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The Bowen Collection of Antiquities

In 1927, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bowen began compiling information and artifacts from Bible times for a museum that would “make the Bible come alive.” In addition to collecting antiquities from the Holy Land, the Bowen’s collection also contains items from cultures that have influenced life in the Holy Land, including Egyptian, Byzantine, Roman, Greek, Persian-Islamic, and Syrian.  From iridescent Roman glass vials and Roman jewelry found at Pompeii’s ruins to Egyptian ceremonial vessels and cosmetics, the collection invites visitors to relate to their counterparts from the past through the glimpses of life in ancient cultures.  Nearly 200 Egyptian objects in the collection were discovered and donated by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the world-renown English archaeologist.

The intellectual Babylonian, Sumerian, and Mesopotamian civilizations are represented by cuneiform writing examples supporting both world and Biblical history through items including clay tablets and a paver from the Ishtar gate inscribed with King Nebuchadnezzar’s name.

Jewish tradition is depicted through various means including a 121-foot long Yemenite Torah scroll dating from the 15th century. Other objects reveal the routine of daily life in Bible times including clay oil lamps, a Hebrew baby rattle from 1200 B.C., and standard measuring vessels.

Object of the Month: October 2020

Torah Scroll

Found in Yemen, Arabia

15th century

Jews believe that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) were dictated word for word by God to Moses. While the remaining books of the Old Testament, the Nevi’im (the Prophets) and the Ketuvim (the Writings) were inspired by God, the Jews regard the Pentateuch as quite literally, God’s exact words. A Sefer Torah is a kosher (ritually clean) handwritten copy of the formal Hebrew text of the Pentateuch. Both Jews and Christians believe that accurately preserving all God-inspired texts is important; however, Jews hold that the dictated Words of God must receive a higher level of respect and extreme attention to accuracy as they are transmitted to future generations.

A printed copy of the Torah may be used for personal study, but only a Sefer Torah can be used in public Jewish worship. A Sefer Torah must meet high standards in both its construction and transcription. Anything less would not be worthy of the Words of God and should not be used to worship Him.

The materials and tools used in making a Sefer Torah must be ritually clean. The parchment must be from the hides of a kosher animal. Today cow hides are generally used, but M&G’s Torah is made of gazelle parchment.  M&G’s Torah is 121’ long and required about 70 hides. To be kosher the hides must be properly cleaned and tanned. A quill from a kosher bird (or other permitted writing utensil) and a specially prepared kosher ink must be used. Once the parchment panels have been inscribed, they are sewn together with thread made from the sinews of a kosher animal. That thread is also used to attach the parchment to rods, called atzei chayim (the trees of life), on which the scroll is rolled.

The ritual cleanness of materials used in making a Sefer Torah demonstrates reverence to God’s Word, but the accuracy of the text is paramount. Every one of the Torah’s 304,805 Hebrew letters must be precisely duplicated by a specially trained sofer (called a scribe in the New Testament). The sofer begins copying by scoring temporary lines on the parchment to serve as the margins and rule for each line of text. Prior to writing the sofer cleanses in a mikvah (ritual bath) and recites a prayer for scroll writing.  He must then copy each letter exactly from a kosher Torah scroll or another approved source. Since a Sefer Torah scroll embodies the holiness of its message, the focus is on the text itself. Illustrations or artistic decorations are forbidden.

Before beginning work, many sofers today will test their quill and ink by writing the Hebrew word Amalek on a piece of parchment and then crossing it out. Doing so they literally fulfill the command in Deuteronomy 25:17-19 to blot out the name of Israel’s ancient enemy.

When the name of God appears in the text, the sofer must follow additional procedures to demonstrate his recognition of the sacredness of his task and his willingness to make sure it is done with the proper intent and reverence. Corrections can be made by scraping the error from the parchment. But if a mistake is made when writing the name of God, corrections are not permissible. That section of parchment cannot be used.

The sofer proofreads his work but before the Torah can be officially pronounced Sefer it must be proofread by additional approved individuals. Part of this process involves counting letters and lines of text. Generally a Torah is written by a single sofer and takes about a year to complete. The approval process may take additional months. The extreme accuracy of these procedures maintaining the text can be documented by comparing modern Torahs to ancient texts.

