a scribe’s scribblings: a log (11)

As I prepare to copy the Bible by hand, I’ve been reading a bit about the work of the scribes in ancient times who copied Scripture long before the invention of the printing press. To say they were meticulous is a grand understatement. Consider this excerpt from the Talmud on the subject:

“A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by a Jew. These must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals. Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex. The length of each column must not extend over less than forty-eight, or more than sixty lines; and the breadth must consist of thirty letters. The whole copy must first be lined: and if three words be written in it without a line, it is worthless. The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor any other color and be prepared according to a definite recipe.

“An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least to deviate. No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex before him. … Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene; between every word the breadth of a narrow consonant; between every new parashah, or section, the breadth of nine consonants; between every book, three lines. The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not do so.

“Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish dress, wash his whole body, not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink, and should a king address him while writing that name he must take no notice of him. …

“The rolls in which these regulations are not observed are condemned to be buried in the ground or burned; or they are banished to the schools, to be used as reading books.”*


Three thoughts leap to mind …

We can have profound confidence in the integrity of the Biblical text as it has arrived to us today.

What care we ought to have with the word of the Lord.

What level of, and evidence for, such confidence and care for what God has said is there in my life?

* Source: How We Got the Bible by Neil R. Lightfoot (Baker, 2003); pp.133-134, who is citing from Frederick Kenyon’s work ‘Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts’ (Harper, 1958).