by, Mark Sampson
Ancient scrolls usually do not just drop out of the sky into one’s lap. While not quite as miraculous, the circumstances of a Torah coming to the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (RPTS) in Pittsburgh are remarkable. In fall 2015, Dr. Jerri Faris (Immanuel RPC, West Lafayette, Indiana) was at a conference where Ken and Barbara Larson presented a similar Torah scroll. There, Dr. Faris learned that the Larsons, owners of Slumberland Furniture Stores in the upper Midwest, desired to see conservative, Bible-teaching seminaries possess these wonderful study tools. Her comments about a suitable seminary in Pittsburgh struck home with the Larsons, and within a few short weeks, the groundwork was laid for the presentation of the RPTS Torah at the Seminary’s Annual Support Dinner in March 2016.
There is much we know about the scroll and much more that we do not know. Dr. Scott Carroll, a good friend of the Larsons and their co-laborer, continues to research the scroll left with RPTS. Utilizing digital scans of the Torah, Dr. Carroll is comparing this scroll with similar ones documented in a like fashion. By comparing many such documents, researchers hope to pinpoint more specific details, such as the exact location of the scroll’s origin and maybe even the identity of the copyist. The RPTS scroll comes from Eastern Europe and was copied in the mid-1700s. It would take a copyist about a year to complete the sixty-two individual panels (made of tanned calf skin), totaling one-hundred-fifty feet in overall length.
Due to its age and condition (though the scroll is in excellent shape), this scroll is considered “pasul” or non-kosher, and would not be usable in synagogue worship today. The Larson’s desire is not for organizations to have museum pieces, but rather working, ancient manuscripts for students to study. Since the copying of Torahs has been taking place for thousands of years, with great consistency from copy to copy, evangelists such as Josh McDowell use similar scrolls as evangelistic tools to show the reliability of the Bible. Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran match the one in possession of the Seminary. The Leningrad Codex, the earliest complete Torah (about AD 1008) is remarkably similar to the one at RPTS.
Many people were deeply moved that March afternoon as the Torah scroll was unrolled by the tentative hands of one hundred participants to its full length of one-hundred-fifty feet. It circled the entire interior perimeter of the Seminary chapel and made one more pass up the center, massive and impressive in its length and age.
If you are interested in viewing this 18th century Torah scroll, please ask a Library staff member.