Liberty Bell

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR

July 5, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

It was a cold January morning in Jerusalem in the year 1976, the beginning of the United States’ bicentennial year.   We were standing in a dirt covered field with nothing in it except a replica of the Liberty Bell, donated by the city of Philadelphia standing on a platform in the middle of the baron field.

I was Pastor of the Memorial Baptist Church of Salem, New Jersey at the time (1964 – 1979). I was also Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wilmington College in New Castle, Delaware.  I had with me some of the teaching staff of the collage as well as some students who were getting course credit for the trip.  I had been asked to represent the city of Salem, New Jersey, in establishing a sister city arrangement with the Jerusalem municipality since we shared a common name derived from the Hebrew word for “peace.”  I had brought with me a monetary contribution from Salem to Teddy Kolecks’s Jerusalem Foundation to help build Liberty Bell Park which was to be Jerusalem’s tribute to the United States in the year of their bi-centennial.

Today Liberty Bell Park sits just outside the Old City walls to the west.  It is a lovely spot with play grounds and benches and lovely greenery.  The Liberty Bell still sits in the middle of the gardens.  Each time I am there I remember that cold January morning when we made the first contribution of the bi-centennial year for its construction.

The Liberty Bell is named not because it rang when the Declaration of Independence was signed, because it likely did not.  It was commissioned to be cast in 1752 when a new bell tower was being constructed for the Pennsylvania State House, later called Independence Hall.  It arrived in Philadelphia in August of 1752.  During a test sounding, prior to its being moved to the bell tower it cracked.  It was recast and repaired several times.

The name “Liberty Bell” which contributed to the bell’s becoming a symbol of American independence derives from the biblical text inscribed on the bell from Leviticus 25:10.  The text reads, “Proclaim liberty thro’ all the land to all the inhabitants.”

The inscription is interesting because it was directed almost twenty-five years before American independence.  The phrase comes from the biblical directions for the Year of Jubilee to be celebrated every fifty years by the Chosen People in the Chosen Land.  During that year all debts are to be cancelled.  All land that has been purchased away from the tribal allotment of Joshua is to be returned to the original owners and the land was to be given the rest of a Sabbatical Year and left fallow.

The Hebrew word translated “liberty” is “DROR,” or “derore.”  Its essential meaning is “free flowing,” like the flight of a bird through the air.  What exactly was in the mind of Isaac Norris, speaker of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, when he gave the order to include this inscription on the bell we will never know.

One thing is clear.  The fact that it cracked on its first ring became a metaphor for American freedom.  In order for liberty to actually be proclaimed it had to be recast in America.  Liberty is a fragile thing.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).  END-whs

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