I’m behind on this post, but knowing it would be a long one, I’ve been taking my time getting to it. A week ago Saturday (April 12), Josh McDowell gave a day-long conference and evangelistic message in an auditorium in Querétaro. We had testing to give on Saturday in the opposite direction so we couldn’t go. However, our teammates who were going offered to take Cameron with them.
So, after testing in Querétaro on Friday, Cameron and Dayton stayed overnight with the Smith family. We purchased Cameron’s ticket at attend (about $8) and he went on Saturday for the day while Dayton stayed behind with his buddy, Ben.
Both of them had a great time and having both boys two nights away from home was something we have rarely experienced, if ever. I can’t even remember such a time. So, that was the setup for the day and we drove back to Querétaro on Sunday after our house church service to pick them up and enjoy lunch with the Smiths and get a summary of their experiences.
Wow. That’ all I can say. Josh McDowell is a rather famous name. It sounds like he is famous for lots of reasons. He’s an amazing brother in Christ and has an impressive testimony and walk of faith. His book More Than a Carpenter is one of the top 30 selling books of all time. Combined his books have earned over $100 million dollars and from the beginning of his ministry, he had it arranged so that the profits would go directly to ministries and not to him personally. That fact alone demands respect in my opinion.
We didn’t know much about the conference, other than what was written on a promo poster. Turns out, he didn’t follow that script at all! He came with a totally different agenda and our co-worker said it seemed to be way better than what was listed on the poster!
Apparently, the McDowell ministry is in the early stages of some remarkable discoveries regarding the Scriptures and Josh wanted to share those with this particular group. Why? I don’t really know. Perhaps just because it is so fresh and so exciting that he just felt led to present this information and display. For whatever reason, he knocked everyone’s socks off with what he shared.
So, what was it?
I’ll have to show you the pictures that Cameron and others took. Some are blurry as they were taken with a portable device in a room that didn’t provide enough light for the cameras of such devices and at the same time being bumped and jostled in a crowded room. So, forgive the poor quality of the pictures. Also, I listened to 3 different individuals, not at the same time or place in order to compile the following information/summary. I was not there. I think I have the gist of it quite accurate but there is always a chance that I may misstate a particular detail…so that is my disclaimer.
McDowell (or his ministry) brought a copy of the Torah (the Pentateuch…i.e. the Books of Moses or the first five books of the Old Testament…for those who don’t recognize any of those terms). The original Torah is thought to date back to about 1,500 B.C. when written by Moses. This copy was on the market after WW2 in Europe when a synagogue from a small town on the border of Germany and Poland decided to sell this copy of the Torah because it was valuable and because the town was literally starving and had no resources after the war to feed themselves. They decided to sell their copy of the Torah in order to survive.
So this copy that was put on display is unusual for a couple of reasons. It dates back 500 years, thus back to about 1,500 A.D. Why is this unusual? Because normally a copy of the Torah would only be kept in use until the ink begins to fade. At that point, a professional scribe would be hired to copy that copy and then the original copy would be sealed up and buried/stored. In some cases, the holders of a copy couldn’t afford to have the long scroll copied (depending on the font type the total length is 112-148 feet and it takes about a year to make an acceptable copy that meets over 4,000 rules for making such a copy). In these cases, a professional scribe could also darken (restore) the ink of the text which would prolong the life of the original copy for another 100+ years.
So, for this copy of the Torah to have been purchased with an age of 500 years means that it was restored several times rather than having been replaced with a new copy. That’s important to note because apparently this is not common to have a copy that has received such treatment and to survive 500 years without being set aside in lieu of a new copy.
As an aside, this particular scroll was treated so that now the ink cannot fade in order to preserve it and to allow it to be put on display. It was partially unrolled and people were allowed to touch the blank borders. The text itself was not allowed to be touched but not because it would degrade the ink but because the human skin oils would collect dust on the surface and require a costly cleaning.
Also as an aside, the scroll actually comes in sections which are tied together so that if there is ever damage to any particular section, that section can be copied and replaced as necessary. Apparently, the newest section of this particular scroll is about 500 years and some sections may even be older.
