Everyone has heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in the case of The Moses Scroll, I hope that people do just that. Daniel M. Wright applied his immense talents to design the cover as well as the illustrations within the book. We frequently talked about various aspects of the project, and he somehow turned my rough ideas into something of beauty. I am equally thankful for his external and artistic contributions to the book as I am for his constant internal and conceptual contributions. I asked Daniel to write an article for my Author’s Blog about the cover, and what follows is his response to my request.
About the Cover – by Daniel M. Wright
Ross and I first began working together back in 2013 when he hired me to create an ancient Israel wall map. What began as a professional relationship soon turned into an amazing friendship. Our unique relationship led to many phone conversations and email exchanges. Over time, I learned that Ross and I share a lot of friends around the world, with common traits of being devoted students of the Bible and lovers of the land of Israel. We have both (separately) led tour groups there and who knows, maybe we will do a few together in the future.
In January of 2020, Ross introduced me to a subject I previously knew nothing about; that of Moses Wilhelm Shapira and his controversial Deuteronomy scrolls. It didn’t take me long to get up to speed on the topic as Ross kept feeding me leads and information. Right off the bat, I watched Yoram Sabo‘s amazing documentary, “Shapira and I” (and you should too)! Thanks to Yoram, I too began tracking the story in earnest.
Some time in the spring, Ross informed me that he was writing a book on the Shapira story – all of it – including the scholarly merits supporting the possibility that Shapira’s discovery might have been the genuine article. By the end of 2020, he was close to completing the manuscript. We had agreed early-on that I would do this cover.
By this time, I had become intimately aware of the long personal story of Moses Wilhelm Shapira; his emigration to Jerusalem; his complicated religious identity; the details of his family life in the Old City; the trials of his Jerusalem antiquities and gift shop business; the exotic travels; his discovery and eventual acquisition of mysterious scroll fragments; his diligence (dare I say obsession?) in studiously analyzing the scrolls; the satisfaction as well as the angst he experienced interacting with the scholarly giants of Europe; the crippling despair Moses experienced which led to his tragic death; the profound impact this dark reality had on his grief-stricken wife and daughters; and of course, the enduring mystery of what eventually happened to the Shapira fragments.
I thought,“what could I possibly do as an appropriate cover design?” We talked a lot about it. There were many things to consider.
Out of the gate, Ross would be an essentially unknown player in scholarly circles; we of course hope that changes, but it was a reality that had to be addressed. Visually, we knew we didn’t want to go sensational as it would tend to unduly alarm the academic community – and rightfully so. This is not a sensational book. On the other hand we didn’t want to alienate the generalists – popular readers new to the saga – who weren’t looking for a highly technical read, but would find the story compelling. Ross had already applied these editorial filters to the style of his manuscript; writing to achieve a balance that would hopefully be acceptable to the broadest possible audience, without skimping on the scholarship. I think he succeeded.
In the process, we realized that we needed to create some original chart illustrations – four in all – which would serve to organize the potentially confusing fragments into a proper order, which would assist the audience in keeping track of them as they made their circuitous way through the story.
When one is creating a new product – like a book cover – it is wise to have a look at what’s already out there, and in our case, that only amounted to Allegro’s “The Shapira Affair” (Doubleday, 1965), and Tigay’s “The Lost Book of Moses” (Ecco, 2016). These two were the only books, in English, specifically dealing with the story of Shapira and his Deuteronomy scrolls. I knew our cover had to be unique. So I started iterating – going through a couple of preliminary concepts. We elected to focus on two primary elements; a colorful illustration of Wadi Mujib, where the scrolls were allegedly found in a cave; and an illustration of Scroll Fragment E, sweeping across the front cover, under the spine and onto the back. Ross had the idea to include quotes from 19th Century personalities (front and back) plus one by John Marco Allegro from 1965. Collaboration has its benefits.
On the upper back cover, standing in front of the British Museum in London, you can see Moses Wilhelm Shapira looking directly at you, the reader, across the years, hoping for a fresh assessment of his solemn claims.
In the end, the cover came together appropriately in every way. I know my client was thrilled about it, because he repeatedly told me so. I hope you love this amazing book and the story it conveys. Please give it the fair consideration it deserves.
I find myself wondering, what would it mean if Shapira’s fragments were ever recovered? And, after testing, they did end up being a forgery? I mean, let’s be fair. On the other hand, what if they were in fact, authentic? What would that mean for religious communities and teachers of biblical studies? It would shake things up for sure. Either way, thanks Ross for including me on your team. I am grateful and blessed to have been a part of this work.