The discovery of the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (usually styled the “Didache”) by Metropolitan Philotheos of Nicomedia in 1873 not only corroborated the exceeding great antiquity of the Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays (tracing it back at least to the early sub-Apostolic age, if not earlier), but interestingly also set it in the context of the struggle between the emerging “normative Judaism” and “normative Christianity”1. Consider this portion of the text:
Αἱ δὲ νηστεῖαι ὑμῶν μὴ ἔστωσαν μετὰ τῶν ὑποκριτῶν· νηστεύουσι γὰρ δευτέρα σαββάτων καὶ πέμτῃ· ὑμεῖς δὲ νηστεύσατε τετράδα καὶ παρασκευήν. (8.1)
But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites: since they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, you must then fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8.1)
The term ὑποκριταί (hypocrites) is evidently borrowed from Jesus’ rhetoric against the Pharisees and his other opponents in the Gospels, and it seems to be directed to the representatives of “normative Judaism” contemporary to the author of the Didache. The mention of Mondays and Thursdays help us make this probable identification, for as Shmuel Safrai has noted,
“Mondays and Thursdays, which were synagogue days, when country-folk came to town and the courts sat and the Torah was read, were the favoured days for public and private fasts. People would assemble for prayer, mention the reason for the fast, as follows from a baraita in the Babylonian Talmud. Most texts which mention fasting on Mondays and Thursdays are later than 70 C. E. though some are definitely earlier. Epiphanius says that these were the days of the Pharisees’ fasts in Jesus’ time, and the Didache warns against fasting ‘along with the hypocrites’ (the Pharisees) on these days, urging for Wednesday and Friday instead. The Pharisee in Luke who boasted of his twice-weekly fasting must have meant Mondays and Thursdays. But the custom was confined to certain circles among the Pharisees and their disciples”2.
One further comment about the word ὑποκριτής itself: Moisés Silva has noted that, like its English cognate, it “indicates inconsistency between what one says and one does, but it would be difficult to prove that the Greek word carries the offensive overtones (such as dishonorable motives) that we normally associate with the English word. Paul describes the behavior of Peter and other Jews in Antioch as hypokrisis, but it is unlikely that he was thereby impugning their motives”3. This may be the case in the New Testament, of course, but as we all know, the word eventually became a term of abuse in later Christian discourse. It would be particularly interesting, then, to examine at which stage in the history of the semantic change of the word do we find its use in the Didache 8.1. My own sense is that by this point the word has at least become a technical designation for the “normative Jewish” opponents of “normative Christianity,” and therefore is already a step beyond its New Testament use.
1 It should be noted, of course, that both of these designations are problematic; however, properly qualified, they are eminently useful as descriptors of the dominant traditions that arose from the tensions of the first century. For the important qualifications that make the use of such terminology possible, see Arlan J. Hultgren, The Rise of Normative Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1988). For the seminal (and often criticized) work that introduced the term “normative Judaism,” see George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927-30).
2 Shmuel Safrai, “Religion in Everyday Life,” in S. Safrai et al. (eds.), The Jewish People in the First Century: Historical Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions, vol. 2 (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1976), page 816.
3 Moisés Silva, “The Place of Historical Reconstruction in New Testament Criticism,” in D. A. Carson and John D. Woobridge (eds.), Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon (1986; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), pages 115-116.