Re: [John_Lit] Notetaking?
----- Original Message -----
From: "Bob Schacht" <bobschacht@...>
Sent: Thursday, October 09, 2003 4:32 PM
Subject: Re: [John_Lit] Notetaking?
At 06:57 PM 10/8/2003 -0500, Frank McCoy wrote:
>...In this regard, it is noteworthy that William E. Arnal, in Jesus and the
>Village Scribes, suggests that much of the literary history of the
>postulated Q took place in the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, with the
>literary activity possibly centered at Capernaum, and that it was
>by village scribes. So, he (p. 172) states, "Internal evidence suggests
>that the document was composed, at least in its first two major stages, in
>Galilee, probably at the northern edge of the lake, and quite conceivably
>Capernaum itself, which, as Kloppenborg notes, would probably have had a
>sufficient density of bureaucrats to allow for such developments....And,
>finally, the persons apparently responsible for the document, village
>scribes involved in the administration of formerly autonomous village
>If, as Arnal suggests, there was a network of village scribes in this area
>where Jesus apparently did most of his preaching and they had become Q
>Christians, then it is plausible to hyothesise that some of these scribes,
>using wax tablets on occasion in the conduct of their daily business, wrote
>down some of what he said on wax tablets while listening to him and then,
>an opportune moment, recorded these notes on a permanent medium, such as
>papyrus. If so, then some of the Q sayings might be actual quotes of what
I wondered about this characterization of Arnal's book, so I asked him.
Here are the relevant portions of his reply:
>...In any case, two things: 1) It's very difficult to pin down the numbers
>or density of scribal characters in ANY setting outside of Egypt. One of
>the reviews of my book, in fact, roundly criticized it on precisely this
>ground. I happen to think the critic is wrong, but the fact is, we simply
>can't know with any certainty where such folks would have been located and
>how many there would have been, nor how prominent they might have been in
>daily life. Frank has in essence taken the single most speculative aspect
>of my hypothesis and turned it into a "fact," and then a platform for
>further speculation. 2) What we probably can say with some confidence is
>that there would NOT have been tablet-toting characters lurking around
>rural villages. This just makes no sense at all. Literate administrators
>would be necessary in cities (like Tiberias and Sepphoris) and, in lower
>density, in large towns like Capernaum. Probably they would have STAYED in
>those large towns for the most part, that being where their full-time
>services would have been most required. It is possible that they may have
>been sent to villages to record inventories and such, but not just to hang
>out and write down the rantings of street preachers. ...
Robert Schacht has done us all a great service in getting input from Arnal
I apologize for incorrectly assuming that the term Arnal uses of "village
scribe" in the above cited quote from his book means that such a scribe
lived in a village.
BTW, I did not take Arnal's speculation as "fact". Note that I state, "If,
as Arnal suggests,..."
Even if the scribes were limited to towns and cities of about 1,000 or more
people (for Capernaum likely had about 1,000 inhabitants at the time of
Jesus--see Excavating Jesus (p. 81) by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L.
Reed), there still had apparently been many opportunities for scribes to jot
down notes on what Jesus said and did.
For example, Mark pictures Jesus as staying at Capernaum on several
occasions. John has him twice in Capernaum.. According to Matthew, he
even resided in Capernaum (4:13).
Again, all the canonical gospels agree that Jesus had made a trip to
Jerusalem, where he stayed for a number of days before being crucified unto
death. According to John, he made several other trips there.
