Days of Fasting — Didache 8:1

Not the most appropriate post title for the season. I got a lovely editing of the Apostolic Fathers (early church writings that overlap and just post-date the new testament) in greek yesterday. Reading through the Didache (an early work that seems to be written to prepare new converts for baptism, or at least provide a guide to conduct), I found this verse:

(Didache 8:1) Do not fast with the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you fast on Wednesday and Friday*

— tr mine

I don’t have a good commentary on the Didache. I assume that those days were traditional fasting days. But for whom, for Jews, for other Christian groups, for pagans? Anyone got any information.

A bit of googling led me to an online commentary that claims it was a Jewish thing, but I’ve not come across this before, so I’d appreciate some back up. Anyone else ever heard of Monday and Thursday being traditional fasting days for Jews?

And, in addition to the geekiness of wanting to find out more about this. I confess I read the verse and had to laugh, then shouted out to my wife, who also found the specificity very amusing.

* The days of the week are given numerically (second and fifth, fourth and the day of ‘preparation’ [i.e. before the sabbath].)

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Days of Fasting — Didache 8:1

  1. lars-gunnar sommarbäck

    “Some pious Jews also fast every Monday and Thursday in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple, of the burning of the Torah, and of the desecration of God’s name (comp. Luke xviii. 12). ”

    Read more: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=59&letter=F&search=fast#ixzz19KdOkQLs

    Cheers!

  2. Doing things different from non-believers is key to Judaism, isn’t it? (not boiling calves in milk and such) So this separatism would be in keeping with a long history of Jews setting themselves as separate and special.

    Reminds me of Amish wanting to avoid what the English do.

    This strategy of intentionally alienating oneself can keep genes pure (or inbred unhealthy or preserve good traits), stop bad ideas from getting in, and breed resentment from dominant cultures (as history has shown).

    This passage reminds me of the same strategy of Jews — but of course, I don’t know. Sorry.

  3. Ian

    Lars-Gunnar – Thanks for posting and welcome to the blog! Thanks for finding that link, it was helpful. The luke reference is to the story of the Pharisee and the Publican, where the Pharisee claims to fast twice a week (but doesn’t specify dates). So I have two sources that claim this is a Jewish thing, but neither has any more details. And I still wonder if the Didache’s ‘hypocrites’ are Jews, or are the kinds of Christian groups that still follow aspects of the Jewish law — the kinds of group the NT letters are continuously carping about.

    Sabio – Interesting connections. Yes, the brutality of just changing the day is quite amusing I thought. It lays bare the arbitrary nature of the exclusivity.

  4. “A bit of googling led me to an online commentary that claims it was a Jewish thing, but I’ve not come across this before, so I’d appreciate some back up. Anyone else ever heard of Monday and Thursday being traditional fasting days for Jews?”

    that’s what i heard in seminary as well. the “traditional” fasting days for the Pharisees however there is some dissent as to whether this was pre- or post Temple destruction. most scholars claim that this came after the Christians were kicked out of the synagogues which really wounded the first generations of Christians as it was traumatic. this is why John writes a lot about “the Jews” and this same woundedness continues in Revelation. so those books and the Didache are both reacting to this event and the bile made its way into worship and community identity. interesting socio-anthropology IMHO.

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