In 1920, J.M. Harden published the text and translation of The Ethiopic Didascalia. It contains many quotations from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Harden's book can be found and downloaded intact at Google Books.
The Ethiopic Didascalia, Harden explains, is contained in five manuscripts of the Oriental Collection of the British Museum (752, 793, 797, 798, and 799), and "All these date from the early part of the eighteenth century." Harden's English translation is based on MS #752.
Harden does not go into detail about the age of the composition. He states in his Introduction that the Ethiopic Didascalia "is one of the least known of a number of more or less similar documents that have come down to us from comparatively early times." He states that it is commonly believed that such documents are historically related, and that their earliest descendants are the Didache and Hippolytus' Apostolic Constitutions. He also mentions that the documents titled "Didascalia" are descended from a lost Greek work "which belongs in its original form probably to some part of the third century A.D." and that this Greek work's earliest extant descendant is the Syriac Didascalia.
Harden also mentions the existence of two editions of the Didascalia in Arabic. Regarding one MS of the Arabic Didascalia (belonging to the Museo Borgia and discovered by Baumstark, Harden says), "The recension in this manuscript follows the Apostolic Constitutions exactly as to order of subject-matter, containing the six books complete, and also the whole of the seventh book with the exception of chapters 47 and 48. It lacks the six extra chapters found in the other recension but, like it, contains the "preface." It is divided into 44 chapters. This manuscript is also important because it contains at the end the information that the Didascalia was translated from Coptic into Arabic by Abu Ishaq in the year 1295 A.D. As some of the manuscripts of the other recension are known to have been in existence shortly after this date, it is probable that we have to do with two independent versions of a COPTIC Didascalia."
Hmm. The plot thickens! Before 1295, the Didascalia existed in Coptic.
Harden mentions that in 1834, T. P. Platt had published the text of a single MS of the Ethiopic Didascalia, but Platt's MS was defective: "Not only is a leaf lost in the middle of its sixteenth chapter, but also it breaks off abruptly in the middle of a word in Chapter xxii." Thus Platt's text contained only a little more than half of the Ethiopic Didascalia's contents.
Harden also mentions in his Introduction that, if one makes a few logical deductions, it appears that "The Ethiopic Didascalia runs almost exactly parallel with the first seven books of the Apostolic Constitutions. The only addition is the "preface," found also, as already stated, in both of the Arabic and one of the Syriac versions." He presents a table which shows, among other things, that Apostolic Constitutions 5:8-7:17 runs parallel to the Ethiopic Didascalia, chapters 26-35.
Harden also mentions that it seems likely to him that the Ethiopic Didascalia descends from the Greek ancestor of the Apostolic Constitutions, rather than directly from the Apostolic Constitutions, because the Ethiopic Didascalia contains no part of Book VIII.
Harden also states, "The enigmatic word "nipilobanos," which is found in the "preface," points to the fact that a Coptic version lies somewhere behind the Ethiopic, and the same may probably be said of the equally strange word "'abibolosawi," which is found in the title of Chapter xii."
The NT text displayed in the Ethiopic Didascalia is interesting. One example: on page 150 of Harden's book, in the course of chapter 33 of the Ethiopic Didascalia, an interesting form of Acts 15:29 is used: "Men should abstain from anything sacrificed to (false) gods, and from that which dieth of itself, and from blood, and from fornication; and that what they hate for themselves they should not do to their neighbours. Take heed to these things and peace to you." That's the Ethiopic – and Western – form of that verse.
Now, here is an excerpt from the beginning of Apostolic Constitutions 15, compared to an excerpt from the beginning of Ethiopic Didascalia 33:
ApCon 6:15: "Be ye likewise contented with one baptism alone, that which is into the death of the Lord; not that which is conferred by wicked heretics, but that which is conferred by unblameable priests, `in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,' and let not that which comes from the ungodly be received by you.'"
EthDid: "Make no repetition of baptism: The first baptism which you have received sufficeth for you, for ye were buried into the death of Christ; (a baptism) which hath not been given to the ungodly and unbelieving, but to holy priests who have bestowed it upon you into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Receive not baptism at the hands of apostates from the faith."
The translation is a tad loose, but clearly we are looking at two descendants of the same ancestor. Let's keep looking at these two texts side-by-side:
ApCon 6:15: "Nay, he that, out of contempt, will not be baptized, shall be condemned as an unbeliever, and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says, `Except a man be baptized of water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven.' And again, `He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.' But he that says, `When I am dying I will be baptized, lest I should sin and defile my baptism,' is ignorant of God, and forgetful of his own nature. For `Do not thou delay to turn unto the Lord, for thou knowest not what the next day will bring forth.' Do you also baptize your infants, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God. For says He, `Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.'
