On 6 January 2022, Idan Dershowitz posted a four-part thread on his Twitter account.[1] This is what he posted.

I just listened to an excellent talk by Michael Langlois,[2] in which he dispels the myth that the Dead Sea Scrolls were accepted by most early scholars as authentic. (“Scripture, Scrolls, and Second Temple Judaism” session starting around the one-hour mark.)[3] Most scholars at the time are actually skeptical, and rightly so. But some are so skeptical that they are not even interested in *seeing* the scrolls. Perhaps they are afraid of being ridiculed or humiliated if a scroll that they thought was authentic turns out to be a fake. It’s worth pointing out that the study of the Shapira manuscripts was cut short *extremely* early on. If the same had happened with the Dead Sea Scrolls – leading them to be effectively disposed of, as happened with the Shapira manuscripts – then the initial consensus would have persisted, and we’d all be talking today (or not talking at all) about the “Dead Sea Scrolls hoax.”

The following is a relevant excerpt from The Moses Scroll in chapter fourteen, “Ancient Scroll Discoveries.”[4]

The discovery by the Ta’amireh Bedouin was not the first mention of scrolls being discovered in caves near the Dead Sea. We have very early sources that relate similar stories. “Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis, fourth century A.D., refers to Old Testament manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek found concealed in earthenware jars near Jericho in A.D. 217. Both Origen (second to third century) and Eusebius (third to fourth century) refer to this find. According to Origen, a Greek version of the Psalms was among the manuscripts.”[5] Also, “Nestorian Church Patriarch Timothy (780-823) in a Syriac letter addressed to Sergius, Metropolitan of Ela, tells of books found near Jericho in a house on the rocks. Timothy goes on to say that ‘more than two hundred Psalms of David’ have been found among the books.”[6] We can safely assume that the nineteenth-century scholars were unaware of these earlier finds, for had they been, the story of Shapira would not have been considered incredulous.

Predictably, not everyone was inclined to accept the authenticity of the newly discovered scrolls. Among the reasons for skepticism was a previous discovery of blackened scrolls wrapped in linen, allegedly discovered by Bedouin in a cave near the Dead Sea. In the last week of July 1947, when a search was underway for someone who could best judge the genuineness of the recent discovery, we find the following account: “According to Antoun Hazou, Father Vincent would have been the more logical person at the École to judge the scrolls, but he didn’t even want to look at them, Hazou said, because he was afraid they were fakes, something like the one Shapira had tried to sell years before.”[7] Then, in the third week of August 1947, we find another person who maintained a similar reservation. “During the next few days, Metropolitan Samuel consulted Stephen Hanna Stephan, a Syrian Christian employed by the Transjordan Department of Antiquities, but he pronounced the scrolls ‘late’ (that is medieval), despite Samuel’s recounting of the stories of Origen and ‘Catholicos Timothy.’ Stephan cautioned Samuel, citing the Shapira Affair.[8]

Yes, there was scholarly skepticism when the Qumran scrolls first came to light, and yes, there was fear of ridicule and humiliation should these discoveries prove to be fakes. It seems to me, looking back, that the greatest cause of this early academic caution was because the story sounded very similar to the story told by Moses Shapira – a man long labeled a forger and a charlatan. 

Knowing what we know now, however, the sixteen leather strips of Shapira’s manuscripts deserve a new and fair reevaluation. The evidence, including the uncanny similarity between the story of the discovery of the Qumran scrolls and the earlier Shapira manuscripts, should no longer be dismissed out of fear of ridicule and humiliation. Perhaps those skeptical of Shapira’s strips today are simply repeating history and choosing caution over courage to which I say, חזק ואמץ!

For a PDF of this article – Visit this link on my Academia Pagehttps://www.academia.edu/67566572/The_Shapira_Affair_and_Those_Skeptical_of_The_Scrolls

[1] https://twitter.com/IdanDershowitz/status/1479296598991532033

[2] https://michaellanglois.org

[3] https://as.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/as/departments/hebrewjudaic/events/DSSConfJune2021.html

[4] Ross K. Nichols, The Moses Scroll, (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2021) 113-4.

[5] Menahem Mansoor, The Dead Sea Scroll: A College Textbook and a Study Guide (Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1964), 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Weston Fields, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History, Vol I, 1947-1960 (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2009), 34.

[8] Ibid, 37.