sort of canonical status similar to 1 Enoch, which is quoted as scripture in Jude 14–15.

Authorship and Date.

The Didache, like most of the “Apostolic Fathers” and similar Jewish or Christian apocryphal and pseudepigraphical texts, does not mention an author. The text does, however, supply much evidence and rich material from a Jewish milieu, encompassing both oral and written traditions.

There is also little evidence of the text's date of composition. However, since the Didache certainly draws on earlier sources and was probably edited continually in order to serve as the rule for a community or communities, the dating of single sections cannot establish the date of the whole final version. Individual sections may prove the presence of ancient traditions influencing earlier strata in the text, which might even date prior to the composition of the Gospels of Matthew and/or Luke. At present there is a wide consensus that the Didache should be dated no later than the end of the first or beginning of the second century C.E. (see, among others, Audet 1958; Rordorf and Tuilier 1998; Draper 1996, 2007). Furthermore, sections such as Didache 5:5–8 (esp. v 8); 8:1–3 (esp. v 1); and 16, might cast light on a Jewish background from which the author (or the community/ies lying behind the text) drew ancient norms and oral or written traditions even earlier than the (written) New Testament. As to the text's place of origin, Egypt is sometimes suggested because of its presence in manuscripts from there and because Barnabas 18–21, which was almost certainly written in Egypt, uses the “Two Ways,” but most scholars favor Syria, and Antioch in particular.

Edition, Translations, and Commentaries.

In 1872, the Metropolitan Philotheos Bryennios discovered the Codex Hierosolymitanus 54, which includes the Didache—though Bryennios did not recognize it at first—and ten years later, in 1883, he published the editio princeps of H in Constantinople. The booklet immediately drew the attention of scholars (see Taylor 1886; Harnack 1896; and Seeberg 1908 among others) and has consistently done so since, prompting editions, translations, commentaries, and specific monographs searching in particular for its Jewish substratum or roots. Although the Didache is a very short text—only 204 lines long—since its publication it has revealed itself as one of the most intriguing and debated books within the whole corpus of early Christian literature. (See, for example, Audet 1958; Niederwimmer 1989; Draper 1996; Ayán Calvo 1992; and Del Verme 2004.)

Structure and Contents.

The Didache is a layered and complex work, which has reasonably come to be classified in the genre of progressive literature (or “evolved literature” according to Kraft 1965), to mean the writings of a lively and traditional community progressively built and added to over time rather than a book written by a single author. According to Steimer (1992), the enigmatic work of the Didache may be represented as a “vortex,” that is, a whirlpool in which abundant waters flow together: in particular, ancient traditions (especially Jewish), which are often taken up or sometimes adapted to the ethical and cultural requirements of the Christian Jewish community/ies, wherein the author lives or for which the Didachist wrote the work. The growing process of a literary accretion ended with the interpolation of materials taken from the Synoptic Gospels (and possibly other written) traditions (viz. 1:3b–2:1; 15:3–4), which carried the work to its final and redactional phase (ca. second half of the first century C.E.).

The contents of the Didache can be summarized as follows:

  • 1. A catechesis concentrated on the “Two Ways,” that is a section essentially Jewish in form and substance, and which is largely based on the second table of the Ten Commandments, together with the interpolation of the so-called “sectio evangelica” (1:3b–2:1; cf. also 15:3–4) (chs. 1–6). This part shows many connections with similar material from Qumran (e.g., 1QS III, 13–IV, 26), and other later traditions that recur in the rabbinic Tractate Derekh Eretz Zuta, and the Greek Testament of Asher. Draper suggests that “it is thus likely that this material was used in catechesis and initiation by parties within Israel before it was appropriated by early Jewish Christian communities to prepare converts for admission” (2007, p. 122).
  • 2. Baptismal instructions (chs. 7-8), which add to the previous instructions of the Two Ways and were required before baptism. See Didache 7:1b–c: “Having said all this before [i.e. all that is written above = chs. 1–6], baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water” (tr. by Alfred Cody in Jefford 1995, p. 9). The text also provides instructions on fasting and prayer: besides a fast for one or two days before baptism—by both the baptized and the officiant (Did. 7:4)—chapter 8 requires a biweekly fast (i.e., on Wednesdays and Fridays) to distinguish the new member of the community from the “hypocrites” who fast on Mondays and Thursdays (v. 1), and recitation of the Lord's Prayer three times a day (vv. 2–3; compare Matt 6:5–18).
  • 3. Eucharistic prayers (chs. 9–10): a series of ancient Jewish prayers (Heb berākāh, benediction/thanksgiving), which themselves have been Christianized into a context that is suitable for table fellowship in the early church. Yet, there is no reference to the Last Supper or the Words of Institution within these Eucharistic prayers (berākôth). At the end of chapter 10—but only in the Coptic version of the Didache—a benediction/prayer on myron, a mixture of oil and aromatic substances used for baptismal unction or for the unction of the sick, follows. The Apostolic Constitutions 7.27.1–2 also provides a thanksgiving prayer for post-baptismal unction with myron.
  • 4. Various norms and precepts concerning community leaders and their support (chs. 11–15). Much of the interest in the Didache has centered on the coexistence of apostles, prophets, and teachers with bishops and deacons (but not presbyters). The high status of charismatic prophets and teachers threatens the position of the elected bishops and deacons (Did. 15:1–2). According to Draper (2007), “these officials are likely to be patrons of the community who provide financial support and open their homes for church meetings in exchange for honor” (p. 123). True prophets may settle in the community and receive financial support (Did. 13:1–2). In particular, they share in the “first fruits,” as the community's “high priests,” along with teachers and the poor (vv. 3–7).
  • 5. A short concluding and markedly didactic and moral apocalypse (ch. 16), which refers to and takes up the initial theme of the “Two Ways,” and in doing so reconnects the beginning and the end of this intriguing little work.

