Jesus and David in the Didache.

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Ben C. Smith
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Jesus and David in the Didache.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Jul 31, 2019 8:16 am

Subject: Is Jesus the descendant of David in Mark?
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Nov 19, 2017 9:27 am
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Nov 16, 2017 6:25 am
Bernard Muller wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 9:09 pm
to Ben,
Not explicitly, no. But my view (and that of many others) is that the imagery in chapter 9 presumes that David is supposed to be the ancestor of the Messiah.
I do not see anything in Ch. 9 where that can be presumed. Can you explain why to you see that presumption of yours?
I will try to get back to this.
Okay, Bernard, to get back to this, I will start off by readily agreeing that there is nothing in Didache 9-10 which explicitly states that Jesus is the descendant of David. Much of my sense of this in the passage derives from some of the same considerations I see in Mark 10.46-52: to wit, the expectation that the Messiah/Christ would be the descendant of David would seem so natural that to mention David and Jesus in the same messianically charged breath and not expressly deny his lineage would imply to me that the author is right in line with this general expectation.

Barnabas goes out of his way to expressly call this expectation into question:

Barnabas 12.10-11: 10 Behold, again it is Jesus, not a son of man, but the Son of God, and He was revealed in the flesh in a figure. Since then men will say that Christ is the son of David, David himself prophesies, being afraid and understanding the error of sinners, "The Lord said unto my Lord, 'Sit on My right hand until I set your enemies for a footstool under your feet.'" 11 And again thus says Isaiah, "The Lord said unto my Christ the Lord, of whose right hand I laid hold, that the nations should give ear before him, and I will break down the strength of kings." See how David calls Him Lord, and calls Him not Son.

Mark 12.35-37 is more subtle, but seems to do much the same thing. So does John 7.40-44.

But the Didache does not do this. It deliberately parallels Jesus with David (calling them both the servant/child of God) and equates the eucharistic cup with the "holy vine of David," which seems to me to be a direct reference to Israel (a new Israel, in this case, one including gentiles) as a Davidic kingdom. Jesus, as the one revealing this kingdom (this Davidic vine), and as the Messiah/Christ, is presumably the Davidic king, then. This could be accomplished without Jesus being the descendant of David, but the fact that the Didache (unlike Barnabas and John) nowhere explains how this might be suggests to me that it is not the case.

You recently called this sort of reasoning an argument from silence, and in a way you are right, but what you fail to grasp is that we are both relying on silence here. The fact of the case is that it was possible both for some early Christians to claim that Jesus was the descendant of David and for other early Christians to claim that he was not. There is, therefore, no automatically default position here. To assume that the Didache was written by the latter kind of Christian is just as much an assumption that it was written by the former kind. We are both, you and I, equally trying to penetrate the silence. In my case, the emphasis upon David and upon "the kingdom" in this text suggests that, in the absence of contrary information, the Didachist probably thought of Jesus as Davidic. I could be wrong. But, then again, so could you. We are playing with fine probabilities here.
In the above exchange, Bernard and I were disagreeing about whether the author(s) of the Didache's eucharistic passages thought of Jesus as the descendant of David: I said yes, and Bernard said no. Here are the passages (in Ehrman's translation for Loeb, slightly modified):

Didache 9.1-5: 1 And with respect to the eucharist, you shall give thanks as follows. 2 First, with respect to the cup: "We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever." 3 And with respect to the fragment of bread: "We give you thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever. 4 As this fragment of bread was scattered upon the mountains and was gathered to become one, so may your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For the glory and the power are yours through Jesus Christ forever." 5 But let no one eat or drink from your thanksgiving meal unless they have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For also the Lord has said about this, "Do not give what is holy to the dogs."

