“On Friday, Clermont-Ganneau returned to the museum where he was informed with ‘great regret’ by Edward Augustus Bond, the principal librarian, that Mr. Shapira had ‘expressly refused his consent’ for him to inspect the fragments. The Frenchman would describe his feelings about this refusal in a piece published before the week ended. He wrote, ‘There was nothing to be said against this; the owner was free to act as he pleased. It was his strict right, but it is also my right to record publicly this refusal, quite personal to me; and this to some extent is the cause of this communication. I leave to public opinion the business of explaining the refusal. I will confine myself to recalling one fact, with comment. It was Mr. Shapira who sold the spurious Moabite potteries to Germany; and it was M. Clermont-Ganneau who, ten years ago, discovered and established the apocryphal nature of them.’[1]

Clermont-Ganneau had traveled to England expecting to be extended the courtesy, as he put it, ‘which was accorded to other scholars, and to persons of distinction, of making me acquainted with these documents.’ He felt this was due him, given his ‘labours in connection with Semitic inscriptions generally’ and his acknowledged ‘authority upon the question’ at hand. When none was afforded him, though he was offended, he set about the work that had brought him to London—to disprove the scroll’s authenticity once and for all. Unlike before, this time he would not excuse Shapira.

The angered French scholar would have to prove his preconceived opinion based on observations gained by his momentary look at the strips two days earlier, supplemented by what he could learn at the dimly-lit display case in the manuscript department. It must have been injurious to his pride to stand alongside the crowds of unintelligent folk, knowing that most, if not all of them, were unable to recognize a single letter on the sheepskin. This was especially so knowing that not far from the ‘crowd of curious pressing round these venerable relics,’ Ginsburg and Shapira sat comfortably at a well-lit desk, working in much better conditions. He would report that he was ‘devoted to this unpleasant task both Friday and Saturday.’”[2]

Also on Friday, 17 August 1883, a lengthy and informative piece was published in The Record.[3] The article featured a portion of Shapira’s manuscript previously published in the Athenæum, and presented readers with a detailed report on the manuscript strips under examination by Dr. Ginsburg. 

The Hebrew text we reprint from Dr. Ginsburg’s letter to the Athenæum of August 11.[4] With some of his observations we concur. But it appears to us that a good deal more remains to be noted which he has not as yet found time to touch, and that there is room for a little more accuracy than appears at present either in his translation or his remarks.