The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18)

Because ornamentation of the text could distract from the Words of God, embellishment within the scroll is prohibited as seen in M&G’s Torah. However, decoration of objects associated with the scroll (i.e. Torah case, Torah finger, etc.) show respect and honor to the Torah and its message.

The Song of the Sea (known as The Song of Moses) was sung by the Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. It describes their experience, Pharaoh’s army being destroyed by the collapsing waters, and looking forward to the Promised Land. This passage is one of the two places in a Torah where the text is inscribed differently. The brickwork pattern of the columns was designed to represent the parting of the Red Sea and the Jews passing between the waters.

The three approved traditions for preparing a Sefer Torah primarily differ in the forms of certain letters, the fonts, and the spacing. Yemenite scrolls, like M&G’s, are usually written in an older, more square-looking font, with 51 lines in each of 226 columns. Most modern Torah scrolls are Ashkenazi or Sephardic and have 248 columns of 42 lines each. Many modern scrolls use more rounded and ornamented fonts. The text is the same, but the general appearance and textual breaks differ. M&G’s Torah, which dates from the fifteenth century, is part of the Bowen Collection of Antiquities. In the 1930s and 40s, Frank and Barbara Bowen traveled to the Holy Land collecting artifacts like M&G’s Torah, to enhance appreciation and understanding of the Scriptures.

If a Sefer Torah is damaged or mistreated it becomes pasul and cannot be used in public worship. If a sofer can repair the damage, it can again become Sefer. If it is beyond repair or if it has become so fragile that continued use would damage it, the scroll remains pasul. Tradition dictates that a pasul Torah be placed in an earthen vessel and buried with dignity. However, Jewish leaders have officially approved the use of pasul Torahs by educational institutions and in museum displays, if they are given proper respect and protection.

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer

Selected Bibliography

Basic Laws regarding Torah Scrolls

Jewish Encyclopedia: Scroll of the Law

Sofer: The Torah Scribe

How Is the Torah Made?

Object of the Month: June 2020

Toggle Pins

Bronze

Egyptian, 1648-1540 BC (15th Dynasty)

The Egyptian Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1650 B.C.) began uniting their country after years of civil war and turmoil. The Middle Kingdom brought increased prosperity and public projects which benefited all the people, not just the ruling class. History shows a variety of people groups took residence in Egypt: prisoners of war, traders, craftsmen, diplomats and more from bordering countries.

However, around 1650 BC, one of the well-established foreign groups of people, known as the Hyksos, rose to power as the 15th Dynasty. These rulers continued to maintain the Egyptian traditions and way of life, which Rosalie David explains in Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, “Foreign influence was minimal in the formative years of the society, allowing the distinctive Egyptian traditions to become firmly established. The culture was so all-embracing and pervasive that, when it finally encountered foreign ideas and customs, these were either readily absorbed and Egyptianized or had little or no impact on the mainstream culture.”

Egyptians focused a great deal on their outward appearance. All men, women and children wore some type of make-up both for beautification and protection from the sun. Egyptians emphasized cleanliness often bathing multiple times per day. To discourage lice, both men and women shaved their heads and wore wigs. Egyptian dress even indicated status and social class. Generally, draped and tied pieces of fabric in square or rectangular shapes formed the basic component of Egyptian garments. The most common textile was linen, which was made from flax, spun and woven by women. The linen was a natural, creamy white color or bleached pure white.

At first glance, these simple metal sticks seem insignificant. However, toggle pins served an important function in ancient civilizations. Ancient peoples used toggle pins to fasten garments closed especially cloaks and mantles much like we use buttons, zippers and other fasteners. They were often used to attach fabric at the shoulders, chest and waist. If needed, more than one could be used for added security. The array of foreigners in Egypt explains the presence of toggle pins in Egyptian excavations. The Egyptians most likely imported toggle pins or aimed their production toward Canaanite residents in Egypt since such pins were associated with Canaanite dress.

Toggle Pin (ca. 17th–16th century B.C.) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bronze toggle pins were most common; however, the wealthy could opt for pins made of gold and silver. On occasion, pins would be formed from bone and ivory. The earliest forms were simple pins with no apparent head, but they evolved into various types such as the nail head, knob head and melon head pins. Some toggle pins contained a hole either for a string to help secure the garment or as a place to hang other decorative objects. Vere Gordon Childe in The Bronze Age: Typology describes how a pin and string were used: “To keep the pin in position a thread was passed through or tied on to its head, looped round the fold of the stuff to be fastened, and the end wound round the shaft again.”

