Henderson, Ian. "Didache and Orality in Synoptic Comparison." Journal of Biblical Literature 111, no. 2 (1992): 283-306.
Henderson considers the nature of oral tradition, citing B. Gerhardsson’s research showing, “if rabbinic literature reflects a self-consciously mnemotechnical oral tradition, Synoptic literature does not” (Henderson 1992, 283). The models used in much scholarship lead to stereotypes of orality and literacy. Henderson considers the Didache as a good test case for identifying the interactions between orality and literary use (Henderson 1992, 284). This article deals with three questions. “What is the most comprehensive and economical description available for Didache? What is the most powerfully explanatory level of analogy between it and NT literature? And how can increased sensitivity to the influence of oral/aural media enrich the study of early Christian literature?” (Henderson 1992, 284). A problem Henderson sees in NT scholarship and that of the Didache is the “tension between describing the text itself as communicative act and a prior interest in extracting social-historical data from it” (Henderson 1992, 285). The Didache can be, and is often, considered as a likely fiction, or even a forgery. Therefore, there is open and candid work to identify plot themes, which is done less openly with the NT literature (Henderson 1992, 285).
Henderson continues by looking for a unified plot, while seeking a coherent view of an author. This author he finds in the διδάσκαλος (Did. B.2, 15. 1-2). This figure seems to bridge the gap between the highly itinerant apostle/prophet and the Christians, who are being instructed in their daily life (Henderson 1992, 287). The work of a didache would imply the presence of a didaskalos who would give oral and likely written confirmation of the truth. The contents of the Didache are very much imperative in nature (Henderson 1992, 287).
As to genre, Henderson observes the Didache is often considered a church order and compared to the Sermon on the Mount. However, it would be the first of its kind (Henderson 1992, 288). The text is generally non-literary, more similar to a transcript of oral instruction (Henderson 1992, 289). He does see a similarity between the form of a Gospel and the Didache. “(1) Both genres are episodic in character . . . (2) Both genres are, moreover, formally hybrid . . . (3) the two genres, gospel and church order, share a selectivity in the choice of topics and an economy in their development which imply that the rhetorical function of the former is not simply theological exposition and that of the latter not simply to regulate socially topical issues” (Henderson 1992, 289-290).
In this analysis it is necessary to seek a purpose of the composition. The author stresses an overall discipline and careful control of Christian discipline, but does so “without polemical or apologetic stress” (Henderson 1992, 291). The overall tone is more gentle than that of Matthew or of Paul’s letters (Henderson 1992, 292). Henderson emphasizes this irenic quality as coming from a time which was by no means devoid of stressors. It assumes a Christian predisposition to peace (Henderson 1992, 293).
Henderson further observes that though the Didache is a text and refers to written sources in general terms, it does not seem to expect it will be read by all, rather, that the content will be told to all (Henderson 1992, 293). The text itself does not feature many indicators of orality. It uniformly refers to the spoken and heard elements of the law and of the gospel, as opposed to the New Testament, which frequently refers to written authority (Henderson 1992, 295) The use of the Lord’s Prayer is introduced purely as an oral and liturgical element, not as a literary reference (Henderson 1992, 296). The logical arrangement of the Didache also points to orality. While a literary logical argument can refer to antecedents mentioned once some time ago, orality requires close association of ideas as found in this text (Henderson 1992, 298).
Henderson illustrates the interaction between literary and oral elements by examining unifying elements in 1.1-6.2 (Henderson 1992, 299-301). When compared to Romans 1:18-3:18, the Didache shows much more similarity to early oral works. The figures of speech used are much briefer and do not depend on literary quotes (Henderson 1992, 300). Furthermore, the overall structure of the work is based on repetitions of words or phrases, a distinctively oral framework (Henderson 1992, 301). Henderson describes several of these formulae on pp. 302-303.
In conclusion, Henderson states that the Didache should be considered as an oral work due to its oral categories, its conversational way of pulling the author and reader together, and the absence of extended logical arguments (Henderson 1992, 305).