Home » Archaeology, Bible, Epigraphy » Deja Vu all over Again: The Antiquities Market, the Shapira Strips, Menahem Mansoor, and Idan Dershowitz

Deja Vu all over Again: The Antiquities Market, the Shapira Strips, Menahem Mansoor, and Idan Dershowitz

Déjà vu all over Again:

The Antiquities Market, the Shapira Strips, Menahem Mansoor, and Idan Dershowitz

By Christopher Rollston, George Washington University



Idan Dershowitz has authored an article entitled “The Valediction of Moses: New Evidence on the Shapira Deuteronomy Fragments,” ZAW 133 (2021): 1-22. In his article, Dershowitz states that he offers “new evidence and arguments against the prevailing theory that Wilhelm Moses Shapira forged his infamous Deuteronomy fragments.” He considers the Shapira Strips to be authentic, basically, the first of the real Dead Sea Scrolls. That’s quite a claim.  In fact, he also believes that “The Shapira fragments are not only authentic artifacts, but are unprecedented in their significance: They preserve a pre-canonical antecedent of the Book of Deuteronomy” (p. 22 of his article). He also has a forthcoming monograph dealing with this subject, which will include a full transcription of the Shapira Strips, replete with translation and copious notes.

First and foremost, I would emphasize that Idan Dershowitz is doing the scholarly community a great service in producing a very useful transcription of the Shapira Strips, replete with copious annotations. This will be of much value for those interested in the history of modern inscriptional forgeries.

But I believe that his work will convince very few epigraphers (i.e., scholars who specialize in actual, ancient inscriptions) that the Shapira Fragments are authentic, ancient documents. And I do not believe that his work will convince all that many text scholars (i.e., scholars who primarily work not with actual ancient inscriptions, scrolls, papyri, but rather with edited texts in print editions) that the Shapira Strips are ancient…although I suspect some text scholars will find Idan Dershowitz’s proposal alluring, especially since it seems to “confirm” the things some of them have believed about the textual transmission of Deuteronomy in its earliest forms.

Nevertheless, the totality of the extant empirical evidence continues to demonstrate that the Shapira Strips are modern forgeries, and they reflect the same basic tendencies and problems which are present in most modern fakes and forgeries of the past two, three, or four centuries. I will discuss some of the evidence in this blog post, but in a more detailed fashion in a print publication.

Finally, I should also mention that I was an invited participant in the symposium at Harvard Law which was held in 2019 in which Idan Dershowitz presented his views. As I emphasized in that meeting, the evidence against authenticity is compelling: the Shapira Strips are indeed modern forgeries, modeled mostly on the book of Deuteronomy, with the sort of “forger’s flourishes, augmentations, and additions,” that are hallmark features of forgers’ methods…time and time again through the centuries.

NB: In this blog post, I reference a number of my articles.  Most of these (but not all) are available on www.academia.edu.  I have included bibliographic data for these in the “for further reading” section at the end of this blog post.  I would have liked to have integrated all of these references into this blog post, but since the New York Times article appeared today, and I wanted to get this post up rapidly, I am just including these as an addendum at the bottom of this blog post.

The Setting in the 19th centuy: 1868-1884

The Shapira Strips surfaced on the Antiquities Market in ca. 1883, and were shopped around far and wide by Moses Wilhelm Shapira (1830-1884) who had an antiquities shop in Jerusalem.  If they had been deemed ancient in 1883, they would have been by Shapira’s own statements) worth an absolute fortune. A decade prior to the surfacing of the Shapira Strips, Shapira had been closely connected with the Moabite Forgeries (ca. 1873, 1874, etc.).  The Moabite Forgeries were inscribed terra cotta and stone objects, with inscriptions modeled rather poorly on the great Mesha Stele Inscription, discovered in ca. 1868 (of which Salim al-Kari, an associate of Shapira, had made a squeeze prior to the famous shattering of the Mesha Stele by heating it and pouring water on it).  Although a number of scholars at the time deemed these Moabite Forgeries to be ancient (e.g., the great Semitist Konstantin Schlottmann), the archaeologist and epigrapher Charles Clermont-Ganneau rapidly debunked them as modern forgeries.  Clermont-Ganneau was absolutely correct.  In fact, the Moabite Forgeries would not fool even a beginning student of Northwest Semitic inscriptions today. 

It is also worth noting that many forgeries were surfacing in this era, in the wake of discoveries such as the Mesha Stele and the Temple Mount Inscription.  Clermont-Ganneau debunked many of them, authoring articles and even a monograph on the subject.  And, of course, Clermont-Ganneau was among the first to debunk the Shapira Strips as well, along with Christian David Ginsberg. Notably, Konstantin Schlottman asserted that the Shapira Strips were forgeries!

Also important to mention is that Shapira was very familiar with aged scrolls (e.g., from the Middle Ages), as he sold a number of them to the British Museum, especially from the region of Yemen.  It should also be emphasized that the Shapira Strips are no longer extant. After Shapira himself committed suicide in the Netherlands (after the Shapira Strips were declared to be modern forgeries), the Shapira Strips were later sold at auction and are often presumed to have later been burnt in a tragic house fire. At the very least, they have never surfaced again.

Further notation: During the past three or four centuries, many hundreds of forged inscriptions have appeared on the antiquities market.  These modern forgeries come in all shapes and sizes and are written in a number of languages, including Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. Some of these modern forgeries were quite poor, some of them were quite good.  But the production of textual forgeries in the modern period is quite a common thing, and it has often been quite lucrative for the forgers and for those who sell forgeries.  It is a major problem in the field and has long been so.


I. Not the first, not the last.

Idan Dershowitz is not the first scholar to attempt to contend that the Shapira Strips are ancient, and he will not be the last. That is, most famously, Menahem Mansoor (University of Wisconsin, 1959 “The Case of Shapira’s Dead Sea [Deuteronomy] Scrolls of 1883) argued at length that the Shapira Strips were not modern forgeries, but actual ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. But the convergence of epigraphic evidence is squarely against the Shapira Strips. However, I would emphasize that when one thinks about the long history of textual forgeries (going back many centuries), the Shapira Strips are quite good, especially for their time (i.e., late 1800s), but not nearly good enough to be considered ancient. That is, they are modern forgeries. I do not know if Shapira himself forged them.  But I am quite certain that they are demonstrably modern forgeries, not at all ancient.

II. A Methodological Imperative: Dramatic Claims Require Dramatic and Compelling Evidence (and we just don’t have dramatic, compelling evidence)

From the outset, I would emphasize that dramatic claims require dramatic and compelling evidence. Phrases such as: “Could it be?” “What if?” or “Might it be the case?” are simply not good enough.  Speculations about possibilities, or specious arguments about what a forger would have known, could not have known, might have done, might not have done, could have forged, could not have forged, could have written in his forgery, could not have written in his forgery…well, these have been demonstrated time and time again to be fruitless speculations, certainly not empirical evidence. And when scholars mount such arguments, time and time again they are demonstrated to have been wrong in their assumptions about all of these things that a forger could or could not have done, or could or could not have known.

