The author of a 10th-century collection of scriptures has been identified as the same scribe who wrote the the earliest known complete copy of the Hebrew Bible.
The finding could influence future translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the Old Testament, according to a news release from Tyndale House, Cambridge, which published the research.
The ancient text, known to scholars as Codex L17, contains only Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings. Researcher Kim Phillips wrote in an article the Tyndale Bulletin that he determined that the author was the scribe Samuel ben Jacob, or “Samuel, son of Jacob,” and that it was written around the year 975.
Samuel ben Jacob also wrote The Leningrad Codex, the earliest known complete copy of the Hebrew Bible, completed in the year 1008 and the basis for many modern biblical translations.
L17 was part of the Firkovich Collection of Hebrew manuscripts housed in the Russian National Library, which Phillips described as “the most important trove of manuscripts for the study of the medieval text of the Hebrew Bible.”
Using digital images of the codex published by the National Library of Israel, Phillips said he was able to identify the scribe based on similarities in the lettering patterns between these two texts and another partial text by Samuel that he discovered in 2015.
That makes sense, said Professor Gary Rendsburg, Laurie Chair in Jewish History at Rutgers University, because Jewish scribes in that time had distinct “scribal techniques,” or “little flourishes and little symbols, jots and tittles on the manuscript” used to fill white space.
Phillips reported that the Hebrew letters used to represent the word for God in L17 also resembled the 10th-century scribe’s style and usage in other writings.
Scholars said the find is important, though they don’t expect anything earth-shattering to change as a result.
“It’s always important to have an early manuscript, but the specific significance remains to be seen,” said David Kraemer, director of libraries at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Rendsburg expects any inconsistencies would likely be small, like the use of “hair” versus “hairs” or different spellings of a word.
“None of this is going to change the world,” he said. But the Rutgers scholar added that the find does shed light on the life of Samuel ben Jacob, a historic figure.
“These scribes are like our heroes who have given us these texts,” he said. “Because they wrote with such devotion, such dedication and such accuracy. … For me, the excitement is to bring to life this person about whom we just knew a name, essentially.”
Courtesy: Religion News Service
Do Good Shepherds Break the Legs of Sheep Who Wander?
Bible prophecy about the coming of the Messiah prepares us to think of Him as a Shepherd, such as this prophetic announcement in the book of Ezekiel:
“I will place over them one shepherd, My servant David, and He will tend them; He will tend them and be their shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:23)
Prophecies like this help us understand why an angel was sent to the shepherds of Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago announcing the arrival of this one Good Shepherd:
“There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8, 10–11)
But why do the prophets ask us to think of Messiah as our Good Shepherd?
Sheep herders in Israel (Photo by The Advocacy Project)
The shepherd is a prominent, meaningful metaphor in the Bible.
In fact, Adonai is referred to as a shepherd in Genesis 49:24 and Isaiah 40:11. In the latter, God is described as a tender shepherd who cares for His people, the flock.
“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
In Psalm 23, the Psalmist tells us that the Lord is our shepherd and He protects His flock from evil.
Why is God’s flock compared to sheep and not cattle, chickens, or horses?
Sheep are in need of leadership. Without it, they wander off and are injured or killed. Isaiah explains that we “all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6). This was just as true in his time, 700 years before the birth of Yeshua, as it is now.
It takes special qualities to be a shepherd of sheep and of people. In ancient Israel, God often appointed those who demonstrated skill and wisdom in their leadership and care for their sheep with the privilege of leading God’s people.
Why Shepherds Can Become Great Leaders
So many great Jewish leaders were shepherds.
God handpicked shepherds with a proven record of trustworthiness in caring for their sheep to be the patriarchs and first leaders of Israel, most notably Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and King David.
What is it about shepherds that they can slip so easily into a leadership role?
For one, shepherds have a lot of time to think as they watch over their animals. According to Rabbi Ken Spiro, time to think is a prerequisite for leadership.
“To elevate oneself to the highest level, where one transcends the physical reality and enters a higher dimension of communicating with the Infinite, requires a huge amount of work, and a lot of time to think.” (Aish)
Spiro further highlights that shepherds have a great deal of practice managing large groups of living creatures.
Moses at the Burning Bush (Bible Primer, 1919)
“One of the great lessons that we need to learn from Jewish history is the difficulty and the challenges of unifying and trying to lead the most individualistic nation on earth. Being a shepherd is good practice for this daunting task,” adds Spiro.
Although Moses was a prince of Egypt, and likely well-versed in the principles of Egyptian leadership, God prepared him for the task of leading the Israelites through a 40-year position as a shepherd.
It was likely very humbling, and humility is an important quality of a great leader.
Then, when he was ready, God appeared to him in the burning bush and ushered him into the role of leading the Israelites to freedom.
A Good King Praises His Good Shepherd
David was also a shepherd called to lead Israel.
David, who risked his life to protect his sheep from predators such as lions and bears, provides insight into the characteristics of a good shepherd in Psalm 23.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.” (v. 1–3a)
David’s solitude as a shepherd helped him to deeply understand that God was his shepherd. He understood that he was His sheep. It is a touching metaphor.
