Ploughboy Notes and News

Ploughboy Group Notes: Journal 23

David Ireson, Ploughboy Group Convenor.

When copies of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament were burnt outside St.Paul’s Cathedral in November 1526 William’s attitude towards the ecclesiastical authorities changed. From that moment on he felt justified in writing against the abuses of the church. His anger was focused on the loss of books which had been so laboriously and patiently printed and shipped to England. He felt that the books which were destroyed in the bonfires were the Word of God. It was a sacrilege.

Today many often treat the book of the Bible and God in a more causal way. Instead of God Almighty, we have “God All Matey”. The text of the Bible is, for some, just another work of literature. I encountered someone recently who has something of the reverence for the text which Tyndale would have had. The Bible is not just another book.

Rabbi Francis Berry took early retirement from his synagogue to move to the quiet harbour town of Watchet in Somerset. His ambition was to make a copy of the Torah Scroll. This is a scroll of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. He could not presume to take on this task of his own volition. A family in London wanted a Torah Scroll created for their son’s Bar Mitzvah and a prominent Rabbi in the United States endorsed Rabbi Berry’s scholarship and sanctity. He was allowed to undertake this extraordinary task. It took him a year and a half. The scroll is made up from sheets of calf skin vellum - each sheet costing £80. The ink was made from oak-apples and tannin carefully prepared. This ink becomes darker over time. The pens he used were from goose feathers. The search for two species of goose was not easy. The main text was written with the quills from one type of goose, the name of God with special quills from another. Not only was every line of text checked meticulously for its accurate spelling, each word was examined to see that no letters ran into each other. There had to be a clear gap between each. Any mistakes had to be scraped off the vellum with a sharp piece of glass. No metal (used by man to make weapons) must ever defile what is sacred. Only once in the 18 months of hard work did he have a problem when he examined a letter with his magnifying glass and wet ink was picked up on his beard and made hairline marks. In the end not one sheet of vellum was wasted. The writing was completed, the pages sewn together into a scroll, the boy taught how to read his chosen text in Hebrew, and the Bar Mitzvah took place at the appointed time.

Rabbi Berry is a cheerful and happy man. He has achieved his ambition. Writing the scroll was, for him, a profound spiritual labour. I think of how I hastily and casually download Biblical texts from a CD of half a dozen versions of the Bible, and how Rabbi Berry and William Tyndale treated the same words with such deep reverence.

New Regional Ploughboy Group

A few members of the Tyndale Society in the North Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, South Staffordshire and Birmingham areas are keen to organise a local Ploughboy Group. If any other members in the area are able to support us please contact one of the following: Ralph Werrell (email:; Brian Johnson (email:; or Robin Everitt, 75 Monastery Drive, Solihull B99 1DP (Telephone: 0121 7062161).

To William Tyndale
Wendy Martinek, 15 September 2002

To place the Bible in a ploughboy’s hand You wrote and taught, and toiled with scholar’s pain. We hold the word of God between our hands And savour it, and turn the page again. You, saintly scholar of an age gone by, Gave up ambition, comfort, home and self To translate truth, and would not let it lie Buried in scroll dust on a clerkly shelf. You and your work were fuel for the flames That sanctified your sacrifice to God. Such holy fire changed ashes into fame. The living word still lights the path you trod.

We read transcribed ‘the truth shall make you free’; And we are blessed if we have eyes to see.

This poem was submitted for publication after the author attended the 4th International Conference of the Tyndale Society held at Antwerp, Belgium 30 August- 3 September 2002 and printed in Holy Trinity Church Newsletter, Geneva no.310, October 2002.

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