Manuscripts in the Old Testament Synagogue 


The Apostle Paul reminds the church in Romans 3:2 that one of the advantages of being a Jew is “that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” God providentially preserves his Holy Word so that it is “kept pure in all ages.” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.8) Campegius Vitringa (1659-1722) wrote an extensive study on the Old Testament synagogue. A condensed version in English is available called, The Synagogue and the Church (1842), edited by Joshua L. Bernard. There is a chapter on the furniture used in the synagogue and one item is sacred Scripture. Great care was used in copying the text of scripture and preserving manuscripts.

“The Sacred Volume, containing the five books of Moses. It consisted of a number of skins sewed together; the first and last being each fastened to a roller of wood. In writing a copy of the law for the use of the synagogue, the greatest care was necessary, the least omission or redundancy causing the rejection of the manuscript. Their caution, in fact, amounted to superstition. There should be a certain space between the letters, a certain number of letters in each line, a certain number of lines in each column; the very parchment, upon which it should be written, was most scrupulously described. Maimonides mentions twenty conditions, any one of which not being observed, caused the rejection of the manuscript. We may trace, however, in this excessive caution, the finger of Providence: for these conditions, being always fulfilled to the letter, afford the strongest possible proof; that the inspired volume has come down to us unimpaired, though passing through the hands of a people, who made it void by their traditions.

As great care was taken of the sacred volume, so great honor was paid to it. It was preserved in a linen covering, studded with gold or silver ornaments. The congregation was expected to remain, till it was replaced in the ark: or if, (as sometimes happened) the synagogue had no safe depository for it, none could leave the synagogue till it had been first carried out; and then the entire congregation should accompany it to its place. And finally, when it had become worn by frequent use; it was placed in an earthen vessel, and buried in the sepulchre of some renowned doctor.”  – Campegius Vitringa, The Synagogue and the Church (1842), pgs. 48-49

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