Monday, March 15, 2010

What are Kosher Scrolls?

We've had an incredible weekend, and I have quite a few posts to share! But, I'm also busy preparing for our trip to San Francisco and getting back to school after our Spring Break. So, it might take awhile to write all of my posts!

I thought I'd start with a little "lesson." My extended family spent the weekend together up near Ft. Worth. On Saturday afternoon, my sister and I went to a lecture at the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose. The guest speaker was Gary Zimmerman who was speaking about ancient Hebrew scrolls. (I can't find the link online now, so I'm not sure of the title.)
Zimmerman (in jacket) getting ready for lecture. The scrolls covering the 39 books of OT are in cases around him.
There are not 39 scrolls, because some are combined. For example, the first 5 books or the Torah, are on one scroll. Also, they don't have 1 & 2 Samuel, etc - they only have one of each 'book.'

Over a 10 year period, Zimmerman helped collect scrolls which covered all 39 books of the Old Testament. This collection is now housed at the Creation Evidence Museum - the only complete collection of its kind.

Most of these scrolls were bought from "genizas", which are Jewish graveyards where scrolls which are damaged beyond repair are placed. Online I found that "the term geniza, from the Hebrew word for “storage,” is used to describe a collection of writings that were deemed too important to destroy and thus stored away."

Scrolls can be described as either kosher or not kosher. I believe the kosher ones are the ones that get put in a geniza. The following 3 things make a scroll not kosher:
  1. ink falling off or fading
  2. blemishes - like water or fire damage
  3. holes
The scrolls are written on different types of parchment - like sheep, goat, or cow. To be kosher, the letters must be 100% (which can include repairs).

The ink is iron gall ink. (I have talked before about oak gall ink.) Iron gall ink is made of 3 substances:
  1. iron gall nut (which is the gall that is made to house the tiny wasp) - the gall is rich in tannic acid
  2. gum arabic - from acacia tree (this is the sap)
  3. soot

When this ink is pure and uses the best ingredients (for example, different galls can have different concentrations of tannic acid), the ink can last 2,000 years in a cave! The Declaration of Independence was written with this type of ink, but it is already badly faded. If you Google "iron gall ink degradation", you will find a wealth of research on the topic.
This is a new scroll (12 years old) of the book of Esther.

A Sofar is one who writes scrolls. Sofar means "one who counts letters." They used to literally count the letters as they hand-copied the scripture passages. A Sofar must to through a mikvah, which is like a baptismal, and be ceremonially clean to write the scriptures. (My notes arent' clear - it might be just to write the Lord's name.)

To write on a scroll, the score it with lines to hang the letters from - just like we "sit" our letters on lines. If they make a mistake, they can just cross it out and keep going, but NOT if they make a mistake with God's name. (I'm not sure what they do, though!)

This is also Esther. This is the ENTIRE text of Esther on one scroll.

Writing God's name is holy. I had heard that they had to get a fresh quill each time they wrote God's name. That isn't really true. Some Sofars just skip a space each time they need to fill in His name. Then, they go to the mikvah, or baptismal, and get cermonially clean and then come back and write all of the names. But, usually, they just keep on going! But, they must say a blessing as they write this Holiest of names.

I was also very interested in seeing the philacteries that Zimmerman brought. If you remember from the Bible, they are little boxes which are worn on both the head and arm. They contain scriptures and are fulfilling certain Bible passages.
A close up of some of the Hebrew scrolls. Many of these scrolls are about 800 years old.

But, I learned some new things. There are 4 scriptures inside of the philacteries, which are also called "tefillin." The scriptures are Exodus 13:1-10; 13: 11-17; Deut 6:4-9; and 11:13-22. Some of the philacteries, or tefillin, have one large chamber that holds all of the scriptures while others have 4 little chambers that each hold one passage. They are sealed shut and are normally never opened again. They also go to the genzia, or Jewish cemetery, when they are not being used anymore.

A few more things about the scrolls. Hebrew scrolls are written from right to left with NO punctuation or ending to sentences. The only breaks are the paragraph breaks. Also, the Jewish order of the books of the Bible is different than our traditional Bibles.

If you have any corrections or additions to my post, please let me know! I took notes, but I may have misunderstood something. I hope you enjoyed this topic! I found it fascinating and would love to learn Hebrew now!


Robin said...

Wow! That is amazing. I never knew any of that. It seems to be an awful lot of trouble, but I guess the results and the resulting knowledge is worth it.
Thanks for the lesson. Very cool!

Dana said...

That's really amazing! I'm glad you took notes and shared the info.

Bryan said...

Scrolls are only placed in a Geniza when they are not only no longer Kosher but when it would be too much work and expense to make them Kosher once again. Torah scrolls are often rewritten (in the fading areas) and patched with a piece of hide where the acidic ink has worked its way through the hide. It is often cheaper to repair than to write an entire new Torah which takes a year give or take a few months. A couple things which might make a torah no longer kosher, would be fading letters or holes in the torah (usually caused by the gallotannic acid used to write the Torah which does not stay on the surface but rather "bites" into the hide. Usually sheep, goat or deer hides are used. At Qumran one of the scrolls found was written on cowhide. This is highly unusual because the scribes feel cowhide would remind God of their sin at Mount Sinai.

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