“We often take books for granted,” Dr. William Varner explained in chapel last Friday, as he held a Bible in his right hand and a regular novel in his left. “We think they have always been with us, but they were an invention of the fifteenth century . . . people often think those in biblical times had books, but the Bible and other writings were written on scrolls.”
Why explain this?
It puts into perspective the weight of a gift The Master’s University was presented with on Friday --- a very rare, more than 500-year-old Ashkenazi scroll. Now, books are unbelievably accessible and, often, we do not realize how limited we would be without them. Receiving a scroll not only puts this into perspective, but also allows us to study history as we physically hold it.
Though the donor is anonymous, their desire, according to Brian Rickett, the facilitator of this gift and professor of Biblical Studies at The Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, is that “rather than [the scroll] remaining stored away and hidden, [the donors] want us to give it new life in education and hope that it will get worn out in its new home and environment.”
Scrolls and books are both mediums to communicate information. They hold text and tell a story, however, for all their similarities there is one massive difference, its production. Books are copied and printed on a mass scale, whereas a complete scroll is a painstaking task done by a single individual that can take a year and a half to produce.
The parchment for the scroll is taken from the hide of an animal, like a lamb, cow or deer; the ink, specially made from material like water, soot, iron sulfate and gal nuts; and because each scroll is hand copied, no calligraphic style of one scroll is the same as the next. The scroll the school has been given is comprised of 57 panels spreading a total of 91 feet when completely unrolled, and covers Genesis through Deuteronomy.
Rickett continued, “This scroll is a research project. You not only get to discover the history of the original scribe --- seeing what verses they chose to emphasize through the formatting or what words he stylized ---- but also get to discover whose hands the scroll passed through. . . you will catch things the team of researchers before you missed, which will be fun for you.”
So, what do we already know? We know this scroll is older than the United States. We know it was once read in a synagogue because the end of each scroll is permanently curved inward from a spindle/rod and has a hole with no patchwork covering its corners. We also know it came from Germany and survived the holocaust, more specifically the Kristallnacht --- the night of broken glass --- where the Nazi’s, in two days, burned 250 synagogues (and its holy texts, like scrolls), destroyed more than 7,000 Jewish businesses, cemeteries, hospitals, homes and schools, and massacred many Jews. Interestingly, there are seemingly random markings on the scroll, done in blue ink, which could have been one of the many codes the Jews in the ghettos used as a means of communication during the holocaust.
“Those who had this scroll before us preserved it with great care and reverence and sometimes cared for it in the midst of opposition that wanted to destroy it . . . I don’t know if we will ever know all the details of how this survived the holocaust or how this scroll came to us, but as it has been cared for, we will care for it,” Varner commented. Rickett continued, “Already, you [at The Master’s University] are taking care of this scroll more than others who have been entrusted with documents like this.”
For ninety years, The Master’s University has remained steadfast on its commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture and the fact it is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16; ESV). This scroll stands as a testament to the value of Scripture. Like those who fought to preserve this scroll for the last 500 years, so will we fight to proclaim the Creator and God it represents.