In the summer of 1883, Moses Wilhelm Shapira arrived in Europe with sixteen blackened leather strips. They purportedly contained a version of Moses’ final words to the children of Israel, written in Paleo-Hebrew script. Shapira went first to Berlin, then to Leipzig, Germany, where two scholars spent a week examining the strips. Their analysis yielded a 95-page booklet titled Fragmente einer Lederhandschrift enthaltend Mose’s letzte Rede an die Kinder Israel.[1] This sole academic assessment of the “Shapira Scroll” is now available in a new English translation as Fragments of a Leather Manuscript Containing Moses’ Last Words to the Children of Israel.

About the Translation

While researching for my book The Moses Scroll, I learned of the published work of Hermann Guthe, one of the two German scholars who first examined Shapira’s leather strips. I found the booklet online but discovered it was only available in the original German. From scant references and brief citations published by previous investigators, I realized the importance of reading Guthe’s assessment firsthand. Initially, I used online translation tools. These provided me with enough information to recognize the value of having a formal English translation since Guthe’s report contained a description of the manuscript, an account of its origin as reported by Shapira, a Hebrew transcription of the manuscript strips, comments on the script’s character, remarks on the text, and a table of the Paleo-Hebrew characters.

In April of 2020, David and Patty Tyler, friends and co-researchers, volunteered to fund an English translation of Hermann Guthe’s treatise. They commissioned Mitchell Golde to translate the German text while I worked on the Hebrew portions. Mitchell and I worked together closely and completed the final draft on 28 May 2020.

Considering the renewed interest in Shapira’s manuscript, we are pleased to present, for the first time in English, a translation of Guthe’s Fragmente einer Lederhandschrift enthaltend Mose’s Letzte rede an die Kinder Israel. The title of this English translation is Fragments of a Leather Manuscript Containing Moses’ Last Words to the Children of Israel. It is available on Amazon from Horeb Press.

We hope this work will contribute to the growing body of material related to Moses Wilhelm Shapira and will aid scholars in the current reassessment of the most controversial case in the history of biblical scholarship. 

Ross K. Nichols
Saint Francisville, Louisiana

[1] Hermann Guthe, Fragmente einer Lederhandscrift enthaltend Mose’s letzte Rede an die Kinder Israel (Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von Brietkopf & Härtel, 1883).