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B 103).  Greek and Aramaic Shorthand

From reading page 13 of the small booklet, ‘The Origin and Evolution of the Gospels,’ by Bernard Orchard [G 224], I learnt the Greeks frequently used shorthand to record public speeches. So the words of The Presbyter, as reported by Papias, made me ask myself whether the Jews may have had a primitive form of shorthand. The words of The Presbyter are as follows:

“… Matthew composed the logia in Hebrew style, but each recorded them as he was able.” (EH 39.16).

In the past these words had often been taken to refer to Peter’s talk in Rome. But I thought the mention of Hebrew pointed to the Presbyter referring to an earlier time in Palestine, when Peter and Mark were working together before going to Rome.

Looking on the Internet for ‘Aramaic shorthand’, I soon discovered the life-long research work of Birger Gerhardsson and his book: ‘Memory & Manuscript.’ Gerhardsson devoted his long life to the study of Aramaic and how it was recorded.  His book was published by Eeerdmans (1961, 1998).

To attract sales, sample pages are available on the Internet. From these I learnt that there had been a Jewish memory system known as: Simanim.

On page 195, Gerhardsson writes:

“…We thus see that these Simanims are often a system of abbreviations which has with some justification been compared with shorthand.”

B. Ward Powers authored: The Progressive Publication of Matthew (2010). He wrote that much is known about Matthew, and on page 29 Powers he is very positive:


To have this evidence about the apostle Matthew- his background training and employment. Also his response to the call to follow Jesus. That to believe he would not write down what Jesus was doing and teaching, requires a bigger leap of faith than believing that he did. ….  He had the means, the opportunity and the motivation. He would have made notes of what Jesus said. Logic demands and Papias confirms it. [Much shortened and punctuation revised].


On pages 30-32, Powers mentions books by R. H. Gundry’s (1967), W. Hendriksen, (1973) and D. Hill (1972) which accept that Aramaic Simanims were available to Jewish students to record the words of their teachers. He also mentions as supportive: E. J. Goodspeed (1959), B. F. C. Atkinson (1954) and A. T. Robertson (1919).


It is reasonable to accept that some would have continued to use it in adult life. It would have been very useful for a custom official such as Matthew.


Interestingly, David Noel Freedman on page 80 of: Studies in Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography (1992) adds: “Hebrew and Aramaic are almost as different as English and German”.

This version: March 6th, 2016