Dr. Ginsburg published this account in The Athenæum with this introductory note: “The following letter, giving an account of the manner in which he came into possession of the fragments of Deuteronomy, was kindly communicated to me by Mr. Shapira:”[1]

Cannon Street Hotel, London, Aug. 7, 1883

“Dear Dr. Ginsburg, in reference to the history of the embalmed manuscript I have to tell you, if allowed, the following.

In July, 1878, the Sheik Machmud Arakat, the well-known chief of the guides from Jerusalem to the Jordan, paid me the customary visit. It is an Oriental custom to visit every respectable gentleman soon after he returns from a journey, and such visits are in general made with great pomp. A father brings all his sons and relations; an officer all who are under his command; &c. As it happened that the Sheik had Bedouin of the East in his house, he, of course, brought them all with him. Of course they had a hundred questions to ask about the result of the Russo-Turkish war – whether the Russians were really near Stamboul, and whether the Sultan would allow it, &c.

Now it was my turn to ask them about new discoveries, when one of them said to the Sheik that we Europeans, who are so rich, ought not to seek more riches by taking away the charms and talismans of their country. And he related how a black bundle of inscribed pieces of leather made a poor man who kept them in honour very wealthy, whilst others who cast them away are yet as poor as himself. As he mentioned a place very well known to me, and that the pieces of his neighbour (it seems) smelt like chumar (asphalte), I wish to know something more about them; but as I was afraid to make the man suspicious by my eagerness, I asked advice from Sheik Machmud about it. He thought that the best thing would be that I should come the next day to his house to a dinner party, and he would arrange so that I might be able to bring out everything I wished. I heard the next day only the further particulars that some man of his acquaintance had hidden themselves, in the time when the Wali of Damascus was fighting the Arabs, in caves hewn high up in a rock about an hour east of Aroar, near the Modjib. They found there several bundles of old black linen. They peeled away the linen, and, behold, instead of gold, which they expected to find, there were only some black inscribed strips of leather (called Nekesh, which means some signs or scratches), which they threw away (or I believe he said threw into the fire, but I am not certain); but one of them picked them up and kept them in great honour as charms, and he became a rich man, worth 300 sheep. I asked the Sheik to employ him (the teller of the story) as a messenger to bring me some of the pieces that I might examine them, but the Sheik thought that that man would not do it, but he knew a man who is not superstitious at all, and would steal his own mother-in-law (all old women are witches or charms) for a few piasters (or a few hundred piasters). The Sheik told me next day that he had taken steps in the matter, and that in about ten or twelve days the man would bring me a sample of them if the history were true, only on condition that the messenger should not enter Jerusalem, as he was afraid of the Government. 

In about twelve days I got four or five columns, with a few Phoenician letters visible upon them; in eight days more he brought me about sixteen beautifully written columns; in eight days more about fifteen, not so well written; in eleven or twelve days more four or five very well written columns, and I have not seen the man again. The Sheik died soon, and I lost every trace that would enable me to follow the object further.

Yours truly and obediently,

(Signed) M.W. Shapira”

The next day, readers of The Times would be able, at long last, to read some of the words of the scroll.

[1] This letter was published by Dr. Ginsburg in “The Shapira MS. Of Deuteronomy,” The Athenæum, no. 2911, 11 August 1883, 179.