Vaucher on Draper on children and slaves in the Didache

Daniel Vaucher submits the following reaction to J.A.Draper, “Children and Slaves in the Community of the Didache and the Two Ways Tradition” in J. A. Draper and C. N. Jefford (eds.), The Didache: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Early Christianity (Atlanta: SBL, 2015), 85-121.

Jonathan Draper contextualizes the Haustafel in Did 4.9-11 with its exhortation to slaves to obey their masters, with the inherent contradiction, that the TWT actually asks for community of goods (Did. 4.5-8). I agree with his warning, (p. 91), “that the generalized reciprocity and egalitarian economic system developed within this early Christian community should not be romanticized”, because community of goods and slavery is an “internal contradiction”. He goes on to state (p. 96 f.) that the rules would have severe consequences if applied rigorously in a Christian Jewish community. “The first and foremost consequence of renouncing ownership of one’s property would be the disinheritance of one’s children and the manumission of any slaves one owned.”

Shortly analyzing the admonition to slaveowners that they mustn’t command their slaves in bitterness, he concludes (p. 102 f.) that “this is an uneasy compromise to be sure, but it is directed in my opinion towards keeping the ideal of general reciprocity in place.”

But I’m sceptic whether the author of the Didache really envisaged a community of goods (or egalitarian community). In my opinion, what is said about the “hohe Widerspruchstoleranz” of the CA might also account for the Didache, because it is a collection of different traditions: the admonition to slaves has a long history (pagan, Jewish and Christian) and it’s certainly not something the author came up with himself. I don’t think we can ever compare the two notions of “sharing all you have with your brothers” and “slaves, obey!” Draper is right in my opinion in pointing at the difficulty that the two chapters pose, but I don’t agree with his solution.

In my opinion, neither Didache nor any other Christian source I know really asks for community of goods, but they use the well-known topos to ask for more consequent almsgiving and charity. Compare 1 Tim, Clement quis dives and Cyprian de opere eleem.

Luke’s depiction of the community in Jerusalem as sharing everything they have is certainly idealized the same way. Community of goods (and having no slaves!) was projected onto the Golden Age, a long lost time with equality and justice. Luke’s story of the Jerusalem community actually relates to this Golden Age of Christianity, but at a time, when it’s already gone. Property and slave-owning has become normal even for the Christian communities.

Maybe there was a community of goods in an Essene circle. Interestingly, Philo’s description of the Essenes, and to some extent Josephus’ also, again relates the community (and having no slaves) to equality and justice, and therefore, idealizes it in the context of the Golden Age.

I can’t tell whether the TWT originates from the Essenes, as I’m no expert. But in my opinion it’s for sure that the Qumran documents have more severe rules to give in all property upon the entry into the community, whereas the Didache does not. Why not? If the author wanted to realize a community of goods, or at least “general reciprocity”, he could have asked for it much more forcefully. But the following admonition to slaves points more in the direction, that he accepts the patriarchal structures of his community. He – as many other Christian writers – simply uses the ideal of a community of goods to encourage charity.

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