We know that crowds of people, common people, flocked to see our Lord and to hear him speak; many of these people no doubt knew neither how to read nor how to write. Nevertheless we also know that some of the disciples of Jesus were learned men, students of the Book. The author of the fourth Gospel depicts some of these educated disciples. It is a priori impossible that those disciples who did know how to read and write, and who spent their lives in the study of the sacred Hebrew Scriptures, would never have taken notes on what Jesus said, or written down what he did. The sayings of the ancient Hebrew prophets had, after all, been set down in writing. And the disciples of Jesus considered him to be much, much greater than any of the earlier prophets. Thus they would surely have written down his words, his teachings and his actions almost as soon as they had issued from him.
It is the opposite hypothesis that is unthinkable and absurd, namely, that nothing was ever written down about Jesus by his contemporaries, especially when we take into account the milieu in which our Lord lived and worked. He did not appear among some primitive Amazon tribe; the Jewish people probably boasted the highest literacy rate of antiquity when we consider the seriousness with which the Jews studied the Hebrew sacred Scriptures.
Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 192, 193.
In asserting that documents written in Hebrew lie behind the present Greek text of our four Gospels, we are, of course, proceeding by way of a hypothesis. Here, however, we are dealing with a hypothesis that has to be true-indeed, has to be considered certain-because it is the only hypothesis capable of explaining all the features that we find in the Greek text of the Gospels. The contrary hypothesis is that a long tradition of oral preaching and transmission preceded the setting down in writing at a comparatively late date of the Greek text of the four Gospels as we presently possess it. This contrary hypothesis is the one preferred by a majority of biblical scholars today, as has been the case for more than a century. But this hypothesis appears absurd on its face, especially when we consider the total milieu within which our Lord lived and taught. Why would the scribes and rabbis and people educated in the Hebrew Scriptures included among those who heard and followed Jesus have abstained or somehow forbidden themselves from ever noting down in writing anything about the remarkable personage with whom they were dealing? Why would they have waited so long-many say until the end of the first century-before setting down in writing their “traditions”? And how could those oral “traditions”, which by definition constituted separate strands of the original proclamation of the Good News preserved in different local churches, ever have resulted in the kind of textual results in the Gospels that we have been examining here with some care? Our analysis points rather to under1ying Hebrew texts that were themselves closely related.
Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 197.