Frank and Barbara Bowen

These Toggle Pins are part of M&G’s Bowen Collection of Antiquities. Collectors Frank and Barbara Bowen took an interest in archaeology believing objects from the Holy Land could illuminate their study of the Bible. They completed five trips to the Holy Land in the 1930s-1940s collecting artifacts. They studied and researched at the American School of Oriental Research in Palestine where they met Sir Flinders Petrie, the famous English Archaeologist and Egyptologist. He became not just their teacher but also their friend, and after Petrie’s death, his wife Hilda (an active archaeologist herself) donated a number of Egyptian antiquities to the Bowens’ collection. After completing their travels, the Bowens actively sought a home for their collection eventually donating it entirely to Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee for a museum. They stayed with the collection as curators. When Bob Jones College became Bob Jones University and moved to Greenville, South Carolina, the Bowens moved as well and continued as curators and docents. Today, these Toggle Pins along with many other artifacts continue to fulfill the Bowens’ goal of “making the Bible come alive” through studying the objects used in the everyday lives of ancient peoples.

Frank and Barbara Bowen teaching a class of children in the Bowen Museum

Rebekah Cobb, Registrar

Object of the Month: February 2019

Roman Glass

Iridescent Glass Perfume Bottle
Roman, circa 3rd-4th century AD
Iridescent Glass Vase/Jar
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
Iridescent Glass Double Unguentarium
Roman, circa 3rd-4th century AD
Iridescent Glass Medicine or Perfume Jar
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
Iridescent Glass Cup
Roman, circa 2nd-3rd century AD
Iridescent Glass Tear Bottle
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
On loan to Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC
Iridescent Glass Bowl
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
On loan to Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC
Iridescent Glass Medicine Bottle
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
On loan to Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC

 

Glass, a practical material as well as an artistic art form, was first created more than a thousand years before the Romans conquered the world. Even though the Romans did not invent the scientific process of creating glass, they are recognized as skilled craftsmen in the art.

Roman glass like the uniquely shaped forms in M&G’s Bowen Collection of Antiquities begs the viewer to study ancient glass. What makes it iridescent? What was it used for? Was it just for the wealthy?

The word iridescence is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a lustrous rainbowlike play of color caused by differential refraction of light waves (as from an oil slick, soap bubble, or fish scales) that tends to change as the angle of view changes.” M&G’s Roman glass did not begin as an iridescent piece. The iridescent effect was created by the slow decomposition of the glass over time. The alkali in the glass was drawn out and then mixed with the water within the soil in which it was buried, thus leaving colorful hues on the outside of the glass.

Roman glass bowls and bottles were used to hold precious liquids: oils, perfumes, ointments, cosmetics, medicine and perhaps tears of a grieving loved one.  While some speculate that tear bottles were not actually used to capture a grieving person’s tears, Scripture gives credence to the idea in Psalm 56:8, “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” The romance of capturing one’s tears only makes the bottle all the more mysterious and beautiful.

Roman glass was readily available and affordable for the common person to own—so prevalent, that third-century Emperor Gallienus refused to drink from a glass “because nothing was more common.”  However, Emperor Tacitus who followed Gallienus’s reign “took great pleasure in the diversity and elaborate workmanship of glass.”  These beautiful glass receptacles might have once been owned by a slave, plebeian, patrician, or emperor. Regardless, though, ancient examples of glass are well preserved and have turned more beautiful over time.

To view Roman glass from the Bowen Collection of Antiquities, visit The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, where many M&G antiquities are currently on loan or visit a display of nearly 300 objects from the collection at Mack Library on the campus of Bob Jones University.  Hours for visiting are available here.

Angie Snow, Museum Educator

Object of the Month: August 2018

The Martyrdom of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas

Signed and dated, Félix Leullier, 1880

Oil on canvas 

Félix Louis Leullier

French, 1811–1882

In this arresting example of the nineteenth-century Romantic style, Felix Louis Leullier uses all the forces of paint and position to create a gruesome depiction of one of the most famous martyrdoms of the Christian church. Little known outside of France, Felix trained with Antoine-Jean Gros, renowned for his depictions of some of Napoleon’s famous battles: Battle of Arcole, Napoléon on the Battlefield of Eylau, and Battle of Abukir. Gros leaves little to the imagination in the spheres of conflict and conquest, so it is no wonder that his student, Felix, would choose to depict a martyrdom in a context resembling the twisted forms often found on a battlefield.  

