Friday's Focus - Didache Articles
Wolmarans, J.L.P., "The Semiotics of the Ritual Meal in the Didache." Acta Patristica et Byzantina (16) 2005:308-324.
Wolmarans assigns numerous levels of cultural significance to the meal described in the Didache, observing that a meal nourishes us physically but tha there are also customs which relate a meal with "the acquisition of the knowledge we need to survive" (Wolmarans 2005, 308). For this reason, a meal may be seen as creating lasting community. Meal customs related to local events, such as harvest festivals, are common. Additionally, Wolmarans finds people assigning divine importance to a meal, especially one that is related with a sacrifice or another religious ritual (Wolmarans 2005, 309).
The Didache describes a communal meal in chapers 9, 10, and 14, referring to it as "eucharist" (Wolmarans 2005, 310). Wolmarans in this article intends "to approach the ritual meal as a sign operating on the levels of the body, the mind, society, ecology, and cosmology" (Wolmarans 2005, 310).
Wolmarans follows Milavec in taking the Didache as "an anonymous fluid text that was transmitted orally, exhibiting no single author" (Wolmarans 2005, 310). The text may have been used to catechize adult pagans and establish them in Christian community.
Chapters 9-10 are introduced by the words, "concerning the eucharist" (Wolmarans 2005, 311). In order, the chapters provide instructions about the meal, qualifications for participation, and prayers which would follow the meal. The passage is carefully constructed, showing considerable parallelism in concepts (Wolmarans 2005, 312).
Chapter 14 addresses actions which participants should do in preparation (Wolmarans 2005, 312).
Wolmarans questions the description of eucharistia for the meal. Counter to Niederwimmer (and many others), who would see it as the blessing and the traditional Christian sacrameltal meal, Wolmarans thinks "the solution lies with the Didache's cosmology, a very primitive speculation on the reason why God created the universe, including humankind, and why God determined that human beings should need food to survive" (Wolmarans 2005, 313). Wolmarans defends this by the existence of 10:3, where he thinks it is necessary toremind God of what he has done so as to protect God's reputation. This is similar in nature to the glory Roman emperors sought by building great monuments.
Rather than rolling my eyes and abandoning this article as the barely coherent ramblings of someone who approaches Christianity as a purely human creation which intends to create a deity who allows subjugation of other humans, I chose at this point to roll my eyes and keep reading.
In Wolmarans' view, Jesus is presented as the heir of David, "who reveals knowledge of an ethical and moral life" leading to eternal life (Wolmarans 2005, 314). The offspring of David is actually the church, all over the world. Right recitation of the prayer becomes a sacrifice which makes God do something. Wolmarans sees this as consistent with other early Christian ideas, which left animal sacrifices behind, pursuing spiritual activity instead (Wolmarans 2005, 314).
Wolmarans fails to understand how the idea of salvation is related to the "vine of David" (9.2) or the "house of David" (10.6) (Wolmarans 2005, 314). For this reason, he rejects the idea of a Messianic role of Jesus and concludes that the passages refer to both Jews and Gentiles gathered in an inclusive community. This would be celebrated in a messianic banquet which binds a community around common ethical and moral values (Wolmarans 2005, 315).
Didache 9.4 signifies to Wolmarans that an old product, grain, symbolizing Israel, is made into a new product, bread, symbolizing Christianity (Wolmarans 2005, 315). In this way, Wolmarans sees a social program as well, "a radical reaction against economic harshiips and social fragmentation associated with the Roman empire" (Wolmarans 2005, 315). This social grouping is identified by baptism and the continuing participation in a ritual meal. Wolmarans views this as a continuation of the moral views of the Q source, in which "Jesus does not appear as the Messiah, or as a cosmic savior who had to redeem for the sins of humankind by his crucivixion, or as the Son of God who rose from the dead" (Wolmarans 2005, 316). In essence, Wolmarans has created a system which is universalist, based on moral compliance, and in which God acts according to human desires, because he is invented by humans. The church becomes a cultural invention serving to promote morality. Whatever this is, it is certainly not historic Christianity.
In this organization, the concepts of Jesus, knowledge, and a ritual meal are tied together. Wolmarans sees this as a re-enactment of classical Symposia, or a meal in which one would learn the ruling philosophy so as to live according to it. He rightly identifies the lack of reference to the bread and wine as Jesus' body and blood (Wolmarans 2005, 317).
Participation in the life of the culture is described as starting by way of baptism, where the person is given a name of the Divine (Wolmarans 2005, 318). The eucharist then becomes the way in which the church is led by God through the world. God protects the church from doing what is wrong, and helps the church do works of charity (Wolmarans 2005, 318).
In the event that Wolmarans has analyzed the taskcorrectly, he can now describe the effect of eucharist on its participants. He sees the body devalued in favor of the spirit. He sees the eating to symbolize taking in spiritual wisdom to reach perfection. Socially, he sees an alternative community taht shares with others. Ideologically, he sees the meal as symbolic of a moral and ethical community rather than one dependent on Jesus as the slain and risen one(Wolmarans 2005, 319).
Because Wolmarans draws a picture of primitive Christianity which is built entirely on the foundation of a moral social coalition, his interpretation has to make many painful leaps to explain the eucharist and the text as a whole. He would do far better to look seriously at the sources he rejects out of hand.