On 12 January 2022, Brill published a new contribution to Shapira studies in Dead Sea Discoveries (2022) 1-29. The printed version will soon follow the online version under the same title, “Shapira’s Deuteronomy, Its Decalogue, and Dead Sea Scrolls Authentic and Forged.” [1]

The paper’s author is Professor Jonathan Klawans of Boston University, a respected scholar and author known in the fields of Hebrew Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, and rabbinic literature. 

This most recent article, a review essay, is primarily written to engage “Idan Dershowitz’s recent attempt to rehabilitate the Deuteronomy fragments Moses Wilhelm Shapira offered for sale in 1883” (p. 1).[2] Whereas Dershowitz seeks to demonstrate a proto-biblical book, Klawans presents a counter hypothesis suggesting that Shapira’s fragments are “better understood as a post-biblical pastiche” (p.1). Klawans is quite specific in his theory. His article aims to “contextualize the find within the religious world of 19th century Jerusalem” (p. 1). 

After challenging some of Professor Dershowitz’s points, Professor Klawans presents his view on the Shapira Fragments, an expansion of his blog post for Bible History Daily, 18 March 2021 titled, “The Shapira Fragments: An Artifact of 19th-Century Jewish Christianity” (p. 24).[3] For Klawans, Dershowitz has “one well-considered argument against the possibility of a 19th-century origin of Shapira’s fragments: That their content goes against the grain of 19th-century biblical scholarship.” According to Klawans, this draws an artificial boundary when “there are in fact other 19th century contexts that more readily explain the nature of Shapira’s Deuteronomy fragments” (p. 16). “Dershowitz’s argument precluding forgery,” says Klawans, “has taken the wrong path. The trajectory we should follow runs from Bleek, through Shapira, down to Ross K. Nichols, who similarly asks, in his semi-academic, semi-theological book, The Moses Scroll: ‘What did Moses Write?'” (pp. 16-17). 

Klawans points out the prominent role played by the Decalogue in Shapira’s Deuteronomy fragments leading to the heart of his argument. He seeks to show that “for a plausible context for the centrality (and eccentricities) of the Ten Commandments in Shapira’s Deuteronomy, we need look no further than Shapira’s own place of worship, Jerusalem’s Christ Church, where the full text of the Ten Commandments (in Hebrew, following Exodus 20) were and are still inscribed in golden Hebrew letters, nestled between Hebrew versions of the Lord’s Prayer (to the right, as one faces the plaque) and the Apostles’ Creed (to the left)” (p. 17). 

Professor Klawans finds further proof of a connection with Christianity, specifically Shapira’s own brand, practiced in his own place of worship, through certain “striking intertextual connections,” which, according to him, both Idan and I miss in our respective works (p. 19). 

To make his point, Klawans references The Common Book of Prayer and the requirement for confirmation that one “say the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments” (p. 18). To further bolster this connection, Klawans observes that The Common Book of Prayer “provides liturgical refrains when the Ten Commandments are recited (toward the beginning of the standard Communion service).” Even more striking to Klawans is that the initiate, following a recitation of the Ten Commandments, is asked by the Catechist, “What dost thou chiefly learn by these commandments?” to which the initiate responds, “I learn two things: my duty towards God, and my duty towards my neighbor.” The gist, and this seems to Klawans a proof of his theory, is that “the fundamental duty of a Christian [especially a 19th-century attendee of Shapira’s Christ Church in Jerusalem] – the upshot of the Ten Commandments – is to love both God and neighbor” (p. 18). This love of God and neighbor is central to Christianity and is found in the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40 [cf. Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-28]), and Paul (Romans 13:8-14), and “this passage features prominently in both the English and Hebrew editions of The Book of Common Prayer” (p. 18). Klawans also speculates that “among the books likely sold (or given gratis)” at Shapira’s church was Alexander McCaul’s, The Old Paths. “For McCaul, love of God and neighbor is the Christian truth, articulated by Moses and the ancient Israelite prophets, but rejected by post-biblical Judaism.” All these striking connections lead Klawans to associate the Shapira fragments with Christianity.