The painting’s setting is the Roman Amphitheatre in Carthage, the North African center of Christianity in the early centuries following Christ’s death and resurrection; there is little more than an outline remaining today of the prominent structure that seated 30,000. Although Felix most likely did not travel to that part of the world, he could have easily participated in a Grand Tour, a customary excursion in the 18th and 19th centuries for men coming of age, to see and learn from the culture and histories of antiquity. Such a broadening and experiential trip included significant time in Rome, where the Colosseum was a chief point of interest and which is very similar to Carthage’s own great amphitheater. The combined influence of travel and exposure to prominent depictions like Granet’s Interior View of the Colosseum in Rome, 1804 and Towne’s The Colosseum, 1781, Leullier opts to create only a faint representation of an outdoor arena.  

On March 7, 203 AD, under the rule of the Roman emperor, Septimius Severus, the noblewoman Vibia Perpetua, was executed with her handmaid, Felicitas, and fellow catechumens, Revocatus, Saturninus, and Secundulus. Just a few years earlier in 197 AD in his treatise Apologeticus, Tertullian had posited that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” As providence would have it, Tertullian himself was eyewitness and later chronicler to the gripping event portrayed in this work.  

In addition to Tertullian’s account and Perpetua’s own prison diary, Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis, in which she captures much of the detail up until the hour of her entrance into the arena, many attempts to present the event have been created in various media formats. It is contained in older volumes like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), as well as in more recent accounts like Thomas J. Heffernan’s The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity (2012). It is visible in paintings, drawings, mosaics, stained glass and illuminated manuscripts like Menologion of Basil II; and it has been presented in investigative journalism in the PBS Frontline series, From Jesus to Christ (1998). 

Leullier’s visual rendering is indeed grand both in presentation and size, measuring nearly seven feet high by nine feet wide. Though literary works relate that Perpetua and Felicitas were martyred separately from the men, Leullier deviates from the historical account and instead depicts the entire company—the martyrs, the men that assaulted them, and the many animals that mauled them. By placing the massacre in the forefront of the work, the purity and testimony of these Christians’ story cannot be ignored.

Bonnie Merkle, M&G Database Manager and Docent

For further enrichment:

Object of the Month: June 2018


Amulets: Scarabs, Winged Scarab, Rectangular Plaque, Cat, Fly, Hippo, and Goddess Bes, 

Carnelian, faience, stone, and pottery

Egyptian, ranging from 1786 BC-30 BC

Amulets are an important part of ancient Egyptian culture. The origin of the word is uncertain but some scholars are of the opinion that the word has Arabic roots and means to bear or carry. More commonly, scholars believe the word comes from the Latin word amuletum meaning to avert evil or protect from a spell. 

The ancient Egyptians believed that amulets possessed magical powers, which were determined by the amulet’s shape, color, and material. The amulet’s “powers” could be activated by reciting a spell or rubbing the amulet.  Amulets were worn by both the rich and poor and might be made of precious stones and metals or cheaper materials such as faience, a ceramic made from quartz. The picture on the right provides a sampling of Egyptian amulets from M&G’s Bowen Collection of Antiquities. From left to right: fly, Hippo, Bes, and Cat.

During the Old Kingdom (2686 BC-2134 BC) these good luck charms consisted mainly of animal forms or symbols derived from hieroglyphs. However, progressing through the Middle Kingdom (2050 BC-1652 BC), amulets began to take on the form of ancient Egyptian gods. Finally, during the New Kingdom (1550-712 BC), amulets appeared in a variety of forms.

These special ornaments were used for two main purposes—in daily life and funeral preparation. In daily life, an Egyptian would wear or carry and amulet for protection or good luck. In funerary ritual, the mummies were often buried with multiple charms to ensure protection in the after-life. The amulets might be part of necklaces and bracelets or interspersed in the layers of linen wrapping the mummified body. 

