On Monday, 27 August 1883, the long-awaited and much-anticipated conclusions of Dr. Christian Ginsburg appeared in the pages of The Times. That which appeared was a copy of the report that Ginsburg had given Bond on Wednesday, 22 August, the day after Clermont-Ganneau’s report was published.
“Dear Mr. Bond – The manuscript of Deuteronomy which Mr. Shapira submitted to us for examination is a forgery.
As the interest which it has excited is so great, and as the public are waiting to hear the result of our investigation, I shall endeavor to give my reasons for the conclusion I arrived at in as popular a manner as the essentially technical nature of the subject will admit.
The writing of the manuscript exhibits the oldest alphabetical characters hitherto known. The letters greatly resemble those on the Moabite Stone, circa B.C. 900. The document, therefore, pretends to be about B.C. 800–900. This conclusion cannot be set aside by the supposition that extremely archaic forms may have been retained in some districts, either in the east or west of the Jordan, and that the manuscript may therefore only claim to be of about B.C. 200–300. The pretence to extreme antiquity is confirmed by the fact that the text of Deuteronomy in its present form was substantially the same circa B.C. 300. This is attested by the Septuagint version of the Pentateuch, which, as is generally admitted, was made about that time. As the Shapira manuscript pretends to give an entirely different recension, it presumably claims to exhibit a text prior to B.C. 300.
The evidence which to my mind convicts the manuscript as a modern forgery is of a twofold nature—viz., external and internal.
I. The narrow slips of leather on which it is written are cut off from the margin of synagogue scrolls. According to an ancient practice, the Jews in all parts of the world read the Sabbatical lessons from the Pentateuch from manuscript scrolls. Owing to partial defacement or damage, these scrolls frequently become illegal, and are withdrawn from public use. And although the Jews as a rule guard these sacred relics against profanation, and deposit them in receptacles abutting on the synagogues, still the communities in the East, and especially in South Arabia, are driven by poverty to part with them. Hence almost every public library in Europe, and many private collectors, possess such disused parchments or skins belonging to different ages, ranging from the eleventh to the nineteenth century. On the 24th of November, 1877, the British Museum bought a number of these scrolls from Mr. Shapira, which he brought from Yemen. The remarkable part about these scrolls is that (1) some of them are written on similar rough sheepskins to the material on which the Deuteronomy slips are written; (2) the lower margin of some of these scrolls (Comp. Oriental, 1452; Oriental, 1453; Oriental, 1454; Oriental, 1459; Oriental, 1465) is the same width as the height of the Shapira slips; and (3) one of these scrolls—viz., Oriental, 1457, has actually such a cut-off slip fastened to the beginning of Genesis—and this scroll was bought from Mr. Shapira in 1877, the very year in which he declares that he obtained the inscribed slips.
II. The columns of these scrolls are bounded on the right and left by vertical lines drawn with a hard point. These lines not only extend from the top to the bottom of the written portion, but reach to the very end of the leather, right across the upper and lower margins. Now, the Shapira fragments exhibit these lines with the dry point, but not as boundaries to the margin, for the writing on them extends on each side beyond the lines, thus confirming the theory that they originally formed the ruled margins of legally written scrolls. What is still more remarkable is the fact that the uninscribed slip already mentioned has also these guiding lines, and that they correspond to the inscribed Shapira fragments.
III. The upper and lower margins are very rough, ragged, and worn in the old scrolls, as will be seen in scroll Oriental, 1456, and Oriental, 1457. Now, many of the Shapira slips are only ragged at the bottom, but straight at the top, thus plainly showing that they have been comparatively recently cut off from the scrolls, since they have not had time to become ragged at the top.
IV. Some of the slips show plainly that they have been covered by a frame which inclosed the writing, and that this frame was filled with chemical agents. The result of this is to be seen in the fact that, while the inscribed part has thereby been rendered perfectly black and shiny, the part of the leather covered by a frame is of a different and fresher colour, and exhibits the shape of the frame.
As to the internal evidence, it will be seen from the following analysis of the documents that there were no less than four or five different persons engaged in the production of the forgery, and that the compiler of the Hebrew text was a Polish, Russian, or German Jew, or one who had learned Hebrew in the North of Europe.
