Book Review (Taylor 1)

C. Taylor, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles with Illustrations from the Talmud. Two Lectures on an Ancient Church Manual Discovered at Constantinople. Given at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on May 29th and June 6th, 1885.

Royal Institution of Great BritainIn the preface of this pioneering work, Taylor affirms that most scholars of his era maintained that the Didache belonged to the first century and that its moral precepts comprise the two ways section, one of life and the other of death. Ordinances relating to sacraments and the ministry follow, and the text closes with a treatment of the last days. He asserts that an earlier oral tradition preceded the present form of the Teaching. Taylor then illustrates its Jewish origin employing his previous edition on the Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Avot) in an attempt to identify its source. He agrees with most scholars that the manual is intensely Jewish and that it was used as a catechism in the early church. He demonstrates that the first section, the two ways document, is complete on its own and that its concepts of life and death predate the Didache. He references Jewish scripture for passages that concur with its contents and similarly attempts to introduce the gospels when appropriate. For example, citing the Babylonian Talmud (Sabbath 31a), he reiterates the popular story of the Gentile who visits both Shammai and Hillel inquiring the meaning of the Golden Rule.

The same approach is applied to the entire section with remarkable acumen. He bases a portion of his argument on the Avot saying, “Make a fence to the law,” that is, keep a safe distance from forbidden ground. Hence, there is the phrase in the Teaching, “Flee from evil, and from that which is like evil,” in which the avoidance of sin is prescribed for believers, including murder, idolatry, theft, and such. Taylor shows that the same statements, some quite similar to them, are also found in early Christian literature, including the apostolic fathers. Furthermore, he describes the way of death section as “rugged as it is and Hebraic,” since it “emanates from a Jewish source.” Taylor then seeks for an older oral or written Hebrew form that describes the way of death. This he finds, once again, in Avot. However, he also identifies the same throughout the Teaching, for the Jewish character of its content is undeniable. Such arguments lead him to question the date of the manual. He asks, “Is it absolutely the oldest Christian writing extant, with the exception of portions, and portions only, of the New Testament?”

Consequently, the author concludes that the two ways section was based on earlier Jewish thought and tradition, and this makes sense, because the church appealed to devout, law-abiding converts during its founding years. Jesus claims that he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it, and he even debates specifics of the oral law with the Pharisees and scribes. Furthermore, Paul was skilled in both the oral and written forms, and he never denied their veracity, only their relevance as a means to justification, redemption, or immortality. In fact, he remained a Pharisee throughout his ministry. At this point, Taylor convincingly concludes his first lecture, namely, that their existed a Jewish source for the two ways section of the Teaching. However, he has not demonstrated, thus far, that it was a written document, only that similar illustrations are found in rabbinic tradition dating from the Second Temple period. He qualifies such arguments with an assertion that the Talmudic accounts were assembled centuries after Jesus, and the Mishnah roughly two centuries after his death.Preview

B. Walters

Copyright retained; this review may not be distributed in any form without written permission.