Dhammapada › Didache › Ignatius of Antioch & His Letter to the Ephesians » Origins and History

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • Dhammapada › Origins
  • Didache › Origins
  • Ignatius of Antioch & His Letter to the Ephesians › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Dhammapada › Origins

Definition and Origins

by Dhruba RC
published on 02 May 2016
Gautama Buddha in Padmasana (Francis Chung)
Tipitaka (Sansktrit: Tripitaka ), the Buddhist canon, consists of three pitaka ( Tri means three and Pitaka refers to boxes), namely Vinaya or Monastic regimen, Sutta ( Sanskrit : Sutra ) or Discourses and Abhidhamma (Sanskrit: Abhidharma ) or Abstract doctrine. Dhammapada (Sanskrit: Dharmapada ) belongs to Khuddaka nikaya (Minor collection), which itself is a part of the Sutta pitaka. The name is a combination of two words Dharma and Pada. Dharma can be roughly translated into religious virtue and Pada into stanzas or steps.


Dhammapada is a collection of 423 verses as uttered by Gautama Buddha himself to his disciples. An anthology of moral precepts and maxims, it is divided into 26 chapters under such headers as Thought, Flowers, Old Age, Self, Happiness, Pleasure, Anger, Thirst, Brahmana and others. Though seemingly separated across so many chapters a fundamental thread runs through all the verses, which becomes perceptible on reading the text.
The teachings of Buddha focus on the way, the magga (Sankskrit: marga ) or path, that delivers a person from a life that is inescapably connected with desires, infatuation, sorrows, hate and an endless cycle of Becoming. “He whose appetites are stilled, who is not absorbed in enjoyment, who has perceived void and unconditioned freedom (Nirvâna),” continues Buddha, “his path is difficult to understand, like that of birds in the air” (No 93, Chapter VII). There is nirvana ( moksha for Hindu, fanafor Sufi mystic), here and now, not in a supposed afterlife.


As because the ills that trouble of our lives stem from avidya (ignorance), all efforts of Buddhist doctrine are therefore directed to illumine that darkness, to carry us towards the highest summit of wisdom, unmoving, un-originated, uncontaminated. Verily he says, “Him I call indeed a Brâhmana who has traversed this miry road; the impassable world and its vanity, who has gone through, and reached the other shore, is thoughtful, guileless, free from doubts, free from attachment, and content” (No 414, Chapter XXVI).
The verses continue to enjoy such superlative popularity among people, both followers of the way and others, because they present axioms in a very plain language, easily accessible and relatable to all irrespective of “aristocracy of birth and intellect” (Coomaraswamy 1967, 249). In fact, to further ease the process of understanding, Buddhaghosa included a parable for nearly every verse, possibly uttered by Buddha, in his monumental work of Atthakatha.
The word 'Brahmana' in the preceding passage should not be confused with its homonymic counterpart, which denotes a caste. Its etymological meaning, ie a person who has realised Brahma, should be remembered to understand the whole of the last chapter of this book. The following verse from the same chapter should make it clear: “A man does not become a Brahmana by his platted hair, by his family or by birth; in whom there is truth and righteousness, he is blessed, he is a Brahmana” (No 393, Chapter XXVI).
Also, nirvana should not be considered equivalent to an ethical state just because the means to it are ethical, even if partly.The numerous exhortations of Gautama Buddha in Dhammapada if not properly considered may lead to this erroneous conclusion. In one of the verses, he succinctly reveals the nature of this unfettered bliss, “Him I call indeed a Brahmana who in this world is above good and evil, above the bondage of both, free from grief, from sin, and from impurity” (No 412, Chapter XXVI).


There is a general disagreement as to when it was reduced to a written format in Pali language. It can, however, be dated back to at least the 1st century BCE. While writing his commentary on Dhammapada, Buddhaghosa (a Buddhist scholar from 5th century CE) asserted that the Pali text before him was consolidated in the First Council itself held after Parinirvana of Buddha.His commentary known as Atthakatha (Sanskrit: Arthakatha) was written in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. While any debate in assigning a date to this manuscript may hold archaeological interest, the teachings of this sacred collection of verses are definitely independent of both time and creed.
Illustrated Buddhist Manuscript Cover

Illustrated Buddhist Manuscript Cover

Translations of this book in various Asian languages are in existence from at least early 3rd century CE when it was translated to Chinese as Shamana (Sanskrit: Shramana ) by Wei Chi Lan and other Buddhist ascetics. Many such extant copies in vernacular languages abound in South, South-east Asian countries, not to mention Tibet.
First Latin translation by Dr Fausböll appeared in 1855, subsequent to which other prominent editions were published by DJ Gogerly, Max Müller etc. While it is nevertheless difficult to convey exactly the beauty and affection of the original stanzas in translation, all such initiatives have only contributed to make Dhammapada widely available among curious readers and scholars alike. In conclusion, nothing could be more apt than recalling the words of Gautama Buddha to his disciple Ananda, “… be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the truth. Look not for refuge beside yourselves…” (Rhys Davids, Vol II, 108).

