Reading the Didascalia in Syria: insights from Judith H. Newman

Have just read Judith H. Newman, “Three contexts of Manasseh’s prayer in the Didascalia” Journal of the Canadian Society for Semitic Studies 7 (2007), 3-17 (which may be found on academia.edu). Actually I am gutted never to have come across this previously, especially as Newman is a former colleague and sometime collaborator, and can only exhort the reader to desist reading this and read her article instead.

There is a great deal packed into a small compass. I am hugely intrigued, for instance, by her suggestion that the “secondary legislation” reflects “Mishnah”, as opposed to “miqra”, and her tracing of the Didascalist’s doctrine of deuterōsis through the exegesis of Ezekiel, with more than a nod to Irenaeus.

However, what is really electrifying is her suggestion in answer to the ongoing and continuously vexing question of how the Didascalia, and other church orders, were read, used and transmitted. Starting from the observation of a bēma in the north Syrian churches, and the practice of reading from Torah, prophets, Gospels and “Acts of the apostles” from the bēma, she suggests that the Didascalia, and other pseudo-apostolic literature, was used liturgically as “Acts of the apostles.”

Which is not to say that I am instantly convinced that one could get away with reading a fresh composition as apostolic from the bēma, but I am certainly instantly intrigued, and also instantly given a context for understanding the continued production, and reading, of apostolic pseudepigrapha, namely the liturgically re-inforced memory of the apostles.

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