The apocalyptic XVIth chapter of the Didache – Part ten: Conclusion

The apocalyptic XVIth chapter of the Didache – Part ten: Conclusion

The apocalyptic texts of the New Testament, the synoptic Apocalypse and Revelation, are of utmost importance for a sound understanding of the origins of Christianity. In my book I discussed the 11th chapter of Revelation, which is the most important one chronologically, and I briefly touched the Markan version of the synoptic Apocalypse. I only mentioned one aspect of the last chapter of the Didache, and in this serial I not only correct the thesis I put forward there. Recently I thoroughly studied this fragment as a whole for the first time.

The Synoptic Apocalypse starts with Jesus in Jerusalem under immediate Roman threat (“There will not be left here one stone upon another”) followed by a general description of the wars and other calamities of the last days, and in the second part a veiled but concrete description of the culminating events of the war against the Romans, and finally the arrival of the messiah simultaneously with or immediately after these final events.

Revelation 11 introduces two witnesses, being Jesus the messiah in his double royal and priestly role, who are active during the war (three and a half years), describes some war events afterwards and combines these war events with the story of Jesus’ death and rising while many die and Jerusalem is destroyed. At that moment the messiah arrives in all his glory (11:15).

The supplementary power of Didache XVI lies in its use of the inclusio technique: the coming of the Lord messiah is mentioned in the first verse as well as in the last one. And what is of utmost importance: this inclusio yields chronological information, as in the first verse the messiah has not yet come, and in the last one he arrives. The first verse explicitly combines the messiah-who-has-not-yet-come with a warlike atmosphere of mortal danger and military watchfulness. So the messiah was still to be expected at the beginning or in the first phase of the war.
Verse 4 speaks of widespread enmity and hatred, and contains the first τοτε (then, at that time, simultaneously), which will be used four times throughout verse 4 to 8, indicating that all the events described in these verses belong together chronologically:

  • the arrival of Titus
  • the burning of the Temple and the city, the many victims and Jesus’ activity
  • three important war signs (enormous smoke production, announcement of the Roman victory, escape of the moribund)
  • and finally the arrival of the messiah.

So all in all Didache XVI forms a solid unity that supports the arrival of the messiah, and so the beginning of Christianity, at the end of the war of the Jews against the Romans. This chapter shows that Jesus was not yet proclaimed messiah at the beginning of the war. He received his status as the long-awaited messiah only through what happened to him in the very last days of the war, at the paradigmatic day of the Lord and in the paradigmatic capital Jerusalem: he survived a certain death and that way he became a sign of hope for national recovery in the nation’s deepest despair.