Baghdad to Bethel: A 400-year journey

April 10, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Bethel Seminary receives Torah from Larson Family

News | Sarah Boadwine

All the way from its home in Baghdad, Iraq, the Larson- Bethel Baghdad Torah has traveled long and far after 400 years of preservation and study to settle into its new home at Bethel Seminary. Ken and Barbara Larson and their family have gifted Bethel Seminary with this ancient biblical manuscript.

According to Seminary Vice President David Clark and his wife Sandra, the Larson family gave this manuscript to Bethel Seminary to celebrate their 50th anniversary. They are personally interested in manuscripts and decided that this would not only be a perfect gift to symbolize the care that Bethel has for the Bible, but it also would be a good tool for teaching and learning.

The Torah will be used in Bethel Seminary as a tool for teaching about the Old Testament and how the word of God has been preserved over time. According to the Clarks, this biblical manuscript will be able to describe the way that the scribes and rabbis copied the Bible.

“There are situations where they maybe miscopied a word, and so then they would go back, and there are very significant protocols that they would use to correct the misspellings or other minor details,” David said.

Ancient and medieval manuscripts and Bible history specialist Scott Carroll said the Torah will be a great resource for students to study why the corrections had been made.

“This is a wonderful pedagogical legacy that will enrich students’ engagement with scripture,” Carroll said.

According to David, Bethel Seminary intends to display the Torah like a work of art and to have some system for it to be opened for students to study it directly under the guidance of a faculty member. Electronic copies that have been scanned will also be made available to students.

“We want to share it with the whole university,” Clark said.

According to Carroll, this Torah dates predominantly to the early 17th century with replacement panels dating from the mid-17th century to the 18th century, and a single column dating to the early 19th century.

This Torah is from Baghdad, where, according to David, immigrants most likely brought it to Jerusalem when they moved to start a new life. The Larson family then worked with a broker, who helped them buy the Torah from the dealer who owned it in Jerusalem.

“It is significant because it is a non-Kosher Torah,” Sandra said.

According to Bethel Seminary Old Testament professor, Peter Vogt, a Torah is no longer Kosher when there are cracks in the ink of the lettering and an abundance of errors and corrections. Once a Torah reaches a certain number of errors and corrections, the synagogue will choose to replace it, classifying it at this point as no longer Kosher. This is the case with this particular Torah.

Vogt envisions using this Torah to teach students in a variety of topics related to the Old Testament, “from Hebrew writing and manuscript preservation to the details of the way in which textual variations can be used to identify the author’s original intention.”

Vogt discussed how this Torah represents the efforts of a people in incredibly challenging circumstances to protect and preserve what they understood as the word of God. The Torah provides a tangible reminder of the Christian calling to be people committed to the word of God.

As an evangelical university, Bethel views the word of God as the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice, and this manuscript, according to Vogt, will help students to foster a love for scripture by studying and interpreting it.

“We feel as though we have received an amazing gift that represents our commitment to the Bible and will be an incredible asset to students studying the Bible,” said David. “It is something that we are thrilled to have and will be thrilled to share with Bethel University.”

The Clarks and the rest of Bethel Seminary expressed its gratitude toward the Larson family for the gift.

“Bethel Seminary is grateful to the Larsons for this generous investment in the preparation of the kingdom of leaders at Bethel Seminary,” Sandra said.


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