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Trinity Receives Rare, 15th Century Torah Scroll

newsroomadminSeptember 19, 2014

Light glinted off the silver pointer as John Monson ran it along the seemingly endless lines of text, careful not to touch the calfskin of the 15th century Ashkenazi German Torah scroll. He read aloud sections of Deuteronomy chapter six, including the Shema, in its original language to a silent and standing crowed in the Arnold T. Olsen Chapel. The passage spoke of Yahweh’s promises to preserve those who kept and passed on the decrees of his covenant.

The exact details of how the scroll was preserved over the last 500 years are unknown, only that it did and multiple caretakers contributed to that preservation. Its most recent caretakers, Kenneth and Barbara Larson, who collect ancient manuscripts, donated the rare document to Trinity on Thursday, September 18. Mr. Larson is owner and chief executive officer of Slumberland Furniture in Little Canada, Minnesota, a home furnishings retailer with 128 stores in a twelve-state area. Larson has deep ties with the Evangelical Free Church of America and to Trinity, having served as EFCA Board Chair in the 1980s and thus on Trinity’s Board of Regents during that time.

Prof. Monson reading
from the scroll

“The Trinity community is extremely pleased and so very grateful to receive this incredibly generous gift from Ken and Barbara Larson,” said University President David S. Dockery. “Trinity students and faculty for years to come will be served well by the extraordinary gift of this very special Torah scroll.”

In terms of its age, condition, and significance, the Torah that Trinity received is among the earliest that can be found in the Chicago area, and the scroll dates among the earliest two percent of surviving German Torahs. Over 100 feet long and in very good condition, it’s “valued at over $400,000, but its academic, spiritual, and cultural value is priceless,” said Scott Carroll, a Michigan-based specialist in rare written texts, scrolls, and books.

“At the seminary, at the college, for area Christian pastors and for the Jewish community, it presents some awesome opportunities,” he said.

Dennis Magary, Chair of the Old Testament and Semitic Languages Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, also expressed his excitement at the research opportunities the scroll will provide, its unique properties allowing students, faculty, and anyone else who comes to study it to appreciate the scriptures in a new and powerful way.

“The scroll elicits a response,” he said. “Students walk into a room and can’t help but be effected by it. We will definitely be using it in our classrooms.”

Carroll holds up a portion of the scroll during his lecture

The scroll features a number of remarkable components rare to a Torah of its date and place of origin, such as the small, indented dots found throughout the manuscript. Common in Hebrew codices, these dots, called “tropes” aid inexperienced Torah readers in deciphering its phrasing and grammar. More common for 15thcentury German Torahs, the document also features enlarged letters that call attention to specific scripture passages.

Ways to use the scroll outside the classroom are still being discussed, but the University will create a temporary display for the Torah in the Rolfing Library through the month of September, after which the scroll will be moved to a permanent display location on campus. The scroll will be made available by appointment to interested parties from outside the Trinity community. The Larsons are also providing a digital version that will allow students to access the Torah outside the classroom for research and assigned readings.

The scroll’s unveiling came at the tail end of a full week of events and lectures highlighting the significance of Old Testament studies on Trinity’s campus, including a faculty chapel by Professor Magary and the scroll’s unveiling chapel with special guest Daniel Block. The week also saw a lecture by Professor William M. Schniedewind on early Hebrew scribes, and a colloquium with Dr. Scott Carroll that discussed the history and significance of the Torah that Trinity received, which allowed attendees to get a closer look at the scroll.

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