Is This Ancient Biblical Forgery Actually Real?
So close to a century and a half ago. A man named moses wilhelm shapira found fifteen manuscript fragments in a cave near the dead sea. They were written in an ancient hebrew script and contained. What shapiro claimed was the original book of deuteronomy blitz despite interest from the british museum to the tune of a million pounds. The manuscripts were found to be forged. Shapiro was disgraced and the documents disappeared but now a scholar named don dershowitz is questioning. If those documents might have been real all along so while the british museum was examining the manuscript fragments for authenticity themselves. Back in the nineteen th century. A few of the fragments were also on display to the public already attracting tons of visitors. The news of the possibly oldest ever discovered biblical manuscript had made headlines around the world. While awaiting the museum's official decree of authenticity. Someone else decided to take matters into their own hands. Charles simone clermont. Is you know who the times describes as a swashbuckling french archaeologist and longtime nemesis of shapiro's end quote examined the fragments for a few minutes and immediately went to the press to say that they were fake. The risk he played on his cursory examination paid off when the british museum experts agreed. Shapiro was humiliated by this and ended up. Tragically dying by suicide a few months later. The documents were sold at auction for a fraction of what they were originally expected to sell for. And most people soon forgot about the whole thing now. Dershowitz from the university of potsdam germany has published a new paper and companion book making the case that the manuscript was real all along quoting the new york times but dershowitz makes an even more dramatic claim the text which he is reconstructed from nineteenth century transcriptions and drawings is not a reworking of deuteronomy. He argues but a precursor to its dating to the period of the first temple before the babylonian exile that would make it the oldest biblical manuscript by far and an unprecedented window into the origins and evolution of the bible and biblical religion dershowitz. His research closely guarded until now has yet to get broad. Scrutiny scholars previewed his findings at a closed-door seminar at harvard in two thousand nineteen are divided. A taste of fierce debates likely to come but of dershowitz is correct. Some experts say it will be the most consequential bible related discovery since the dead sea scrolls in nineteen forty seven and quotes the times. Sagely points out that it's much tougher to prove something authentic than it is to prove. It's fake but there's an additional hurdle to be jumped. In this case the physical fragments themselves may no longer exist so back in eighteen eighty three there was a mad rush at the time to find biblical artifacts that would prove or disprove various points of contention emerging in biblical scholarship moseley around the documentary hypothesis. The idea that the first five books of the bible or the pentateuch were actually written by various authors. Not just one traditionally thought to be moses. It was in this climate of aggressive archaeology that shapiro. I established himself as an antiquities dealer in jerusalem and during which time he and clermont no became enemies. After camacho correctly denounced a collection of pottery. That shapira had sold to the german government. It's also important to note that shapiro was a convert to christianity having been raised jewish in russia so he was viewed with some skepticism from the other biblical scholars and archaeologists and also faced intense antisemitism after the deuteronomy manuscript was denounced. Fast forward to now. Dershowitz says one of the main reasons he thinks the fragments could have been real is because their contents differs quite a bit from the deuteronomy in the bible and many of those differences lineup with discoveries that were only made when the dead sea scrolls were found in nineteen forty seven sixty four years. After chapitoulas discovery of the fragments dershowitz also investigated. Some of shapiro's personal notes archived at the berlin state library and found three. Handwritten pages of shapiro trying to decipher the fragments. Filled with question marks and transcription errors. Dershowitz said quote if he forged them or was part of a conspiracy. It makes no sense that he'd be sitting there trying to guess what the text is and making mistakes while he did it end quote while some scholars of the evolution of biblical text or undershoots side cautiously believing the deuteronomy fragments may be genuine. Most pig refers people who study inscriptions are the ones that usually authenticate documents. Most of them aren't convinced they say the original fragments bear the hallmarks of modern forgery. That they agree with the notes made by the experts who examined them at the time and since no one has the fragments to examine physically now. It's a closed case and as for the content being impressions christopher rolston leading pig refer at george washington university said quote. Forgers are pretty clever with regard to content and they've been very clever for twenty five hundred years and quotes despite dershowitz his published paper and companion book. The jury is still out and who knows if it will ever truly be born ounce. It would have some pretty huge complications. If it does due to some of its key differences for example. It's missing all of the laws of the deuteronomy were familiar with in the bible. Ones upon which traditions and entire libraries have been founded. It would also bolster the theory that are tons more stories and traditions out there than just the ones that have been preserved in the hebrew bible.