Klawans rightly points out that others before him (Teicher, Allegro, and others) have similarly made a point to associate Shapira’s fragments with Jewish Christianity.[4] This theory, most recently championed by Professor Klawans, deserves a detailed response, but for the present, I wish merely to offer a few initial thoughts. 

The version of the Ten Commandments in Shapira’s fragments is definitely not the version displayed on the walls of Christ Church. The variations between the Ten Commandments in Shapira’s fragments and the two versions of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 were the subject of debate as early as 1878 when Professors Schlottmann and Delitzsch responded to Shapira’s letter to the former.[5]

My reasoning for overlooking such striking intertextual connections with Christianity found by Teicher, Klawans, and others is not that I ignored them, but rather that I fail to find them (1) striking, and (2) Christian. Primary to the idea of a Christian connection with the Shapira fragments is that the leather strips contain the “Christian” idea of love of one’s neighbor. The tenth commandment in Shapira’s Decalogue says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” The inclusion of the corresponding blessing, “Blessed is the man who loves his neighbor,” and the curse, “Cursed is the man who hates his brother in his heart,” are enough to seal the deal for those who find such “Christian” ideas in this text. 

The inclusion of a commandment to not hate one’s brother in his heart, a blessing for one who loves his neighbor, and a curse for one who hates his brother do not make a text a Christian one. To suggest that this is the case does not prove that the text is a 19th-century Jewish Christian forgery but rather could be seen as a denial that Judaism or its sacred texts could contain such lofty concepts.

It deserves pointing out that the Shapira fragments do not include “Jesus'” second commandment in any place, in any form. Specifically, Shapira’s fragments do not contain the words, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” a text originating not with Jesus, but Leviticus chapter nineteen, a text that can hardly be called Christian even if the Jesus of the Christian gospels is credited with making it popular. The love of one’s neighbor and the prohibition of hating a brother in one’s heart did not originate with Christianity any more than the beautiful idea of heart circumcision so often credited to Paul (Romans 2:28-29; cf. Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6). 

The argument for a 19th-century Jewish Christian origin for the Shapira fragments is, according to Klawans, “a plausible 19th-century context motivating the crafting of Shapira’s Deuteronomy.” 

Whether the text proves to be a proto-biblical book or a post-biblical pastiche continues to be debated. As a student of this fascinating text, I appreciate the ongoing debate. As Shapira wrote to Hermann Strack, “The question will be for scholars to decide.” The present work of Klawans is a welcomed addition to the ongoing academic discussion, and I appreciate the attempt of present-day scholars to interpret the Shapira fragments based upon their fields of expertise. I also appreciate that Professor Klawans mentioned my work in his review. 

In short, Professor Klawans says that as far as he is aware, “no scholar has offered a detailed (let alone compelling) refutation of this line of argument” (20). This may be true and I agree that a detailed and compelling refutation is deserved. He goes on to say that the “Christian nature of Shapira’s fragments is either accepted or ignored” (20). Here I would respectfully add one additional reaction and modify it to say, “The Christian nature of Shapira’s fragments is accepted, ignored, or carefully considered and found to be unconvincing.”

[1] Klawans, Jonathan, “Shapira’s Deuteronomy, Its Decalogue, and Dead Sea Scrolls Authentic and Forged,” Dead Sea Discoveries (published online ahead of print 2022), (Brill: 12 January 2022), https://doi.org/10.1163/15685179-bja10032 [Accessed 22 January 2022]

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

[3] See, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/the-shapira-fragments/

[4] See for example, J.L. Teicher, “The Genuineness of The Shapira Manuscripts,” in The Times Literary Supplement, Friday, 12 March 1957, 184. See also, John Marco Allegro, The Shapira Affair, (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1965).

[5] See Ross K. Nichols, The Moses Scroll, (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2021), 28. Note especially Shapira’s account of Schlottmann’s words, “How dare I call this forgery the Old Testament? Could I suppose for one minute that it is older than our unquestionable [sic] genuine ten commandments?” Also, Delitzsch’s words, “Don’t touch our Decalogue!” If one were inspired by either canonical version of the Ten Commandments, it seems that more care would have been taken to avoid giving a different version.