The scarab was the most popular amulet in ancient Egypt; it was formed in the shape of a beetle and became a good luck charm, believed to bring prosperity and eternal life. The Egyptians viewed the beetle as a divine manifestation of the sun-god Ra; just as the beetles rolled balls of dung across the ground, so Ra controlled the movement of the sun in the sky. The heart scarab was placed on the chest of a deceased person. It was believed to help the person “pass the feather of truth test.” This test would allow the individual to pass on into the after-life. The heart scarab had a spell inscribed on the back that can be found in the Book of the Dead. 

Interested in scarab beetles? Many Egyptians amulets from M&G’s Bowen Collection of Antiquities  are currently on display in Mack Library located on Bob Jones University’s campus. A scavenger hunt is available for children (1st-8th grades) at the Circulation Desk.

Carissa Wells, Elementary Education Coordinator

Object of the Month: May 2018

 


Clay Oil Lamps

Roman, circa 2nd-3rd century AD

 

In 1931 after retiring from church ministry, Frank and Barbara Bowen traveled on what was to be the first of several trips to the Holy Land. Motivated by a desire to make the Bible and its culture accessible to those who might never visit the Middle East, Mr. and Mrs. Bowen began collecting artifacts. With each trip, they added more to their collection including objects from Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and even from the Royal Tombs of Egypt. Among those antiquities were many small vessels vital to the daily life of ancient civilizations: oil lamps. 

These necessary pieces of practical technology were used universally by the ancient peoples of Greece, Italy, Egypt and more. The earliest lamps were carved from stone or made of clay; other materials included various metals, the most popular of which was bronze. Oil lamps also served as a status symbol. The poor usually had a plain bowl and couldn’t always afford to light a lamp every day. Because metal was considered a higher quality material, wealthier citizens owned more ornate, metal lamps with multiple mouths; these lamps required more wicks and oil, making them more costly to use.

The standard design for oil lamps comprised of a wick, fuel and a reservoir to hold the fuel. The wicks were made of plant fibers such as linen, papyrus and flax. Early lamps entailed a flat, saucer-like basin that was pinched at the top creating a place for the wick to rest (figure 1). With this open design came the risk for oil spillage—an issue supposedly resolved by the Greeks, who developed a closed vessel. Lamps eventually evolved to include multiple spouts allowing for more than one wick and a brighter output (figures 2 and 3).

Ancient peoples most often used olive oil as fuel. Besides being relatively odorless, olive oil generated less smoke and soot and burned cleaner than alternative fuels such as animal fat, beeswax, fish oil or oils from sesame, nuts and radish seed. Burning fuel required vigilant supervision because of the potential for fire and smoke; special niches were designed in the home specifically to hold oil lamps and other fire-producing utilities like stoves and ovens. If a lamp was placed on a table, it would be positioned on top of another vessel that would collect any spilling oil. 

Just like our light fixtures today, ancient lamps primarily functioned as a source of light both indoors and outdoors. They provided light for daily household activities, businesses, and streets; they were used at soldier encampments and occasionally by fishermen for evening fishing expeditions. Lamps played an important, even symbolic role at weddings, funerals and in the synagogues. For example, sometimes ancient people would bury an oil lamp with the dead to light the deceased’s journey in the afterlife. 

Understanding the importance and use of oil lamps illuminates the Biblical parables of The Lost Coin (Luke 15) and The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25)—a story of five wise virgins who packed extra oil while five foolish virgins failed to plan ahead. Matthew does not tell us at what time the women began their vigil for the bridegroom; however, when the bridegroom appeared at midnight, the virgins needed to “trim their lamps” by adding more oil and cutting the wick indicating they had been waiting for some time. Because the foolish virgins neglected to bring extra oil, they needed to leave and purchase more; thus they missed the opportunity to enter the wedding banquet with the bridegroom. Thanks to Frank and Barbara Bowen’s collection (now part of the Museum & Gallery), many biblical passages come alive to the modern world. 

To learn more about the Bowens and their collection, visit here.

 

Rebekah Cobb, former M&G Guest Relations Manager

Bonnie Merkle, M&G Database Manager and Docent

Collection on View

View Paintings from the Museum & Gallery Old Master Collection

While the Museum & Gallery is closed to the public to continue removing the collection in preparation for moving to a new building and new location, you can see selected masterworks on display in these campus locations:

Rodeheaver Auditorium: Atrium Lobby 

Public Hours: TBD

Enjoy a display of works from the Museum & Gallery supporting the themes of Living Gallery including a Rembrandt etching of The Crucifixion and St. Peter Denying Christ by German seventeenth-century painter, Christoph Paudiss.

