On Saturday, 11 August 1883, Christian Ginsburg published his first of three installments in The Athenæum. The first publication gave readers the Hebrew text and an English translation of the Ten Words as presented in the manuscript. Additionally, Ginsburg provided eight points of interest related to this version of the Ten Commandments, an appeal to scholars who might wish to take part in the discussion of the nature and content of the fragments, and an account from Shapira of how he came to possess them.

Without at present passing an opinion on the genuineness or otherwise of the fragments of Deuteronomy now under examination by me in the British Museum, I herewith give the text of the Decalogue and an improved version of the translation which appeared in The Times of August 3rd. In the next issue of The Athenæum I hope to give the other portions of the text in their proper sequence, commencing with the beginning of Deuteronomy.

[The Hebrew text is presented here as it appears in the original article, though this does not reflect the actual line lengths of the manuscript strips.][1]

אנך • אלהם • אלהך • אשר • החרתך • 

מארץ • מצרם • מבת • עבדם • לא יהיה • לכם •

אלהם • אחרם • לא תעשה • לכם • פסל • וכל •

תמנה • אשר • בשמם • ממעל • ואשר • בארץ •

מתחת • ואשר • במים • מתחת • לארץ • לא

תשתחו • להם • ולא תעבדם • אנך • אלהם • 

אלהך • קדש …………. שת • ימם • עשתי • 

את השמם • ואת הארץ • וכל • אשר • בם • 

ושבתי • ביום השבעי • על • כן • תשבת • גם • 

אתה • ובהמתך • וכל • אשר • לך • אנך • אלהם • 

אלהך • כבד • את אבך • ואת אמך • למען • 

יארכן • ימך • אנך • אלהם • אלהך • לא תר[צח • 

את נ]פש • אחך • אנך • אלהם • אלהך • לא 

תנאף • את אשת • רעך • אנך • אלהם • אלהך • 

לא תגנב • את הן • אחך • אנך • אלהם • 

אלהך • לא תשבע • בשמי • לשקר • כי • אנך • 

אקנא • את עון • אבת • על • בנם • על • שלשם • 

ועל • רבעם • לנשא • שמי • לשקר • אנך • אלהם • 

אלהך • לא תענו • באחך • עדת • שקר • אנך • 

אלהם • אלהך • לא תחמד • אשת   ….   עבדו • 

ואמתו • וכל • אשר • לו • אנך • אלהם • אלהך • 

לא תשנא • את אחך • בל[בבך] • אנך • 

אלהם • אלהך • את עשרת הדברם האלה 

דבר אלהם ……………..

“I am God, thy God, which liberated thee from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Ye shall have no other gods. Ye shall not make to yourselves any graven image, nor any likeness that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth. Ye shall not bow down to them nor serve them. I am God, your God. Sanctify…. in six days I have made the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and rested on the seventh day, therefore rest thou also, thou and thy cattle and all that thou hast: I am God, thy God. Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be prolonged: I am God, thy God. Thou shalt not kill the person of the brother: I am God, thy God. Thou shalt not commit adultery with the wife of thy neighbour: I am God, thy God. Thou shalt not steal the property of thy brother: I am God, thy God. Thou shalt not swear by my name falsely, for I visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and unto the fourth generation of those who take my name in vain: I am God, thy God. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy brother: I am God, thy God. Thou shalt not covet the wife…. or his manservant, or his maidservant, or anything that is his: I am God, thy God. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy he[art]: I am God, thy God. These ten words (or Commandments) God spake….”

  1.  Every commandment begins with a fresh line and finishes with the refrain “I am God, thy God.”
  2. In the Decalogue portion the words are not only divided, but there is a point after every word, as in the Moabites Stone.
  3. There is not only no stop after the particles את and לא, but these two expressions are closely connected with the respective words to which they belong, so as to form one expression.
  4. In the one slip containing the Decalogue which I translated for The Times the words למען יארכן ימך are absent, but they are in the other slip which contains a duplicate of the Decalogue. This is either due to an omission on the part of the scribe, or indicates that it is intended as a different recension.
  5. Instead of אבת (here line 17 from the top) one recension seems to have אבם.
  6. The slips not only exhibit two, if not three duplicate or triplicate text,s but two distinct handwritings of apparently the same archaic letters.
  7. The verb החרתך (line 1) does not occur in the Hebrew Scriptures, though derivatives in חרים, “freeborn, nobles,” occur (1Kings xxi. 8; Isaiah xxxiv. 12, &c). It, however, occurs in the Targum חררית אמתי “I liberate my bondmaid” (Genesis xvi. 3).
  8. Neither does the phrase אלהם אלהך, “God, thy God,” occur in the Old Testament.

May I suggest that those scholars who may wish to take part in the discussion on the nature and character of these fragments should first inspect them before they commit themselves to any strong opinions? An examination of the slips themselves is alike due to fair criticism and to Mr. Shapira.

Christian D. Ginsberg

P. S. The following letter, giving an account of the manner in which he came in the possession of the fragments of Deuteronomy, was kindly communicated to me by Mr. Shapira:

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”

Despite Ginsburg’s appeal to scholars to first inspect the fragments before they committed themselves to any strong opinions, scholars would soon begin to weigh in based upon what they read in the newspapers. In pieces dated Monday, 13 August 1883, Adolf Nebauer and Archibald Sayce would both offer their strong opinions without examining the slips themselves, and without regard to Ginsburg’s “fair criticism” or to Mr. Shapira.

[1] While Ginsburg produced a transcription of the manuscript strips, he did not indicate in his published transcriptions the location of line breaks. For an accurate transcription, by line, of the Decalogue, we are dependent upon Hermann Guthe, Fragmente Einer Lederhandschrift Enthaltend Mose’s Letzte Rede an Die Kinder Israel, (Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1883), 34-38; or the new English translation of this work published as Fragments of a Leather Manuscript Containing Moses’ Last Words to the Children of Israel, (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2022). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See also, Ross K. Nichols, The Moses Scroll (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2021), 176-7, and Idan Dershowitz, The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2021), 142-5.