Let’s now frame this in a very pragmatic fashion.  If the Shapira Fragments were to surface today, the leather would be subjected to carbon 14 tests; the ink would be subjected to chemical analyses (e.g., using a scanning electron microscope equipped with an EDS); there would be very careful analyses, using magnification, of the script itself, its morphology, the stance of the letters, and the ductus (i.e., the number of strokes forming a letter, the direction of those strokes, and the order of those strokes); the patina on the surface above the ink would be analyzed for modern contaminants in it and under it; there would be analyzes of the ways in which the ink had or had not flowed into the current cracks in the leather itself (much as was recently done with the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls Forgeries). But the Shapira Fragments are lost to history. They were presumably destroyed. So there is no way to do these sorts of basic, benchmark, empirical analyses. And without these sorts of analyses today, no inscription would be declared ancient by a serious scholar trained in epigraphy.

But, in essence, Idan Dershowitz is essentially asking that we forget about all that, and consider the Shapira Strips to be ancient manuscripts, not modern forgeries.  But since the Shapira Strips have disappeared, and are presumably gone forever: (a) there can be no carbon 14 tests of the leather, (b) there can be no laboratory testing of the chemical composition of the ink (e.g., using a Scanning Electron Microscope equipped with an EDS), (c) there can be no careful palaeographic analysis of the script using magnification of the inscriptions themselves, (d) there can be no laboratory analysis of the patina which is present on the leather or on the ink, (e) and there can be no analyses of the ways in which the ink has adhered to the leather (e.g., when someone attempts to forge a manuscript today, the ink will often “leak” into ancient cracks in the leather…and that is very telling, of course).  Moreover, looking at a photo or a hand-copy of an inscription is absolutely not the same as holding an inscription in your hands. There is just no substitute for being able to look at a manuscript oneself and to collate it oneself.  Thus, for someone to attempt to declare the Shapira Strips ancient or authentic in spite of the fact that none of these analyses (such as those listed above) can be done is an absolute deal breaker.  We simply must be able to analyze the Shapira Strips themselves (i.e., the actual documents) before anyone can make a compelling declaration of antiquity.

To put it differently, if an inscription appeared on the antiquities market today, a smart, methodologically savvy, trained epigrapher (i.e., a scholar trained in the actual ancient media, ancient writing technologies, ancient media, etc.) would not declare an inscription to be ancient without first subjecting the inscription to the examinations mentioned above.  Thus, to ask us today to accept as ancient the Shapira Strips when such analyses cannot be done is a bridge too far, way too far.  And, of course, on top of all this, the evidence (mentioned already back in 1883 and 1884 is quite damning, including, but not limited to, the anomalies with the script).  The Shapira Strips are modern forgeries.

Dramatic claims require dramatic, compelling evidence, and we just don’t have it with regard to the Shapira Strips. Rather we have hypotheticals, and circumstantial evidence, at best. And that’s just not going to make the cut, alas, in light of the insurmountable problems with the script (and the eerie parallels to the Moabite Forgeries).

III. Motives: Economic in part, but also in part to Bolster the Traditional View that Deuteronomy was Ancient, not a Pious Forgery of the late 7th century BCE.

There was a strong economic motive for the production of the Shapira Forgeries.  After all the Shapira Strips were stated (by Shapira, among others) to be worth a fortune. But there was more: The Shapira Strips were intended by the forger to Bolster the Traditional View that Deuteronomy was very ancient, and not a pious forgery of the late 7th century BCE. Of course, the forger also knew that any “find” that could bolster the traditional view would garner much attention, and be worth even more, in all sorts of ways.

Many within both Judaism and Christianity have long believed that the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) was written by Moses, who lived during the 13th century BCE.

The Shapira Strips are largely taken from the book of Deuteronomy (and modeled on the script of the Mesha Stele, which hailed from the 9th century BCE). Thus, if the Shapira Strips were ancient, they would be dated much closer to the time of Moses than any manuscripts of the Pentateuch available in the 1800s (or even now).  For this reason, some people really wanted (then and now) the Shapira Strips to be ancient and authentic, since that would put them much closer to the time of Moses (again, the script of the Shapira Strips was modeled on the Mesha Stele, which did come from the 9th century BCE).    

Now, let’s put all of that in context, in the 1800s.  “Biblical Criticism” was gaining a great deal of headway during the 1800s and was embraced by many scholars and laypeople, but it was repudiated by many others as heretical.  In terms of Biblical Criticism of the 1800s, note that W.M.L. DeWette had argued in the early 1800s that the book of Deuteronomy was a pious forgery from the 7th century BCE, not from the time of Moses in the 13th century BCE.  Please allow me to emphasize that date: EARLY 1800s (decades prior to the forged Shapira Strips)….in other words, this view that Deuteronomy was a pious forgery had been circulating for several decades…and many traditionalists were still upset about it, and they longed for hard evidence to the contrary.

Similarly, the first edition of Julius Wellhausen’s book entitled “The Composition of the Hexateuch” (note: Hexateuch is a way of referring to the first six books of the Bible, namely, Genesis through Joshua) was published in 1876-1877, and in this volume Wellhausen also argued for a “late date” for the composition of Deuteronomy (among other books).  

Again, many in Christianity and Judaism had long believed that Moses (who lived during the 13th century BCE) was responsible for Deuteronomy as well as the rest of the Pentateuch.  But scholars such as DeWette, along with many other scholars in the 1800s, were dating Deuteronomy to the 7th century BCE, that is, around 500 or 600 years after Moses.  Many traditionalists (even many scholars) believed that to be absolutely heretical. 

Indeed, the traditionalists believed that the Bible itself was under assault from Biblical Criticism and its late-dating of Biblical texts. 

Now….enter the Shapira Strips!! They solved everything and vindicated the Bible….that is, The fact that the Shapira Strips seemed to demonstrate that Deuteronomy could be dated much closer to the time of Moses than scholars such as DeWette had contended was widely hailed as absolutely marvelous. And the Shapira Strips could demonstrate that Deuteronomy was much older than the late 7th century….after all, the script of the Shapira Strips was very similar to the script of the Mesha Stele, and the Mesha Stele was 9th century…more than two hundred years prior to DeWette’s dating of Deuteronomy! 

Of course, it should always be remembered that modern forgers (and ancient forgers) know their market.

And it’s also worth emphasizing again that the Shapira Strips were being touted as priceless…and for this reason the price Shapira was asking for them was indeed a fortune. 