Gustafson Fine Arts Center: Atrium

Public Hours: TBD

Luther’s Journey:  Experience the History commemorates Luther’s posting his 95 Theses—an act that changed the world.  His probing questions about man’s ultimate purpose, potential, and place in the world are still central to our own time and culture.  Luther’s life journey reminds us that ordinary people can be used by God to inspire extraordinary and enduring change.

War Memorial Chapel

Open only by appointment or tour request

The Benjamin West Collection
The seven paintings that hang in the War Memorial Chapel constitute the largest assemblage today of works by Benjamin West, the father of American painting.

Museum & Gallery

TBD

Explore ancient cultures through M&G’s antiquities collection! Of the more than 1,200 objects given by Frank and Barbara Bowen, around 250 are on view including a 120-foot long Hebrew Torah scroll dating from the 15th century, a Hebrew slingshot stone, Egyptian alabaster and kohl pots, delicate Roman glass, and Persian scale armor.

For a campus map, visit here.

Object of the Month: October 2020

Torah Scroll

Found in Yemen, Arabia

15th century

Jews believe that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) were dictated word for word by God to Moses. While the remaining books of the Old Testament, the Nevi’im (the Prophets) and the Ketuvim (the Writings) were inspired by God, the Jews regard the Pentateuch as quite literally, God’s exact words. A Sefer Torah is a kosher (ritually clean) handwritten copy of the formal Hebrew text of the Pentateuch. Both Jews and Christians believe that accurately preserving all God-inspired texts is important; however, Jews hold that the dictated Words of God must receive a higher level of respect and extreme attention to accuracy as they are transmitted to future generations.

A printed copy of the Torah may be used for personal study, but only a Sefer Torah can be used in public Jewish worship. A Sefer Torah must meet high standards in both its construction and transcription. Anything less would not be worthy of the Words of God and should not be used to worship Him.

The materials and tools used in making a Sefer Torah must be ritually clean. The parchment must be from the hides of a kosher animal. Today cow hides are generally used, but M&G’s Torah is made of gazelle parchment.  M&G’s Torah is 121’ long and required about 70 hides. To be kosher the hides must be properly cleaned and tanned. A quill from a kosher bird (or other permitted writing utensil) and a specially prepared kosher ink must be used. Once the parchment panels have been inscribed, they are sewn together with thread made from the sinews of a kosher animal. That thread is also used to attach the parchment to rods, called atzei chayim (the trees of life), on which the scroll is rolled.

The ritual cleanness of materials used in making a Sefer Torah demonstrates reverence to God’s Word, but the accuracy of the text is paramount. Every one of the Torah’s 304,805 Hebrew letters must be precisely duplicated by a specially trained sofer (called a scribe in the New Testament). The sofer begins copying by scoring temporary lines on the parchment to serve as the margins and rule for each line of text. Prior to writing the sofer cleanses in a mikvah (ritual bath) and recites a prayer for scroll writing.  He must then copy each letter exactly from a kosher Torah scroll or another approved source. Since a Sefer Torah scroll embodies the holiness of its message, the focus is on the text itself. Illustrations or artistic decorations are forbidden.

Before beginning work, many sofers today will test their quill and ink by writing the Hebrew word Amalek on a piece of parchment and then crossing it out. Doing so they literally fulfill the command in Deuteronomy 25:17-19 to blot out the name of Israel’s ancient enemy.

When the name of God appears in the text, the sofer must follow additional procedures to demonstrate his recognition of the sacredness of his task and his willingness to make sure it is done with the proper intent and reverence. Corrections can be made by scraping the error from the parchment. But if a mistake is made when writing the name of God, corrections are not permissible. That section of parchment cannot be used.

The sofer proofreads his work but before the Torah can be officially pronounced Sefer it must be proofread by additional approved individuals. Part of this process involves counting letters and lines of text. Generally a Torah is written by a single sofer and takes about a year to complete. The approval process may take additional months. The extreme accuracy of these procedures maintaining the text can be documented by comparing modern Torahs to ancient texts.

