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Sandt, Huub van de, and David Flusser


The Didache. Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity.


Assen: Royal Van Gorcum; Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2002. XVIII, 431 S. m. 6 Abb. gr.8 = Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, Section III, 5. Geb. Euro 63,00. ISBN 90-232-3763-3 (Van Gorcum); 0-8006-3471-3 (Fortress Press).


Markus Bockmuehl

David Flusser (1917-2000), for many years the lovably eccentric giant of early Christian and Jewish studies at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, remains remarkably unfamiliar in New Testament scholarship. At first glance, this new book might seem to promise the Israeli professor's posthumous magnum opus on the Didache, a late first-century Syrian manual of catechesis and church order that has captured the imagination of scholars since its discovery in 1883. Closer examination, however, reveals that this is in fact primarily the work of the first-named author (and his first book). Huub van de Sandt acknowledges a great debt to his teacher, incorporates Flusser's brief draft about the MS preserved in Jerusalem (16-24), and develops his outlines of three other chapters. Otherwise, however, the material comes entirely from the pupil's pen.

Despite its considerable bulk, this volume provides not so much a comprehensive introduction or commentary on the Didache but a series of detailed technical studies with primary emphasis on the Two Ways section in Didache 1-6 and its hypothetical Jewish source. Only the opening and concluding chapters range more widely: Chapter 1 (1-52) begins with a fresh and useful orientation on the Didache's history, text, composition and contents, which also includes three annoyingly grainy and unfocused photographic reproductions of pages from MS Hierosolymitanus 45, which the authors have studied with considerable care. A. Cody's English translation is also reprinted. The origin of the Didache is sought around the end of the first century in a rural, Greek-speaking Gentile Christian church, resident in Western Syria or in the borderland between Syria and Palestine (52) and only recently alienated from its Jewish background.

The Two Ways Tractate and related matters are dealt with in Chapters 2-7. Chapter 2 introduces the suspected underlying Jewish source by a literary analysis of its reception in a variety of early Christian writings including the Letter of Barnabas, Doctrina Apostolorum and other ancient church manuals, and the Arabic Life of Shenoute. Chapter 3 goes on to trace the influence of the Two Ways well past the ancient church to influential documents like the Rule of St Benedict, Pseudo-Boniface and the Carolingian missionary catechism Ratio De Cathecizandis [sic] Rudibus.

In Chapter 4 van de Sandt follows Flusser's guidance to develop a careful and painstaking reconstruction of the Two Ways source. He takes as his point of departure the observation that Didache 1-6 and Barnabas 18-20 appear to constitute independent witnesses to an earlier document, which may well be attested in relatively primitive form in the Doctrina Apostolorum (though this text in turn must be refined by comparison with Didache and Barnabas). The resulting text with apparatus (122-28) and brief textual commentary (131-39) is a key contribution of this book.

Chapters 5-7, somewhat arbitrarily divided between Parts I (The Two Ways Tractate: Didache 1-6) and II (The Didache's Place in Early Judaism and Nascent Christianity), complete the treatment of the Two Ways. Examining the original source as a Jewish document and finding plenty of parallels in Qumran's Rule of the Community (1QS 3.13-4.26) on the one hand and the more inclusive sapiential thought of works like the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and especially the Derekh Eretz literature, Chapter 5 comes to an important conclusion. The Greek Two Ways developed under the influence of the existing hassidic position within semi-Essene streams - a milieu that differs markedly from that of the sectarian scrolls, particularly in the absence of any sharp division between the faithful and the outside world: There is no derogatory expression for outsiders and no invocation to segregate oneself economically from non-members of the community. Instead, these writings teach undivided love and solidarity with mankind (190).

Chapter 6 departs from the Didache proper to offer a close synoptic reading of the Two Ways and the Sermon on the Mount, concluding that Matthew's radicalisation of the Torah occurs analogously in the Two Ways as well (Did. 3.1-6). Chapter 7 focuses on Didache 6.2-3 as a Jewish-Christian addition to the Two Ways. In keeping with Flusser's earlier remarks on the subject in his Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988, 508), the argument here presupposes the Didache to envisage the prohibition of idolatry as the bedrock concern behind the Apostolic Decree, and the minimum (quasi-Noachide) morality required of all Christians. At the same time, and contrary to Paul's teaching, this document regards Christian observance of the entire yoke of the Law (i. e. the Torah) as desirable.

Chapters 8-9 conclude the book with a discussion of the Didache's worship (or, as van de Sandt puts it, ritual: baptism, fasting, the Lord's Prayer and the Eucharist - Didache 7-10) as well as church order and offices in the local setting (Didache 11-15). Among the debated positions taken here are e. g. the literary unity of Ch. 11-15 and the Eucharistic nature of the community's ritual meal. Despite notable differences from the New Testament accounts of the Lord's Supper (no words of institution; no reference to Last Supper or to the body and blood of Christ; wine before bread) we are dealing with a Eucharist whose liturgy is significantly influenced by an early Greek version of the Hebrew Birkat ha-Mazon, the prayer that concludes the Jewish ritual meal. This latter connection has been previously recognized, but van de Sandt and Flusser propose a more subtly layered compositional history, which also shows a few signs of subsequent Gentile redaction. Further on the subject of church offices, the authors note the specifically Jewish ethos especially of the Didache's apostles and of its priest-like prophets.

There is unfortunately no overall conclusion to show how the argument of the book holds together; instead, the volume concludes simply with a list of abbreviations, an admirably full and up-to-date bibliography, and Indexes of ancient sources, subjects and modern authors.

Van de Sandt and Flusser have produced a learned and well-researched contribution to the study of the Didache, which advances critical discussion in several areas and should undoubtedly win the respect even of scholars who to differ on various issues. The book is a worthy addition to a distinguished series, and the Editors must be congratulated on promoting this epitome of the Compendia undertaking (XII) against considerable odds.

In a volume as full and rich as this, it is not difficult to come up with nit-picking queries or criticisms. This reviewer was unclear, for example about the usefulness of imprecise tags like hassidic and semi-Essene in describing the social locations of the Two Ways document and the Christian groups that eventually incorporated it into the Didache. Similarly, despite the obvious boundary markers between the Didachist and the people he calls hypocrites, it would surely require additional argument to establish that this community is now decisively alienated from Judaism tout court: it might have been instructive, for example, to defend this view more fully in dialogue with recent scholarship on the cognate debate about the Jewishness of the Gospel of Matthew: writers like A. J. Saldarini, J. A. Overman and D. C. Sim appear in a passing footnote on p. 214, but their views on this issue generate no response. Given how Jewish the text of the Didache remains, how sharp can the community's undoubted break with Judaism have been? This question is more acute if (with J. A. Draper and others) one does not assume, as van de Sandt and Flusser do (292 and passim), that a homogeneously Pharisaic post-Yavneh Judaism makes it anachronistic to see the hypocrites of Didache 8.1-2 as Pharisees in particular (as in Matthew 6; 23 and at Qumran) rather than as Jews in general.

Despite the book's enormous wealth of documentation and learning, its eclectic and specialized approach to the subject leaves more than a few stones unturned, and genuine gems unpolished. Numerous unexpected insights on topics of wider interest for New Testament studies remain relatively inaccessible, a situation which is not helped by the relatively scant subject index. In a sense this may be pardonable in view of the very significant contribution the book clearly does make on a number of key questions. Readers in search of a general introduction may find the overall argument somewhat demanding, not to say obscure; and other works will continue to be serviceable here. As a specialist volume, however, there can be no doubt at all that this new book by van de Sandt and Flusser is a major achievement. It should prove an essential reference work for many years to come.