IV. Textual Forgeries: A very old story

(1) There is a long history of talented, unscrupulous people (including scholars, antiquities dealers, and disgruntled students) producing textual forgeries (as well as other types of forgeries, of course, as well).  Thus, we have textual forgeries from the ancient, medieval, and modern world….that is, from ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, as well as ancient Israel and Early Christianity, from the Middle Ages (e.g, the Donation of Constantine), and from the modern world (I deal with this in a print article on the long history of textual forgeries).  Thus, it’s a very old tactic. (2) During the past few centuries, modern forgeries revolving around the Bible and Biblical World have surfaced on the antiquities market. These have generated (even before, during, and after the time of Shapira) a great deal of money.  These forgeries are in various languages, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Coptic.  (3) Forgers have often patinated their works so as to cause them to appear ancient.  And also, the forgers will, when possible, use older or ancient media as well (e.g., ancient pots, ancient papyri, parchment). In short, forgers have long been quite sharp, quite knowledgeable. (4) Forgers and dealers often produce forgeries that will peak the interest of scholars and collectors….that is, forgers know the market…they know their target-audience, “marks” well. They know what people want, and they produce fakes with the desired content. (5) Forgers and dealers often go to “text” scholars, rather than to epigraphers, palaeographers, and papyrologists….they do this because text scholars are accustomed to working more with edited texts than with ancient written artifacts (this was the case with the Jesus’ Wife Papyrus, and with countless other modern forgeries). (6) These text-scholars often take the bait, as it were (in my two Maarav articles, I deal with some of this….and the ways in which various scholars ultimately “authenticated” inscriptions which were actually modern forgeries).  (7) Shapira either produced himself, or commissioned the production of, the Moabite Pottery Forgeries and the Moabite Stone Forgeries. These are pretty bad forgeries…and would not fool anyone in the field today, but they fooled quite a few people in the 1870s.  I’ve written about these some (e.g., see the articles in the Finkelstein volume and the Naveh volume, in which I deal some with Shapira, especially his pottery and stone forgeries).  (8) The Shapira Strips were declared modern forgeries in the 1880s on the basis of strong and compelling evidence.  Thus, Ginsberg and Clermont-Ganneau were quite right (that is, long ago, at the time the Shapira Strips surfaced).  (9) Shapira had means, motive, opportunity. .  


V. Basic Principle: After the discovery of a truly sensational ancient inscription, forgers will often produce modern forgeries which are similar in terms of script or content to the authentic, ancient one. The Mesha Stele (discovered in 1868, and often called the Moabite Stone) was just such an inscription…it dates to the 9th century BCE, is written in the Old Hebrew script (because, as the inscription itself mentions, that King Omri of Israel had subjugated the Moabites and held hegemony over them), it is written in the Moabite language (remember: language and script are two different things), and it contains content which dovetails with the Bible’s description of King Mesha of Moab (e.g., 2 Kings 3). The Mesha Stele is a truly sensational, ancient inscription.  

It has been clear for more than a century that he Moabite Clay forgeries were largely the product of Shapira’s friend and business associate Salim al-Kari (Salim had made a squeeze of the Mesha Stele, hence, he knew what the script looked like), while the Moabite Stone Forgeries were the product of Martin Boulos, but the fact remains Shapira himself is also definitely and deeply connected with these blazing forgeries of the early 1870s. In fact, Shapira or an associate of his would sometimes take would-be buyers to a site, state that some of these clay and stone “inscriptions” had recently been found at this or that site, and then he would invite the would-be buyers to dig around…and lo and behold they would find some in the ground.  Of course, these had been “planted” there so that they could be found, but it was a very effective tool in the toolbox of Shapira.

The Shapira Strips are also modeled on the script of the Mesha Stele.  The script of the Shapira Strips is considerably better than that of the Moabite Forgeries.  This is not surprising, as a decade had passed between the time of the production of the Moabite Forgeries and the Shapira Strips.  Scholars had been quite critical of the script of the Moabite Forgeries, and this was all documented in journal articles of that time.  The forger of the Shapira Strips was reading those articles, especially those published in ZDPV.

Of the many similar stories is this more recent one: The Tel Dan Stele Inscription was discovered on the excavation at Tel Dan in 1993 and 1994. This inscription mentions the “House of David” (i.e., the Dynasty of David), is written in Aramaic, and dates to the 9th century BCE. Less than a decade after the discovery of the Tel Dan Stele, a modern forgery (which also fooled a number of scholars) known as the Jehoash Inscription surfaced on the antiquities market (in ca. 2001).  I collated this inscription in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, a day or two before my testimony for the prosecution in the Israel Forgery trial in the 2000s.  Again, the point is that in the wake of the discovery of a bona fide sensational inscriptional find, forgers begin to produce very similar fakes…and these can, and sometimes do, sell for vast amounts of money.

There is also a very similar situation with a Greek inscription from the Temple Mount, discovered in 1871.  It is a truly fascinating inscription which contains a warning to any foreigners who might venture too far into the Temple complex in Jerusalem.  And not long after this discovery, a forged Temple Mount inscription appeared on the antiquities market. 

In short, the appearance of the Shapira Strips and the Moabite Forgeries follows an established pattern, a pattern that is attested in the periods before and after Shapira’s time.


VI. A few words about the Script

The script of the Shapira Strips is not the same as the bastardized script of the Moabite Clay and Stone Forgeries sold by Shapira. Indeed, the script of the Shapira Strips is much better than the script of the Moabite Clay and Stone Forgeries, but the script of the Shapira Strips has a handful of eerie similarities to the Moabite Clay and Stone Forgeries. 

Idan wishes for us to dismiss this evidence, or to assume that those producing the hand-copies of the Shapira Strips were utterly inept.  But, with all due respect to Dershowitz, we have enough good hand-copies, and even script charts, to be able to state that the script of the Shapira Strips is flawed, and these flaws are similar to the sorts of flaws often found in modern forgeries through the decades.  This evidence cannot simply be dismissed.

  Also relevant: we can state that the script of the Moabite Clay and Stone Forgeries and that of the Shapira Strips is similar (in a few tell-tale ways) because we have some fairly good hand-copies of the Shapira Strips (hand-copies which were made by scholars after Shapira announced the Shapira Strips in ca. 1883), and, of course, many of the Moabite Clay and Stone Forgeries are still in existence today (especially in England and Israel).  In short, the script of the Shapira Strips is a better than that of the Moabite Clay and Stone Forgeries, but the hallmark features that demonstrate the script is forged are present in both groups (i.e., the Moabite Clay and Stone Forgeries as well as that of the Shapira Strips).

VII. Forgers often model their forgeries on ancient literary texts (e.g., the Bible, or some other ancient literary text), or on some ancient inscription.

Especially relevant for the Shapira Strips: In this connection it is useful for me to emphasize another standard method of forgers: forgers often model their forgeries on the script and words of actual ancient texts.  They do this for a number of reasons, one of which is to attract the attention of scholars and the public (as people will often say about these that “they authenticate the Bible”).  But there is another reason as well: it is hard for someone in the modern period to produce a fake which contains no errors with regard to the script, spelling, syntax, and word-meanings (when compared to actual ancient texts), but if the forgers mimic some of the words, sentences, spelling, or syntax, of a genuine inscription or an ancient literary text, it is much easier to avoid mistakes…and so forgers often mimic or copy the words from ancient texts..  Thus, many forgers borrow quite heavily from genuine ancient texts (either inscriptions or literary texts).  The forger of the Shapira Forgeries is very heavily dependent on the book of Deuteronomy.  The forger of the Shapira Strips picked and chose this text and that text (as forgers often do), but the dependence is crystal clear.  Idan Dershowitz wishes to claim that a forger could not have done that. I have learned, in part the way, that making assumptions about what a forger could or could not do, is perilous. For centuries, they have really been quite good, much smarter and better than we thought.

