On the afternoon of Tuesday, 7 August 1883, Moses Shapira went to meet Dr. Ginsburg, but after some time of waiting and Ginsburg not showing up, Shapira returned to the Cannon Street Hotel. The next day, from the hotel, Shapira wrote a note to Dr. Ginsburg.[1] The transcription reflects the spelling and grammar of Shapira’s note to Ginsburg.[2]

Cannon str Hotel 8/8 1883

Dear Dr.

I took my tickets yesterday to water bridge – have been waiting till 4.45 & you did not arrived. I still waited till 5.42, & again to 6.37. and as I do not know your adrress, I had to return disapointed to my hotel. I hope that no accident happened to you dear Dr.! I will be on this afternoon or tomorrow morning in the British Museum. 

Yours Obedint servant

MW Shapira

Dr Ginzberg

British Museum

The same day, The Times published Ginsburg’s translation of the beginning of the manuscript followed by a statement that Shapira had prepared for the authorities of the British Museum explaining how he came to possess the leather manuscript strips.[3]

The following is a literal translation of the commencement of the manuscript now deposited in the British Museum. It will be seen that it is a more succinct narrative of the journeys of the Israelites than that given in the received text of Deuteronomy, and that these appear in a different order. Modern critics, who have taken exception on geographical grounds to the order in which the journeys are enumerated in the received text will find that the questionable points do not arise in this recension:

Col. I.

“These be the words which Moses speak according to the mouth of Jehovah unto all the children of Israel in the wilderness beyond the Jordan in the plain. God our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, ye have dwelt long enough in this mount. Turn you and take your journey and go to the mount of the Amorites, and until all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale and by the seaside. And when we departed from Horeb we went through all that great in terrible wilderness, which ye saw; and we came to Kadesh-Barnea. And I said to you, ye are come this day unto the mountain of the Amorites. Go ye up and possess ye the land, as said [unto thee the God of thy Fathers.] [Notwithstanding] ye would [not] go up. And ye murmured and said, because [God] hated us…..to cause us to perish. And God was angry [and swear] saying, as I live, surely all the people that saw my wonders and my signs which I have done these ten times… not …. they have not hearkened onto my voice, they shall not see that good land which I sware to give unto their fathers, save your children and Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun which standeth before thee, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it. But as for you, turn you and take your journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea, until all the generation of the men of rebellion shall be wasted out from among the host. [And they abode] in Kadesh-Barnea until the men of rebellion were wasted out by death from among the host… Ye are to pass over this day the coast of the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir. Thou shalt not distress them, nor meddle with them in war, for I will not give you of their land any possession, because I have given it unto the children of Esau for a possession. The Horim from of old dwelt therein, and the children of Esau succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead. And we turned and passed the wilderness of Moab. And God said unto me, ye shall pass over this day the coast of Moab, ye shall not distress them, nor meddle with them in war, for I will not give you of their land any possession, because I have given unto the children of Lot the city for a possession. The giants dwelt therein from of old and the Moabites called them Amim, but God destroyed them, and they dwelt in their stead. And we turned and passed the brook Zered. And God said unto me [saying], Rise ye up and pass over the river Arnon. This day will I begin to deliver to thy face Sihon the Amorite, King of Heshbon, and his land. And we went forth against Sihon to Jahaz, and we smote him till we left him none to remain. And we took all his cities from Aroer, which is by the brink of the river Arnon, unto Gilead and unto the Brook Jabbok. God our God delivered all unto us. Then we turned and went up the way of the brook Jabbok. And God said to me, saying, ye are to pass this day the coast of the land of the children of Ammon. Ye shall not distress them nor meddle with them in war, because I have given unto the children of Lot the land of the children of Ammon for a possession. The giants dwelt therein from of old, and the Ammonites called them Azamzummim, but God destroyed them before them, and they dwelt in their stead.”

