Tag Archives: Epistle of Barnabas

Brief notice: Wilhite, One of life and one of death

In comparing the Didache to other two-ways documents, particularly the near-contemporary Barnabas and 1QS, and the (uncertain of dating but traditionsgeschichtlich proximate) Doctrina apostolorum, it is notable that certain elements are absent, notably any eschatological warning consequent on failure to observe the teaching, and the presence of angels having watch over the two ways.

This is hardly a new observation, but Shawn Wilhite, in the recently published “One of life and one of death”: apocalypticism and the Didache’s two ways (Piscataway: Gorgias, 2019) documents this in detail. The term “apocalypticism” is given a broad definition, as is the literature of two ways, extending far more widely than other treatments, including my own. There is benefit in this, however, in that the observation of the absence of any features in the Didache which even broadly might be termed apocalyptic is all the more striking, and the uniqueness of the Didache in the literature, given the wider range of literature than that usually considered, is all the more remarkable.

Wilhite is not the first to consider this phenomenon, but it is documented here in far more detail than previously. Van de Sandt and Flusser, largely on the basis of comparison with the Doctrina, had previously suggested that this might be the result of ethicization; Wilhite demonstrates that this is highly probable.

We are led to wonder whether this in some sense is the result of the adaptation by D of TWT to pre-baptismal catechesis. Given his argument that D16 is not a separated part of D1-6.3 (as indeed, I had myself suggested, in my libellus on the two ways) we are again forced to deny Draper’s assertions that full Torah obedience is expected of all members of the Didache community. Wilhite himself, however, is not as clear on this aspect as he might be.

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The Two Ways Tradition in Barnabas (and the Didache)

Relatively recently published is Julien C.H. Smith, “The Epistle of Barnabas and the two ways of teaching authority” VigChr 68 (2014), 465-497.

In arguing that the two ways elements suffuse the entire epistle, Smith presents the case that the concluding chapters, summarizing the two ways, are more than simply an awkward appendix. More to the point the author argues that the two ways tradition is part of the community’s identity-formation. In particular he suggests that this bolsters the author’s identity as a figure of authority within the community

I am not persuaded on the author’s final point, not really following his argument here. Certainly there are elements within the Two Ways Tradition which lead to the formation of an authority figure out of the teacher, but I have to ask whether this is really central to the Tradition or to its purpose in Barnabas.

However, the case that the Two Ways Tradition suffuses the entire document is persuasive, and the suggestion that the Tradition contributes to the community’s identity is attractive. Possibly, having dissuaded the community from the observance of the law, and in particular those elements of law-observance which serve as identity markers (such as the Sabbath and circumcision) the author has to employ the Two Ways as an identity marker setting out the positive directions which are to be followed in lieu of those which formerly took prominence and which mark out the Christian community as distinct.

Which inevitably raises the question of whether the same is true of the employment of the Tradition within the Didache. In particular, might this provide some form of answer to the question of whether law observance was ultimately demanded of gentiles? It seems to me that if the Tradition is employed in one Christian community as a means of providing an alternative focus of identity, although this does not mean that every Christian community adopted the Tradition with the same intent, nonetheless another might do so. Certainly this is coherent with the use of the Tradition as pre-baptismal catechesis,.


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