When I decided to write my book, it was because I felt that the story needed a fair hearing – that the Shapira manuscripts demanded a reassessment. Specifically, I wanted to answer the call from those who had gone before, who had suggested that the entire case deserved reconsideration. I realized going into the project that others would need to weigh in, particularly those who possessed the academic training to properly judge the validity of Moses Shapira’s manuscript. I put it this way in my book, “May this work serve as a call for a long-overdue and well-deserved reassessment of what very well might be the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times. As Moses Shapira told Strack, ‘The question will be for scholars to decide.’ Especially important in this regard is the advice of Georg Ebers to Eduard Meyer. He told his protégé, ‘It is no art to declare suspicious things wrong, but it takes courage and certain knowledge to publicly declare that what is tainted with the smell of fake is still genuine. Good luck!'”[1]

In my book, The Moses Scroll, I sought to tell the story in a way that was accurate, engaging, compelling, but also accessible to interested laypeople. I wanted to give as much information as possible to provide the basis for the “long-overdue and well-deserved reassessment.” I tried to provide enough information that some capable scholar might happen upon my book and become convinced that such a reassessment was worth the effort. I made every effort to include what I felt were reasons for reassessment, citing academic sources to substantiate my claims. I painstakingly compiled a Hebrew transcription of the text, based upon two nineteenth-century transcriptions produced by three Hebrew scholars who examined the manuscript strips. I included an English translation of the manuscript as well. 

When my book was published on 24 February 2021, I could only hope that it might catch the eye of someone in the academic community who might possess what Ebers called the “courage and certain knowledge” to see the possibility that something labeled as fake, just might be genuine after all. In short, I wanted to reopen “the most controversial case in the history of biblical scholarship.”

Available in PDF here.
Pre-order the hardcover here.

Never could I have imagined or hoped for a better result. Ironically, the answer came not in response to my book but independent of it. Two weeks after the publication of my book, another book was released on 10 March 2021. The other book was written by Idan Dershowitz, the Chair of Hebrew Bible and Its Exegesis at the University of Postdam. Idan received undergraduate and graduate training at Hebrew University following several years of yeshiva study, and in 2017 he was elected to the Harvard Society of Fellows. Professor Dershowitz’s book is titled, The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book.[2] It does precisely what I hoped for – it puts forth an academic case for the authenticity and the antiquity of the rejected manuscript that I called The Moses Scroll in my book. 

Professor Dershowitz provides a brief overview of the Shapira Saga. In his book’s opening, he tells the background and includes the reasons for the forgery verdict by the nineteenth-century scholarly community. Importantly he states in the Introduction, “In light of our current knowledge, none of the original reasons for dismissing the fragments can be considered valid” (p. 1). He also says with confidence that “More recent objections to the authenticity of the manuscripts on paleographic grounds are likewise found to be untenable.”

Dershowitz systematically presents evidence that proves that the manuscript fragments presented to the world by Moses Shapira were “bona fide ancient documents,” and rather than being derived or abridged from Deuteronomy, that the reverse is the order – Deuteronomy “evolved out of V itself – or out of a very similar text. As such, V offers a priceless key for illuminating the compositional history of this Pentateuchal text.”

Dershowitz’s most significant contribution to Shapira studies is his careful, academic consideration of the texts. He discusses certain spelling anomalies that have been previously advanced as evidence of forgery and shows that, at times, they more likely reflect archaic usage (p. 20). He confronts the unreliable reliance on paleography by detractors of the genuineness of the manuscript by demonstrating inconsistencies in transcriptions (pp. 21-33), summarizing like this, “Under scrutiny, every objection to the authenticity of Shapira’s manuscripts falls flat. Moreover, in light of our expanded comparanda following the many new epigraphic finds since 1883, various features once regarded as proof that the Shapira manuscripts were forgeries now appear to validate their antiquity” (p. 33).

Dershowitz also discovered three handwritten sheets buried within a compilation of papers donated to the University of Berlin by Moses Shapira’s widow. These three sheets, written in purple ink and previously unnoticed by investigators, turned out to be a preliminary transcription of a portion of the manuscript strips by Shapira himself. In these three pages, it is evident that Shapira was attempting to make sense of the manuscript that he had acquired. They clearly show that he “had not determined the correct arrangement of the fragments when he was preparing this draft.” Dershowitz convincingly shows by numerous examples that these pages prove that Shapira was not the forger.

The Valediction of Moses also contains a detailed and academic analysis of the literary structure and content of the Shapira manuscripts. He effectively argues that V, his designation of the manuscript, is the progenitor of Deuteronomy and that it is not derived by a process of abridgment thereof. Past considerations for authenticity have generally proposed such a dependence of V upon Deuteronomy, but Dershowitz takes this apart “by subjecting the Valediction of Moses to a comparative philological analysis” (p. 44). In this, Dershowitz goes even further than Shapira himself. 

He shows that all evidence from the text’s content supports the conclusion that Deuteronomy evolved out of V, or a text very similar to it, further highlighting that V is “conspicuously free of any P or post priestly language” (p. 44). It lacks the entire corpus of what came to be called the law code of Deuteronomy, which consists of chapters 12-26, and that it not only lacks the code, but the manuscript shows no influence of priestly materials. Per Dershowitz, also absent in V is material that scholars have determined to be secondary interpolations; things that no scholar in the nineteenth century had yet to define as such.

Dershowitz demonstrates that V corresponds intertextually with passages of the Hebrew Bible that have no other canonical correspondence. In summary of his many findings, he concludes, “This thick web of connections – in which V is the central node – is remarkable. Not only does it further establish V as an authentic ancient text, but it sheds a great deal of light on the history of the formation of the Bible itself” (p. 93).

The excursus of the work is a combined effort with Na’ama Pat-El, to identify a linguistic profile of V. In this section, Dershowitz, and Pat-El, analyze the language and orthography of the text. Their analysis shows that while differences exist between V and Classical Biblical Hebrew prose, it exhibits a consistency with pre-exilic Hebrew. They further demonstrate that a forger in the nineteenth century would have had no model by which to devise a similar text. The evidence in this section “corroborates a monarchic date for V,” (p. 129) attests to the high probability that the manuscript antedates the biblical Deuteronomy, and “weighs strongly against the possibility of forgery” (p.129). 

The book also includes an annotated critical edition of the manuscript, an English translation, and a Paleo-Hebrew reconstruction of the text.

The Valediction of Moses answers the call for an academic assessment of the rejected manuscript strips that Moses Wilhelm Shapira presented to the world in the nineteenth century. It is hoped that Idan Dershowitz and Na’ama Pat-El’s arduous labors are carefully considered within the modern academy. The evidence provided in this work deserves the closest attention of scholars. As Moses Shapira told Hermann Strack, “The question will be for scholars to decide.” These two scholars have demonstrated courage by coming forward. The world will thank them later. I will thank them now.

 “It is no art to declare suspicious things wrong, but it takes courage and certain knowledge to publicly declare that what is tainted with the smell of fake is still genuine. Good luck!” ~ Georg Ebers, July 1883.

[1] Ross K. Nichols, The Moses Scroll (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2021), 158.

[2] Idan Dershowitz, The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2021).