It is noteworthy that all the major discourses of Jesus in John occur in
locales where there had been scribes. Most of them occur in Jerusalem. The
discourse on the heavenly bread and on eating his flesh and drinking his
blood occurs in Capernaum. The discourse with the Samaritan woman occurs
just outside a Samaritan city. Is this a mere coincidence, or are these
discourses based on written notes--either made on the spot by one or more
scribes or else made shortly thereafter by one or more scribes based on
I might add a little to Bill's summary, based on my own work in the ancient
There were probably absentee landlords who lived in the towns (like
Capernaum) and cities (like Tiberias and Sepphoris), and who had estates
out in the countryside. How many such estates there were is a matter of
conjecture, but Crossan in BOC seems to think that the number in Galilee
was on the increase during the life of Jesus. In any case, such absentee
landowners (oikodespotes), especially if Roman (latifundia?) might have
occasionally sent scribes out to their estates to make an accounting. This
setting of absentee landowners seems much like the setting presented in the
Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mat 21:33-41), except that before the
landowner would send the "slaves" to collect the rent, he might first send
a book keeper to tally the accounts. [Matthew seems to be the only NT
author to use oikodespotes.] The institution of absentee landowners was, of
course, commonplace in the Middle East for thousands of years before the
time of Jesus (I did my dissertation partly on Old Bablylonian land
contracts). Since this term is not used in the Johannine literature, this
discussion may be getting off track.
I'm not aware of any archaeological evidence of there having been any rich
landowners residing in Capernaum.
In any event, wouldn't there also be other activities by book keepers and
other literate employees of an oikodespote, such as making periodic
estimates of how the crops were doing, counting livestock, and making
collections of debts from peasants with small holdings who have been lent
money by such an oikodespote--with the oikodespote eagerly awaiting the day
when a such a payment could not be made so that (s)he could seize the
peasant's small holding and add it to his/her estate? If so, then might not
the sight of such employees of an oikodespote, carrying portable writing
tools such as wax tablets, have been a not uncommon occurence in rural
areas of Galilee?
Matthew's reported profession of "publican" (KJV, Mat 10:3) or "tax
collector" (NRS) (telones) is linked to this
>5057 telw,nhj telones . 1) a renter or farmer of taxes 1a) among the
>Romans, usually a man of equestrian rank 2) a tax gatherer, collector of
>taxes or tolls, one employed by a publican or farmer general in the
>collection of taxes. The tax collectors were as a class, detested not
>only by the Jews, but by other nations also, both on account of their
>employment and of the harshness, greed, and deception, with which they
>did their job.
as was Zaccheus, a "chief of publicans" (architelones) (Luke 19:2-8).
Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, had many taxes. In Herod Antipas
(p. 76), Harold W. Hoehner states, "In Roman times the government seems to
have claimed the fishing rights in the rivers and lakes, and to have gained
revenue from this source. Customs were also collected on the trade routes.
Levi was such a collector in Capernaum, this city being on the route from
Damascus to the Meditteranean Sea. It may also have been a place for port
duties and fishing tolls. Levi, then, was a customs collector not for Rome
but for Herod Antipas....No doubt in Antipas' administration, as in his
father's, there were other taxes such as purchase and sales taxes."
Note that a number of tax collectors were apparently needed at Capernaum for
making customs collections on the nearby trade-route, for collecting port
duties, for collecting fishing tolls, and for collecting purchase/sales
taxes. Note, too, that, according to Mark 2:15, when Jesus and his
disciples ate at Levi's residence, there had been many tax collectors and
sinners present. If this is based on accurate information, then the other
tax collectors present had probably been neighbors of Levi living, like him,
Due to the nature of their job duties, such tax collectors in Capernaum
would have found wax tablets handy on occasion for taking notes that could,
if need be, later recorded in a more permanent fashion with ink. So,
especially since Jesus seems to have been buddy-buddy with them, might not
one or more of them have taken notes about what Jesus said and did while at
But again, these terms appear only in the synoptic gospels and Romans, so I
digress from explicit Johannine concerns. However, the terms do help us
understand the sitz im leben of the times. Arnal's assessment shows us,
however, that the evidence for the presence of scribes equipped to write in
Galilee in the vicinity of Jesus is rather slim and cannot be assumed as
typical or commonplace.
As respects Galilee, there at least had been scribes in Capernaum, where
Jesus apparently stayed on occasion and might even have made his
headquarters. Also, all the major discourses in John occur in or near a
place where there were scribes and the question arises as to whether this is
mere coincidence or whether these major discourses are based on notes taken
by scribes: either first-hand (e.g., on wax tablets) or second-hand shortly
thereafter on the basis of eyewitness testimony.
1809 N. English Apt. 15
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