In the Time Before Computers

What does counting have to do with writing? For the ancient Jews, the two were intimate. It was serious enough that the ancient Babylonians called the Jewish scribes, sopherim, which means “counters.” When Dr. Smith mentioned in class that, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the letter vav in Leviticus 11:42 marked the middle letter of the Torah, or that Leviticus 10:16 contained the middle word, I thought that these were simply idle curiosities. Hebrew fun facts. But the truth is much different.

Ancient Jewish scribes had the highest regard for written Scripture and took great, obsessive care in its transmission. For instance, if they found something on the page that they were quite certain was an error, like a spelling mistake, they would not change it, but only make a note in the margin. One of their most effective tools, however, in ensuring that their own copy of Scripture was correct, was their system of counting. Since they knew that the vav in Leviticus 11:42 was the exact center of the Torah, they could count all their letters up to that point and know if the first half of their copy was correct. If their copy had fewer letters, or more, then they knew that there was a mistake and either undertook the tedious task of finding where they went wrong, or they discarded the copy altogether. It was an exacting process, but it is an example of how God preserves His Word through the diligence of men, and it’s another reason to have confidence that the Word has been accurately transmitted through the ages.

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