Mishael Caspi on the Didache

Mishael Caspi was the first to encourage me to participate in academic conferences. We enjoyed numerous brunches at Santa Cruz in the 1990s, when he was teaching at the university. It was during this time that he was sorting through various traditions regarding the Aqedah, for the story is common to all three Western religions. The volume was published when he was Professor of S_22543-MLM7742850950_012015-YReligion at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine; “Unbinding the Binding of Isaac” (2006). He offered a comparative interpretation of the Genesis narrative, and that was a novel approach at the time. He was a charming and engaging individual with a remarkable comprehension of Midrash, that he could recall without a prompt, and an extensive knowledge of the Mishnah and Talmud. A graduate of Berkeley, where he earned his doctorate, California was like a second home, even though he was born near the town of Hadera, in the Haifa District of Israel.

In 1991, I asked Mishael to write a brief review of Charles Taylor’s “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles with Illustrations from the Talmud.” It remains handwritten, unpublished, and unedited, but below are a few excerpts from it.

This manual, the Didache, consists of two parts: part one, consists of a moral treatise which has many non-Christian elements and, thus we suggest, is not of Christian origin. One can point out that the author or authors were Jews or Greeks which later was edited by a Christian editor. Part two consists of directions to the church rites and orders, mainly dealing with prayers, fasting, baptism, and agape. Although it was considered to be Christian by its origin, there are some aspects, especially with the concept of baptism, that may be related to Jewish customs too. … In the light of Taylor’s work, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” the contemporary reader is faced with the issue of Judaism and Christianity not as two religions in conflict, but, as one might say, in a family relation. Taylor’s perception is that the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles originally is a Jewish document has some validity. However, I would, probably, argue that we have a church document with a Jewish perception and thus it may also be argued that before the editorial work took place, the document was of Jewish origin, and thus, probably, was written by a Jew.

After he transferred to Bates, I lost contact with Dr. Caspi, since by that time I was founding ChurchHistory.com, while he was teaching across the country in Maine. However, his acute knowledge of oral tradition and recall of both Midrash and Talmudic interpretations was impressive enough to provoke me to attempt the same for the apostolic fathers and apologists. I have often thought of Mishael with fondness and wish now that I had told him the impact he made on my studies, since he suddenly died at his home on August 4, 2013. His parental, sage-like tone and approachable wisdom are still heard over brunch near the beach where dialogue was always welcomed.

Click here for obituary of Dr. Caspi.

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