For a more detailed schema of contents, see Niederwimmer (1989) and Visonà (2000).

Interpretations and Open Questions.

Traditionally, the relationship between Judaism and early Christianity has been considered in terms of the contrasts between the two religions since Jesus’ time. However, in the last few decades of the twentieth century, several factors contributed to change this perspective. First, there was the impact of the Holocaust on the Western conscience, and the subsequent rise of a spirit of dialogue that fostered new relations between Jews and Christians. Second, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (beginning in 1946–7), which in historical terms has revealed and proven the existence of a pre-Christian Judaism more variegated than what had been previously supposed. The exploration and appreciation of such movements within Second Temple Judaism, in particular that of the better documented final phase, has led to a reconsideration of the idea of a Jewish orthodoxy (the so-called “common Judaism”) of Pharisaic origin. In recent years some scholars have begun to refer to “Judaisms”: this new perspective has caused them to reconsider the beginnings of the Jesus movement and consequently to cast the birth and the successive expansion of Christianity in a new light.

The new approach in the study of Judaism and early Christianity has created the need to reconsider the chronology and the causes that brought about the separation of the Jews and Christians, the so-called “parting of the ways.” The general tendency today, which is well supported by the sources, shifts the chronology of the birth of Christianity as a religion separate from Judaism to the years following the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–73 C.E.)—although some scholars propose a later date, after the Second Jewish Revolt (132–135 C.E.).

Scholarly work over the past four decades makes it clear that “Jewish-Christianity” has not been easy to define or comprehend. Many “Jewish Christian” or better “Christian Jewish” views should not be deemed heretical. “Indeed, the mere use of such terms as ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’ is anachronistic when studying documents and groups prior to the edicts of the Councils that were first convened in 325 at Nicea” (Del Verme 2004, p. xii).

While a majority of scholars, such as Milavec (2004) and Visonà (2000), prefer to take a redactional (redaktionsgeschichtlich) approach to the Didache, Del Verme prefers to take a “stratigraphic” or “reading by sampling” of the book looking for the various strata in the text. According to Del Verme, the Didache and other ancient texts “reflect in their final edition both the intentions of the author and community that produced them, and the life of the community or communities that followed the norms prescribed in the text.” The structure of the final text also “includes earlier materials which, like old bricks reused in a new building, preserve and reveal traces of older traditions” (Del Verme 2004, p. 264).

New Required Research.

Among contemporary scholars of early Christianity, Rordorf plays a prominent role in pointing out and emphasizing the Jewish context of the Didache, and the presence in it not only of ancient oral traditions but also of written ones, some of which may have preceded the redaction of the New Testament. Several less specific references to the early or contemporaneous Judaism or Judaisms of the Didache can be found in commentaries by Giet (1970), Kraft (1965), and Schöllgen (1991).

It is important not merely to affirm the presence of “generic” Jewish influences on the text of the Didache, but also to ask which Jewish group or current Jewish traditions (with reference to institutions, rituals, norms, and doctrines) influenced the text. Del Verme has been searching for the sources that influenced Didache 4:8 (beneficence or community of goods), 8:1–2 (bi-weekly fast of the upokritai [hypocrites] and that of “the others”), 13 (the aparchē, “first fruits” or “the best of the products/[first] offering” for the prophets as the community's “high priests,” along with teachers and the poor), and 16 (eschatology and/or apocalypse).

As to the problem of determining the identity of the “Christian Judaism” of the Didache, it must be pointed out that both past and recent studies, which either concentrate on or make indiscriminate use of rabbinic literature, appear to be inconclusive and insufficient if compared to those which explore the problem by using Jewish sources of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, which pay attention to the various Judaisms, in particular from sapiential, apocalyptic, and/or Enochic-Essene milieus (Del Verme 2004, see in particular ch. 1).

Further research on the Didache is needed. Studies need to be conducted, for example, on some institutions and rituals or doctrinal beliefs typically Jewish but reformulated by the Didache, and on socio-anthropological methodologies, which could be developed further. Such a new approach might effectively address some of the persisting institutional and doctrinal problems stemming from the Didache by better contextualizing the groups who lie behind the text, have particular doctrines, and perform rituals and practices stemming from their specific social and religious milieus.



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Marcello Del Verme