It is a small world when it comes to active Shapira researchers and we all know each other. In an exchange dated 27 May 2020, one Shapira researcher informed me that, “there’s a very smart young scholar working on this now who has made some really interesting and new discoveries and he believes that the manuscript is authentic. I spoke to him off the record so can’t share the details, but I assume that he’ll publish something on it in the not too distant future.” In another exchange on 14 August 2020, he said, “I think I mentioned to you that there’s another scholar working on the manuscript also now, and he, like you, thinks there is reason to believe it’s authentic.” At the time I was working away on my manuscript, but I wondered who this mysterious “very young scholar” was, and when he would publish his “really interesting and new discoveries.” I was pleased to read that like me, he was a believer in the authenticity of Shapira’s manuscript, but with no further hints or clues as to the identity, I pressed towards the completion of my book.
On the morning of 10 March 2021, two weeks after uploading my manuscript to Amazon, James Tabor and I received an email from another fellow Shapira researcher in Israel. The email simply said, “Hi James and Ross, someone by the name of Idan Dershowitz just published a book on the issue of Shapira. Best regards.” I immediately remembered the earlier references. This must have been the very young scholar mentioned in the messages of May and August 2020. The note we received on the morning of 10 March contained a link to a work uploaded that morning by Idan to his Academia page. I immediately downloaded his book, and on the copyright page, I read this – “Idan Dershowitz: born 1982; undergraduate and graduate training at the Hebrew University, following several years of yeshiva study; 2017 elected to the Harvard Society of Fellows; currently Chair of Hebrew Bible and Its Exegesis at the University of Potsdam.” There could be no doubt. This was the mystery writer I learned of from my fellow Shapira researcher.
Idan’s book is titled, The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book, Forschungen, zum Alten Testament (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2021). It is available as a free access PDF from Idan’s Academia page. The description of the work says, “Moses Wilhelm Shapira’s infamous Deuteronomy fragments – long believed to be forgeries – are authentic ancient manuscripts, and they are of far greater significance than ever imagined. The literary work that these manuscripts preserve – which Idan Dershowitz calls “The Valediction of Moses” or “V” – is not based on the book of Deuteronomy. On the contrary, V is a much earlier version of Deuteronomy. In other words, V is a proto-biblical book, the likes of which has never before been seen. This conclusion is supported by a series of philological analyses, as well as previously unknown archival documents, which undermine the consensus on these manuscripts. An excursus co-authored with Na’ama Pat-El assesses V’s linguistic profile, finding it to be consistent with Iron Age epigraphic Hebrew. V contains early versions of passages whose biblical counterparts reflect substantial post-Priestly updating. Moreover, unlike the canonical narratives of Deuteronomy, this ancient work shows no signs of influence from the Deuteronomic law code. Indeed, V preserves an earlier, and dramatically different, literary structure for the entire work – one that lacks the Deuteronomic law code altogether. These findings have significant consequences for the composition history of the Bible, historical linguistics, the history of religion, paleography, archaeology, and more. The volume includes a full critical edition and English translation of V.”
The book is a perfect complement to my book, since his is written from an academic perspective for a scholarly audience whereas mine is intended for a wider readership. Both contain many of the same elements, and we both arrive at very similar conclusions. We also both included a transcription and translation of Shapira’s manuscript strips in our respective works. News of Idan’s work was picked up in the mainstream press yesterday, and just like that, Moses Shapira and his rejected treasure were back in the news.
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.
Dr. James Tabor blogged about the exciting developments on his blog in a post titled, “A ‘Shapira’ Bombshell had Just Exploded – Idan Dershowitz’s Research and the Case for Authenticity.” He began his post, “Excuse my enthusiasm! What are the chances that the same week that Ross Nichols’s new book, The Moses Scroll, which relates the saga of the Moses Shapira’s “Deuteronomy” manuscripts, was officially published (see my post from Monday here), the summary evidence of a new and solidly academic book on the Shapira “scrolls,” supporting not only their authenticity but their pro-biblical dating, would appear today?” I too was ecstatic.
It is my belief that what very well might be the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times, deserves a fair reassessment in light of what we know today. I feel optimistic that this is possible today, especially seeing Idan’s work appear in the New York Times, sixty-five years since the paper reported on the disturbance of scholarly calm brought on by Menahem Mansoor’s call for a re-evaluation, and exactly one week shy of 137 years since the New York Times reported on the death of Shapira.