van de Sandt, Huub. “Review of Schwiebert, Jonathan. Knowledge and the Coming Kingdom. The Didache’s Meal Ritual and its Place in Early Christianity. (Library of New Testament Studies 373), London - New York: T&T Clark, 2008, xiii + 278 pp.” Review in Vigilae Christianae 64 (2010). Leiden: Brill, pp. 189-211.
Van de Sandt speaks of the meal in the Didache differing from New Testament accounts of the Last Supper. For this reason, many have taken the meal in Didache 9-10 as not being the eucharist. While it is possible to attempt a harmonization based on the Didache’s omission to mention some elements, Schweibert’s work suggests that Jesus’ death was not necessarily an important part of the first century Eucharist based on the lack of such an emphasis in the Didache (van de Sandt 2010, 189). Further, he questions whether the meal traditions in the New Testament and the Didache are describing the same liturgical event.
Schwiebert further contends “that the meal tradition was received and transmitted orally rather than textually” (van de Sandt 2010, 189). If this was the case, it would need to be studied more as folklore rather than as an historic text. For this reason, the internal logic would become more important than the text history or its redaction.
The first part of Schwiebert’s book analyzes the oral structure of each tradition, seeking out the logic of the ritual. The second part analyzes the functional role of the meal in early Christianity (van de Sandt 2010, 190). The New Testament accounts are clearly similar in their references to bread and wine, receiving the elements, and having a relationship to Christ’s death and his return. The order of events, bread and wine or wine and bread, has some variation, but the overall picture is similar. Didache 9-10 seems centered more on prayers, with two before a meal and one afterward (van de Sandt 2010, 191). Both rituals involve a meal. However, Schwiebert finds that the New Testament Eucharist centers conceptually on “living between Jesus’ death and the arrival of the kingdom in the End Time. The Didache’s ritual, on the other hand, is detached from a specific story in the past” (van de Sandt 2010, 191). It does focus on dependence on God, but not necessarily on the work of Jesus.
The second portion of Schwiebert’s book looks at the implications and the trajectory of the elements of the prayers. They do seem to be related to elements in Jewish culture, but not to specifics in the accounts we have of Jesus’ life (van de Sandt 2010, 192). Schwiebert considers that the Two Ways, from the opening of the Didache, may provide the specific theological framework needed to make sense of the ritual. However, it does not appear to make “the Jesus tradition” sufficiently clear for this purpose. Therefore, he turns to sources such as Q or the Gospel of Thomas. Yet these also do not give a very full picture of Jesus (van de Sandt 2010, 193). Van de Sandt questions whether Schwiebert’s sharp avoidance of the idea of “sacrifice” in considering Jesus’ words at the Last Supper is entirely correct, as there is a sacrificial element in the act of eating (van de Sandt 2010, 194). It is not necessarily a movement away from the idea of a temple cult. The involvement of the Coptic fragment of the Didache and the stinoufi prayer suggests that the practice may have been developmental in nature. This leads Schweibert to the idea that the ritual logic of the prayer would contribute to liturgical developments of a broader nature. However, he does not find this to be the case except possibly in Egypt (van de Sandt 2010, 195). There, the prayers seem to have been borrowed, with some adjustment, by the fourth century, to operate in the Eucharist.
Van de Sandt considers the book helpful but thinks it tends to fragment the ideas of the Didache more than is necessary (van de Sandt 2010, 196).