500-year-old Torah scroll 'gift of a testimony'

by Andrew J.W. Smith, posted Wednesday, September 07, 2016 (7 months ago)
Tags: SBTSTorah

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) -- A complete scroll of the Torah dating to the 16th or 17th century was given to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in a presentation at Alumni Memorial Chapel, Sept. 1.

President R. Albert Mohler Jr. accepted the scroll, which contains the first five books of the Old Testament, from Ken and Barbara Larson, thanking them for their contribution to the seminary's understanding of the Bible.

SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. (center) with Ken and Barbara Larson, who donated a 500-year-old Torah scroll.
SBTS photo
"We promise to be good stewards of this gift," Mohler said of the scroll, which was laid out for public viewing on a table in the front of the chapel. "We're thankful to the Lord for putting this on your heart, and even in the moments before chapel this morning, it was very clear there is an immediate magnetic draw of Christians in seeing the Word of God in this way."

The Larsons, who currently live in Florida but travel around the world frequently -- including to Israel on 11 different occasions -- said they have purchased 50 different Torah scrolls with the intention of giving many of them to evangelical seminaries. Southern Seminary, located in Louisville, Ky., is the 27th seminary to receive a scroll from the Larson family. The gift is one of only a couple scrolls from this region of the world during this time period.

The scroll comes from southern Italy and dates around the time of Martin Luther's death, said Scott Carroll, a biblical scholar of ancient manuscripts who has built the Van Kampen Collection and the Green Collection -- the two largest privately-held collections of biblical materials in the world. The 106-foot scroll, which was opened to the book of Exodus during the presentation, is a complete copy of the Torah and contains 688 corrections -- which ought to strengthen the Christian's confidence in the Word of God, he said.

"[The corrections] should be welcomed by us," Carroll said. "It was a community process to make sure that the Torah was 100 percent correct, and it is. But it wasn't done magically by a sofer or scribe, it was done by hard work by the community."

Mohler accepted the scroll on behalf of the institution, calling it "not just the gift of a text, but the gift of a testimony." The scroll was crafted in southern Italy during a time of intense Jewish persecution, Carroll noted, and the survival of the scroll testified to the importance of Scripture in the community.

"I'm incredibly humbled looking at this text," Mohler said. "Imagine what this says about the role of the Word of God amongst God's people -- in this case, the Jewish people reading, loving and preserving the Torah and perhaps defending it with their lives."

Founders of the family-owned furniture chain Slumberland, the Larsons first considered investing in Torah scrolls during a trip to South Korea with Christian author Josh McDowell, who they said owns a Polish Torah and uses it as an apologetic tool for establishing the reliability of the Scriptures. On a previously scheduled trip to Israel with their family a few months later, Ken and Barbara Larson decided to start buying Torahs, and gifted the first one to Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

Barbara Larson attributed their ministry to initially agreeing to join McDowell on a trip to Tajikistan -- a trip that never materialized but led to a substitute trip to South Korea, and eventually to a brand new phase of ministry.

"Our love for [giving] God's Word came out of just saying yes to God on one thing," Barbara Larson said. "Now here we are, we've been to 27 seminaries gifting Torahs, and we just see through these seminaries how God is working."

The scroll will be housed in the Archives and Special Collections office in Southern Seminary's Boyce Centennial Library, where students and faculty can conduct further research.

Andrew J.W. Smith writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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