Didache › Origins

Definition and Origins

by John T. Lowe
published on 22 July 2015
Didache (Unknown)
The Didache (Koine Greek : διδαχή), also known as “The Teaching,” or, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” is an enigmatic primitive Church document describing early Christian ethics, practices, and order.


The existence of the Didache was unknown until its discovery by Philotheos Bryennios—a Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Nicomedia—inside a monastery in Asia Minor (modern Turkey ) in 1873 CE and later published in 1883 CE. The document was located inside of the Codex Hierosolymitanus, has no date itself, and lacks any mention of external events that could indicate a timeframe. Additionally, there are no prescribed authors. Therefore, the dating of the Didache is difficult, and since its emergence has caused controversy. There is, however, a consensus for a mid to late first-century dating (50-70 CE), while others contend for as late as the 3rd or 4th century CE.
Original manuscripts were written in Koine Greek, but have also been found in Syriac, Latin, and Coptic. The point of its origin remains speculative, but given the language and place of discovery, Northern Egypt, Southern Anatolia (modern day Turkey), and other various Ancient Near East locations seem likely.



The manuscript is a composite document suggesting a multistage redaction (undergoing mutliple editing processes over a period of time). The variance of style and content suggest composition from numerous preredactional manuscripts (texts that were previously unedited) that eventually came to be the present text.
The document is structured into four primary parts. The first part, “The Two Ways”—either the way of life or the way of death—(Chapters 1-6) are moral instructions for the Christian life in order to prepare converts to receive the initial rite of baptism, and as the precursor to the continual rite of the Eucharist. Its stylistic approach reflect both ancient Greek philosophical literatureand a classical Jewish wisdom-literature fashion.
The second part consists of instructions on ritual practices concerning baptism, food, and the Eucharist (Chapters 7-10). The teachings about the appropriate days to fast, how to conduct a proper baptism, and the prayer of thanksgiving are some of the earliest—if not the first—recorded liturgical manuals.
The third part (Chapters 11-15) gives instructions regarding leaders in the early Christian Community—apostles, prophets, and teachers. This section represents a particular protocol for accepting authorities in an assumed preexisting Christian community.
The fourth and final part (Chapter 16) is eschatological in nature, containing exhortations of perseverance, warnings of end times and tribulation, as well as to the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ. These apocalyptic overtones parallel similar language found in the gospels Matthew, Mark, 1 Thessalonians, and Revelation.
External references to the Didache were as early as the Jewish historian Eusebius of Caesarea, as well as some of the Church Fathers such as Athanasius, Origen, and Rufinus.

Ignatius of Antioch & His Letter to the Ephesians › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by John S. Knox
published on 20 July 2016
For many people, the origins of the Christian church are shrouded in obscurity outside of the biblical narratives concerning Jesus Christ and his Jewish followers. Yet, after the crucifixion of Jesus and the initial missions work across the Mediterranean of Disciples and Apostles such as St. Peter, St. Paul, St. James, and St. John, other influential men and women spread the good news of Jesus Christ through ecclesiological cultivation and development.
Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch

One such ancient church leader was Ignatius of Antioch (35–108 CE), a student of the Apostle John, the bishop of Antioch, the self–proclaimed "bearer of God" (Gonzalez, 51), and an eventual martyr for the faith. Though little is known about the charges for which he was condemned, on his way to Rome for his execution, "A number of Christians from that area came to see him. Ignatius was able to see them and converse with him. He even had a Christian amanuensis [a literary assistant] with him who wrote the letters he dictated." (Gonzalez, 52)


Fortunately, for those hoping to learn more about early Christianity, Ignatius was able to pen at least seven letters during this time, which were later compiled with other Apostolic writings such as I & II Clement, The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, and The Didache. In fact, Lightfoot and Harmer commend Ignatius' letters "because of the unparalleled light they shed on the history of the church at this time and what they reveal about the remarkable personality of the author" (79). They show the environments and cultural attitudes within and without the ancient Christian communities and unveil how leaders of Christianity responded to both civil persecutions and heretical attacks upon the church and themselves, personally.