Mr. Shapira made on Monday to the authorities of the British museum a statement to the following effect: – 

“He first heard of the fragment in the middle of July 1878. A Sheikh, with several Arabs of different tribes, came to him at his place of business in Jerusalem on other matters. The Sheikh had nothing to do with antiquities. They spoke of some little black fragments of writing in the possession of an Arab. They had been found in the neighbourhood of the Arnon. One of the Arabs spoke of them as talismans, smelling of asphalte.

The day following Shapira was invited to dinner by the Sheikh, and heard more about the fragments. About the year 1865, at a time of persecution, certain Arabs had hid themselves among rocks. There, on the side of a rocky cavern they found several bundles wrapped in linen. Peeling off the covering they found only black fragments, which they threw away. They were picked up by one of the Arabs believing them to be talismans. He kept them as such, and became rich, as he thought, in consequence. This was probably ten years or more before Shapira heard of them. Captain Conder knows the exact time. Shapira promised the Sheikh a reward if he would bring to him an Arab he spoke of who would be able to get hold of the fragments. This happened on the day of the dinner. The Sheikh fell ill, and afterwards died.

About 10 or 12 days after the dinner a man of the Ajaya tribe brought to him a small piece, containing four columns. A few words only were legible. A week after, on Sunday, he brought 14 or 15 columns containing the cleaer writing. The next Sunday he brought 14 or 15 more columns, in another character of writing, but not all of one form. Ten days after, on Wednesday, he brought three or four columns, very black. Shapira saw nothing more of him.

After an interval of four or five weeks Shapira wrote Professor Schlottmann, on the 24th of September; soon after, also, to Dr. Rieu. The writings were (some of them) in better condition than at present. Schlottmann wrote that they were fabrications, and blamed Shapira for calling them a sacred text. He never saw the writings themselves, only Shapira’s copy. Schlottmann wrote in similar terms to the Consul at Jerusalem, Baron von Münchausen, and desired him to prevent Shapira from making the find public. Then Shapira wrote or telegraphed to Dr. Rieu that the writings were forgeries, and that he was to take no steps in respect to them. This he did in consequence of Schlottmann’s judgment of them, and the reasons on which it was founded. He placed him in a bank in Jerusalem.

Subsequently he began to reconsider Schlottmann’s objections, and he found that they were partly grounded on mistakes Shapira had made in deciphering the writing. He felt better able to judge of them himself because he had had more experience in manuscripts. It was before Easter of the present year that he re-examined them, and he deciphered them a second time. Professor Schroeder, Consul in Beyrout, saw them in the middle of May, 1883, and pronounced them genuine. He wanted to purchase them. Shapira took the writings to Leipzig at the end of July to have them photographed. Professors there saw them. Dr. Hermann believed in them, as did Professor Guthe, who intends to write about them. They had been smeared with asphalte originally as a kind of embalmment. They became subsequently further darkened by the use of oil and spirit. The oil was used by the Arabs to counteract the brittleness, and to prevent their suffering from wet.”

Public interest was on the rise, and everyone anxiously awaited the next word from Ginsburg’s examination of the leather manuscript strips housed in the British Museum.

[1] The letter from Shapira to Ginsburg dated 8/8 1883 is contained in “Papers Relative to M.W. Shapira’s Forged MS. Of Deuteronomy (A.D. 1883-1884),” Add. MS. 41294 (London: British Library). 

[2] The letter from Shapira to Dr. Ginsburg and a copy of The Times article transcribed in this post are contained in “Papers Relative to M.W. Shapira’s Forged MS. Of Deuteronomy (A.D. 1883-1884),” Add. MS. 41294 (London: British Library).

[3] “Mr. Shapira’s Manuscript,” The Times, 8 August 1883. For two modern translations of the fragments see, Ross K. Nichols, The Moses Scroll (Saint Francisville: Horeb Press, 2021), 159-170, and Idan Dershowitz, The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2021), 156-166.