The Didache on the Jews

The Didache on the Jews

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – better known as the Didache - is one of the very first documents of the early Christian Church that we have. It is brief and almost fragmentary in nature and is usually dated to the first century AD. (1) Despite being repeatedly referenced by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. It was thought lost, but then rediscovered by metropolitan Philotheos Bryennious in Istanbul in 1873 and then published in 1883.

The text itself is one of our principle sources for early Christianity and is widely held to have been an early text – possibly written by a jewish convert to Christianity in Syria – that deals with how jewish Christians sought to reconcile their jewishness with their new faith. (2) Alternatively it can be seen as a key document for the argument that Christianity was from its very beginning derived directly from Judaism without significant non-jewish intellectual input till a later date. (3)

My concern here isn’t with whether Christianity should or shouldn’t be considered as originating in Judaism or not, but rather with what the Didache says about the jews.

The Didache never actually mentions the jews explicitly, but we are certain that the extant text means ‘jews’ and ‘Judaism’ respectively when it refers to ‘hypocrites’ and ‘hypocrisy’. (4)

This is because the text displays a detailed knowledge of jewish rituals and customs that is difficult to reconcile with the lack of explicit mention of jews and Judaism within the body of the text.

Further when we read the Didache’s description of the heretical rites and practices of the ‘hypocrites’. We find that they fast on different days and offer their prayers to God in different ways to the Christians. (5) Those used by the ‘hypocrites’ just so happen to be very similar to known forms of jewish worship at the time.

Therefore we can be confident that the ‘hypocrites’ and ‘hypocrisy’ mentioned in the Didache are references to jews and Judaism respectively.

Hence when the Didache states that Christians should ‘hate all hypocrisy, and everything that is not pleasing to the Lord.’ (6)

It is actually instructing Christians that it is their duty to hate – not tolerate or ‘turn the other cheek to’ – Judaism and those who are in religious error in adhering to it.

The Didache makes it views on the subject of jews and Judaism even clearer when it states that:

‘The Way of Death is this: First of all, it is wicked and full of cursing, murders, adulteries, lusts, fornication, thefts, idolatry, witchcraft, charms, robberies, false witness, hypocrisies, a double heart, fraud, pride, malice, stubbornness, covetousness, foul speech, jealousy, impudence, haughtiness, boastfulness.’ (7)

In other words: the followers of Judaism (and therefore jews) are like (or the same as) murderers, adulterers, thieves, robbers and witches as well as the proud, malicious and the jealous in the opinion of the author of the Didache.

So in summary: followers of Judaism are among the most evil people extant and should be hated without equivocation by all Christians according to the Didache.

References

(1) Charles Freeman, 2011, ‘A New History of Early Christianity’, 1st Edition, Yale University Press: New Haven, p. 112
(2) Ibid, pp. 113-114
(3) Ibid; Aaron Milavec, 2003, ‘The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History and Transmission’, 1st Edition, Liturgical Press: Collegesville, p. 3
(4) Cf. Robert Grant’s commentary (accessible at: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rak//publi…he/didache.htm)
(5) Didache, 8:1-2 (Kirsopp Lake Translation)
(6) Ibid, 4:12; Cf. Grant, Op. Cit.
(7) Didache, 5:1