Bible scholars, including those of the conservative variety, often talk about an oral tradition and its role in the composition of the Gospels. But we now know that in the ancient world disciples recorded their teacher’s words in notebooks. So says Michael F. Bird. (You can check his footnotes.):
It was quite common among literary elites of the Greco-Roman world to take notes (hypomemata, commentarii) as an aid to learning. Greek gnomai (sayings) and chreiai (short story) collections provided short anthologies largely for didactic purposes. The poet Martial recommended that persons carrying his poems on journeys should use a membranae, or note book for its convenience. In Mediterannean schools of rhetoric, orators often used notes and hearers of speeches often took notes to capture the gist of the delivery. The notebook was regarded as a good alternative to the wax tablet. 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.”
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. 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. 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.
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. In the early second century, Papias’ Exposition of the Logia of the Lord was a collection and commentary on the sayings of the Jesus. We find a reference to a “book” and “parchment” in 2 Tim 4:13, which might specifically designate a “notebook.” Graham Stanton infers from the Christian “addiction” to the codex: “Even before Paul wrote his first ‘canonical’ letter c. AD 50, followers of Jesus were accustomed to use the predecessors of the codex-book format, various kinds of ‘notebooks’. They used them for Scriptural excerpts and testimonies, for drafts and copies of letters, and probably also for collections of traditions of both the actions and teachings of Jesus.” The tradition known to source critics as “Q” may have started out as a note book of Jesus’ sayings.
The constant shadow of proto-Gospel theories in solutions to the Synoptic problem suggests at least the possibility of early notebooks/extract/digests about Jesus before AD 70. According to C.H. Roberts, in the early church: “No doubt the oral tradition was reinforced as it was in Judaism, with notes.” Thus, it is highly probable that notebooks were used by Jesus’ own disciples and by later adherents in the early church to assist in memory retention by functioning as an aide-mémoire.