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The Didache

Alternate title: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

c. 60-100 C.E.

The Didache is, in all probability, the oldest surviving extant piece of non-canonical literature. It is not so much a letter as a handbook for new Christian converts, consisting of instructions derived directly from the treachings of Jesus. The book can be divided into three sections—the first six chapters consist of catechetical lessons; the next four give descriptions of the liturgy, including baptism, fasting and communion; and the last six outline the church organization.

The Didache claims to have been authored by the twelve apostles. While this is unlikely, the work could be a direct result of the first Apostolic Council, c.50 C.E. (Acts 15:28). Similarities to the Apostolic Decree are apparent, and the given structure of the church is quite primitive. Also, the description of the Eucharist carefully avoids mention of the "body and blood of Christ," obviously being regarded as one of the secret mysteries of eary Christianity. Most scholars agree that the work, in its earliest form, may have circulated as early as the 60's C.E., though additions and modifications may have taken place well into the third century. The work was never officially rejected by the Church, but was excluded from the canon for its lack of literary value.

The complete text of the Didache was discovered in the Codex Hierosolymitanus, though a number of fragments exist, most notably in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. It was originally composed in Greek, probably within a small community.