4.20.2009

The Didache: The Two Paths


The Didache opens with the words “hodoi dyo eisi” (There are two ways/paths). One path, it says, is of life; the other of death. These two paths are explained in a list of virtues and vices.

This way of describing the ethics of a community is common in Judaism. Based in the blessings and curses of the covenant, life is set before each individual as a choice. But there are only two! Deuteronomy puts it this way:

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. (Deut 11:26-28, NIV)

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we possess a fragment of what seems to be a comment on Deuteronomy:

He is setting [before you a blessing and a curse. These are] t[wo] paths, one goo[d and one evil. If you walk in the good path,] He will bless you. But if you walk in the [evil] path, [He will curse you in your going out] and in your [ten]ts. He will exterminate you, [smiting you and the product of your toil with blight] and mildew, snow, ice and hai[l …] along with all [….] [….] (4Q473 f2)

It is also of note that both of the manuals or rules found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (The Rule of the Community and The Damascus Document), which are not all that unlike The Didache in nature, contain a section grounding the initiate or member into the values of the community.

In The Rule of the Community (1QS), “The instructor” is to teach all “the sons of light” about their spirits. This is known as the “Two Spirits”. This community believed God had placed a spirit of truth and a spirit of deceit in each man to walk in until the day of judgment (1QS 3:17-19). Each of these “spirits” leads to a different path: “In the hand of the Prince of Light is dominion over all the sons of justice; they shall walk on paths of light. And in the hand of the Angel of Darkness is complete dominion over all the sons of deceit, and they shall walk in the paths of darkness (1QS 3:20-21). Later it says, “And he created the spirits of light and darkness, and upon them he established every deed” (1QS 3:25). This leads into a list of vices and virtue—just like The Didache—described again as paths. The path of light leads to healing, a long life, fruitful offspring, etc. The path of darkness leads to destruction, damnation, humiliation, etc.

In The Damascus Document, “all those who enter the covenant” are commanded to listen while the instructor opens their ears to paths of the wicked so that they can walk perfectly on God’s paths (CD 2:2-3, 15-16).

Jesus himself, after setting out the commands for those who want to enter the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount, rounds it out with warnings, which include the challenge to take the narrow gate: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the path that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt 7:13-14).

The Didache continues this tradition, setting before those who want to be members of the community a choice. Those who would choose to be a part of the community are those who choose the path of life. These deeds are to characterize the community, but there is also the sense in which this path is an ideal, and one will likely fall short as the section ends with “For if you are able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect. But if you are not able, then do what you can” (Did 6:2). We will explore later some of the specific vices and virtues of these two paths in posts to follow.

4.12.2009

Aslan and the Girls

Now, in the spirit of Easter, here is Aslan's encounter with the girls at the stone table in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

****

Then at last, as they stood for a moment staring out at the sea and Cair Paravel (which they could not just make out) the red turned to gold along the line where the sea and the sky met and very slowly up came the edge of the sun. At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant's plate.

"What's that?" said Lucy, clutching Susan's arm.

...

The rising of the sun had made everything look so different—all the colours and shadows were changed—that for a moment they didn't see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

"Oh, it's too band," sobbed Lucy; "they might have left the body alone."

"Who's done it?" cried Susan. "What does it mean? Is it more magic?"

"Yes!" said a great voice behind their backs. "It is more magic." They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

"Oh, Aslan!" cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as frightened as they were glad.

"Aren't you dead then, dear Aslan?" said Lucy

"Not now," said Aslan.

"You're not—not a—?" asked Susan in a shaky voice. She couldn't bring herself to say the word ghost.

Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forehead. The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came all over her.

"Do I look it?" he said.

"Oh, you’re real, you're real! Oh, Aslan!" cried Lucy and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.

"But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards. And now—"

"Oh yes. Now?" said Lucy jumping up and clapping her hands.

4.11.2009

The Didache: It is not Gospel, So Why Read It?


A pet peeve of mine is when people talk about the early church with very broad strokes and as a way of saying “this is how it necessarily ought to be.” In other words, “This is how things should be done because this is how it was done in the early church.” This gets me for a few reasons. First, it presupposes there was a way the early church did it. I don’t believe there was. Second, there is no clarity as to how early we have to go and when things went wrong. In other words, some people say the golden age was the time before Constantine (i.e., the first three centuries), others while the apostles were still alive (the first century), and others the first few days. Third, it is theologically dubious. If Paul says that the church should be maturing as a man, should we always be going back to childhood to find out what to be like? And if we were more mature 2000 years ago, what does it say about the truthfulness of Paul’s theology? Fourth, it is usually a matter of authority and institutionalism. Thus, we are fed up with the authority structures and institutional order of things, and so we look to the day when things were supposedly so much more free and egalitarian. Fifth, the early church is usually interpreted through our own prejudices. In other words, we see what we want in the early church and thus rationalize our own biases.

That brings me to the Didache (Alternately titled The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles for the Gentiles). What is the Didache? It is the earliest church manual we possess. How early? Most scholars believe that it was written near the end of the 1st Century or very early in the second. This means that the Didache—at least in part—may have been written before some of the later NT books. It seems to reflect an example of Jewish Christian practices. Ultimately, it was not accepted as a part of the NT, but is considered among the documents designated The Apostolic Fathers. It is worth reading—even if we don’t treat it as Gospel—because it gives a concrete example of actual practices in the early church.

The Didache breaks down into three sections that we will look at in subsequent posts.

I. The Two Ways (chs. 1-5)
II. The Manual (chs. 6-15)
III. The Eschatological Warning (ch. 16)

4.10.2009

Aslan and the Witch

In the spirit of Good Friday, some portions from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when Aslan is put to death.

****

"The Fool!" She cried. "The fool has come. Bind him fast."

Lucy and Susan held their breaths waiting for Aslan's roar and his spring upon his enemies. But it never came. Four hags, grinning and leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do, had approached him. "Bind him, I say!" repeated the White Witch. The hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others - evil dwarfs and apes - rushed in to help them and between them they rolled the huge Lion round on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all. But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh. They began to drag him toward the Stone Table.

"Stop!" said the Witch. "Let him first be shaved."

Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan's head...Then the ogre stood back and the children, watch from their hiding-place, could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without its man. The enemies also saw the difference.
...

"Muzzle him!" said the Witch. And even now, as they worked about his face putting on the muzzle, one bite from his jaws would have cost two or three of them their hands. But he never moved. And this seemed to enrage all that rabble. Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage...
...

When once Aslan had been tied (and tied so tightly that he was really a mass of chords) on the flat stone, a hush fell on the crowd...

At last she drew near. She stood by Aslan's head. Her face was working and twitching with passion, but his looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad. Then just before she gave the blow, she stooped down and said in a quivering voice,

"And now, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him out of my hand then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die."