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Manuscript Tradition for the Didache

Manuscript Tradition for the Didache

I’m currently finishing the first draft of my commentary on the Didache. Over the past number of years, I have been working with Paul Hartog and other scholars in Didache research to advance my understanding of the document and organize a collection of authors for a commentary series on the Apostolic Fathers (more to follow later).

I want to test some of this material. The Didache MS tradition is rather small and there exists much research on the topic already. So, I am not necessarily broaching new ground as I am attempting to summarize the material well.

The following is a rough draft portion of my commentary that I will only leave online for a short period of time. The aim of the commentary is a low- to mid-tier commentary series that engages with critical research. So, the following needs to be understandable even for the novice.

If you have thoughts or questions, comment below or contact me at the following,

Email: swilhite [at] calbaptist [dot] edu

Twitter: @shawnwilhite

MS Tradition for the Didache

The textual history of the Didache is quite complicated. As the Didache is often reflective of a late first or early second-century social setting, the manuscript tradition is quite scattered. Some direct MS witnesses survive, but the only surviving, and generally complete MS dates to the mid-eleventh-century (Codex Hierosolymitanus [H54]). Additionally, two fourth-century fragments, Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1782, contain Did. 1.3c–4a and 2.7–3.2;[1] one fifth-century Coptic fragment, Br. Mus. Or. 9271, includes Did. 10.3b–12.2;[2] and early in the twentieth-century a Georgian version of the Didache appeared but was subsequently lost.[3] David Palmer, helpfully, has collated many reading variants, versions, and copies of the Didache that point to the collective witness of the Didache.[4]

The following discussion will remain rather brief and cursory as I only point out the MS traditions of the Didache and offer a few comments on the uniqueness of each witness.[5]

(I) Direct MS Witnesses

(a) Codex Hierosolymitanus (H54). The most complete Didache MS is found within Codex Hierosolymitanus (H54), also known as the Bryennios or Jerusalem Manuscript. Philotheos Bryennios discovered the MS in 1873 in the library of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople.[6] Within the MS itself, it identifies the Scribe and offers a completion date in colophon folio (120a): “Leon, the notary and sinner,” 11 June 1056.[7]

The MS contains 120 leaves including nine different works. The Didache is found in folio 76a–80b. And, although the MS was discovered in 1873, the findings of the Didache were not made public until 1883.[8] This MS contains the following volumes,[9]

1. Ps.-Chrysostom Synopsis Veteris et Novi Testamenti: fol. 1a–38b

2. Epistle of Barnabas: fol. 39a–51b

3. 1 Clement: fol. 51b–70a

4. 2 Clement: fol. 70a–76a

5. ὀνόματα τῶν βιβλίων παρ᾽ ἑβραίοις (“Names of the Books by the Hebrews”): fol. 76a

6. Didache: fol 76a–80b

7. Letter of Maria of Cassoboloi to Ignatius of Antioch: fol. 81a–82a

8. Longer Recension of Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (12 Letters), followed by the colophon: fol. 82a–120a

9. Discussion of the genealogy of Jesus: fol. 120a–120b

The immediate value of H54 is its attestation to the Didache. It is the most whole and complete version, to date, that we currently have of the Didache. The ending of the Didache is among the major problems of this MS as it seems to have an unfinished ending (see section in commentary).[10]

(b) Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1782. This witness to the Didache consists of two small fragmentary parchment leaves. According to Grenfell and Hunt, this fragment dates to the end of the fourth century.[11] The size of the fragment is quite small (fol. 1: 5.5 cm. by 4.5 cm; fol. 2: 5.7 cm. by 4.8 cm.).[12] On folio 1, it contains seven lines of the Greek text of Did. 1.3c–1.4a. On folio 2, it contains eight lines of the Greek text of Did. 2.7b–3.2a.

(II) Versions

(a) Coptic Fragment: Br. Mus. Or. 9271. This Coptic MS is generally dated to the fifth-century.[13] Carl Schmidt provides a photograph of the original MS and then offers an inscription.[14] The MS fragment is rather large (44 cm. long and 28.5 cm. high) and contains writing on both sides.[15]

In this Coptic fragment, we can observe a small portion of the Didache text: Did. 10.3b–12.2a.[16] The liturgical instruction and the traveling teachers encompass this section. Of a more notable inclusion is the myron prayer. Besides also being found in Apos. Const. VII, 27, 1–2, the Coptic MS includes instruction on the ointment liturgy (see section in commentary).