I. Taking for granted that because the canonical text already contains two recensions of the Decalogue, no insurmountable objection would be raised against a third recension, provided it exhibited the Biblical precepts, the forger manifestly made the Ten Commandments the groundwork of his text. Accordingly, he not only modelled the Decalogue after the pattern of Leviticus xviii and xix, but derived his additions from those chapters. Thus the refrain ‘I am God thy God,’ which he inserted ten times, is simply a variation of the longer refrain ‘I am the Lord your God,’ which occurs exactly ten times at the end of ten precepts or groups of precepts in Leviticus (xviii, 2, 4, 30; xix, 2, 3, 4, 10, 25, 31, 34). Again, what is here the Seventh Commandment is made up of Leviticus xix, 12, while the additional Tenth Commandment is simply Leviticus xix, 17.
II. Though Deuteronomy xxvii, 11–14 orders that the representatives of the twelve tribes are to place themselves on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, in order to recite the blessings and the curses for the observance and the transgression of certain precepts, yet the maledictions only are given (verses 15–26). This manifestly suggested to the forger the idea of supplying the benedictions. In accordance with his plan, therefore, he not only filled up the gap with ten beatitudes, but made these ten benedictions harmonise with his version of the Ten Commandments.
III. Equally manifest is his design in altering the maledictions contained in the canonical text of Deuteronomy xxvii, 15–26. The additions, omissions, and insertions in the Shapira slips are palpably so framed as to yield ten maledictions to range the Ten Commandments according to the forger’s version of them.
To impart to the document the appearance of antiquity, the forger not only imitated closely the archaic writing of the inscription on the Moabite Stone, but adopted the expressions which are to be found on this lapidary document. Thus, for instance, in the Decalogue, which I have already shown, forms the central point of the forged text, the forger not only separated the words, but put a full stop after every expression, exactly as it is on the Moabite Stone. The only exceptions being in the particles eth, which is the sign of the accusative, and lo, which is the negative. That the forger used the Moabite Inscription as a model is, moreover, to be seen from the following facts. He exchanged the word rendered “before time” in the Authorised Version (Deut. ii, 12) for the word meolam—“from of old,” because it occurs in this ancient inscription. Again, in describing the Moabite territory, the forger mentions Moab, Aroer, Jahaz, and the Arnon, because these four names are to be found on the Moabite Stone; but he omits Paran, Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab (which occur in Deut. i, 1) simply because they are not to be found in the Moabite Inscription.
V. My reason for concluding that the compiler was a Jew from the North of Europe is that certain errors in spelling which occur in this document can only be accounted for on this hypothesis. Thus the Jews in Poland, Russia, and Germany pronounce the undageshed caph and the guttural letter cheth alike. Hence, when the compiler of the text dictated to the scribe the word chebel, the latter spelled it kebel, with caph; and vice versâ, when the compiler told him to write the expression which denotes “of their drink-offerings,” and which is written with a caph, the copyist spelled it with cheth. In the North of Europe, moreover, the Jews pronounce alike the letters teth and tau. This accounts for the otherwise inexplicable spelling in this document of the word rendered “frontlets” in our Authorised Version.
VI. The compiler of the text, who was a tolerable adept in writing Hebrew, could not have been familiar with the Phoenician characters exhibited in these slips, or he would assuredly have read over the transcript and have detected those errors. He would especially have noticed the transposition of the two letters in the predicate applied to God, which, instead of saying He was “angry,” declares that He “committed adultery.”
From the facts that the slips exhibit two distinct hand-writings, I conclude that there were two scribes employed in copying them. These, with the compiler of the Hebrew text and the chemist who manipulated the slips, account for my remark that there were four or five persons engaged in the forgery.
Reserving the more technical discussion of the linguistical features of these slips for my fuller report, I am, dear Mr. Bond, yours truly – CHRISTIAN D. GINSBURG”
The “fuller report” never appeared and searches for any sign of it have proven fruitless. By the time Ginsburg’s letter to Mr. Bond appeared in The Times, Shapira was checking into his hotel room in Amsterdam. From his room, on 28 August, he would write a strong rebuttal to Ginsburg’s theory. The letter was addressed to Mr. Bond.