Did Disciples of Jesus Keep Notebooks?—A reply

This post is the answer I gave to Phillip J. Long’s original (and very interesting) post, Did Disciples of Jesus Keep Notebooks?

Actually these are the words of Claude Tresmontant. He writes:

However that may be, it is established and certain that there were some educated men among the actual disciples of Jesus. Certainly there were also educated people among those who followed and observed him, who listened to him, and who, on occasion, challenged and criticized him.

It would also seem to be evident a priori, indeed wholly certain a priori, that among the educated people who heard Jesus at first hand, some would at some point have taken down some notes. This would have been the most natural thing in the world for those who spent virtually their whole lives studying the sacred Hebrew texts. Some of the immediate disciples of Jesus were of that number.

The hypothesis that no one actually hearing Jesus could or would ever have taken down any notes is simply absurd—psychologically as well as historically, especially when we consider the Jewish milieu of the time and the unusually high density of men in that milieu who knew how to read and write.

The oracles or preaching of the ancient prophets, of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the others, were all set down in writing, either by the prophets themselves or by their disciples.

How is it possible to imagine—why would anyone want to imagine—that among the disciples of Jesus who knew perfectly well how to read and write and who, indeed passed a good part of their lives studying the holy Scriptures, there would never have been even one who was moved to take down anything of what he had heard from the lips of the Galilean rabbi? The notion is even more incredible when it is remembered that this Galilean rabbi came to be considered by them not as just another prophet in the category of the ancient prophets, but as much more than just another prophet. All four of those who did take down notes—notes that were translated from the original Hebrew into the Greek of the Gospels we have ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—expressly recorded the conviction that Jesus was more than just a prophet.

It is an a priori absurdity to assume that disciples such as these never took down any notes, were somehow constrained or forbidden or prevented from taking down any notes. They considered their Galilean rabbi to be greater, much greater, than Amos, Hosea, Isaiah or Jeremiah. Yet the words of all these prophets had been taken down.

***

These notes or collections of notes were written in Hebrew because Hebrew was the written language, the sacred language. In the eyes of the educated disciples of the Galilean rabbi, the words, acts, and gestures of their master were nothing if not sacred and holy; they were in the tradition of the holy prophets of the past, whose words and oracles were all noted down and preserved. In the eyes of the disciples, however, this rabbi, Yeshua ha-nozeri (a phrase that we forbear from translating as, simply, “Jesus of Nazareth”) was a great deal more than a prophet. He was, in Aramaic, bar elaha, that is, the Son of God. If all the words and oracles of the ancient prophets were duly noted down and preserved, those of the rabbi who was none other than the expected “son of David” himself were all the more likely to have been noted down and preserved.

It is completely absurd to suppose that disciples of Jesus who were educated would not have written down something about the acts and gestures, the teaching and hence the actual words, of their Lord and Master.

***

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: Language in the Age of the Gospels, pp. 4-7, 192, 193.

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