The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E

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The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. By Aaron Milavec. New York and Mahwah, N.J.: The Newman Press, 2003. xxxviii + 984 pp. $64.95 (cloth).

Except for the Gospel of Thomas, the Didache is probably the most widely known non-canonical work of earliest Christianity. The Didache is a fascinating document, representing, Aaron Milavec argues, "the preserved oral tradition detailing the step-by-step training of gentile converts being prepared for full, active participation in the house churches ... of one branch of the Jesus movement flourishing during the mid-first century" (p. vii). Milavec's exhaustive study-at 1,000 pages-is an unusual work: scholarly, popular, and personal. After the preface, the author includes a section, "How My Mind Was Changed," in which he briefly chronicles his fifteenyear odyssey with the Didache. My nautical metaphor is intentional: at the close of this section, Milavec directly addresses "my reader," whom he compares to "a shipmate signing on" for Columbus's second voyage (p. xxxiv). The last page of the book has an ad and order form for the author's audio cassette and interactive software. Not your usual scholarly prolegomenon or paraphernalia!

Nor is Milavee's study orthodox. He butts heads with the received scholarly consensus that the Didache is a second-century pastiche of Jewish and Christian traditions, dependent on one or more canonical gospels. Instead, Milavec argues for the work's "marvelous" and "holistic unity" against those who say it is a "collage" (p. xiii). Its "internal logic, theological orientation, and pastoral practice," Milavec urges, "run decisively counter to what one finds in the received Gospels" (p. xii); thus, he calls for an "early dating" independent of any known gospel (p. 739). The author divides his study into three parts: "Text," with the Greek text and English translation; a "Commentary" of over 600 pages; and "Special Uses," particular questions. Milavec concludes with an intriguing epilogue, "The Spirituality of the Didache: Modern Reflections," in which he argues that the Didache is a still-vibrant training manual for "how Didache communities will emerge as the [sic] eschatological disaster suffocates the face of the earth" (p. 901).

As someone who is not a Didache scholar but who works extensively in Patristic Greek, I was particularly interested in Milavec's translation. …