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Monday, February 09, 2009

The Great Scroll of Isaiah

While visiting the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem a year ago, I quickly hurried downstairs to look at the Great Isaiah Scroll, found among Qumran's Dead Sea Scrolls. Probably your eyes are glazing over and you're stifling a yawn... but consider this. How many ancient versions of Scripture are ever on display to the public? Almost none. The earliest portion I had ever seen was a scrap from the Gospel of John dating to the early 2nd Century AD on display at the British Library in London.

My hopes of seeing the Isaiah scroll were dashed as soon as I realized I was looking at a replica. The original is kept in a climate-controlled, bombproof vault and only small portions are ever put on display. [I believe Beth was able to see one in a special exhibit that toured the US.] If I had waited until summer, I could have seen a large portion that was placed on display at the Shrine of the Book in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary.

You may not appreciate the significance of this scroll to the preservation of Scripture. Dating to ca. 120 BC, it is by far the oldest complete copy of any biblical book. Our modern English versions of the OT are based upon the Masoretic texts, which came from a school of scribes and Torah scholars working from the 7th-11th Centuries AD, based in the cities of Tiberias, Jerusalem and Babylonia.

The Great Scroll of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (120 BC), is nearly identical to the Masoretic version of the Book of Isaiah (7th-11th Centuries AD). Even though 1000 years separates the two texts, the differences between them are amazingly minor! That should give us confidence in the accuracy of the texts used to translate our modern Old Testaments. What other ancient literature can even come close to claiming that?!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Return My Book or Else...

I've always liked the idea of book plates and often wished I had some to paste into my favorite books. But what about placing a curse on someone who doesn't return a book? That's probably a little far-fetched in this day of massmarket paperbacks and public libraries. [I do recall a fellow book lover who used to handwrite a "curse" in the books he loaned out... oh, the things we end up remembering!]

But think back to the days when books were individually hand written, when there were no public libraries and only the wealthy could afford books. Even after the printing press was invented, not many copies of books were made. People saved up money in order to buy one. That helps us understand the desperation behind this "curse on book thieves" found in the monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona, Spain:

"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not,
this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in
his hand and rend him.

Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted.

Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let
there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution.

Let bookworms gnaw his entrails... and when at last he
goeth to his last punishment, let the flames of hell consume
him for ever."

Now who needs to return one of my books?

Happy Birthday, Facebook

In honor of Facebook's fifth birthday, Al Mohler's blog offers advise on safeguarding the social networking experience. Since the phenomenon has become such an integral part of every-day life, it's important for believers to reflect and consider the moral impact of any new technology. In my short term experience using Facebook I have enjoyed the interaction with friends from the past, as well as having an opportunity to get to know people better. I do have concerns that believers realize we are ambassadors for Christ in ALL our communications, whether spoken or written, whether serious or trivial. I'm also convinced that this technology is most appropriate for teens and older, not for children.

Here are Al Mohler's recommendations:

1. Never allow social networking to replace or rival personal contact and communication. God made us to be social creatures that crave community. We cannot permit ourselves to substitute social networking for the harder work of building and maintaining personal relationships that are face to face.
2. Set clear parameters for the time devoted to social networking. These services can be seductive and time consuming. Social networking (and the Internet in general) can become obsessive and destructive of other relationships and higher priorities for the Christian.
3. Never write or post anything on a social networking site that you would not want the world to see, or anything that would compromise your Christian witness. There are plenty of young people (perhaps older persons now, too) who are ruining future job prospects and opportunities by social networking misbehavior. The cost to Christian witness is often far greater.
4. Never allow children and teenagers to have independent social networking access (or Internet access, for that matter). Parents should monitor, manage, supervise, and control the Internet access of their children and teens. Watch what your child posts and what their friends post.
5. Do not allow children and teens to accept any "friend" unknown to you. The social networking world can be a dangerous place, and parental protection here is vital.
6. Encourage older friends and relatives to sign up and use the technology. Grandparents can enjoy keeping up with grandchildren and with friends and loved ones separated by distance or mobility.
7. Use the social networking technology to bear witness to the Gospel, but never think that this can replace the centrality of face-to-face evangelism, witness and discipleship.
8. Do all things to the glory of God, and do not allow social networking to become an idol or a display of narcissism.