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Pondering with God's Word

‘He unrolled the scroll …’


The gospel reading for Jan. 23 is taken from Luke’s Gospel, first the introduction, 1:1-4, then the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum, 4:14-21. Previously, I concentrated on the quotation from Isaiah that Jesus read. The lectionary, coupling this with the introduction, led me this time to the action with the scroll.

In his introduction, Luke states the purpose of his Gospel is that his community members may have “certainty of the teachings you have received” (1:4). The Greek word behind “certainty” may also be translated as “have assurance of.” Most homilies/reflections on this Sunday’s readings concentrate on the passages from Isaiah (61:1-2, 58:6) which Jesus reads. Rightly so, because, for Luke, the passage serves as the “mission statement” of Jesus; we Christians can hear both “assurance” and challenge in this statement to bolster our own discipleship. What caught my eye this time, however, was the brief mention that Jesus “unrolled the scroll and found the passage.”

Among the scripture readings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is what is called the Great Isaiah scroll dating to about 125 BC, discovered in 1947, and containing almost the entire text of Isaiah in Hebrew. Thanks to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, there is a digital edition of this scroll which can be found by visiting The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls at http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah. Playing with the digital edition allows one to unroll the scroll. Hebrew is written from right to left and the scroll unwinds that way. The text is written in columns. There are no numbered chapters nor verses. The numbers along the bottom are for columns not for chapters. 61:1-2 is in column 48 and 58:6 in column 47. Clicking on the scroll at any point gives an English translation. Jesus’ action was not like opening a modern English Bible, equipped with numbered chapters and verses. However, lectors today stand in the tradition of our Lord who “unrolled the scroll and read.”

If you find this digital edition, look in column one, the third line, the second word. That is the name of God, YHWH, in Hebrew. Seeing God’s name on this scroll affords a moment to pause and be thankful for this scroll; but more importantly, for a personal assurance of the teachings we have received. We see with our own eyes faith in our God expressed by Jews just before the time of Jesus and of Jesus himself.