Sunday, February 25, 2007

The First Book

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Israel was visiting the Shrine of The Book. This is a domed building built to house the fragments of the scrolls found in the Qumran caves in 1948. Seeing the fragments of these meticulously made copies of scripture was amazing. But there was something there that literally made me catch my breath.

Encased in glass and set in a prominent place is The Aleppo Codex. This manuscript was created in about 920 A.D. and is the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible in existence. It is also the first manuscript to be bound the way books are bound today, rather than rolled in a scroll. In essence, it is the first book.

The history of the Aleppo Codex is intriguing and speaks to the zeal of the Jews for preserving God’s word, and to God’s zeal for doing the same. Though it has been stolen, ravaged in riots, almost destroyed by fire, and lost entirely, (in fact a good chunk of it is still missing), the book has survived.

There was something stirring about seeing it. I wanted to touch it, but of course the glass prevented that. But I still had a sense of profound connectedness. Here was an ancient object, words copied by a rabbi centuries ago, that is still used today to teach about God. These are the words that are in the various copies of the scripture I have in my own home, the words I can sit and read any time I want to. These are the words God has given us. As I stared at that first book, the feeling of being connected to those ancient people and to God himself, was deeply moving.

The experience has given me a new awe for this thing I do called writing. What an amazing gift God gave us when he inspired those men long ago to create an alphabet. How amazing that God continues to call “scribes” to record and create, using the tools of writing, all to his glory.

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