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How Prevalent Was the Use of Rapid Writers and Stenographers in Israel, in the Time of Jesus?

  • January 7, 2020
  • By Ben van Noort
How Prevalent Was the Use of Rapid Writers and Stenographers in Israel, in the Time of  Jesus?

How Prevalent Was the Use of Rapid Writers and Stenographers in Israel, in the Time of Jesus?

Those who wanted to speak as an orator needed rapid writers as stenographers: politicians, generals, philosophers, kings, governors, high priests.

People in High Places
In general those who had a leading task in society were in, or acquainted with people in high places. Why? Because only orations could be preserved by the tool of stenography. For that reason it was once introduced in the Roman senate, in 63 BC. Seneca remarked: “Why need I mention … our signs for whole words, which enable us to take down a speech, however rapidly uttered, matching speed of tongue by speed of hand?” (Epistels 90. 25) In the same passage he says that it were slaves who mastered this art of writing (the lower circles of society!).

And indeed, in the Gospel of Luke (and the others Gospels) we meet them all, the leaders of Israel in Jesus’s time:

  1. John the Baptist.
  2. King (Tetrarch over Galilee) Herod Antipas
  3. High priests Annas and Caiaphas
  4. Governor Pontius Pilate

Connections between Rapid Writers
From nearly all these people that pass by in the Gospels, we have their actual sayings, just as we have from Jesus. The gospel writers did not invent these sayings themselves. Around the above-mentioned persons there lived people that could connect with Jesus’s writers to inform them with professional reports.

  1. John and Andrew, who were earlier disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35–40).
  2. Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3). She is also identified with Salome (Mark 16:1), who was one of the women at the tomb. It appears that she changed her name into Joanna, the reason might be that the wicked daughter of Herodias who caused the death of John the Baptist was named Salome also.
  3. John was an acquaintance of Caiaphas (John 18:15). John could also contact Nicodemus (John 3:1) and Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50), members of the Sanhedrin. They did not vote for Jesus’s death, which is only understandable if they were rapid writers to follow the gatherings of the Sanhedrin.
  4. Here also we must call to remembrance as writers Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Of course in Jesus’s process before Pilate, rapid writers worked from both sides to achieve common arrangements.


Middle Class Plus Level
On a middle class plus level there were also groups in need of rapid writers and stenographers: judges, traders (merchants), and rabbi’s. Judges needed secretaries for their processes, traders needed them for their contracts (often overviews of their trading conversations with final arrangements), rabbi’s needed secretaries to preserve their teachings.
The Roman Empire of Jesus’s time could not be governed without writing in all these forms.

Jesus, Naïve or Purposeful?
Luke told that all the events he described in his Gospel were based on documents he had received from the eyewitnesses who also had delivered the spoken word in their reports (Luke 1:1–2). And certainly the other gospel writers have worked in the same way as Luke did.

Jesus was not a naïve carpenter followed by a band of farmers and fishermen (as B. D. Ehrman proposed in Jesus Interrupted, p. 106–107).

No, Jesus worked like the prophets of old, and he had a national impact with his call of return to God and to ethics of old in a new way according to the Gospel. He knew what his calling was. He knew that God had given him a call for Israel and the world. Jesus was not naïve, but purposeful in fulfilling his God given task. He could not work without stenographers to preserve his orations/sermons.

Theological Insults
Theologians who in concert claim that Jesus’s disciples were regularly memorizing his teachings to preserve them, are really misguided and are off the mark. Did the disciples memorize chapters 13–17 of the Gospel of John, after the last supper that night? Did they memorize on the day of Jesus’s death, or the day thereafter? Is that what theologians have to offer concerning these wonderful chapters? The theory of memorizing is only a strange insult, which says more about the naivety of theologians and of Christians in general, who swallow this theory without any form of protest. For it is definitely not in line with common sense nor with what the Bible teaches about these things.

1. To understand the Gospels it is necessary to keep in mind that Jesus was followed by rapid writers even stenographers, not only because it is reasonable and biblical, but the theological alternatives (oral tradition and memorization) are insults of the common sense of any believer.

2. After the fall of Jerusalem and the incorporation of Israel into Syria by the Romans, the high Jewish culture became a passed station in the common knowledge of the people all over the Empire. As if Jesus had lived in a backwards nation of farmers and fishermen, without stenographers and rapid writers, while he actually was a representative of the Greco-Jewish culture of Galilee where he lived.

Take Note
Concerning the process of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate.
If someone made a plea of guilty, it was necessary to repeat that in order to prevent any mistake about it. For that reason the two confrontations before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:59–68, Mark 14:55–65) differ in wording. And also Pilate had to ask several times the same question: Are you the King of the Jews? With different confirmations of Jesus.


By Ben van Noort, January 7, 2020