Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Hebrew noun ספר (sēp̱er) means "scroll" or "book." The first use of ספר (sēp̱er) comes in Exodus 17:14 when Moses is instructed: "Write this as a reminder in a bookספר) and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." A common use of ספר (sēp̱er) comes in the phrase 'the book of the law of Moses,' an example of which can be seen in Joshua 23:6: "Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the bookספר) of the law of Moses."

While there are multiple references to ספר (sēp̱er) in the Hebrew Bible, there are fewer descriptions of the process of writing than one may expect. However, Jeremiah 36 provides an interesting glimpse into the process of ספר (sēp̱er) composition. First, the prophet is instructed by God to "Take a scroll (ספר) and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today" (Jer. 36:2). The text then describes how the prophet Jeremiah: "called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll (ספר) at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the LORD that he had spoken to him" (36:4). The purpose of composition is not simply to preserve the prophecies but so that Baruch can: "read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah," with the hope that they may inspire change in the people (36:6). This process of dictation is described again in verse 18 when Baruch is questioned by the people on just how he wrote down everything he has read to them, and Baruch explains that "He (Jeremiah) dictated all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink on the scroll (ספר).”

There is a related verb ספר (sāp̱ar) which means "count" or "relate." For example, in Genesis 15:5, God tells Abram to: "Look toward heaven and countספר) the stars, if you are able to countספר) them.”