  • He says that the phrase “God, thy God,” does not occur in the Old Testament. But the very words occur in Ps. l.7, a Psalm which has always been held remarkable for the strong emphasis which it lays upon the moral as distinct from the ritual law of Israel. The only difference between the phrase in Ps. l.7 in the phrase in Mr. Shapira’s MS. is that in the Psalms it stands thus “God thy God am I” – in the MS. “I am God, thy God.” The words are the same, the construction is the same, and the meaning is the same. The order alone is different.
  • The verb “liberated,” as Dr. Ginsburg correctly observes, is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures; i.e., not in this sense. Its derivative “nobles” (i.e., freeborn), is found in I Kings xxi. 8, 11; once in Ecclesiastes, once in Isaiah (xxxiv. 12); twice in Jeremiah; and six times in Nehemiah. The Biblical use of the word belongs to the time of the later Old Testament writers. The verb is found in the Targum of Jonathan (not Onkelos) in Genesis xvi. 3. But it is not as Dr. Ginsburg says, “I liberate” my bondmaid, but “and she liberated her, and gave her to Abram, her husband, for his wife.” Dr. Ginsburg‘s reference is in v. 5.
  • In the Second Commandment, it is to be noted that the clauses about “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children” are absent, but that they appear in the combination of the Ninth with the Third Commandment, which is found further on.
  • In the Fourth Commandment, where we have “Remember” in Exodus and “keep“ in Deuteronomy, followed in each case by the word “sanctify,” this latter word alone appears in the new fragment, and apparently as the first word of the command. The same word begins a sentence in Exodus xiii. 2, and Jos. Vii. 13. The omission of “the sea” in this commandment is curious, and reminds us that the fragments were found in a cave in the mountains on the east of Jordan, far away from the coast. The Dead Sea is lifeless. The expression, “I made,” “rested,” in the first person show a difference from any version of the Fourth Commandment which the Old Testament supplies. The word for “rest” is the well-known Shâbath of Gen. ii. 2, 3. It is found in the command as given to Israel in Exodus xxiii. 12, xxxi. 17, but not in either version of the Decalogue.
  • The additions concerning “thy brother” and “thy neighbour” in the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Commandments are noticeable, as also the combination of the Third with the Ninth. Leviticus xix. supplies parallels to three different things in this passage – (a) the reiteration of the phrase, “I am the Lord your God,” “I am the Lord,” after the several precepts; (b) the phrase, “ye shall not swear by my name falsely” (v. 12), and (c) the combination of “dealing falsely one with another” with “swearing falsely by the name of God.” We may observe that almost all references to oaths in Genesis have this aspect of protection for the interests of a neighbour or brother, and that this aspect of the precept is older than the Decalogue itself.
  • The word for “property“ (הן in the MS. הון in the Old Testament pronounce hon) does not occur in the Pentateuch. It is found three times in the Psalms (xliv. 12 “nought” no-property; cxii. 3, and cxix. 14,“riches,”), eighteen times in Proverbs, usually rendered “substance” or “riches,” and four times in Ezek. Xxvii.; also in Cant. viii. 7. The word is used in the Targum of Jonathan, but in a different sense. In Genesis xxxiii. 14 it seems to have the sense of “ease” or “convenience,” and stands for the Hebrew לאטי (on the root of which authorities differ).
  • “I Visit” in the MS. is a word used in the Old Testament but not exactly in this sense. It usually means “I am jealous” or “zealous,” and is followed by a preposition with the person for or against whom the jealousy is directed. We have not yet found any passage in Scripture or in the Targums where it is followed by a noun expressing the thing which excites jealousy, or used of taking vengeance upon sin. (The discovery of parallels for every expression used here is obviously important in relation to the possibility of forgery).
  • The expression “that take it my name falsely,” literally “that taketh up my name for falsehood” is noticeable for this reason. In the Third Commandment both in Exodus and Deuteronomy the word used is שוא shâvvanitynothing. In the Ninth Commandment we have שקר, shâker, falsehood in Exodus, and שוא, shâv, in Deuteronomy. Thus the MS. shows a variation which has a parallel in the Pentateuch.
  • The first word of the next sentence also requires comment from the learned. We believe Dr. Ginsburg reads it לא תענוLo ta’anu; ye shall not bear (plural). But the structure of the sentence requires that the word should be singular, “thoushalt not bear.” Is it possible that we ought to read תענו ta’anav; and that in this word there is a trace of an old form of the verb, ‘ânâv, which afterwords became ‘anâh? Gesenius considers that the verb shalah to rest is really shalav(Grammar p. 126). Why does Dr. Ginsburg translate this word in the singular, “thou shalt not bear,” without any remark? The Hebrew word for “thou shalt not bow down” presents the same ambiguity in this MS.
  • The word for witness this command is also noticeable. In Exodus and Deuteronomy it is עד ‘êd. Here another syllable is added which makes it either ‘êdath, or ‘êduth (probably the latter); ‘êdath is the construct form of ‘êdâh, and this form is used in the Old Testament only in the sense of “congregation,” though there is a word ‘êdâh (Genesis xxxi. 52) which means “testimony.” There is no proof therefore that ‘êdath is used in the sense of testimony in Scripture. But if we read ‘êduth, we have another variation from the language of the Decalogue.
  • The phrase “anything that is his” exactly reproduces our current version of the Tenth Commandment, but is not that of Exodus or Deuteronomy.

As to the manuscript itself, the only piece we have seen looked more like a small slip of black tracing-paper than anything else, and if we were about to forge a document of the kind, we can imagine no better material for the purpose. The material seemed quite as thin. We saw no letters on the fragment, but Dr. Ginsburg said that special light was required in order to perceive them. According to the Standard, the “rolls” were carefully examined on Tuesday afternoon by Mr. Gladstone, who also questioned Mr. Shapira. The MSS. are at present private property, and therefore the actual inspection of them is limited to a few privileged persons. “The writing only becomes visible (according to the Jewish Chronicle) on being wetted with spirits of wine applied with the camel’s-hair brush.” We cannot help wishing that the electric lamp might be brought to bear with a powerful magnifier, and that a fac-simile of the writing might be obtained. In order to read the writing when once visible, it is only necessary to master the Moabite Stone, the alphabet of which is not difficult, as presented in Dr. Ginsburg’s fac-simile (1881). The vocalization of the words on the Moabite Stone, and of those on the Shapira MS., as far as Dr. Ginsburg has yet published it, presents the same features. The plurals are formed by the simple addition of the consonant m, without the yod, which gives the vowel sound îm. The word ânôkiI is written ank, and so on.

The internal evidence of the matter of the MS. so far is yet published, does not support the idea of forgery. The line of design in a forgery is generally the product of one mind, and is therefore traceable. The combinations presented by this form of the Decalogue do not seem to harmonize with any plan that is likely to have occurred to a forger. To us the passage reads more like part of a manual of instruction for popular use than a recension of part of the Bible. We wish that Dr. Ginsburg and others who write about this MS. would abstain from the use of that word recension until they have some better reason for using it than appears hitherto.

