Today I was put into history quite by accident. I received an email from a friend who had told me that Zondervan Publishing Co. was going to be on the campus of Mississippi College today. They are doing a special program called Bible Across America, and making pit stops all over the nation. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the New International Version, they are compiling an edition that is completely handwritten. I wrote 1 Kings 21:18, and I felt this strange sense of something bigger. There was a time, hundreds of years ago, when all copies of God's Word were handwritten. There was no other way of reproducing them. Scribes were honored for the opportunity to be a part of it.
In 586 B.C., Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. The Temple was looted and then destroyed by fire. The Jews were exiled. About 70 years later, the Jewish captives returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. According to the Bible, Ezra recovered a copy of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and read it aloud to the whole nation.
From then on, the Jewish scribes solidified the following process for creating copies of the Torah and eventually other books in the Old Testament.
1. They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts.
2. Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.
3. The ink must be black, and of a special recipe.
4. They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing.
5. They must wipe the pen and wash their entire bodies before writing the word "Jehovah," every time they wrote it.
6. There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.
7. The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.
8. The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc).
9. As no document containing God's Word could be destroyed, they were stored, or buried, in a genizah - a Hebrew term meaning "hiding place." These were usually kept in a synagogue or sometimes in a Jewish cemetery.
Zondervan saw it as an opportunity to let the everyday man be a part of a new Bible promotion. But I felt something much more. I've taught many times that we are unworthy of God, but in that moment I truly felt that way. That God was speaking in my feeble hand. Even as I breathed heavy from the experience, I saw others around me light-hearted and unnoticing.
But perhaps I read too much into it. It's only a Bible, right?