Many Christians have never heard of The Didache, an anonymous manual on the principles and practices of the Christian faith. Written by early church disciples in the first or second century (depending on which scholar you ask), this brief treatise on the faith for believers is almost 2000 years old. So what is it doing on a blog about the 19th century? Well, although historians were aware of The Didache‘s existence for centuries (other texts referred to it), the work itself had never been seen, until it was discovered by an archbishop in Istanbul in 1873. The first English translation of The Didache was published in New York on March 20, 1884 (interestingly just a few weeks before Easter), selling 5000 copies in one day, with scholars from both sides of the Atlantic astounded at the amazing discovery of such an archaic text.
In my research I haven’t been able to find much regarding reception of the work (except that many were skeptical as to its authenticity) and its influence on 19th century life and thought, other than it was apparently extremely popular; beyond that, we can only speculate on its significance for Victorians. Although Christianity was still prevalent at this time, consider also that atheism was gaining a more accepted and legitimate place in philosophical and societal thought, largely influenced by Nietzsche, Darwin, Freud and Marx. Some of the most well-known literary authors of the period were atheist (George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, for example).
You can read The Didache online here.
Have you heard of or read The Didache? Are you interested in reading it? Why do you think it might have been so popular at this particular time in history? Do you think it would share the same kind of popularity if it had been found today?
I first read it in the a book called Early Christian Writings. What struck me most about the Didache is the ‘two ways’ and the way it presents Christianity as a way of life as opposed to just a set of beliefs. Some Christians today seem to think they can believe in Jesus but live however they want, but this writing proves that this was clearly not what the early believers thought.