The absence of the sacred name Jehovah, which the Jews called the Tetragrammaton, from this document, is a feature of considerable importance. It is not easy to interpret. We wish Dr. Ginsburg had been more precise in his statements as to the occurrence of the phrase “I am God, thy God“ in the Old Testament. It is certain that the name Jehovah occurs in the latest of the canonical books. It is found also on the Moabite stone. The Septuagint generally translates it by κυριοσ, and does not attempt to reproduce it in Greek letters. When did the disuse of the word in ordinary speech begin? Its absence from the Shapira MS. is against the theory of recension, for the word is not excluded from the canonical books of the Old Testament. But it is not read, though it is written in them. How long is it since the Jews cease to read the name? Its omission from the Shapira MS. is in harmony with our view that we have here a manual intended for common use, not a literary recension of the Scriptures. If anyone were to compare the Lord’s prayer in the ten commandments, as found in our Catechism, with the form in which they occur in Holy Scripture, he would be surprised to find how many differences there are in matters of detail. We cannot but think that the differences here are of the same kind.

Another interesting point is, that if this MS. is really ancient, it belongs apparently to the kingdom of Israel rather than the kingdom of Judah. This will hardly account for the omission of the name Jehovah. But there was a time when the great prophet of Israel, Elijah, was a “sojourner in Gilead,” the country whence this MS. professes to come. The sons of the prophets were then the only instructors that Israel had. It is Israel that is addressed in the phrase in Ps. L. 7, “O Israel, I will testify against thee; I am God, thy God.” If 800 B.C. is really the date of these fragments, and they are concealed in Gilead, they belong to the Catechism, or Bible handbook of the kingdom of Israel, not to Judah; and are of almost as great value in their way as the altar of 2 1/2 tribes in the days of Joshua, a witness that all twelve tribes of Israel were worshipers of the same God.

The Times this morning prints another portion of the translation of the Shapira MS. The present section is in immediate continuation of that which appeared in the Record last Friday. Our contemporary says: – “The sequence of the slips is not marked in any way, but the order in which the translator has taken them is according to the received text of the Bible. What may now be looked upon as fully ascertained is that this manuscript, whatever its origin or character, is a brief account of ‘The Second Giving of the Law,’ following the order of the Book of Deuteronomy, but with singular variations. The most remarkable of these is that some incidents that are not recorded in Deuteronomy are imported from the Book of Numbers, as if to fill up the lacunae of the former, and these insertions seem to fall in with the continuity of the narrative. We mentioned on a former occasion that part of the matter is in duplicate, there being two handwritings of the same archaic script. It now appears that there is also a difference of form between the two copies. In one copy the columns consist of ten lines, in the other of twelve. There are also variations between them. In one the Fifth Commandment is given simply ‘Honour thy father and thy mother. I am God by God.’ In the other it runs, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be prolonged.’ In neither version is there any reference to ‘the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.’ 

[Translation of the portion of Shapira’s Manuscript that appeared in the Times is inserted here which is followed by a reprint of the account of Mr. Gladstone’s visit. The writer then continues.]

The Press Association is informed that Dr. Ginsburg and those who are associated with him at the British Museum have succeeded in deciphering about two-thirds of the Manuscript, although from various causes the work has during the last few days been considerably impeded. Dr. Ginsuerg, although he may have his own private views upon the value of the fragments, feels that, sitting as he is in judgment upon them, he cannot express any public opinion at present, and he has determined not to do so until the whole of the Manuscript has been deciphered and investigated.

The manuscript were on Wednesday partly exhibited to the public in the manuscript-room of the British Museum. The two portions which were thus shown consist of strips of leather, one about fourteen inches, the other probably nine inches long and each nearly four inches broad. M. Ch. Clermont-Ganneau, the learned French Orientalist and explorer, formerly French Consul at Jerusalem, has arrived in London on a mission entrusted to him by the French Ministry of Public Instruction to examine and report on the manuscripts. In Germany Dr. Guthe, a Hebraist, of Leipzig, is about to publish a monograph on the subject, he having been one of the first to examine the skins. The short examination made by M. Ganneau has brought to light the fact that some of the sheets have been sound together at one time, and have the orthodox margin of Hebrew manuscripts, while other fragments appear to have been merely fastened at the corner or rolled up.

The next day, the opinions of A. Neubauer and A. Sayce written on 13 August appeared in print.[5] Also, the second of three installments from Dr. Ginsburg containing a translation and transcription of another portion of the manuscript appeared in The Athenæum. Meanwhile, the French scholar Clermont-Ganneau resigned himself to the unpleasant task of examining a small sample of the manuscript in a dimly-lit display case.

[1] Clermont-Ganneau, “The Shapira Manuscripts,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (Oct. 1883), 202.

[2] Ross K. Nichols, The Moses Scroll, (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2021), 66-7.

[3] “Mr. Shapira’s Manuscript,” The Record, Friday, 17 August 1883, 819-820.

[4] The text republished in this article was that which was published in “The Shapira Ms. Of Deuteronomy,” The Athenæum, 11 August 1883, no. 2911, 178-9.

[5] “The Shapira MSS of Deuteronomy,” The Academy, No. 589, 18 August 1883. These two letters are published on this blog here – https://themosesscroll.com/the-prime-ministers-visit-and-an-official-rejection-by-two-eminent-scholars-13-august-1883/.