A Tour of a Torah Scroll

I recently had the chance to spend some time with a few joined sections of an early to mid 18th century Eastern European copy of Numbers. And thanks to my handy new camera, I was able to take a bunch of pictures that are handy illustrations for the recent post on the production of Torah scroll parchment. In these pictures you can clearly see the medieval sewn parchment descendent of papyrus collesis (the organic adhesive process by which sheets of papyrus were joined), as well as a few examples of repairs that were made to the parchment due to small mistakes made during the final scraping process. (Click the picture for hi-res.)

Joining Stitches:

Here on the reverse of one of the joins you can see the simple running stitch that comprises the bulk of the joint, a simple and sturdy use of the natural thread with a low profile that makes it easy to roll up the scroll. The third picture of the reverse tail is a good example of the makeshift adjustments required by the uneven edges left by the curing and stretching process.

On this detail of the same interior tail, you can see that this stitch is not passed through the scroll itself, but joins one flap from each section, the second of which (on the left hand side) is actually folded under, forming a gutter on the reverse.

Here are these joining stitches on the interior, the points of which can just barely be seen.

While rolling the scroll, the entirety of the running stitch exposes itself.

Parchment Patches:

In these next few pictures you can see what small tears and repairs look like. They usually take their shape from having been small slices in stretched skin - leaving an ovoid shape when relaxed. These would then be patched with small pieces while the skin was still moist and naturally adhesive.


Here is a chance to see both the ruling that takes place before any inscription begins, as well as the large degree of variance that would characterize the exterior layer of these parchment sections. The ruling would have been pretty painstaking, but is the only way to maintain the high degree of regularity you see in this beautiful script (characteristic of the provenance of this scroll, the scribal hand here is lovely). The variance you see in the exterior is much greater than that of the interior, which is prepared more carefully and evenly:

So there is a quick tour of this simple, yet effective, device known as the scroll. Its preperation in the 1700s would not have been significantly different than its construction in the first few centuries of parchment use. Is this type of running stitch the oldest successful book stitch in the history of books? Probably.


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