One of these works, Ignatius' Letter to the Ephesians, written sometime between 107–110 CE, imparts to the church at Ephesus (and future readers thereafter) Ignatius' exhortations, admonitions, and guidelines regarding parishioners' relationship with Christ, fellow church members, and non-believers. As Trebilco states, "Ignatius envisages the bishop having very broad and widespread control over the life of the community" (663). To this end, Ignatius specifically promotes and defends in the Letter to the Ephesians a strict-though-kind hierarchical structure within the church.


Concerning the infrastructure of the church, Ignatius clearly favors a situation wherein the bishop holds the highest earthly rank of authority in the community, followed by the presbyters or deacons, and then lastly, the congregation members. Ignatius states, "It is obvious, then, that one must look upon the bishop as the Lord Himself" (Lightfoot, 88). He adds, "It is fitting, then, in every way to glorify Jesus Christ, who glorified you, so that you may be made perfect in a single obedience to the bishop and the presbytery and be sanctified in every aspect." (Lightfoot, 87)
Ignatius considered all churches and their flocks to be representative of Jesus' submissive relationship with God and Jesus' sacrificial attitude toward his followers. Thus, Ignatius encouraged the church at Ephesus to be "attuned to the bishop like strings to a lyre " (Lightfoot, 87), and to "obey the bishop and the presbytery with undisturbed mind" (Lightfoot, 93). Spiritual leaders in the church were established by divine appointment; thus, healthy congregations should live in humble subjection to the bishop, facilitating perfect harmony within the church.
No stranger to corrupt Roman and Jewish institutions, Ignatius was not ignorant of the dangers of a hierarchical system.Although the Christian persecutions were intermittent in the first three centuries CE, many followers of Jesus were martyred under the tyrannical reigns of emperors like Nero, Domitian, and Trajan, who used the persecutions to stabilize their empires (and to distract from their own leadership failings). As Galli remarks,
From AD 30 to AD 311, a period in which 54 emperors ruled the Empire, only about a dozen took the trouble to harass Christians. Furthermore, not until Decius (249–251) did any deliberately attempt an Empire-wide persecution. Until then, persecution came mainly at the instigation of local rulers, albeit with Rome's approval.Nonetheless, a few emperors did have direct and, for Christians, unpleasant dealings with this faith. (20)


Having already observed and experienced this direct persecution, Ignatius maintained that the structure of power within the church body was not to exist for political sake; rather, church members should coexist in blameless union so that the church "may always participate in God" (Lightfoot, 87). For the early church, all humans (regardless of race or gender) were brothers and sisters under God, with Jesus Christ being their only Lord and King. Submission, then, was to produce a friendly family of faith—not a prison of the oppressed.
Ignatius of Antioch in the Arena

Ignatius of Antioch in the Arena

Ignatius suggested that if the flock faithfully followed the bishop and lived in peace with one another, the church "may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, so that he may both hear you and recognize you, through what you do well, as members of his Son" (Lightfoot, 87). Ignatius went on to write, "When you frequently come together, the powers of Satan are destroyed and his destructive force is annihilated by the concord of your faith" (Lightfoot, 90). Thus, the hierarchical structure was not just to efficiently run the church; it had the more important function of promoting inner community bonds and to cultivate a larger force of spreading God's good news to the world.
Furthermore, as perfect love of God and one's neighbor was to be the hallmark of being a follower of Christ, Ignatius warned against anything that would impede God's truths, especially the false teachings and Gnostic assertions that had begun to infiltrate some Christian circles. He writes,
For there are some who with wicked guile are accustomed to bear the Name but behave in ways unworthy of God. You must avoid them as wild beasts, for they are mad dogs, biting in secret; you must be on guard against them, for they are practically incurable. (Lightfoot, 88)
Such false teachings and incorrect doctrine only led to a break in unity within the church and, even worse, a break of parishioners' relationship with God.


Ignatius of Antioch's charge for the early Christian church was to be a productive and protective one. For this important Apostolic Father, the ultimate purpose of the church was to reach the world for Christ. Godly leaders (such as the bishop at Ephesus) created godly followers who followed the biblical tenets of true Christianity and avoided worldly false teaching that led only to destruction and division. With this in mind, Ignatius states, "Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance" (Lightfoot, 89).
Ultimately, for Ignatius, carrying out this divine commandment (cf. Matthew 25) began with and was anchored in submission and unity to God, church leaders, and all Christian followers.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

See other Related Content for Ancient History ››

Recommended Contents