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.