EthDid 33: "Those who believe not, and are not baptized into the right faith, are transgressors of the law and condemned, for they reproach Him, and give Him not thanks. Our Lord saith, `He that is not born again of water and the Holy Spirit cannot enter into the Kingdom of heaven,' but `He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned.' And he who says, `Afterwards I will be baptized,' and maketh light of baptism, the same shall be condemned and be far from God. Delay not to turn to the Lord for man knoweth not that which shall come upon him. And baptize your children, when they are babes, and feed them with spiritual food, and bring them up with admonition and wisdom, for it is said, `Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come unto Me.'"
One thing to observe here is that Apostolic Constitutions and the Ethiopic Didascalia both present a loose rendering of John 3:5 - - both inserting "Holy" before "Spirit" and both replacing "kingdom of God" with "kingdom of heaven" - - and they both quote Mark 16:16. It seems immensely improbably that the producer of Apostolic Constitutions, c. 380, *and* a later Coptic or Ethiopic translator, would independently make identical alterations to the text of John 3:5. So there are two possibilities: the Ethiopic Didascalia descends from the Apostolic Constitutions here, or else the Apostolic Constitutions and the Ethiopic Didascalia both descend here from a source earlier than the Apostolic Constitutions. As I already mentioned, Harden suspected that because the Ethiopic Didascalia does not contain any part of Book VIII of Apostolic Constitutions, it seemed more likely to him that the Ethiopic Didascalia echoes a Greek ancestor-document earlier than the Apostolic Constitutions.
Now let's see if anything can be discovered by comparing the Ethiopic Didascalia to the Syriac Didascalia Apostolurum, which is assigned a date c. 250 or a tad earlier.
At http://www.bombaxo.com/didascalia.html Kevin Edgecomb has provided an English translation of the Syriac Didascalia Apostolorum. Chapter 24 of the Syriac Didascalia parallels the part of the Ethiopic Didascalia that mentions that the apostles gathered in Jerusalem. All that Didascalia Apostolorum says here about baptism that seems connected to what the Ethiopic Didascalia says there about baptism is:
"And as for baptism also, one is enough for you, even that which has perfectly forgiven you your sins. For Isaiah said not (only) `Wash,' but `Wash, and be cleansed.'"
Near the end of Didascalia Apostolorum 24, when Acts 15:29 is used, the Silver-rule Western reading ("That which is hateful to you, do not do to others") is not found; instead the Didascalia Apostolorum has the normal text there.
Despite the late date of the Ethiopic MSS which contain it, the Ethiopic Didascalia is probably a valuable witness; its readings probably echo a NT text -- possibly a Coptic NT text -- that is earlier than what is displayed in most Ethiopic MSS of NT books.
It would be interesting to attempt to discern the exact relationship between the Ethiopic Didascalia, Books 1-6 of Apostolic Constitutions, and the Syriac Didascalia. It is practically a reflex to assume that the Ethiopic Didascalia is descended from the Apostolic Constitutions, but two problems with that assumption are (a) the Ethiopic Didascalia does not use Book VII, and (b) the Ethiopic Didascalia uses the Western form of Acts 15:29. This second objection might be overcome by reckoning that the Ethiopic translator (or a Coptic translator of a text used by the Ethiopic translator) adopted a text of Acts 15:29 familiar to him.
One more thing: in a footnote near the end of the book, Harden explains the word "nipilobanos." He notes that in an edition of the Arabic Didascalis by Funk (Vol. 2, p. xxxii), we find testimony that "the original Greek was FILOPONOI or FILOPONWS. This agrees with the Syriac version, and would explain the reading of the Ethiopic, i.e., as "ni," the Coptic definite article, and FILOPONOS. The reading is important as showing probably a close connection between the Ethiopic and Coptic versions."
Indeed! The presence of a Coptic loan-word (or an invented word based on a Coptic word) in the Arabic Didascalia and in the Ethiopic Didascalia, in a passage not attested in the Apostolic Constitutions, but found in the Syriac MS of the Didascalia Apostolorum transcribed and translated by Gibson (her book about it is also online), would seem to guarantee that the Ethiopic Didascalorum -- at least, that part of it -- does not descend (solely) from the Apostolic Constitutions but has, somewhere in its genealogy, a Coptic Didascalia which descended from an older source-document which also begat the Syriac Didascalia.
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.
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