(b) Ethiopic Version. It is with regret that the date of this Ethiopic translation cannot be dated and the whole translation is no longer extant.[17] Audet offers a hypothesis regarding the Ethiopic version and how the Didache became part of this tradition.[18]

The Ethiopic version contains parts of the Didache, including Did. 8.1–2 and 11.3–7. According to Niederwimmer, the Ethiopic version is helpful in terms of three occasions: “it secures εἰ μή in 11.5 and πρὸς ὑμᾶς in 12.1 (together with the Coptic and Apostolic Constitutions), and it shows that the gloss in 13.4 must be old (although the Ethiopic presupposes τῷ πτωχῷ).”[19]


[1]A. S. Hunt, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 15 (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), 12–15.

[2]G. Horner, “A New Papyrus Fragment of the Didache in Coptic,” Journal of Theological Studies 25 (April 1924): 225–31; F. Stanley Jones and Paul A. Mirecki, “Considerations of the Coptic Papyrus of the Didache (British Library Oriental Manuscript 9271),” in The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History, and Transmission, ed. Clayton N. Jefford, Supplements to Novum Testamentum 77 (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 37–46.

[3] I will gloss over the Georgian version because it is somewhat debated whether or not this MS consists of a copy of the Didache based upon older version of the Didache or is a modern translation of the Didache; thus, this idea would suggest the Georgian as not an independent witness to the Didache. Peradse, prior to the destruction of the Georgian version, was able to see Pheikrishvili’s copy of the Georgian text, copied it, and collated it with Harnack’s Greek text of Didache. However, it is only the collation is that remains of this Georgian version.  Gregor Peradse, “Die »Lehre Der Zwölf Apostel« in Der Georgischen Überlieferung,” Zeitschrift Für Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 31 (1932): 111–16; Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers I, Loeb Classical Library 24 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 412–13.

[4]David Robert Palmer, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles: A Critical Greek Edition with Footnotes Covering Textual Variants,” accessed December 29, 2017, http://www.bibletranslation.ws/trans/didache.pdf.

[5] For the sake of this commentary, I will refrain from explaining how the Didache corresponds to a variety of independent witnesses. Regrettably, I still feel I am of many minds when I attempt to walk through this problem. So, I will merely point to suggested sources that assess the indirect relationship of the Didache with Doctr., Barn., Apost. Cons., and others. Niederwimmer, Didache, 28–52; John S. Kloppenborg, “The Transformation of Moral Exhortation in Didache 1–5,” in The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History, and Transmission, ed. Clayton N. Jefford, Supplements to Novum Testamentum 77 (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 88–109; John S. Kloppenborg, “Didache 1.1—6.1, James, Matthew, and the Torah,” in Trajectories Through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, ed. Andrew Gregory and Christopher Tuckett, The New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 193–221; Alistair Stewart-Sykes, ed., On the Two Ways: Life or Death, Light or Darkness: Foundational Texts in the Tradition, Popular Patristics Series 41 (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2011).

[6] Niederwimmer, Didache, 19.

[7] See a photograph in Schaff, Church Manual, 6.

[8] See the photocopies of the Didache in Harris, The Teaching of the Apostle: Newly Edited, with Facsimile Text and a Commentary.

[9] Niederwimmer, Didache, 19.

[10] Niederwimmer, Didache, 20; Robert E. Aldridge, “The Lost Ending of the Didache,” Vigiliae Christianae 53, no. 1 (1999): 1–15.

[11] Hunt, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, 15:12–13.

[12] Niederwimmer, Didache, 21.

[13] Horner, “A New Papyrus Fragment of the Didache in Coptic,” 225; Rordorf and Tuilier, Didachè, 112.

[14] Carl Schmidt, “Das Koptische Didache-Fragment Des British Museum,” Zeitschrift Für Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 23 (1925): 81–99.

[15] Niederwimmer, Didache, 24.

[16] For the Coptic text and a readable translation, consult Jones and Mirecki, “Coptic Papyrus of the Didache,” 37–46.

[17] Niederwimmer, Didache, 26.

[18] Audet, La Didachè, 34–45.

[19] Niederwimmer, Didache, 27.

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