Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Chapter 4 “Rhythms of Fasting and Praying Until the Kingdom Comes” pp. 285-350.
Religious communities normally share together in a life of prayer. Milavec sees the Didache communities as unified in large part due to a rhythm of both fasting and prayer. The Didache (8:1) prescribes fasting on the fourth and sixth day, rather than the second and fifth day, as done by “the hypocrites” (Milavec 2003, 289). This wording presupposes that the community would use a Jewish calendar, with its seven day week. Converts would adopt a Jewish calendar for their worship but also retain the Roman calendar for much of civic life.
In 45 B.C., the Romans had adopted a Julian calendar, which began in January rather than March. It had months as we do now, as well as a leap day every fourth year. However, it had no structure of a week. That was adopted, partly due to Jewish influence, late in the first century (Milavec 2003, 291). The names of days in a week appear by the early third century. In the fourth century, Romans began the custom of closing the civil courts on “the day of the Sun,” which Christians could read with a double meaning as the day of resurrection (Milavec 2003, 292). By the sixth century Sunday became a fairly universal day of rest.
The fasting on the fourth and sixth days of the week is significant. Jewish fasts were typically on the second and fifth days of the week (Milavec 2003, 293). Milavec notes that the Apostolic Constitutions explain the fourth day as the day Judas agreed to betray Jesus and the sixth day as the day of Jesus’ death (Milavec 2003, 294). However, Milavec asserts that it is impossible that the Didache communities could have inherited or invented such customs. He gives no reason for his assertion. Regardless, we do not have a definitive reason for the selection of those fast days.
Milavec continues his discussion of fasting by considering the extent of the regular fast. There are many different ways in which one can humble himself by fasting. Although Milavec considers the Didache communities to be Gentile, they still have some roots in Judaism. So he considers the specific feature of Jewish fasts (Milavec 2003, 296). Normally fasting was an abstinence from food and drink. Sometimes it involved additional signs as well. The Didache, giving no specifics, would seem to expect discretion in the community as to the rigor and duration of the fast (Milavec 2003, 298).
Within Jewish thought, fasting and praying are inextricably linked (Milavec 2003, 299). Milavec considers that fasting is not a matter of self-mastery but of intensifying prayers so God will bring what is needed to the community. His example is praying for rain when it has been unusually dry (Milavec 2003, 300).
Milavec does note that the significance of the fast in antiquity was more closely tied to whether everyone participated than to the actual rigor of the fast (Milavec 2003, 300). He cites several instances which demonstrate widespread participation as the important factor but do not specify what was to be given up in the fast. The primary importance here was that everyone fasted. Secondary importance was assigned to fasting at different times from “the hypocrites.” No other specifications seemed necessary.
Who are these “hypocrites”? Milavec asks if they are the same as the Pharisees in Matthew (Milavec 2003, 301. Because Matthew calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” and because the Pharisee in Luke 18:12 mentions fasting twice a week, many equate the two. However, Milavec follows Rordorf who asserts a very different identity for the hypocrites (Milavec 2003, 302). Matthew’s account of the Pharisees calls them hypocrites because they make a show of fasting. The disciples of Jesus were to fast in secret. In the Didache the practice of the hypocrites is not specifically mentioned. The disciples are to fast twice a week, but publicly rather than in secret. The Gospels also do not say that the Pharisees were distinguished because of their fasting. The practice seems unrelated in Milavec’s mind. Matthew’s Gospel also has Jesus tell his disciples to make their appearance normal on fast days, rather than to choose different fast days (Matthew 6:16-17) (Milavec 2003, 303).
The term “hypocrite” itself is worthy of consideration. In the secular world it was a term used of an actor, neither with positive or negative connotations. Within Judaism and Christianity it took on a primary meaning of someone not involved in a theatrical production, but rather playing a role in life which was not true. As a result, we have retained the word with negative connotations (Milavec 2003, 304).
Milavec still desires to explain who the “hypocrites” in the Didache could be. Since he has concluded they cannot be Pharisees, he considers other possibilities (Milavec 2003, 304). They may be Jews but not specifically Pharisees. However, the Didache doesn’t seem hostile to Jews (Milavec 2003, 305). They may have been Jewish people who encouraged Gentile converts to make commitments to the temple. If this were the case, we could easily understand the fact that the Didache doesn’t seem to consider the temple important. Milavec sees this, as well as the statements in the synoptic Gospels downplaying the temple, as something coming from the time of the destruction of the temple. Only then could Christianity be safely distanced from Judaism (Milavec 2003, 306). Once the temple was destroyed it was safe to make positive statements about the temple.
Milavec asks whether the Didache is an anti-Jewish text at heart. Although some see an attack on Judaism in the discussions of baptism and fasting, Milavec sees the text as framed by Jewish leaders who wanted to guide gentile converts (Milavec 2003, 307).