In part one of this study, we discussed the unique vowel system that was created by the Masorete scribes to preserve the pronunciation of the Hebrew language, which is comprised of 22 consonants. We learned that the Hebrew letters are regarded as sacred and perfect because they are part of Lashone Ha Kodesh, “The Holy Tongue.” You were also introduced to the ancient scribes, who were master copyists and master counters. The Hebrew Scriptures are as accurate today as the day they were first written because of the scribes’ extraordinary skill and commitment to accuracy. We will now see how even the ink had to be of a certain grade in order to preserve the sacred text for time and posterity.
The Production of Ink
The prescribed ink was compounded from the soot from an oil lamp, oil, honey, vinegar, water, and gall nuts, which are small, hard lumps created when certain insects bore into the wood. The goal of the Masoretes was to create the blackest ink possible that would endure the passage of time. The high-quality ink was produced in small amounts to assure freshness. Gall Nuts: Microsoft Clip Art
The Production of Parchment
The scrolls were written on parchment made from the skins of kosher animals: cows, sheep, goats, deer, and gazelles. Tanning was performed by guild craftsmen, who retained many of their mysterious trade secrets. A fresh skin was washed, stretched on wooden frames, and shaved as thin as possible. The skin soaked for days in a solution of salt, barley flour, gall nuts, and lime water. It was then rinsed, stretched again, dried on a flat surface, and polished smooth with a pumice stone. The arduous process helped to whiten the skin. The goal was to make the thinnest, whitest surface possible to contrast the darkest ink possible.
Only the finest pieces of each skin were used, regardless of the extravagant waste. The pieces were joined with heavy linen thread, thinly sliced animal tendons, or specially treated veins. Invisible stitches were required, one stitch for every six lines of text. Because parchment attracts handprints, the scroll was not to be touched. Instead, it was rolled by handles.
Dead Sea Scrolls Support the Masoretic Text
The discovery of the much earlier Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the scribal accuracy of the Masoretic text. The scrolls were written long before the Masoretic text, perhaps 500-1000 years prior to their discovery. The ancient texts were discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947 in a Qumran cave near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The 972 scrolls are considered the greatest manuscript discovery in history. In God’s perfect timing, the discovery occurred just months before Israel became a nation on May 14, 1948. God confirmed and restored His Word to His people, and He then restored His people to the land!
The scrolls were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek during the Second Temple Period. They include biblical manuscripts, Apocryphal writings (meaning: “hidden” or “secret”), Pseudepigraphical writings (meaning: “falsely inscribed” or “claim of authorship unfounded”). For example, an individual might sign the name of an apostle or a respected church father to give credibility to his writing.
The scrolls are invaluable for their religious, historical, and cultural significance. The collection includes fragments or complete copies of every book of the Hebrew Bible except the book of Esther. Much to the dismay and frustration of some scholars, the scrolls were withheld from a wider scope of textual experts for many years.
Evidence of the Veracity and Unity of the Masoretic Text and the Scriptures
The following quotes from Dead Sea Scroll scholars point to the accuracy of the ancient texts:
“Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave I near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (AD 980), they proved to be word for word identical with the standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variations consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction: Gleason Archer)
Apologists Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix write, “In one chapter of 166 words [Isaiah 53], there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission-and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage.”
The Masoretic Text and the Septuagint (LXX)
Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, which was written c. 200-150 B.C., also demonstrates remarkable unity with the Masoretic Text.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden for 2,000 years, protected by simple pottery jars and the arid desert climate. God kept the priceless scrolls safe from the marauding Roman army, thereby guarding the integrity of His eternal Word!
“The Scrolls may have been concealed and hidden for thousands of years, but God did not forget them. Today, they bear testimony to the Providential hand in the keeping of the Scriptures.” Textual Scholar, Dr. Ernst Wurthwein
Undeniable Reliability and Accuracy of the Bible
The Dead Sea Scrolls are on display today for all to witness at the Shrine of the Book / Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Contemporary believers have solid evidence that the Bible has remained textually pure through the ages. Much credit goes to the Masoretes and other scribes for their outstanding contribution. Because of their diligence, the Scriptures have been preserved for every generation:
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our Lord stands forever.” Is 40:8
The Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), was copied onto costly scrolls made from kosher animal skins. This act reminds us of the ultimate blood sacrifice, the crucifixion of our Lord Yeshua. An innocent animal lost its life in order to proclaim the Word of God on the written page. In fulfillment of ancient prophecy, the innocent Lamb of God, the Word made flesh, surrendered His life, while proclaiming the good news of the Gospel of the Kingdom! So great is the love of God!
The Love of God
In closing, I am going to share a section from the Haddamut, a 90 stanza poem written in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, a Jewish cantor in Worms, Germany. A pastor by the name of Frederick Lehman composed additional verses for one of the stanzas in 1917. Lehman’s daughter, Claudia Mays, arranged the music for the beautiful hymn, “The Love of God.” Be particularly mindful of the final refrain that begins with the phrase, “Could we with ink the ocean fill.”
The Love of God
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
These are heart-pounding words that precisely fit the theme of this teaching, as the composer discusses ink, parchment, writing, quills, scribes, and scrolls. Even more amazing to me is the fact that a friend e-mailed this hymn to me as I was researching this subject matter! I was in awe of God, feeling as though He had put His signature and divine timing on what I was preparing! I hope this lesson and the message from “The Love of God” have been a blessing to you too. Our God is mighty, and His Word endures forever!
The words of the prophet Isaiah are echoed in the New Testament by the apostle Peter:
The grass withers And the flower fades,
25But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. 1 Pet 1:24-25