VIII. Modern Forgeries dismissed early on by a consensus of scholars, with some scholar or scholars coming along later and arguing that these were not forgeries after all: We’ve seen this previously too.

After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (beginning in 1947), some people began to suggest that the (now lost) Shapira Strips might have been authentic and were, basically, the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  As already noted, among those who contended this was Menahem Mansoor of the University of Wisconsin.   

This sort of thing happens from time to time with regard to forgeries.  For example, there is a modern forgery known as the “Brazilian Phoenician Inscription.”  This surfaced during the late 1800s and was rapidly dismissed as a modern forgery, that is, it was deemed not to be ancient Phoenician, but rather a modern forgery.  However, during the 1960s, Cyrus Gordon, then of Brandeis University began to contend (in an article published in 1968) that the Brazilian Phoenician inscription was ancient.  Frank Cross of Harvard rapidly wrote a rejoinder (published also in 1968) demonstrating that the Brazilian Phoenician Inscription was a modern forgery, and not a particularly good one. In short, it’s nothing new for someone to come along and suggest that some modern forgery is actually ancient.  It happens.

In the case of this most recent attempt by Idan Dershowitz to suggest that the Shapira Strips are ancient, I would simply note that this has been attempted in the past, and without success (e.g., Menahem Mansoor).  

In Professor Dershowitz’s case, he is attempting to contend that the contents of the Shapira Strips (the things included as well as the things excluded) corresponds with just what scholars would expect for an early version of the book of Deuteronomy. I would counter that it is always precarious to argue that an inscription from the market must be considered ancient based on what we think a non-extant (!) proto-biblical text might have said! That’s putting the cart before the horse in all sorts of ways.


I will be including a long discussion of the Shapira Strips in my forthcoming volume entitled (tentatively), Pious Forgeries: Forging History in the Ancient World of the Bible & the Modern World of Biblical Studies. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Forthcoming. I look forward to continuing this conversation, and to providing additional, detailed evidence against the Shapira Strips.


Christopher Rollston (Rollston@gwu.edu)

For Further Reading:

“Non-Provenanced Epigraphs I: Pillaged Antiquities, Northwest Semitic Forgeries, and Protocols for Laboratory Tests.” Maarav 10 (2003): 135-193.

“Non-Provenanced Epigraphs II: The Status of Non-Provenanced Epigraphs within the Broader Corpus of Northwest Semitic.” Maarav 11 (2004): 57-79.

“Navigating the Epigraphic Storm: A Palaeographer Reflects on Inscriptions from the Market.”  Near Eastern Archaeology 68 (2005): 69-72.

“The Antiquities Market, Sensationalized Textual Data, and Modern Forgeries.” Co-authored with Andrew Vaughn. Near Eastern Archaeology 68 (2005): 61-69.

“The Public Display of Forgeries: A Desideratum for Museums and Collections.”  Written with Heather Dana Davis Parker. Near Eastern Archaeology 68 (2005): 75.

“Who Wrote the Torah according to the Torah?” TheTorah.com (August 2017). https://www.thetorah.com/article/who-wrote-the-torah-according-to-the-torah

“Forging History: From Antiquity to the Modern Period.” Pp. 176-197 in Archaeologies of Text: Archaeology, Technology, and Ethics, eds. Matthew Rutz and Morag Kersel.  Joukowsky Institute Publication Series of Brown University, Oxbow Books, 2014.

“The Ivory Pomegranate: The Anatomy of a Probable Modern Forgery.” Pp. 238-252 in Epigraphy, Philology and the Hebrew Bible: Methodological Perspectives on Philological and Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of Jo Ann Hackett, eds. Jeremy M. Hutton and Aaron D. Rubin. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2015.

“The Bullae of Baruch ben Neriah the Scribe and the Seal of Ma‘adanah Daughter of the King: Epigraphic Forgeries of the 20th Century.” Pp. *79-90 (English) in Eretz Israel 32: The Joseph Naveh Volume, eds. Joseph Aviram, Shmuel Ahituv, et al. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2016.

“The Putative Authenticity of the New ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus Inscription: Methodological Caution as a Desideratum,” Pp. 321-330 in Rethinking Israel: Studies in the History and Archaeology of Ancient Israel in Honor of Israel Finkelstein, ed. Oded Lipschits. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2017.

Archaeology, Bible, Epigraphy , , , , , , , ,

32 Comments to “Deja Vu all over Again: The Antiquities Market, the Shapira Strips, Menahem Mansoor, and Idan Dershowitz”

  1. Thanks, Chris. We rely on you to smoke out the forgeries. It seems to me that the Shapira Strips not only emulate (inexactly) the Mesha script, but also emulate (inexactly) the orthography of the Mesha and Siloam inscriptions. The Strips’ orthography has some obvious “tells” of forgery. Like Mesha and Siloam, they have very few internal matres (with some surprising exceptions, like hwʾ and ʾyš, both written fully, unlike Mesha and Siloam). As for final matres, the Strips always have the 3ms pronominal suffix on singular nouns written with a waw (for -ō), never with he, although the latter is consistently used in pre-exilic orthography. I wondered why a forger would make the mistake of using post-exilic orthography in this position. Then I noted that Siloam has the odd form r’w, “his companion” (three times), perhaps indicating an unusual contraction. The forger may have thought this was the normal pre-exilic form in Hebrew. This misapprehension would explain this consistent error, which a recent forger wouldn’t make (having read Early Hebrew Orthography). I add my disappointment that Dershowitz doesn’t acknowledge this problem. He states instead (incorrectly) that the orthography “is similar, with only minor variations, to the monarchic epigraphic material.” There are many other problems in his arguments, but this one really stands out for me.

    • Thank you for these comments.

      I confess that I do not understand the relevance of the Siloam inscription. You say that the forger used the Siloam inscription’s רעו as a template, and yet the form of that very word in V is always רעהו, never רעו. (Benjamin Suchard has already noted on Twitter that the spelling רעהו in V undermines this point.)

      More fundamentally, barring time travel, I don’t see how an inscription discovered in 1880 could have served as the template for a (putative) forgery that was already extant in 1878.

      I look forward to your thoughts.


      • My basic point is simple. As I wrote, “As for final matres, the Strips always have the 3ms pronominal suffix on singular nouns written with a waw (for -ō), never with he, although the latter is consistently used in pre-exilic orthography.” I brought in the Siloam inscription to speculate why someone may have thought that waw was pre-exilic in this position, suggesting that this may have been (falsely) inferred from the suffix of r’w. I would separate the fact – the post-exilic orthography for the 3ms pronominal suffix on singular nouns and prepositions – from my tentative explanation of the motive (hedged with “perhaps,” etc.) I hope this sorts out the issues more clearly. As for whether the Shapira Strips were extant in 1878, all we have is a report that Shapira sent a transcription to Schlottmann then, which he later revised. He made the Strips public in 1883. Siloam comes in between.