Like sheep, we are totally dependent on our Shepherd to provide our sustenance. The Shepherd is attentive to our needs. When we enter the flock of the Good Shepherd, His very words feed our soul; His Spirit quenches our thirst, revealing to us mysteries that even the prophets and angels longed to know (1 Peter 1:10–12).
“He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.” (v. 3b)
David perhaps realizes his own restlessness, and as He turned to God trusting Him with his life, he rested in His faithfulness.
Like sheep, people are restless, prone to wander, always searching for greener grass, and too often oblivious to danger. Shepherds are watchful, keeping their flock safe from their own tendency to wander. This protects them from dangerous terrain and waiting predators.
As well, shepherds would customarily create a sheepfold at night or enclosure topped by thorns to keep the sheep in and predators out. They would sleep across the entrance becoming the door to the fold, effectively barring the entrance so predators could not creep up on them as they slept.
Israeli sheep feed in green pastures.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (v. 4)
When sheep do wander into dangerous circumstances, getting caught in a thicket, floating down a river, passing near a predator, the Shepherd uses his tools—the rod and staff—to defend, rescue and bring his sheep back into his protection.
People likewise find themselves in perilous circumstances they never imagined or are unprepared for. God never abandons us to face those challenges alone.
The rod, often considered a disciplinary tool, is in reality a weapon used to defend sheep by warding off predators. The staff is used to hook a sheep’s neck or leg to redirect, hold, or nudge them—not to hurt them, but rather to keep them safe.
A popular myth would have us believe that shepherds in ancient Israel broke the leg of a sheep who wanders. While the leg is healing, it is said that the sheep would become endeared to the shepherd as he nurtures them back to health, carrying the disabled sheep close to his heart.
In reality, it is highly impractical and counterproductive to break a sheep’s leg. They can weigh up to 75 pounds, so carrying even one disabled sheep would handicap a shepherd, preventing him from caring for his other sheep for several weeks.
Imagine if a shepherd were caring for multiple sheep in this condition!
Moreover, the sheep’s leg might not heal properly which would permanently handicap it from responding to predators. And, in the end, the sheep might associate the rod and staff with punishment, not comfort and protection, making a shepherd’s job much more difficult.
A Samaritan carries a sheep during Passover.
If shepherds in ancient Israel did disable their sheep by breaking their legs, we would see it reflected in Jewish tradition. What we see instead is this Midrash written nearly 1,000 years ago about Moses as a shepherd:
“One day, a kid ran away from the flock under Moses’ care. Moses chased after it, until it came to a spring and began to drink. When Moses reached the kid he cried: ‘Oh, I did not know that you were thirsty!’ He cradled the runaway kid in his arms and carried it to the flock. Said the Almighty: ‘You are merciful in tending sheep—you will tend My flock, the people of Israel.’” (Shemot Rabbah 2:2)
The revered Lubavitcher Rebbe of the past century helps us understand the more Biblical truth about shepherding:
“Moses realized that the kid did not run away from the flock out of malice or wickedness—it was merely thirsty. … Only a shepherd who hastens not to judge the runaway kid, who is sensitive to the causes of its desertion, can mercifully lift it into his arms and bring it back home.” (Chabad)
What an incredible lesson for us as well. Before we judge and condemn our own sheep for what seems to be backsliding, rebellion, or lack of judgment, we have an opportunity to discover the reason for their action so we can more effectively lead them into greener pastures and quieter waters, not into a prison or hospital bed.
Isaiah (40:11) sums up our duties when he says a good shepherd “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
As we continue to read through Psalm 23, David, the shepherd and king, writes:
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (v. 5a)
A shepherd will never betray his sheep by allowing him to be taken by a predator; instead, he will keep predators at bay while he leads his sheep to graze. Though people will fail to protect us in this way or even lead us into danger, our Good Shepherd never does.
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (v. 5b)
When sheep strayed and were injured, shepherds would use oil as a balm to help soothe the pain and heal the hurt. This gesture is also a symbol of lavish generosity and goodness on the part of a host.
In David’s case, this shepherd was eventually anointed with oil as king.
Likewise, although Yeshua is the King of Kings, He came as a humble shepherd. When He returns, His exalted kingship will be evident to all.
But we can bring this lesson back to our own level, as well. God can and does exalt even the most humble of people, much to the chagrin of those who despise them.
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (v. 6)
David defends his flock from predators (Delightful Stories, 1888)
Sheep are the most precious and valuable asset a shepherd has; therefore, a good shepherd treats them as a treasure.
At great personal sacrifice, he is responsible for his flock throughout their lifespan, similar to nurses who watch over critically ill patients throughout the night, even after their 12-hour shift is finished to make sure their patients make it to their next treatment.
Likewise, Yeshua is such a Shepherd. He will never abandon us, providing for us sacrificially. He has even laid down His life for us. (John 10)
The Prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah confirm that God looks on leadership like shepherding. He is so concerned that leaders take the responsibility of shepherding seriously that He says He abhors shepherds who fail to care for their flock:
“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.