Another unusual significant detail of this scroll is that it was copied from a scroll that itself was known to be 1,000 years old. That would mean that between this copy and the copy from which it was made together date back to about halfway back to the original writing. There is no other known set of copies that could make this claim.
McDowell explained some of what is involved in making a copy. It is impressive, thorough and a process that virtually eliminates the possibility of errors of any kind. I’m sure even those in attendance would have difficulty remembering all of these points and I certainly couldn’t present them well since I was not there. I have found a list online from a Jewish source that describes some of these particulars which do indeed agree with the details I was told in piecemeal fashion. Here is a list from one source:
• A Torah Scroll is the holiest book within Judaism, made up of the five books of Moses.
• There are 304,805 letters in a Torah Scroll.
• Each page has 42 lines.
• The Torah Scroll must be written by a specially trained pious scribe called a sofer.
• A sofer must know more than 4,000 Judaic laws before he begins writing a Torah Scroll.
• It takes about a year to write an entire Torah Scroll.
• Even a single missing or misshapen letter invalidates the entire Sefer Torah.
• The Torah we use today in your synagogue is written exactly the same way the Torah was written the very first time by Moses 3,300 years ago.
• The Torah is made of many sheets of parchment that are sewn together to make one very long scroll.
• The entire Torah is written by hand, each letter is inscribed and individually formed with a quill and specially prepared ink.
• The Torah is read at least four times a week in synagogues around the world.
OK, so here are a few pics and notice the external note cards with pics and explanation of particular details. Cameron mentioned that some of the letters of the text include small decorative marks above the letters. If there were just a few of these marks, they were purely decorative, but scribes are not at liberty to remove them so they leave them in their copying work. If there were like 4 or 5 of these marks, it actually is significant and has meaning other than decoration and so these especially should not be removed for that reason.
As mentioned in the list above, there is an exact number of letters in the Torah. There is a numbering system used in order for a scribe to check the work to be sure that there is not one letter more or less than that number which is 304,805 letters. They know exactly where and which letter is the middle letter of all of these…good thing it is an odd number, I guess! If the middle letter is not that exact letter, the copy is incorrect, invalid and is destroyed.
Well, McDowell wasn’t finished and the presentation turned to an even more impressive display.
It seems that in the recent past, perhaps 2013, the McDowell ministry purchased some Egyptian burial plates. These were apparently decorative items found in burial tombs of ancient Egyptians. These were made of papier-mâché. A scientific investigation of these burial plates revealed that the paper-like products used to create these plates was not just plain paper but “paper” with writing on them, like we might use old newspaper. It turns out the these old writings were often considered useless by the Egyptians and so fitting for use in a burial plate. Guess what they had on-hand as useless paper? Hebrew writings! These burial plates contain ancient fragments of the Torah! My understanding is that they decided to have the plates destroyed in order to salvage the fragments. These apparently are among the oldest known surviving fragments of the Torah ever found. They’re quite valuable and quite important. In comparing these fragments with existing fragments/portions/copies of the Torah, there are no differences or errors. They match completely. The type of ink, the type of paper, and other particularities provide a dating system of these fragments and so once again, discoveries of ancient pieces of Scripture reveal that the copies of the Word of God have preserved the originals with an incredibly high level of accuracy.
In late 2013, the McDowell ministry purchased at least one Egyptian burial mask, made with a similar type of construction as the burial plates. He mentioned that they paid $60,000 USD for it. In early 2014 CAT scans were made of the mask and it revealed it is made entirely from fragments/portions of ancient writings. Either they know or they think that there are about 22 fragments of Scripture inside this mask. Each fragment would have a value of over $1 million apiece! It’s rather amazing that they would even put this on display without a good amount of armed security! But, no one knew this was coming and who would have thought?!
McDowell mentioned that not too long about only 50% of the Bible was well preserved enough with evidence to support just how well preserved the Scriptures are. Discoveries in recent years (like the last 2 years) have bumped that percentage up to 90%, and they feel that with what they’re now finding in these Egyptian relics and other findings, that 100% of the Bible will be confirmed.