  2. […] The New York Times published a piece by Jennifer Schuessler titled, “Is a Long-Dismissed Forgery Actually the Oldest Known Biblical Manuscript?” I couldn’t help but recall an article in the New York Times dated 28 December 1956. The article was titled, “Scholars Dispute Scroll’s Validity: Biblical Experts Hear Plea to Revalue Dead Sea Finds and an Alleged Forgery.” This 1956 article was the result of Professor Menahem Mansoor’s urging of a re-evaluation of Shapira’s manuscript. The article began, “Controversy over the relative value of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including one that was labeled a forgery seventy years ago, disturbed the scholarly calm of the ninety-second meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature yesterday.” Here we were again, sixty-five years later. In a letter to Edward Augustus Bond, dated 28 August 1883, Moses Shapira said, “The tendency of showing great scholarship by detecting a forgery is rather great in our age.” And predictably, the same holds true today. As if desirous to prove that Shapira was right (at least in his words to Bond), well-known epigrapher and famed fraud finder, Christopher Rollston soon took up the cause of Monsieur Charles Clermont-Ganneau in declaring the manuscript a forgery.  […]

  3. Israel Finkelstein and Benjamin Sass


    We are writing regarding Idan Dershowitz’s book, and the article in the NYT.

    We think that the book is very well written – erudite, cautious and methodical, and its content is mesmerizing.

    The central question, of course, is whether the Shapira Manuscripts (SM) were authentic; an affirmative answer would lead to two other issues – their date and cultural milieu. Regarding authenticity, we think that Dershowitz’s rationalization alters the rules, in the sense that it changes the attitude to the SM from “forgeries unless proven otherwise” to “authentic unless proven otherwise”. We really cannot see how Shapira, or anybody else in the 1870s, could have forged them when several key characteristics of the SM – paleographic and biblical – became known to scholarship only decades and up to a century later.

    For this message, we only wish to say a few words about paleography, leaving all other issues aside. Our friend Chris Rollston is quoted in the NYT, saying that “For many of us, hard evidence reigns supreme … Speculations never reign supreme.” Yet, Hebrew paleography is far from presenting hard evidence; in fact, it is wrapped in speculations.

    Let us explain, and start with Israel (the Northern Kingdom), for which the ostraca evidence is limited to Samaria, Kuntillet Ajrud and a single item from Beth-shean. Using algorithmic methods, the Tel Aviv University digital epigraphy team, which is directed by Eliezer Piasetzky and one of us (IF), has recently made a case (Plos One 2020) that the Samaria ostraca were probably written by two scribes. Kuntillet Ajrud is a single building in the remote Sinai desert, which was inhabited for a short period in the first half of the 8th century, that is, in parallel to the time of the Samaria ostraca. One cannot expect more than one scribe, or just a few scribes there for the ink inscriptions on pithoi, and similarly for the inscriptions on plaster. This is the entire corpus. We are dealing, then, with a small number of scribes, perhaps four or five; needless to say, no serious paleography (in the sense of temporal development of letters) can be done according to this body of evidence.

    As for Judah, Assaf Kleiman and one of us (IF) have recently shown (Semitica et Classica 2020) that: 1) Arad ostraca which had traditionally been dated before the late 8th century BCE all come from unsecure loci. 2) There are no other pre-8th century Hebrew inscriptions in Judah; 3) There is only a handful of ostraca in Judah which can be securely dated to the late 8th century, meaning that the overwhelming majority of the Judahite ink inscriptions date to the 7th century. Therefore, in this case too one cannot reconstruct reliable temporal paleography.

    We should add that in many cases, traditional paleographic interpretation has been soaked in circular reasoning based on a given scholar’s desire to uphold conservative views on biblical historiography (more about this in our article in HeBAI 2013). This, of course, is the reason why for the SM Dershowitz – and we too – prefer the copies of the naïve artists over those made by scholars of the time. In the case of the latter, theoretical constructs could have influenced their work.

    Still, observations about letterforms in the SM should not be dismissed altogether. Here we refer to what’s perhaps the single most important piece of evidence in favor of authenticity in the SM (Dershowitz’s observation on pp. 32–33 of his book): the peculiar yod in the copies made by the artists, with a cursive ‘tick’ below, written in a single stroke of the pen. This yod has Hebrew parallels only in the Samaria ostraca. We cannot see how an 1870s forger could have known this atypical yod over thirty years before its discovery in the Samaria ostraca.

    Israel Finkelstein and Benjamin Sass

    • Dear Israel and Benjamin,

      Besides the unusual yod, what features do you have in mind when you write “several key characteristics of the SM – paleographic and biblical – became known to scholarship only decades and up to a century later.” Personally I don’t see any.


      • Dear Ron,

        There are many examples in my book, besides the peculiar yod, of key characteristics that only became known to scholarship well after Shapira’s time. In fact, I devote an entire chapter to such literary features. In particular, I would like to draw your attention to sections 3.2.2 (Conquest of Sihon’s Land), 3.3.1. (Incipit), 3.3.2. (Injunction against Idols), 3.3.3. (Stone Tablets and Wooden Ark), and 3.3.4. (Rebellion at Kadesh Barnea). In all these cases, V matches things that scholars only suggested after the manuscripts were in existence, usually *long* afterwards. A forger cannot base their forgery on scholarly insights that do not yet exist.

        Regarding paleographic features, I would note that Hermann Guthe, who studied the manuscripts in 1883 and deemed them fraudulent, listed several unattested letterforms. For example a qoph 𐤒 where the circle isn’t intersected. This is now attested as well.

        I hope this helps, and thank you for your comments.


        • As for literary features, Idan, you’re putting the cart before the horse, and you’re attributing way to much to such features. People have been studying all such features for a very long time…

          As for script, and Guthe, again, it’s never about what a single scholar happens to say, then or now, and hanging one’s hat on such things is not methodologically prudent. And as for the morphology of qop…I’ll be happy to reply to that argument in a print article….suffice it to say that your argument doesn’t work….but I prefer to lay out such evidence in detail in print publications, not on my blog (as I have mentioned in a comment on this post, one of the ways [not the only way, but one of the ways] this blog functions is to tamp down sensationalism….not to show all my cards, but enough of them to tamp down sensational claims).

    • Gabriel Alejandro

      Not sure I buy the yod thing — it still looks much more like yods “without the tick” than it does like those in the Samaria ostraca. It’s not present in other, similarly-unskilled drawings. Looks to me more like the artist held his pen there for a moment too long, maybe checking back or something.


