Thursday, February 9, 2017

BULRUSHES: Bible Plant Series

It is hard for me to imagine that a simple sheet of paper was, at once, a technological and anthropological breakthrough. Paper and the Bible are inseparable. Its in words written and copied and passed down that we begin to learn of the heart of God and His heart for ‘Adam’s helpless race.’ Let’s take a journey in the biblical history of paper.

 The ancient Egyptians began experimenting with using plant-based materials for more than just medicine, food, and food that their food ate. Bulrushes are water plants commonly found along the Nile River. They are a tall reed that has a fan shape at its highest point. You probably vaguely remember a social studies class that called them papyrus. Papyrus is the name of the plant and (points for originality here) the product made from that plant commonly used as paper. The ancient Egyptians developed a technique of cutting thin strips of stalk, layering them, and pressing out the water. When dry, they would use these sheets of plants to write upon. Up until this point, writing was only done by chiseling symbols on stone. The Egyptians found this advanced technological way to communicate that was far cheaper, more sustainable (because it grew back) and much easier to transport. Even though the process was cheaper, it was still very expensive, so a lot of papyrus was used and reused and used again. Much like we might use newspaper to wrap a present or make papier-mâché volcanoes for a science project due the next day.

In Exodus, we find the story of Moses. It was a dark time for the Hebrew people in Egypt. Pharaoh had decreed that all of the babies were to be drowned to help control the population size. I cannot imagine. Neither could Moses’s mother. She obeyed the decree up to a certain point. She put her baby in the Nile like thousands of other mothers, but she built a boat around him. A basket that floated. The same Hebrew word used for the word “basket or boat” here is the same word used for ark. So Noah and Moses’s mother built an ark.

Exodus 2:3
But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river's bank.

What must it have been like for Moses’s mother to send him floating down the river in a paper boat never to see him again? The scene of him disappearing behind papyrus stalks in the next river bend must have been crushing. Miriam, Moses’s sister, was tasked, most likely self-appointed, with following and keeping him safe. No doubt she was worried about the crocodiles and hippos commonly found in the Nile. He floated past them and right into the viewpoint of an even more dangerous enemy- the daughter of pharaoh, predator of Hebrew babies. Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing with her servants in the Nile when she heard a baby.

Miriam must have been paralyzed in fear and then to hear her say she knew it was a Hebrew baby. Would she have someone drown him right there?

Instead she looked on him lovingly…

 “And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2:6

Miriam saw her chance. She had this moment where she could heal her mother’s broken heart.

 “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?”
 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother.  Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:7-10

Moses grew up as a child to Pharaoh’s daughter. He was taught to read and write. He was probably the most educated Hebrew of his day. It would be through Moses that God would write his commandments. So lets break this down:

Moses was saved by paper (papyrus, bulrushes) He was taught to write on that papyrus unlike hardly any of his Hebrew brothers. God spoke to Moses extensively about His law as evidenced in a whopping 613 commandments! Moses kept record of all of them by writing them on papyrus.

Papyrologists are the people that study papyrus. They study things like the paper structure itself, where it was found, how the letters are formed, and if there is printing on the front and back. Papyrus can refer to two types of presentation- one is in the form of a scroll and the other is in the form of a codex. The scroll was a very long piece of papyrus that was only written on one side and had to be simultaneously scrolled and unscrolled to find certain text.

 It was a very long piece of text that was virtually impossible to read and skip to a new section. Codex was a form of smaller pieces of papyrus bound on one side, written on both sides with an ability to flip back and forth easily. It was one of the greatest revolutions in writing, besides the printing press, and we still use the form of codex in printed books today.

Codex was invented in the time of Jesus. Christianity was an early adopter of the codex, finding it ideal for simultaneously being able to read the words and works of Jesus alongside the letters of Paul, as well as the Old Testament. It allowed the scripture to be indexed and referenced with a Table of Contents. It was popular because it was an innovative way of reading. The Bible was probably spread more in the early days because of the curiosity of “scroll-users” never before having held a codex.

According to Claire Clivas, readers are in an unusual place in modern day by being able to simultaneously harness the power of the unlimited scroll and the organization of a codex. We literally “scroll” through webpages, which if printed on uninterrupted banner paper would rival the longest papyrus scroll at 65 feet. Yet, we can also click links that skip to specific places in the mile long text. 

(You have probably even scrolled down the page to get to this point in reading this blog. Worlds colliding!!)

What I find fascinating is God’s timing. Moses came right when paper was being used more commonly. Jesus came right when the codex was being invented.

Scrolls (with writing on only one side) were used into the 6th century AD. Codex (writing on both sides) became more common in the 3rd century AD, but the church started using it as early as the 1st century AD. In fact, the New Testament text is known for this. Earliest fragments of papyri that are printed on both sides are predominately found to be copies of the New Testament.

The New Testament was one of the first documents that was commonly written on both sides of the page, but it is not the first words to be written on both sides. God, Himself, is the one who engraved the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets:

“And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets.” Exodus 32:15-16

(Some rabbis believe that God carved the commandments all the way through. When Moses held them up the light would have been able to pass through. This is also why when Moses saw the Golden Calf and dropped them they broke so easily. They had holes in them. How symbolic, the Israelites had already broken the covenant before they saw the stone tablet. Broken covenant= broken tablets. Moses interceded for the people and thankfully, God made a 2nd set of tablets and a fresh covenant.)

Moses the vessel in whom God poured His law to save the children of Israel was saved on/by paper (papyrus, bulrsuhes). Jesus, the vessel on whom God poured His grace to save the world, was distributed on/by paper. We have been saved by this distribution. We have been saved by paper.

So the New Testament was being copied in the most advanced technology of the day. So keep tweeting your scriptures! God is not afraid of the development of technology.  I believe He is willing to use anything as long as one more heart might be reached. I never want to limit Him to what I know, what I have been taught (or really what I am comfortable with). He blows my boundaries out of the water in simply being who He is. His ways are higher.

The ark of Noah was built around those whom it would save and deliver. The ark of Moses was built by his mother to save the one whom would deliver the Israelites from the oppression of Pharoah.  The ark of the covenant was built around the tablets carved by the finger of God that established His everlasting covenant basically saying, “I will be Your God, if you will be my people.” And Jesus, well… He got out of the boat and walked on the water and says “Come”.

1 comment: