Alon, Gedaliah. “The Halacha in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” pp. 165-194 in Draper, Jonathan (editor). The Didache in Modern Research. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
A Hebrew Halacha is a teaching of a way of life. Alon notes that much of the Halachot in the Didache is “typical of those which were adapted by the early Christians, with modifications, from the tradition and the custom of Israel” (Alon 1996, 165). Most of Didache 1-6 fits easily into this model, with virtually no distinct mention of Christianity and a style of writing which differs from the other chapters of the Didache. Alon concludes it is quite possible this material was almost entirely from a Jewish source (Alon 1996, 166). While one might assume this teaching was intended to introduce Gentiles to God’s morals, the text itself does not further that proposition. Specifically, Alon finds it missing several of the elements he considers fundamental to Christianity or Judaism (Alon 1996, 167).
To engage in an analysis of the situation, Alon looks at analogous Jewish documents. He finds relatively little similarity of content in Josephus and Philo, but more in “the Jewish poetry attributed to Phocylides” (Alon 1996, 168). This body of poetry can be seen to catechize Gentiles. Alon observes, however, that some central laws are missing, including a prohibition of idolatry, which we would expect to find as a central idea in catechizing Gentiles (Alon 1996, 169).
Alon continues, speaking of the various Jewish views of the Halacha and the relative importance to different groups of different commands. It becomes clear from Alon’s examples that there was significant variation in different documents and that there was no one, comprehensive, rule considered as complete and for all people. With this in mind, Alon considers various concepts found in the Didache.
Alon finds the Didache’s prohibition of abortion and infanticide also in Clement of Alexandria, in the Sibylline Oracles, in Philo, and Josephus (Alon 1996, 173). Abortion and infanticide were commonly prohibited in Judaism and normally were considered capital crimes. The Didache’s prohibition does not attach a penalty but makes it clear that the matter is important.
Didache 3:4 speaks against fortune-telling using birds. Alon considers this such an obviously prohibited practice that it needs little explanation. However, “during Temple times and after its destruction, sorcerers and magicians existed amongst the Israelites, both in Israel and abroad, as well as ‘magicians’ books’ which were popular among the people” (Alon 1996, 174). He goes on to list numerous rabbinic prohibitions on all sorts of charms and magical arts.
Didache 4:10 speaks against mistreatment of slaves. Alon observes that the Israelites did not hold other Israelites as slaves, but that it was not entirely clear what boundaries existed among Christians (Alon 1996, 176). There is evidence of Israelites being taught to treat slaves fairly.
An exhortation to flee from evil in Didache 3:1 has clear parallels. However, Alon notes the Israelite standard is normally avoidance of what may create suspicion of evil. He takes the Didache’s admonition to be less stringent, avoiding evil things but not being so concerned about suspicions (Alon 1996, 177).
The teaching of prayer in Didache 8:3 brings Alon to the topic of prayer customs (Alon 1996, 179). He notes that the habit of prayer three times a day was seen by many to be consistent with the Israelite custom, though there was some variation in the expected times of prayer. Alon identifies more than three times in a day which may have been identified as times for prayer, but he concedes that the practices were not entirely uniform. For the most part, Alon finds some customs with three prayers and some with two each day (Alon 180).
Didache 9 speaks specifically to prayers associated with a meal, taken to be “the Lord’s Supper” (Alon 1996, 181). Alon recognizes that some scholars will reject this passage as referring to communion due to the absence of sacrificial language (Alon 1996, 182). This passage could be taken as a reference to a communal meal other than the eucharist, one which could take place on days other than Sunday (Alon 1996, 183). The communal meals other than the eucharist were still seen as a matter of religious holiness, even though this was not specifically considered sacramental. Specifically, thanksgiving and a cup of blessing were considered very important (Alon 1996, 184). There were certainly similar meal customs in Judaism. Alon recognizes that the Christian observance in the eucharist affirms a connection to Christ’s body and blood which is naturally absent in the Jewish customs (Alon 1996, 185). Blessings said over food and drink are very common within both Christian and Jewish traditions, as Alon illustrates with numerous examples. Alon finds a special development in the thanksgivings in the Christian traditions. In the Jewish tradition the expressions of thanksgiving were at set points, while the Christian tradition could change the place of thanksgiving in the prayers at will (Alon 1996, 188).
The Didache prescribes a fast on the second and fifth day of the week in 8:1. Alon states that these are the same days on which Israel had customary fasts (Alon 1996, 189). He thinks the custom could be related to market days when rural people could assemble with those who could read the Torah (Alon 1996, 190).
The instructions on baptism from Didache 6:2 draws notice. Alon observes the practice, which existed in Judaism, was controversial and not widely practiced. Alon makes no mention of a distinction between Christian and Jewish beliefs about the practice (Alon 1996, 190)
Didache 13:3 speaks to the issue of gifts for prophets and priests. Alon, with Harnack and Drews, thinks this is a teaching unique to Christians (Alon 1996, 191). The idea of tithes is absent, while it is a central characteristic in Israelite teaching. Alon provides numerous instances of offering language being phrased consistently in terms of a “tithe” while the Didache does not give a hint of this concept (Alon 1996, 193).