  4. Thanks for the various notes posted above. As for the orthographic problems, those (as has been noted in a comment above) will be hard for someone to overcome without some strained arguments (and I have looked at the arguments in Idan’s volume). Also, as for the phenomenon of the cursive flourish (tick) in the Old Hebrew script (mentioned above), I have addressed that phenomenon in various previous print publications in the past, but can also plan to discuss it (as related to the Shapira Forgeries) in the (near) future in a print article. In any case, at this time, I would simply emphasize that the phenomenon is nicely attested in the Siloam Tunnel Inscription (discovered in 1880, good photos published 1881, 1882) for the zayin. The Siloam Tunnel Inscription certainly created quite a stir in many cities, regions, and countries, including in Jerusalem (much as the Mesha Stele had). It’s hard for me to believe that the forger of the Shapira Strips did not know about the Siloam Tunnel Inscription and it’s hard for me to believe that the forger had not seen the inscription himself, or some good photos. Of course, it was in 1883 that Shapira started shopping the Shapira Fragments around (regardless of when he began to talk about his new texts). In short, if a tick was present in the Shapira Fragments (and I’m not sure that it was), it’s not too hard to account for its presence. Forgers are clever, after all, and the forger of the Shapira Fragments was indeed a very bright fellow. All the best to all, Chris Rollston

    • Thank you for this — I am enjoying the spirited debate!

      I do not see that you address the single-stroke feature in your comment, although I do recall that at the workshop you told me that Reisner and Kaufman are simply wrong, and that no such yods appear among the Samaria ostraca. Is that still your view? I must that that the photographs seem quite unambiguous to me…

      Also, do I understand correctly that you think that the manuscripts didn’t exist until 1883, even though Shapira was busy trying to get scholars to assess them in 1878? Is your theory then that he discarded the 1878 manuscripts and prepared brand new ones after 1880, so he could add some flourishes to his yods? Is there any evidence for that? Or were there no manuscripts at all in 1878 — just a draft text — and he was hoping that no scholar would express interest and ask to see the artifacts? None of these scenarios strike me as remotely plausible. Also, if he was talking to scholars about the manuscript in 1878 but then prepared or ordered new ones before 1883, that would certainly implicate Shapira himself in the forgery. How then would you explain his tentative transcription, which I found at the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, in which he clearly has difficulty reading the text and even makes various errors? Shapira’s transcription suggests that he was under the impression that the manuscripts were genuine, which is inconsistent with both of the above scenarios.

      I am curious to hear your thoughts on these matters. Thanks, as always, for your engagement.


    • As Chris suggests, Shapira knew the Siloam inscription. He writes about it in the Athenaeum, July 30, 1881, p. 144, where he states that he examined it “several times together with Mr. Schick” (Conrad Schick, who announced its discovery the previous year.) Shapira knew the details of the Siloam inscription intimately.

  5. People more familiar with Devarim than I will decide whether the Shapira ms will ever be accepted as ancient or not. A few observations.
    “It would surely be unusual for a forger to labor to understand a text that he himself had devised or inscribed.” (ZAW 19). In my opinion “Secret Mark” is a fake text, and Morton Smith in a learned, detailed book may be an example of such labor, including changed opinion about the liturgical setting.
    The article (1) names him Wilhelm Moses Shapira, though he went by Moses Wilhelm.
    The book bibliography has an article by Fred N. Reiner in in BAR, but not his “C. D. Ginsburg and the Shapira Affair…,” British Museum Journal 1995 109-27.
    Also missing: Truly Fake: Moses Wilhelm Shapira, Master Forger, the Israel Museum catalog from 2000.
    The purple ink pages (book ch. 2) are quite welcome. But are they transcription attempt or draft composition?
    Shapira’s letter to “Dear Dr. Ginzberg [sic]” said he was not yet convinced the ms is a forgery “unless M. Ganneau did it!” Not proof, but odd.
    The writing surface has been characterized as “thick” (7) and “stout” (8) and, though I can’t be sure, apparently more tanned than one might expect for writing. If one turns to try to compare the Shapira ms to Qumran mss, the closest matches appear to be to the claimed ones sold mostly after 2002—the thick hide, fake ones.

  6. I recommend to anyone interested – or obsessed – with this subject to watch the beautiful documentary, Shapira and I: In Search of the Lost Treasure, by Yoram Sabo (2014, Hebrew with English subtitles). It’s on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/99821693

  7. Methodological Reflections on the Way to Approach, and Not to Approach, the Antiquities Market:
    Basic Forensics

    By Christopher Rollston (rollston@gwu.edu)

    I. Some have suggested that we should believe the things that antiquities dealers and collectors tell us. I find that fascinating….since, alas, the world of the antiquities market, dealers, collectors, and forgers is a world of smoke and mirrors (P. R. Coleman-Norton is a good example of the last of these, as I have discussed previously). It is not at all sage to accept as accurate the words of someone from the world of the antiquities market, unless there is unimpeachable, corroborating evidence. After all, the reasons for a dealer, collector, or forger to prevaricate are legion. Literally.

    Thus, methodological doubt must be operative for anyone wishing to venture into the world of market inscriptions and forgery detection. That is, there is a forensic side to this. I have discussed this in a number of previous print publications (most of which are referenced in the “further reading” section of my original post).

    Some recent stories of the market and forgery are useful to remember, as they are instructive. (1) The Kando Family verified that the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments they were selling were ancient, authentic, and had been in their hands for decades. Various groups believed that, paid a lot of money, and the Kando family produced putative proof of a chain of custody for these Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. The purchaser paid for the treasured and priceless fragments. But (as anticipated by a handful of scholars) the final report (November 2019) of ArtFraudInsights entitled “Museum of the Bible Dead Sea Scroll Collection: Scientific Research and Analysis” leaves no doubt at all (it’s available online). These are blazing modern forgeries. Those who just believed the words of the dealer were just plain duped. The dealer had lied. It’s hard to get around that fact. (2) The Jesus’ Wife Papyrus was declared to be ancient by those affiliated with the market (dealer, collector, forger, or all of these), but this was simply smoke and mirrors: prevarications, deceit, fraud. It’s the name of the game for those involved with the market (i.e., dealers, pillagers, collectors, and forgers), and it always has been. (3) Those associated with the Jehoash Inscription declared that the find spot of this stone inscription was the region of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and they asserted that it was authentic, ancient…an amazing find from the First Temple itself. But this was not the case. It is a blazing modern forgery. Sadly, lies had been told about the origins of this piece (which I had the privilege of collating in the Police Station in the basement of the Rockefeller…quite a forgery…a Kinderspiel in a number of ways). (4) Those associated with the Hebron Philistine Documents declared the putative find spot (Hebron) and provided additional details (See ADAJ volumes). Frank Cross declared these documents forgeries at an SBL meeting as soon as he saw images (ca. 50 years ago now). Joseph Naveh later wrote a nice article debunking them as well. It was, basically, the Siloam Tunnel Inscription written backwards. The tales about the origins of these leather documents were all lies. Some scholars believed them, but fortunately not Cross or Naveh. Again, those who believe those who are active in the market are just not being savvy. In short, I am not inclined to believe that Shapira sat on his Fragments for five years (i.e., from 1878 to 1883) and then decided to show them to the world. Some may choose to take him at his word. But, again, the world of the antiquities market is demonstrated to be a world of smoke and mirrors, not a world of facts and proof. And it’s not all that hard to discern precisely what happened between ca. 1874 or 1875….into 1878, and then the final floruit in 1883. One simply must realize how people in the antiquities market think, and sometimes act (i.e., the dealers, collectors, and forgers). Again, there is a forensic component to all of this. And it’s not that hard to discern. And that does not mean that I think every inscription form the market is a modern forgery. There are plenty of actual ancient ones, pillaged illegally, sadly. But the Shapira Fragments are not of that sort. They fall into the other category, modern forgeries….just as the consensus of the field has long contended.

