Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 21 and The Didache 9

Exodus 21Now we get into some of the details of the Mosaic Law, details that my Jerusalem Bible call the “Book of the Covenant” and notes that come from the “Elohistic” tradition.

This division of Old Testament texts into Jahwist, Elohist, Priestly and Deuteronomist traditions was very well established in the 20th century, but more recent biblical study seems to have left it a bit undermined. Modern scholars seem to think the process of bringing these traditions together was more gradual and redacted than previously thought.

The chapter goes into much greater detail on a variety of things modern people will likely find disturbing: There are intricate rules concerning slaves, women who are sold into marriage and the treatment of those who break the commandment on killing.

Like most modern “states,” the “community” [the political institution of the community] here does not see the Mosaic commandment against killing as applicable to it. The death penalty is freely exercised in a multitude of cases: intentional murders, cases against those who strike at their father or mother or even curse their father or mother. The author goes through a whole array of case types that seem very “common law” -- based on specific cases that must have come before the judges of the community. The approach seems very similar to the Code of Hammurabi, which dates back to the 18th c. BCE. The famous principle “eye for eye” appears in 21:23-25:

“. . .if harm should occur, then you are to give life in place of life—eye in place of eye, tooth in place of tooth, hand in place of hand, foot in place of foot, burnt-scar in place of burnt-scar, wound in place of wound, bruise in place of bruise.”

If the eye put out belongs to a serf, however, the penalty imposed on the master will be his slave’s freedom.  The law also deals with mischief done by animals - mischief done by animals not properly contained. Irresponsibility to the community is punishable, and many misdeeds are to be penalized by money fines. 

The Didache
Of the Eucharist
The Introduction had the following to say about the section on the Eucharist: “The Eucharistic prayers (chs.9 and 10) are very closely modeled on Jewish forms of grace at table and give a vivid picture of the Church meeting to break bread and bless wine as an anticipation of the messianic banquet of the coming Kingdom of God. There is no mention of the Last Supper or the Cross of Christ, which has led some scholars to distinguish two different primitive types of the Eucharist: one is a ‘breaking of bread’, a fellowship meal in which the disciples continued the meals they had had with Jesus in anticipation of his return (witness Acts and The Didache), and the other is a recalling of the Last Supper and the death of Jesus, the bread and wine representing the body and blood of Christ . . .

The two different types quickly converged, making it difficult to see whether this is any more than a prematurely conceived ‘theory’ “ (188). This, “together with the renewed eschatological emphasis of ch. 16, points to a very early date for The Didache . . . and many scholars now would assign [it] to a point somewhere in the latter half of the first century, earlier, that is, than much of the New Testament itself—unless all this ‘primitiveness’ is contrived, a theory that has been popular with English and American scholars from the very beginning. They would assign it to the end of the second century (or later) and see it as perhaps intended to vindicate the Montanist ‘prophets’ against the by then well-established ministry of bishops, priests and deacons” (189).

Elements that make the date look like it must have been pretty early (70-90 AD):
·      Close similarities with Jewish practices
o   Simple rituals of baptism, breaking bread and eucharist
o   Fasting and prayer 3X/day
o   View of the prophets as replacements of High Priesthood
o   Sense of immanence of the 2nd coming of Christ
o   No references to persecution or heresy

9 – “At the Eucharist, offer the Eucharistic prayer in this way. Begin with the chalice: ‘We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the holy Vine of thy servant David, which thou has made known to us through thy servant Jesus.’

         Glory be to thee, world without end.’

Then over the broken bread: ‘We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge thou has made known to us through thy servant Jesus.’

         ‘Glory be to thee, world without end.’

As this broken bread, once dispersed over the hills, was brought together and became one loaf, so may thy Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom.’

         ‘Thine is the glory and the power, through Jesus Christ, for ever and ever.’

No one is to drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord’s own saying applies here, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs.’”

I have quoted the entire section here. The Didache is not something most Christians have ever read, and I think people will find it interesting to see how “established” the sacrament of the Eucharist had become at such an early period in the life of the church. It is also so formal, it doesn't seem appropriate to paraphrase it.

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