The year was 73 AD and the Roman general Titus was determined to stamp out all efforts by the Jews of reclaiming their land and sovereignty. He had marched the infamous Tenth legion from Rome to Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the Temple in 70 AD. Determined to eradicate the last vestige of Jewish resistance he was now marching the Tenth Legion towards Masada to destroy the Jewish zealots there. As Titus marched down from Jerusalem towards the Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea (Hebrew: יָם־הַמֶּ֖לַח – yam HaMelach), he discovered a small enclave of Essenes (Hebrew: אִסִּיִים – Eisi-im), living in a compound in the old City of Salt (Hebrew: עִיר־הַמֶּ֖לַח – Ere HaMelach) [ref. Joshua 15:62 – the Arabic name is Qumran] The Essenes were scribes (Hebrew: sofer – סופר from the root meaning ‘to count’) and lived a monastic life at Qumran. They had a very large Scriptorium of scrolls (Hebrew – מגיללות – megillot) that they had copied of the T’nakh. Knowing the Romans were approaching and would destroy anything in their path, the Essenes hid the precious scrolls inside of clay jars and placed them into the caves of the marl hills along the shore of the Dead Sea. Most of the Essenes of Qumran were no doubt killed by the Romans, but they ensured the precious scrolls were safely hidden in secret until the time when the prophecies they contained would be fulfilled.
According to the apostle Paul in the New Testament book of Romans (3:2-3), the Jewish people are the eternal custodians of the Word of God and the Bible is their greatest gift to mankind. This truth is a partial fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3, “and in thee [the Jewish people] shall all families of the earth be blessed.” The Bible, penned in entirety by Jewish hands, is certainly a great blessing to mankind. The holiday of Simchat Torah is dedicated completely to celebrating the Torah. In general, the Jewish respect and care for the Word of God is unsurpassed. In the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and often unrolled. The last paragraph of the final Torah portion, known as Moses’ farewell from Deut. 33:1-34:12, is read. Then the Torah scroll is rolled or returned to the beginning and the first part of the first Torah portion, B’reshit – Genesis 1:1-2:3, is read. Thus the cycle of reading the Torah both ends and begins on Simchat Torah, actually it is like a circle with no end or beginning.
To the Essene scribes, the Word of God was more precious than life itself. Let us learn from our Jewish friends to give great honour and respect for the Bible. It is a great responsibility to be entrusted to give God’s Word to others. Let us be sure we pass it on as purely as God gave it to us.