    II. Dealers and forgers often defend the authenticity of a forgery…even after it has been exposed as such. This was the case with the dealer who handled the two Moussaieff Ostraca. This was also the case with the collector of the James (Ya‘akov) Ossuary. The list could go on and on with further demonstrations. Why would a forger or dealer continue to defend the authenticity of a forgery? There are multiple reasons for doing so: e.g., damage to one’s reputation if one admits that one was duped, or knew that it was not authentic, resulting in a decrease of sales in one’s “antiquities store,” the potential of legal liability for fraud, etc., etc. So there are plenty of reasons for Shapira to have postured as if he believed the Shapira Fragments were ancient, even if he knew better. This is the norm for dealers and forgers, once they’re so far in….it’s the way it works….time and time again.

    III. Dealers and Forgers often lure scholars in by attempting not to know what an inscription says. It’s a clever method, and some scholars seem to take the bait. There are some recent examples which I could mention here, but since these scholars are still with us, I’ll simply mention this established phenomenon. Could Shapira have been doing this? Sure. And to suggest that he couldn’t have is, again, quite naïve.

    IV. For these reasons (i.e., those mentioned above), some of the details about the things that Shapira did and said (including those emphasized in this most recent article and volume on the subject) can actually be understood to being incriminating with regard to Shapira. In other words, these things can definitely cut both ways…not necessarily at all in the direction of exoneration, as it were. Again, the forensic side of this is important….and simply must not be ignored.

    V. As for the script…there is nothing in the script of the Shapira Fragments which demonstrates authenticity. Nothing. Quite to the contrary, everything in that script can be accounted for, and there are enough anomalies to reveal it is the work of a forger’s hand. I’ve spent 20+ looking at Old Hebrew inscriptions from excavations under my microscope and high res images. It’s the script I know best. And I will do an expose in due time of some of the problems with the script. Not all, as I’ve learned that this ends up educating modern forgers at times. But I will point out in print some of the empirical problems, in due time, with thoroughness similar to my discussion of the Moussaieff Ostraca and Jehoash Inscription in my Maarav articles (especially the first one). As for the hand-copies of the Shapira Forgeries, I will plan to discuss this subject in due time as well….and as for the desire to impugn the scholarly hand-copies, I will discuss that as well. Everything in its proper time, and proper place.

    VI. That is, my modus operandi has always been, and will continue to be, to reserve for my print publications the detailed analyses of script, orthography, etc….much as I have done multiple times in the past decade or two. Traditionally in this venue (i.e., the blog), I outline certain problems or possibilities with this or that find, the contours of the evidence, patterns, instructive aspects of previous similar phenomena (e.g., in this case, epigraphic forgeries, the modus operandi of dealers, forgers, collectors), and reference some of the areas that I will focus on in print publications. In short, the purpose of this blog is to get something in print rapidly, especially when sensational claims are being made about something from the market or some new find.

    With all best wishes and kind regards to all,

    Chris Rollston

    • Thank you for your continued engagement, Chris.

      Re: “III. Dealers and Forgers often lure scholars in by attempting not to know what an inscription says. It’s a clever method, and some scholars seem to take the bait. […] Could Shapira have been doing this? Sure. And to suggest that he couldn’t have is, again, quite naïve.”

      I find this comment somewhat confusing. To my knowledge, no one disagrees with your observation that a forger might profess an inability to understand their own forgery. But that has no relevance to the case at hand, where Shapira professed no such inability and indeed prepared his own transcriptions, demonstrating his ability to read the manuscripts. The point I am making vis-à-vis the Shapira papers is that they have some extremely subtle errors, which probably went unnoticed until now, but which now — with the benefit of hindsight — are hard to reconcile with Shapira having invented the text or participated in the manuscripts’ forgery. Here is an example: There was an illegible letter in the manuscripts (as confirmed by the other transcribers), and Shapira guessed wrong what it was.

      What’s nice about that example is that we can see exactly what caused his error, and again, it’s subtle. The letters 𐤅𐤉𐤔𐤌 appear at the end of a line, and Shapira naturally read them as the word וישם. But, in fact, a single word was broken between two lines: וישמ[ד]ם. (The end of the first line was 𐤅𐤉𐤔𐤌, then came an illegible 𐤃 on the next line, then a legible 𐤌.) There are of course no final forms in paleo-Hebrew, and the text is scriptio continua, with words sometimes breaking between lines. It was therefore easy — especially for an amateur — to make Shapira’s mistake by defaulting to 𐤅𐤉𐤔𐤌 being a complete word and incorrectly assuming that the 𐤌 near the beginning of the next line belonged to the following word: אתם.

      Again, this is a tiny and trivial error of *reconstruction* — not even transcription — which was unlikely to ever even be noticed. Now that we’ve noticed it, we must find a plausible explanation for it. To me it seems the explanation is simple: Shapira was unfamiliar with the text and was doing his best to recover it. If so, we can infer that Shapira was not complicit in any forgery in this case.

      This is all discussed at greater length in my FAT book and ZAW article.

      Thanks, as always,

      • No need to be confused, Idan. In essence, a forger does not need to “profess” something, although they often do….they can also feign something, make mistakes on purpose, etc. Again, it’s smoke and mirrors, and forgers and dealers are quite clever at playing scholars…like a stradivarius. It’s the way it works, time and time again.

  8. Chris and all,
    We don’t have to speculate on the critical works on the Pentateuch that Shapira might have consulted since he specifies in detail in his correspondence with Strack, and confirmed by Guthe, namely the 1860 edition of Bleek, et al, Einleitung in das Alte Testament. Berlin: G. Reimer. See Ross Nichols, The Moses Scroll, pp. 32-36 for references and discussion. Ironically, Nichols book (also with transcription and translation with notes), that I read in pre-publication review, appeared two weeks before Idan released his latest book–one without the knowledge of the other. The two agree on many substantive points. Any serious discussion of the Shapira Saga requires one to work through the British Museum archive Add. 41294, plus hundreds of other letters and correspondence, especially between Guthe, Meyer, Ebers, and Erhman, who were working directly with Shapira in Leipzig. Also, the renowned epigrapher (Die phönizische Sprache), Paul Schroeder’s diary and letters, since he spent significant time in Jerusalem with Shapira and his family and his son was even engaged to Shapira’s oldest daughter and had moved to Berlin to be near that family. Nichols has done us a great service in compiling all of those sources with references, most of them available now on-line. Nichols’s is the first comprehensive book on the Shapira story since Allego, whose work was filled with a lot of errors and quite uneven in quality. Further, the Shapira “strips” at the time they became public in August 1883 were considered a threat, not a boon, to traditional Biblical studies, as they challenged the inviolate canonical text. If we open this for discussion we need to at least become familiar with the core facts of the story, what happened, when, and with whom, that are not disputed.