He mentioned a copy of one of the letters to Timothy was found recently that is dated by the paper and ink used to about 100 A.D. That is a spectacular discovery as it totally destroys the modern arguments that the epistle was written hundreds of years after Christ and is not of Paul but of a later writer and thus not an inspired book in the canon. Skeptics once again have been proven wrong and their efforts to discredit the validity of Scripture is once again denied. (I would like to read of this more definitively myself as there was nothing in the pictures that supported this particular statement as far as I know.)
Here are the pics of the Egyptian burial mask which is covered in 22K gold:
We’re thankful that Cameron had this opportunity to go and be encouraged in his faith and his walk with Christ. He learned much and it is always good, in this day and age, to hear and see evidence for the validity of our faith, even if by definition, we believe in what we do not see. Yet, there is evidence that can be seen that supports what we do not see. Thanks to Bryan Smith for taking Cameron and his daughters Kendra and Tara to this grand event. We had no idea how valuable this investment in a day would be for all of them.
Another of our teammates, Brock Hower, went as well with some folks from his church. Brock was unable to take any of his kids (who are younger) and Bethie and I were actually testing his two oldest that day anyway. Brock told me a really neat personal story regarding this event. I’m sure I don’t have every detail exactly correct, but I think the following is a fairly accurate retelling of the story:
In the week leading up to this conference, one of the leading couples in the Bible churches of this region went up to the Howers “plantation” to get away from routine and spend a couple of days resting and taking a personal spiritual retreat. During that time, Brock’s oldest son gave a wrist-band to the husband (Hector). The homemade band was made of parachute cord which though only about the thickness of a very thick shoelace can hold 800 lbs of weight. It is meant for rock climbers to wear and should there be an emergency situation, the braided bracelet can be quickly unwound and in the right circumstance could save one’s life while using it to support one’s weight while dangling or hanging on to a precarious perch. It’s a neat thing to make and to give as a gift.
Well, I don’t know if the idea was for this bracelet was for it to be quickly given away a 2nd time, but Hector had the opportunity at the same conference to approach Josh McDowell. In doing so, he noticed that McDowell had a couple of interesting bracelets on one of his wrists/forearm. I also don’t know if Hector may have asked Brock or his son (beforehand) if it would be ok to give away this bracelet or if the original intent was to give it to McDowell or not, but Hector offered it to McDowell who was busy signing copies of his books for dozens of people at once. Hector explained that what it was made of and how it is used and that it was made by an MK and explained a bit of the family experience as missionaries. McDowell accepted the bracelet and began wearing it.
A bit later, Brock was able to get close enough to McDowell to introduce himself by saying he was the dad of the one who gave him that bracelet. McDowell looked up and stopped signing books. He quipped, “You look to young to be the father of the ‘kid’ who gave this to me!” Of course, the child wasn’t there so it was a funny moment.
McDowell went on to say that he receives lots of gifts over the years and more than he can know what to do with. However, this gift was special. In fact, this bracelet is so special that he said that he’d only wear it for about a month, and that it means so much to him that he was going to take it off in a month and put it in a very special place. This special place is some sort of “treasure box” that he had made, and that in it he is collecting his most valuable treasures. After seeing a multi-million dollar Egyptian burial mask, one would have to wonder just what would McDowell put in such a treasure box and that it would be full of various gifts and treasures he’s collected over the years. However, he’s quite particular with his gifts. This bracelet (if I recall the correct number) will be the THIRD object to be placed in it. He went on to say that he was going to pray for Tucker (Brock’s son) every day, for the rest of his life. Seriously.
Josh McDowell has my vote for one of the most impressive Christians I’ve ever met or heard about. His writings and testimony have led to uncountable numbers of people turning to belief in Jesus Christ. Of course, it isn’t Josh McDowell that has made anyone believe, but certainly, God uses His people as important instruments in His hands to lead people to Christ. How can they hear unless one is sent? Thank God that he sent Josh McDowell into this age and this world to be salt, and light, and a voice that is heard proclaiming the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…and who lives it very eloquently.