I observe that I had previously made some notes on this article, in 2019, but that these notes are more substantial.
Henderson notes that studies of the Synoptic Gospels and their possible oral sources have been, on the whole, deficient, based on methodology and presuppositions about the source material. For this reason, he suggests “working out a more balanced approach to early Christian and especially Synoptic literature” using the Didache as test material (Henderson 1992, 284). As Henderson pursues questions about the nature of the Didache, its analogical relationship to the New Testament, and an understanding of orality he hopes to move toward clarity in study of other early Christian writings.
From a literary standpoint, attempts to classify the Didache have ranged from considering it as myth to fiction to social commentary. Identifying source materials is made more difficuult by this confusion (Henderson 1992, 285).
An analysis of authorship could prove useful. Henderson, as we might predict, finds this difficult. The work is essentially anonymous, though it claims the teaching comes from the apostles. Henderson asks, though, whether the “teacher” who can be found in the text is the implied author or not (Henderson 1992, 286). The roles of apostle and prophet in the Didache seem to be largely as an inspiration to readers, while the teacher imparts more concrete guidance (Henderson 1992, 287). Henderson compares the role of the teacher to that of a scribe in Matthew (cf. Matt. 13:52; 23:34-39), noting that the two figures both take written material and interpret it into useful for for others.
The literary genre also bears investigation. Henderson considers the idea that the Didache was an early church order, in fact, the earliest we know of. If this is so, Henderson observes that “it was once one of a kind” (Henderson 1992, 288). In that case, it would not be influenced by other similar works. While there were existing antecedent sources for many of the ideas, the actual genre may not have existed previously. This is a similar situation to that of the canonical Gospels. The first to be written was very likely one of a kind (Henderson 1992, 289).
Henderson compares the Didache and the Gospels by listing three similarities, which he also says combine “positive characters of orality and of literacy: (1) Both genres are episodic in acharacter . . . (2) Both genres are, moreover, formally hybrid. . . (Henderson 1992, 289) (3) the two genres, gospel and church order, share a selectivity in the choice of topics and an economy in their development” (Henderson 1992, 290).
The genre of the Didache also has an interaction with oral sensibilities. If the teacher and author are the same, the overall idea is certainly that the written work is based on and used in an oral context. It is arranged around particular topics which could be the basis of contentions, much like the letters of Paul to the Corinthians (Henderson 1992, 292). Henderson does observe that the tone of the Didache is not as contentious as that of Matthew or of Paul. Yet it remains a text which makes normative statements. The identification of the Didache’s tone in speaking to potential conflicts applies to our understanding of the biblical iterature as we realize tone and approach to problems may be unified but not monolithic (Henderson 1992, 293). Henderson finds a range of legitimate ways to discuss problems.
Henderson further considers source material, observing that there is use of material which almost certainly existed in literary form, such as the Two Ways material. However, the whole document seems reflective of an oral world, not a literary one. Henderson observes that much study of orality as applied to early Christian works still depends on the tools used for exegetical study of literary texts (Henderson 1992, 294). Finding the tension and relationshiops between orality and literary usage is important to our understanding and interpretation of our texts.
To gain further insight into orality and literacy in the Didache, Henderson looks for “medium-specific references” - statements about speaking or hearing as opposed to those about writing or reading (Henderson 1992, 295). He concludes that although reading and writing were certainly known to the people, the text speaks as if in an oral context. The New Testament, on the other hand, dwells in a strongly literate context. Henderson also notes that references which may also be quotations appear using the language of orality, probably the Lord’s Prayer as presented in Didache and in Matthew 6 serving as the best example (Henderson 1992, 296). Henderson goes on to cite oblique references to “the Lord” and to “the gospel’ without making clear the identity or location of a source (Henderson 1992, 297). While Henderson acknowledges that this is common in antiquity, he considers the Didache to obscure the sources of information more deliberately than other writings do. This suggests a strong context of oral authority rather than written authority (Henderson 1992, 298).
Henderson considers the “oral sensibility” in the Didache is not only shown through the repetitive patterns and episodic nature, but that there are internal unifying factors which point more to an oral than a literary environment (Henderson 1992, 298). As an example of symbolic and formulaic unity, Henderson reviews the Two Ways material of 1.1-6.2. Of special note to Henderson is the statement in 7.1 which implies all the teaching which follows will build on what came before (Henderson 1992, 299). Henderson’s view is that the size of the portion indicated, as well as the variety of material found in 1.1-6.2, is more indicative of an oral than a literary setting (Henderson 1992, 300). He concludes “the passage is structured cumulatively rather than inductively” (Henderson 1992, 301). The discussion leads to a conclusion not by a logical argument but by comparison of multiple scenarios. Henderson continues by showing use of formulaic statements as transitions and introductions to different sections in the text. This is another strong indicator of orality (Henderson 1992, 302-304).
Henderson concludes that the Didache is properly described as an oral work to a greater extent than many others. It uses a strongly oral and poetic sensibility. The interactions it develops are conversational rather than syllogistic. It also seems to assume this sensibility is the norm, thus presupposing a predominantly oral culture (Henderson 1992, 305).