Thursday, March 15, 2012

Michael Bird on the Disciples' Notebooks

Check out this awesome post by Michael Bird!

Bird highlights something Keener and others have underscored: though it is often forgotten, the disciples likely kept notes of what Jesus said!
I have to confess that I was originally skeptical at the prospect of notebooks being used to preserve Jesus’ teachings. It struck as rather convenient and we don’t have any surviving note books containing Jesus’ words. I once regarded with incredulity Paul Barnett’s claim: “In our view Jesus’ disciples must have begun memorizing Jesus’ teachings, and perhaps even writing them down, while he was still with them.”[2] But my initial reservations have been assuaged. It was quite common among literary elites of the Greco-Roman world to take notes (hypomemata, commentarii) as an aid to learning.[3] Greek gnomai (sayings) and chreiai (short story) collections provided short anthologies largely for didactic purposes.[4] The poet Martial recommended that persons carrying his poems on journeys should use a membranae, or note book for its convenience.[5] In Mediterannean schools of rhetoric, orators often used notes and hearers of speeches often took notes to capture the gist of the delivery.[6] The notebook was regarded as a good alternative to the wax tablet.[7] The notes of lectures could even be published. Arrian in fact published an account of the lectures of his teacher Epictetus, saying: “[W]hatever I heard him say I used to write down, word for word, as best I could, endeavouring to preserve it as a memorial, for my own future use, of his way of thinking and the frankness of his speech.”[8] In the Jewish context, Birger Gerhardsson identified rabbinic evidence for the use of notebooks or “scrolls of secrets” to aid in a pupil’s memorization of their rabbi’s words.[9] Though roughly criticized as reading later perspectives back into the first century, the thesis of Jewish notebooks has more going for it. Martin Jaffee has plotted the use of written sources in the redaction of the Mishnah well before 200 CE.[10] The Qumran scrolls provide first century evidence of short prophetic testimonia collections (11QMelch) and halakhic collections (11QTemple) that were used in the community. Jacob Neusner proposes that Jewish communities often used a large body of manuscript material, teachers’ notebooks, preachers’ storybooks, exegetical catenae and florilegia to maintain its traditions.[11] Early Christian testmonia collections, which provided a short extract of important Old Testament passages, were most likely used by Christians very early on, certainly by the time of Justin and Irenaeus.[12] In the early second century, Papias’ Exposition of the Logia of the Lord was a collection and commentary on the sayings of the Jesus.[13] We find a reference to a “book” and “parchment” in 2 Tim 4:13, which might specifically designate a “notebook.”[14]
Go read the rest--and note all the scholarship there in the notes!

For those who might insist that this is unlikely because the disciples were "uneducated fishermen", recall that at least one of the disciples was a tax-collector--an element of the Gospel accounts widely recognized even by skeptical scholars as authentic! Romans did not take illiterates into this position; this was for trained scribes! Not also that James and John came from a family that had "hired servants" (cf. Mark 1:20). Peter apparently worked with them as part of a fishing business. In short, these were not peasants!

Notice also Luke 1:63: "And [Zechariah] asked for a writing tablet [πινακίδιον], and wrote, 'His name is John.' And they all marveled."

And, for the record, they weren't marveling that someone had a writing tablet! As frescos such as the one below reveal, they were around in antiquity.

This fresco comes from Pompeii, first century A.D. (Naples, National Archaeological Museum).

Tablet dating back to the Greco-Roman period from Egypt.

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