The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18)

Because ornamentation of the text could distract from the Words of God, embellishment within the scroll is prohibited as seen in M&G’s Torah. However, decoration of objects associated with the scroll (i.e. Torah case, Torah finger, etc.) show respect and honor to the Torah and its message.

The Song of the Sea (known as The Song of Moses) was sung by the Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. It describes their experience, Pharaoh’s army being destroyed by the collapsing waters, and looking forward to the Promised Land. This passage is one of the two places in a Torah where the text is inscribed differently. The brickwork pattern of the columns was designed to represent the parting of the Red Sea and the Jews passing between the waters.

The three approved traditions for preparing a Sefer Torah primarily differ in the forms of certain letters, the fonts, and the spacing. Yemenite scrolls, like M&G’s, are usually written in an older, more square-looking font, with 51 lines in each of 226 columns. Most modern Torah scrolls are Ashkenazi or Sephardic and have 248 columns of 42 lines each. Many modern scrolls use more rounded and ornamented fonts. The text is the same, but the general appearance and textual breaks differ. M&G’s Torah, which dates from the fifteenth century, is part of the Bowen Collection of Antiquities. In the 1930s and 40s, Frank and Barbara Bowen traveled to the Holy Land collecting artifacts like M&G’s Torah, to enhance appreciation and understanding of the Scriptures.

If a Sefer Torah is damaged or mistreated it becomes pasul and cannot be used in public worship. If a sofer can repair the damage, it can again become Sefer. If it is beyond repair or if it has become so fragile that continued use would damage it, the scroll remains pasul. Tradition dictates that a pasul Torah be placed in an earthen vessel and buried with dignity. However, Jewish leaders have officially approved the use of pasul Torahs by educational institutions and in museum displays, if they are given proper respect and protection.

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer

Selected Bibliography

Basic Laws regarding Torah Scrolls

Jewish Encyclopedia: Scroll of the Law

Sofer: The Torah Scribe

How Is the Torah Made?

M&G’s Beginnings

Bob Jones Jr. the founder of M&G, began building the art collection in 1948. After Carl Hamilton, an art-expert and friend, suggested the idea to him, Dr. Bob discussed the possibility of a University Art Gallery with the Executive Committee. He pointed out that a collection of sacred art would be an excellent complement to the schools of Fine Arts and Religion. The Executive Committee agreed, established an acquisition fund, and empowered Dr. Bob to begin collecting art for the university. The criteria for collecting were determined, since every collection must establish its boundaries in order to create its own unique and useful niche: it would be limited to western religious art.

Because Baroque art was unpopular with museums and collectors in the 1950s, Dr. Bob was able to purchase a number of fine paintings his first year of collecting at astonishingly low prices. The Gallery’s original collection comprised twenty-five paintings and included works by Botticelli, Botticini, Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Ribera. These paintings were displayed for the first time on Thanksgiving Day 1951 in a two-room gallery adjoining the Bowen Collection of Antiquities.

After the Gallery’s inauguration, the collection rapidly grew. Three years later, in 1954, the collection had grown to 40 works. By 1962, it held 211 paintings, and by 1991, the Gallery had over four hundred works on permanent display. In 1963, the Gallery acquired seven important Benjamin West paintings from West’s large series “The Progress of Revealed Religion.” During this time of development, the Gallery also acquired the James Cole Collection of Ecclesiastical Textiles and Vestments, and began acquiring valuable furniture and the Russian Icon collection.

To accommodate additional artworks, the Gallery moved twice before 1970—first, in 1956 when the Fine Arts Building was constructed, and later, in 1965, when the University’s dining facility was moved. The second expansion of the Gallery into the former Dining Hall was an event of national importance that included a gala event for museum curators, art collectors, and other special guests from around the world. In 1996, the Gallery expanded further by becoming an independent corporation with tax-exempt status now called the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery.

The collection gained national prominence when NBC Television broadcast a number of M&G’s paintings in three Project Twenty specials. In recent years, numbers of national and international exhibitions have borrowed from the collection. In addition to these special displays, M&G daily offers great art to the public, opening its doors to more than twenty thousand people each year.

 

Adapted from Standing without Apology: The History of Bob Jones University by Daniel L. Turner