    • Replying to myself here, I was speaking of books in English but Yoram Sabo has a wonderful book in Hebrew on Shapira–the producer of the film that Ron Hendel , also highly recommended: Soḥer Ha-Megilot Masaʻ Be-ʻiḳvot Ha-Otsar Ha-Yehudi Ha-Avud = The Scroll Merchant: in Search of Moses Wilhelm Shapira’s Lost Jewish Treasure. Bene Beraḳ: ha-Ḳibuts ha-meʼuḥad, 2018. (Hebrew).

    • The idea that it was a considered a threat is simply wrong. A mild perusal of contemporary newspaper reports show great excitement, and particularly by/for scholars who had been arguing for an early date of Deuteronomy. In the context of 19th-century Biblical criticism, Deuteronomy having a date early enough to have been written in paleo-Hebrew was a boon for the traditional side.

      Al Jones

  9. I agree with Chris – it is a forgery for many reasons. Here are a few more points:
    A. The boundaries of the kingdom of Sihon in V: “From Aroer which is on the bank of Nahal Arnon to the Gilad and up to Nahal Jabbok” – contradict the reference to Jazer, which is clearly located south of the Jabbok;
    B. “In the wil[derne]ss, in Transjordan, [in the A]rabah” (in V, Fragment A, column 1, line 2) – is nonsense. The correct order appears in the Book of Deuteronomy 1:1 and counts the places in reverse geographical order, retrospectively – from the last station to the first. Therefore, Transjordan was recorded first, followed by the wilderness and then the Arabah over against Suph. On the other hand, the sequence of the geographical terms in V – is a meaningless geographical list – a distortion of the text in Deuteronomy.

  10. Again, a quick note to emphasize something which I have already noted. (1) The antiquities market was flooded with forgeries in the final quarter of the 19th century (see the works by Clermont-Ganneau on the subject, and the numerous ones he debunked. This is a fact. (2) Obviously, therefore, there were multiple forgers producing forgeries. This is an obvious fact as well. (3) The subject of critical biblical scholarship was much discussed in many circles. This too is a fact. (4) So would a forger have necessarily provided an exhaustive list of all the scholarly books on Deuteronomy or the Pentateuch, which he had read? Probably not. (5) As for archival sources….I have massive files with enormous amounts of archival material from the British Library, etc. …a benefit of good friends, copy machines, imaging methods. So…no need to assume that I haven’t read through archival materials, James.

    All the best,


    • Fair point Chris, but the letter itself to which I refer to lays out much of Shapira’s mindset and his deliberations with regard to Bleek and so forth, with detailed comments on readings and possibilities.. Sorry, I surely did not mean to imply you don’t consult archive materials on this or other subjects…just so many of the points being raised in this discussion are readily addressed in the letters and exchanges of that period–most of which are collected in the BM add. 41294, which I am glad to hear you have, but the Nachlassen of the German scholars I mention, including Meyer and Guthe notes along the way, are not so easy to find.

      • Yes, James, and I would simply emphasize again that the world of antiquities dealers (before Shapira, during Shapira’s time, after it, and now) is one of smoke and mirrors. Any letter purportedly laying out someone’s “mindset” is, at most, going to contain what that person wants someone to think or believe about their mindset. That’s it. Nothing more.

        All the best, Chris.

  11. Dear Chris & all,

    It is obvious what Chris said already: there is nothing authentic in the script. As to the curious yod with its tick, you will find similar forms in the Moabitica, as drawn by Kautzsch and Socin in their publication “Die Aechtheit der moabitischen Altertümer geprüft” (table partly printed in my “The Moabitica & their Aftermath”, page 210, fig. 6). Just imagine you would mirror some signs, play with them, try to imitate cursive style instead of lapidary style, merge them with similar forms, etc. Of course, in the strips, they are improved.

    • This is a crucial point, Martin. Thanks so much for mentioning this. This reminds me to emphasize that, in general, one of the most striking aspects of the Moabite Forgeries (on clay and stone) is the highly cursive nature of some of the letters. All the best, Chris.

  12. […] of Shapira’s manuscript. This is the direct result of Professor Rollston’s blog post titled, “Déjà vu all over Again: The Antiquities Market, the Shapira Strips, Menahem Mansoor, and Idan Ders….” Within hours of the release of Professor Dershowitz’s book, The Valediction of Moses: A […]

  13. I can’t understand Dershowitz’ rebuttal of Chanan Tigay. Tigay says that he identified a Yemenite Torah once owned by Shapira which had been cut down, and that Shapira must have used the missing parchment for his forgeries. Dershowitz rebuts this by showing that the Torah had suffered water damage. He claims that this explains the damage to the scroll: someone had cut off the damaged part to preserve the rest.

    I suppose I can’t dismiss that possibility, but the question remains: what happened to those strips? The scroll certainly wasn’t cut down by someone who used it for ritual purposes: that would have invalidated it, and it’s clear that the scroll hadn’t been restored to a ritually-satisfactory condition. The culprit must have been the person who originally “collected” it, or perhaps Shapira himself. In any event, it shows that strips of aged parchment were available.

    Incidentally, if Shapira wasn’t the person who cut the Torah scroll down, why did he obtain it? Surely such a heavily damaged scroll would be of little interest to a collector. A damaged scroll as a source of parchment, though, makes perfect sense.

  14. I’d like to make a meta-comment about our discourse. We all love this stuff and sometimes express our views passionately. But the rule of the game is that it’s done with respect. Idan Dershowitz shows in his book that he’s an excellent scholar. He has mastered the data and research, and makes a bold and plausible argument for authenticity. His analysis is now subject to critique. This string of responses is a rough draft of scholarship, which might at times seem pretty rough. But paying attention is itself a form of respect. Innovative scholarship warrants encouragement, even if it may sometimes be flawed – and may even attract accusations of heresy (thinking of you, Spinoza and Simon). In sum, let’s keep it cool and irenic.

  15. As a follow-up to my first comment, I see that Martin Heide made the same observation in his excellent article on Moabitica (on his academia.edu site): “Shapira had held the leather fragments to have been written early in the First Temple period, so that from our knowledge today the consistent writing of the 3rd masc. suffix with
    w instead of h was very questionable” (222). This anachronism was not perceivable by Guthe and other critics, since they had no other old Hebrew inscriptions besides Siloam.

  16. My thanks to all for reading, and for the comments. Generally speaking, this has been a useful discussion, and I’m grateful. Moreover, readers will find a fair amount of bibliography in the comments section (books and articles). And I think all that needs to be said has pretty much been said. At this juncture, therefore, I’ll close out this discussion with best wishes to all. Sincerely, Chris.

  17. Michael Nosonovsky

    Besides English in Shapira’s personal notes, another big question is the provenance of the Scroll. Moab in Transjordan seems a were unlikely place for a biblical Hebrew text.

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