Yosef Zohar
The Institute for Safety in the Criminal Justice System

True Grace with the Shapira manuscripts

Following  Jennifer Schuessler article, “Is a Long-Dismissed Forgery Actually the Oldest Known Biblical Manuscript?“‘ NYT, March 10, 2021, I read Prof. Idan Dershowitz’s book, The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book.

Drawing of Fragment E prepared by Dangerfield Lithography (London, 1883).(Dershowitz, Idan (2021). The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book. Forschungen zum Alten Testament.)

The book, based on in-depth scientific research, traces the enigma of Moses Shapira’s manuscript that disappeared towards the end of the 19th century.

Based on deciphering the manuscript copies and cross-referencing them to many biblical sources, and using advanced research methods, Dershowitz Proves the authenticity of the Shapira manuscripts and claims that the text is the proto Book of Deuteronomy!

Towards the end of Dershowitz book you can find the ancient Hebrew text deciphered by Dershowitz after collecting and composing the pieces and deciphering them with the help of multidisciplinary knowledge and the use of dedicated computer software, English translation, and reconstruction in ancient Hebrew writing.

Since then, I have been waiting and expecting to hear researchers and scholars in the field, stating what can be learned from the text. There for, I was very disappointed to read Yaakov Shavit’s article “We were not deceived …”, Haaretz 20.09, that instead of discussing it, returns to the claims of the British Museum researchers from 1883, that according to him: ” Provided the evidence that it was a forgery, which turns the hypotheses into the question of what the text teaches about the history of the biblical text into idle hypotheses”.

Had Shavit read Dershowitz’s book, he would have found, among other proofs of the text’s originality, a clear explanation that convincingly refutes the claim of British Museum scholars, on which he relies, that “Shapira composed the scroll from pieces he cut from Torah scrolls he purchased during his travels …”.

A little that holds a lot, about the enormous potential of the text, can be learned from the discussions that Dershowitz conducts in significant wording differences between the text in the scroll and the book of Deuteronomy. For example, the discussion about the root “החרתך”.

In the book of Deuteronomy (chapter 6, verse 6) the text appears:

“אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים”

“I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”

In the scroll (Fragment E, column 2) the text appears:

“אנך. אלהם. אלהך. אשר. החרתך. מארץ. מצרם. מבת. עבדם.”

“I am Elohim, your god, who freed you from the land of Egypt, from the slave-house.

Unlike “הוֹצֵאתִיך”ָ (brought thee out), the word “החרתך” (freed you) derives from the root “חרר”, Includes in this sense both the physical liberation of the slave and his transformation into a freeman, since “חרור” is a freed slave, and “מחורר” is “free asset”. More about this discussion on page 121 in the book.

It is interesting to know that the root “חקק” (to enact) in Arabic means true and is related to the root “חרר” in Hebrew.

According to the introduction to the great “Yemenite” Midrash, Shapira was the first to bring to Europe as early as 1878 a complete notebook of the Midrash and in 1881 he brought a source that correctly proves that its author is Rabbi David Amrani from Aden.

True grace did Shapira with Amrani when he brought proof that he is the author of the great midrash, and true grace Dershowitz does with Shapira in proving the authenticity of the manuscripts he brought.

Moses Wilhelm Shapira, 1830 – March 9, 1884
Photograph of Moses Wilhelm Shapira. 1830 – March 9, 1884. (Dershowitz, Idan (2021). The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book. Forschungen zum Alten Testament.)
About the Author
Researcher and Lecturer, Department of Criminology at Western Galilee College. Managing director, The Institute for Safety in the Criminal Justice System. Research Fellow, Judicial Conflict Resolution (JCR) project at the Faculty of Law, Bar Ilan University.
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