Didache 10.1-7: 1 And when you have had enough to eat, you should give thanks as follows: 2 "We give you thanks, holy Father, for your holy name which you have made reside in our hearts, and for the knowledge, faith, and immortality that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever. 3 You, Ο Master Almighty, created all things for the sake of your name, and gave both food and drink to humans for their refreshment, that they might give you thanks. And you graciously provided us with spiritual food and drink, and eternal life through your child. 4 Above all we thank you because you are powerful. To you be the glory forever. 5 Remember your church, Ο Lord; save it from all evil, and perfect it in your love. And gather it from the four winds into your kingdom, which you prepared for it. For yours is the power and the glory forever. 6 May grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the God/house/son of David. If anyone is holy, let him come; if any one is not, let him repent. Maranatha! Amen." 7 But permit the prophets to hold the eucharist / give thanks as often as they wish.

It is true (as Bernard maintained) that these passages do not explicitly say that Jesus is the Davidic scion. It is also true (as I maintained) that they parallel Jesus with David (calling both "your child") in chapter 9 and once again mention David in chapter 10.

It is hard not to wonder what the connection between Jesus and David might be in these eucharistic prayers. And, of course, a most natural connection would be that Jesus, as the Christ (in chapter 9, at least), is viewed as David's descendant, and that Jesus made known the "holy vine of David" precisely by beginning the work of reestablishing the Davidic kingdom by virtue of his status as David's heir. Furthermore, there is a rather important textual variation in 10.6: codex Hierosolymitanus has "God of David," the Coptic has "house of David," and book 7 of the Apostolic Constitutions has "son of David." If the Apostolic Constitutions preserve the original reading, then in context the "son of David" seems most likely to be Jesus.

However, that particular variant comes off as the least likely of the three, simply because it is easy to explain a scribe changing either of the other two to "son of David" in honor of Jesus (by assimilation with Matthew 21.9); it is also easy to imagine someone wanting to avoid potential political fallout from a phrase like the "house of David," a slogan which might easily conjure images of a Davidic revolution against the current regime. I personally suspect that "house of David" is the original reading, but, even if it is not, "God of David" seems intrinsically more likely than "son of David."

Also, my horizons have been expanded since that exchange with Bernard when it comes to messianic scenarios. Even though I have long been aware, for example, of the double Messiah expected in some scrolls at Qumran, of the expected return of Elijah, and of the expectation of an Ephraimite Messiah of some kind, my mind has still pretty consistently linked the Messiah with David unless otherwise specified. Now, a Davidic Messiah was most certainly expected, but eschatological scenarios were, by and large, considerably more complex than one simple messianic expectation. At least four different figures might be expected. An entire narrative was devised at some point whereby the Messiah ben Joseph (= the Ephraimite Messiah) would fight and then die in battle, after which the Davidic Messiah would rule over a messianic kingdom. Other narrative elements came into play, as well. It is not a matter of Messiah = son of David; it is a matter of Messiah = son of David + Messiah = son of Joseph, accompanied by a prophet like Moses and/or Elijah and by a priest like Melchizedek and/or Aaron. And there might be various angels coming into focus. And so on.

My position in the above exchange was that it would unlikely to mention both David and a Messiah figure in the same context without thinking that the Messiah figure was Davidic. But my position has changed. I was right to point out that David and Jesus are parallel in chapter 9 of the Didache, but all four eschatological figures are parallel in, say, 4Q175 (4QTestimonia). It now seems quite possible to me that it is not necessarily a Davidic Messiah figure who is making known the "holy vine of David." If it is the death of the Messiah ben Joseph in some scenarios that triggers the rise of the Messiah ben David, then why can Jesus not be one kind of figure and David's scion another? In other words, David is still being mentioned here in his capacity as forefather of a Messiah figure, but Jesus might be one of the other Messiah figures, not the Davidic one.

Jesus (a contemporary, whether fleshly or not) is called God's child, and so is David (an ancestor), but David's (current) descendant has not yet been fully revealed; only his "holy vine" has been revealed so far, which could mean a number of things. For example, it could mean that a particular individual is thought to be the Davidic messiah, or that a particular family is thought to represent the Davidic line, and someone from that family will soon step up and claim the throne. There are other possible interpretations, as well.

So it seems quite feasible to me that Bernard was right, and I was wrong. At least, I am no longer convinced at all that merely mentioning Jesus Christ in the same eschatological context as David is enough by itself to hint at Jesus being the Davidic Messiah.


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