On 14 August 1883, The Standard reported on Prime Minister Gladstone’s visit to the British Museum the previous day, and in Leipzig, Hermann Guthe penned the Foreword to the assessment of Shapira’s manuscript strips that he and Eduard Meyer had conducted over the first week of July in the Hotel Hauffe.[1]

The Shapira Manuscript. – Mr. Gladstone visited the British Museum yesterday afternoon, for the purpose of inspecting the now famous Shapira manuscript of the Book of Deuteronomy. The Premier was met at the Museum by Dr. Ginsburg and Mr. Bond, the Principal Librarian, and also by Mr. Shapira. The latter repeated the story of his discovery of the manuscript among the Arabs east of the Jordan, and was closely question by Mr. Gladstone, who carefully examined the rolls, and expressed himself much astonished at the close similarity of the riding to the Moabite Stone and the Siloam Inscription at Jerusalem. Both of these inscriptions, which date respectively from the ninth and tenth centuries before the Christian era, are now admitted to be perfectly genuine, and the close similarity of the writing of the rolls to these written legends is so marked as to be at once recognised. The possessor of the manuscript is making arrangements for its publication in a series of facsimile plates by the autotype process, to be accompanied by a full account of its discovery. The battle which is now waxing hot among Orientalists will then assume a wider range, and it will be a renewal of the old war of the Moabite Stone and the Moabite Pottery. The question is partly one of paleography, where in the Moabite Stone, the Siloam Inscription, which certainly dates from the time of Hezekiah, and the Assyrian contract tablets with Phœnician or Aramean dockets of the time of Sennacherib and his successors are the chief parallel examples. Obsolete words and words which are regarded as late Hebrew appear. Yet it must be remembered that words apparently late in Hebrew were of ancient use in the vernaculars of Syria and Eastern Palestine, and so they form but little criterion. Among those who hold that the manuscript is genuine the divergency of opinion as to date is very great. Some incline to the time of the eighth century, which the paleography most resembles; others to the period of the Captivity; while a third-party place the documents as late is the period of the Maccabees, regarding the archaic character of the writing as the outcome of a revival of ancient script which was known to have taken place at that period.[2]

Also on 14 August 1883, Hermann Guthe dated the foreword to Fragmente Einer Lederhandschrift Enthaltend Mose’s Letzte Rede An Die Kinder Israel.[3] The work would not be published until the end of August, and news would not reach the press in England until notice of the work was published in the 8 September 1883 edition of The Academy in an article titled, “The Shapira MSS. of Deuteronomy.”

English translation of Hermann Guthe’s work is now available on Amazon as, Fragments of a Leather Manuscript Containing Moses’ Last Words to the Children of Israel (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2022). Cover design by Daniel M. Wright.

An English translation of Guthe’s Foreword dated 14 August 1883.

Whoever publishes “fragments” of an unattested manuscript must necessarily, when it comes to the question of authentic or inauthentic, refrain from leading to the proof of the former, such that he does not understand the total scope of that which applies to that question. He is faced with two alternatives, either to leave the matter undecided, or to prove the inauthenticity of the whole from the fragments themselves.

When I began, I by no means kept secret the natural limits of my work. Having arrived through fortunate circumstances at an understanding of the greater part of the manuscript, I deemed it appropriate to impart my possession to others, particularly since its owners at the time intended to offer it for sale — had I made the science attentive to a real value, my first considerations would have served as a warning, and could precipitate the condemnation of the manuscript. I have now succeeded to provide the latter myself. The examination of the manuscript completely freed me of the nagging impression of fluctuating consideration which scrutiny of the external character of the manuscript yielded, and led to concrete proof of its forgery.

The following pages therefore are suitable to determine to what extent the audacity of the forgery is advanced in the realm of ancient Hebrew. The danger of deception becomes thus even greater, as soon as not only craftsmanly technique, but scholarly knowledge enshrouds the secret of forgery. The latter case is present here. It recalls the manuscript of the original Septuagint text, which Professor Scholz saw in the shop of Herr Shapira in Jerusalem in the year 1870. Its trace appears to have been completely lost, if it should not at some point resurface again under a different title. Of its character, sadly, little has become known, as the most suitable weapon against such trickeries is to make their form and their means of deception known, in order to facilitate the exposure of new forgeries wherever possible.

To my friend, Dr. Ed. Meyer, I say a hearty thanks for his help with copying the manuscript and during the printing of these pages. Readers will find on p. 14 exactly marked, which pieces of the copy belong to him. I also have to thank Herr Shapira for most generously allowing me to copy a portion of the manuscript. Herr Professor Dr. Franz Hofmann obliged me by his expert judgment to thank the Herr Professors Th. Nöldeke in Strasbourg and E. Kautzsch in Tübingen, although I gained my proof against the authenticity entirely independently.

Leipzig, 14. August 1883

Hermann Guthe

The following day, Monsieur Clermont-Ganneau would arrive in London. 

[1] For the behind-the-scenes story of the assessment, see, Ross K. Nichols, The Moses Scroll (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press), 37-46.

[2] “The Shapira Manuscript,” The Standard, Tuesday, 14 August 1883.

[3] Hermann Guthe, Fragmente Einer Lederhandschrift Enthaltend Mose’s Letzte Rede An Die Kinder Israel (Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1883), iii-iv. An English translation is available on Amazon as – Fragments of a Leather Manuscript Containing Moses’ Last Words to the Children of Israel, (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2022) – https://www.amazon.com/Fragments-Leather-Manuscript-Containing-Children/dp/1736613448/.