“You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
“So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” (Ezekiel 34:3–5)
But He also promises to send the Good Shepherd to care for His sheep:
“I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and He will tend them; He will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.” (Ezekiel 34:23–24)
This servant shepherd is Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus the Messiah, who as promised came from the line of David.
Children visit the sheep in the pen at a kibbutz in Israel. (Photo by Wanderlasss)
Yeshua: The Good Shepherd
Yeshua came in fulfillment of God’s promise to send a good Shepherd to Israel.
In the period He was born, however, the shopkeeper and doctor had been raised up in social status while the religious leaders despised and mistrusted shepherds, officially condemning them as “sinners.”
Yet, Yeshua did not come to exalt Himself in the eyes of the religious establishment. He fully understood His role as the Good Shepherd, coming humbly to “seek and save the lost”—His sheep (Luke 19:10).
Yeshua explained it this way: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders.” (Luke 15:4–7)
The joy in finding what is lost but precious is further illustrated by the parable of the father who throws a grand banquet for his wandering son who returns home. No punishment. No shaming. Just pure joy. (Luke 15:11–32; see also vv. 8–10)
A sheep in the flock (Photo by Wanderlasss)
Like a good shepherd, Yeshua has persistently called out to His scattered sheep who have not yet come under His care and protection as their Messiah.
And even though He first came to the Jewish People as the Shepherd King of Israel, Yeshua made it clear that some of His sheep are not Jewish:
“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:16; see also Deuteronomy 32:21; Zechariah 2:11; Isaiah 49:22, 62:6–7)
Certainly, in the last 2,000 years, we have seen a great number from the nations hear the call of Yeshua and accept Him as their Messiah. And we understand that when the fullness of the Gentiles is complete, all Israel will also be saved.
That prophetic time is not far off. In the meantime, we are to care for the flock of the Shepherd of Israel.
Indeed, Yeshua instructed: “Feed My lambs. … Take care of My sheep. … Feed My sheep.” (John 21:15–17)
And while we are caring for the sheep under our watch — employees, students, patients, and children — we must continue to bless Israel.
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” (Psalm 28:9)
David Gushee | Religion News Service | Thursday, July 13, 2017
Mentally ill and homeless people wander into the church that I pastor on Sunday mornings, and I don’t know the best way to handle it.
There, I said it.
I am going to be gut-honest in this little reflection and will admit my own uncertainty and discomfort. This will risk incurring the wrath of everyone who has figured it out. But maybe I can get some helpful crowdsourcing insights here.
First, a bit of context. My church is in urban Atlanta. We are near enough to an Atlanta metro stop that it is easy for people to find their way to our church building from the subway. This is really important.
We also offer benevolence ministries during the week, so lots of very needy, homeless and sometimes mentally ill people are in our building regularly.
We all have a script for these encounters. They seek help, we offer it, then everyone goes on with their day.
But I am talking about Sunday morning. We don’t offer any assistance on Sunday morning. We offer worship services and Sunday school classes.
Our first service is quite casual and is held in our fellowship hall. Our second service is more formal and takes place in the sanctuary. The guests I speak of rarely come to the second service, but almost every week they are in the first.
You can spot homeless people very quickly. They carry more bags than other people, their clothes and faces are worn, and they often do not smell very good. Sometimes our worship service seems to be a resting place for them in their weary sojourn. Other times they seem fully engaged.
The mentally ill are sometimes part of the homeless group, and sometimes not.
We have a visitor these days who comes in anywhere from one hour before the service starts until 10 minutes before it ends. He looks pretty normal but as soon as you speak with him you can tell he’s not right. His words come out in a jumble, largely incoherent. The different sentences don’t add up. He periodically interrupts the person speaking at the platform. He gets up and wanders randomly. He is here, then he’s gone, then he’s back. He makes people uncomfortable.
Imagine you’re me, trying to grow our church, attract college students, young professionals and young families, and orchestrating a carefully planned worship service. In a room with about 100 people in it, a family with young kids walks in and ends up sitting right behind the reeking man from the street. A young couple arrives over in another section and ends up in conversation with the scary incoherent man. Not exactly the plan. But should it be? Can full “integration” occur across these axes as well as others that we have already managed?
You send the visiting family off to a Sunday school class and, wouldn’t you know it, the same cast of characters is in the room. All of this leads to a better than average chance we will never see those visitors again.
I don’t fully understand why there are so many homeless and/or mentally ill people wandering the streets of urban America. I do know it is a great tragedy and involves huge breakdowns of our mental health system, our economy and our society as a whole.
I understand that from a theological and moral perspective all lives are equally valuable, all persons equally precious to God, and I should be as glad that homeless and/or seriously mentally ill (if harmless) people are in our seats as I am with young professionals. Right?
And I do fully understand that every urban area in America has a wandering army of homeless and/or mentally ill people. Do all churches find them in the pews on Sunday morning? What do other churches do about the discomfort that they create? How come I never seem to see them in the big megachurches?
I don’t know much, but I do know this. I am going to have to lean in on this one, more than I might have ever wanted. I am going to have to study this social problem more thoroughly. I am going to have to personally engage our wanderers so that I might learn who they are, what they need, and if possible, how to help them. How to love them.
Your ideas are welcome.
Courtesy: Religion News Service