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The Shapira Affair

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  • The Shapira Affair

    In 1883 a dealer in antiquities, Wilhelm Moses Shapira, produced manuscripts said to have been found by Bedouins in a cave near the Dead Sea. They were apparently ancient and bore a Hebrew text that was closely related to part of the biblical book of Deuteronomy. However, the scholarly world quickly concluded that they were fakes. Shapira subsequently committed suicide and the present whereabouts of the manuscripts is unknown.

    The modern scholarly consensus is still that Shapira's manuscripts were fakes, but a minority (including the maverick Dead Sea scrolls specialist John Allegro) have maintained they were genuine. One of their arguments has been the close parallels with the Dead Sea scrolls themselves, discovered in the 1940s under circumstances very similar to those alleged by Shapira.

    The latest development is a paper by Idan Dershowitz arguing that the manuscripts were genuine, and represented an ancient ancestral version of the related text in Deuteronomy. The paper is freely available here:
    https://www.degruyter.com/document/d...2021-0001/html

    His book on the manuscripts is due to be published in April, and the electronic version will also be free:
    https://www.mohrsiebeck.com/en/book/...-9783161606458

    Dershowitz's arguments seem quite persuasive to me, but some contrary opinions are quoted in this article at LiveScience:
    https://www.livescience.com/early-te...ext-claim.html

  • #2
    Interesting, Chris....thanks.

    This is the man referred to as Moses Wilhelm Shapira ( Wikipedia)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_Wilhelm_Shapira

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Howard Brown View Post
      Interesting, Chris....thanks.

      This is the man referred to as Moses Wilhelm Shapira ( Wikipedia)

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_Wilhelm_Shapira

      Thanks for this. I do think it's an interesting puzzle.

      While the parallels with the circumstances in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found seem uncanny, if I understand correctly Dershowitz is arguing that the Shapira manuscripts are hundreds of years older than the scrolls. The free article I've read is mainly about their authenticity, and apparently his argument about their age and relationship with Deuteronomy will be developed in the book. Obviously the orthodox scholarly opinion is that a modern forger based the text on that of Deuteronomy. Of course, in principle it's possible that the manuscripts were ancient (a similar age to the scrolls) but still based on Deuteronomy.

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      • #4
        Evidently books about the Shapira affair are like London buses, because two have come along within a couple of months. The other is "The Moses Scroll" by Ross K. Nichols, which is reviewed favourably here:
        https://jamestabor.com/fascinating-n...-moses-scroll/

        There is also an interesting film about Yoram Sabo's personal quest in search of Shapira and his manuscripts (partly in Hebrew with English subtitles):
        https://vimeo.com/99821693

        Just to prove that everything is connected with everything else, in London Sabo visited the offices of the Palestine Exploration Society, of wich Sir Charles Warren had been a leading member. (He also visited the offices of the bookseller Bernard Quaritch, who advertised the manuscripts for sale after Shapira's death, and who was the crux of a speculation by Stephen Ryder - albeit one that proved incorrect - about the meaning of the letter from the Earl of Crawford found among Sir Robert Anderson's papers.)

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Chris Phillips View Post
          The latest development is a paper by Idan Dershowitz arguing that the manuscripts were genuine, and represented an ancient ancestral version of the related text in Deuteronomy. The paper is freely available here:
          https://www.degruyter.com/document/d...2021-0001/html

          His book on the manuscripts is due to be published in April, and the electronic version will also be free:
          https://www.mohrsiebeck.com/en/book/...-9783161606458
          In case anyone is straining at the leash to read it, the book is already available here (free registration required):
          https://www.academia.edu/45450947/Th..._Biblical_Book

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          • #6
            Uncannily like the the late actor James Robertson Justice.
            Be nice to one another!
            Merv

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            • #7
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              • #8
                Possibly this isn't the kind of thing anyone here is interested in, but I've now read Dershowitz's book (with the exception of a long section on the Hebrew grammar and vocabulary of the manuscripts, which is beyond me). I think he makes a very strong case, not only for the authenticity of the manuscripts, but also for the text reflecting an extremely ancient (7th century BC or earlier) narrative that was one of the sources used when the book of Deuteronomy was compiled. Apparently he leaves open the question of whether the physical manuscript was that old rather than being a still ancient but later copy, but he seems to lean that way.

                It will be very interesting to see how the academic world responds over the coming months. So far I have just seen one hostile professorial blog post that was rushed out to coincide with a New York Times report of Dershowitz's book. But that didn't engage with any of his arguments, to the extent that it didn't seem the author had even read the book.



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