In the mid–1800s, Washington had just become a territory. Seattle was a port town run by lumberjacks and fishermen. Women moved here as mail-order brides. And thousands of miles away, a Hebrew scribe, or sofer, began his day like any other by gathering kosher materials of sheep-skin parchment, indelible ink, and a quill pen.
The final step before starting his day’s work was washing in the mikvah (ritual pool). He would then carefully and religiously copy the sacred text, the Torah, remembering to say a special prayer every time the name of God was written. Day in and day out, he was not allowed to work from memory, but copied with precision and faithfulness. It would be an entire year before the scroll was complete and ready for use.
More than 150 years later, the 30-pound scroll, consisting of the entire Hebrew Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), with 304,805 meticulously and beautifully scripted letters, has found a home in Special Collections in the SPU Library. Its anonymous donor gave specific instructions that students are to see it, touch it, and interact with it. She did not want it to become an old, dusty relic, locked away and forgotten.
Thanks to two of SPU’s Old Testament scholars, assistant professors Sara Koenig and Bo Lim, that will not be the case. “We realized we had to unroll and roll up, unroll and roll up,” Koenig says about first viewing the scroll. “It just struck me, what a wonderful physical reminder that you need to go through the whole of the Scriptures to get to the place that you want to find.”
Lim agrees, “It shows a very unified document. You can’t just ignore Leviticus. You have to physically get through Leviticus.”
Their shared excitement and enthusiasm for the Scripture is contagious. Koenig shares Lim’s desire “to inspire students to love the text, to love something that might seem very strange and foreign and alien to them, to love the study of it.” And that is exactly what it is happening at SPU. Junior Beth Douglass was one of the first students to interact with the scroll and has recently added a Christian Scriptures minor to her journalism major. “I think that it’s definitely encouraged and inspired me to learn about Christian Scripture and the historical context for it.”
Want to see the scroll?
Contact librarian Steve Perisho:
email@example.com or 206-281-2417.