The 1883 Dead Sea Scroll

May 1, 2017

Aren Maier recently posted videos from the RIAB Minerva Center annual meeting, March 2, 2017 at the Israel Institute of Advanced Studies, Jerusalem. For reasons tangential to this blog post, one of particular interest to me was Christopher Rollston’s, “The Jerusalem Papyrus: Another Perspective”. 7:19 into the video, he mentions the famously fake inscriptions offered for sale in the late 1800s by Moses Wilhelm Shapira:

“the Shapira forgeries … those inscriptions … as Clermont-Ganneau would argue, those were blazing forgeries, all of them…”

Whenever the subject of fake antiquities arises, Dr. Rollston mentions Shapira’s wares. For example, in footnote 12 of his 2009 blog post, Modern Epigraphic Forgeries, he said that “with the exposure of the ‘Moabite Potteries’ and the ‘Shapira Fragments’ as forgeries, [Shapira’s] status plummeted, and he ultimately committed suicide. It is my opinion that Shapira himself forged the ‘Shapira Fragments’.

In a 2012 blog post he made the highly tautological point that “Religion and politics are also strong motives for the production of a forgery. For example, there was arguably a strong religious motivation for the production of the Shapira Fragments (and the initial aura surrounding them).

Religion & politics are related to artifacts pertaining to the history of Israel? Really? Wow, it’s a good thing all the rock-solid genuine artifacts like the Siloam inscription & Ketef Hinnom scrolls have nothing to do with politics & religion!

It’s worth noting that earlier in his lecture, Rollston says he was wrong about the famous Moussaieff ostraca until being corrected by Joseph Naveh. As someone who’s been proven wrong over past beliefs, I hold others in strong admiration when they publicly acknowledge their mistakes (even if they’re not actually mistakes, which also happens occasionally). In this instance, it would be nice to hear Dr. Rollston review his position on these Fragments.

Clermont-Ganneau was not the only LMLK VIP to mistakenly denounce these items. In the latest issue of PEQ (v149, #1, March 2017), Shlomo Guil’s surprising article, The Shapira Scroll Was an Authentic Dead Sea Scroll, I learned that Claude R. Conder said the following in 1883 with regard to the leather fragments of Deuteronomy Shapira had offered for sale to the British Museum:

“I do not think any archaeologist will suppose that leather, as limp & supple as that on which this manuscript is written, could exist for such a length of time in the damp atmosphere of a country which has a rainfall of 20 inches … the difficulty of the great age which it is necessary to suppose leather to be able to attain without rotting in a damp cave is even more fatal to this clever forgery.”

A third LMLK VIP, Archibald H. Sayce embarrassingly chimed in at the same time:

“It is really demanding too much of Western credulity to ask us to believe that in a damp climate like that of Palestine any sheepskins could have lasted for nearly 3,000 years.”

Shucks! After I had so much faith invested in my western credulity! Ha! Ha! Ha! Less than 7 decades after those prominent academic proclamations, multiple 2k-year-old DSS surfaced with legible OT inscriptions preserved quite well on … you guessed it: leather (sheep & goat skin in particular, according to a recent article on LiveScience). OUCH!!!

Before summarizing Guil’s fascinating article, it’s worth noting a 4th LMLK VIP he quotes therein, Gabriel Barkay. Following the IAA’s witch-hunt of antiquities dealers in 2012, he urged insightful caution:

“The existence of linguistic & paleographic anomalies is not a reason to dismiss inscriptions & to say that they are fakes or forgeries … There are anomalies in provenanced inscriptions & every ancient inscription actually has some peculiar characteristics of its own, some of which do not fit the rules & laws of either linguistics or paleography. Every inscription is a human-hands product of the human mind, & as such it has its own peculiarities as we all have our own characteristics.”

In his 20-page PEQ article, Guil relates the arguments between Clermont-Ganneau & German scholars, particulary Prof. Konstantin Schlottmann (mentioned by Rollston in Maeir’s video). Although C-G correctly debunked Shapira’s Moabite pottery as forgeries, he blew it on these leather strips (15 offered to the British Museum, though at least 16 were originally noted by Shapira, & probably several smaller scraps). Shapira reported their find-spot as being near the Wadi Mujib (the Biblical river Arnon leading to the Dead Sea). Primarily because they were fragmented along one edge & clean-cut on the other, C-G suspected a modern forger cut them from the blank edges of a more-modern Torah scroll. He was so convinced of this argument that he even misinterpreted page-folds for line/margin-rulings.

Guil presents nearly a dozen pieces of circumstantial evidence for the authenticity of Shapira’s fragments:

1) The text was written on leather. 19th-century scholars were not aware of ancient Hebrew leather manuscripts, so a forger would’ve chosen stone for a medium.

2) It was discovered near the Dead Sea. Shapira didn’t know the DSS were going to be discovered a century after his suicide.

3) Shapira commented on linguistic mistakes in the fragments. He was a competent linguist, whom Conder lauded “as a Talmudist of 20 years education” when Shapira assisted him with the July 1881 PEQ publication on the Siloam-inscription translation.

4) The scroll was reportedly wrapped in cloth & smeared with asphalt. Cave I DSS were preserved in the same manner, particularly the Habakkuk Pesher/Commentary & the Manual of Discipline (a.k.a. the Community Rule).

5) Horizontal & vertical rulings appear in the fragments, similar to that of DSS specimens: 1QIsa, 4QpaleoGen-Exod, & 11QpaleoLev.

6) Efforts by an expert on behalf of the British Museum (Christian Ginsburg) to translate the fragments. Had the BM’s scholars been convinced they were fake, they would not have displayed them (which they did).

7) Their paleography doesn’t match that of the Mesha stele. C-G assumed the same forger who produced the Moabite pottery produced the Deuteronomy fragments. The Paleo-Hebrew DSS bear similar paleographic distinctions, which supports Dr. Barkay’s point.

8) Shapira’s mixed forms of the Paleo-Hebrew Aleph resemble that used in the DSS 11QpaleoLev rather than being strictly in lapidary or cursive scripts.

9) The only Paleo-Hebrew DSS are the Torah & Job. The odds were against Shapira choosing an OT book to forge in Paleo-Hebrew.

10) Shapira’s fragments not only resemble 11QpaleoLev in their blackened tan appearance, but also in their overall dimensions.

11) Shapira’s fragments bear an arc-like shape when unrolled similar to that of 11QpaleoLev.

It would be nice to see a future issue of BAR magazine inform its readers on this interpretation of these Deuteronomic fragments.

Guil dedicated his article to the late Prof. Menahem Mansoor (Chairman, Dept. of Hebrew & Semitic Studies, University of Wisconsin) whose 1958 article challenging the alleged forgery of Shapira’s fragments is available on UW’s website (Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & letters, v47, pp. 183-225, assisted by Mary Ann Fruth), The Case of Shapira’s Dead Sea (Deuteronomy) Scrolls of 1883.

Therein Mansoor notes the 1956 independent call for the re-examination of Shapira’s document by Shmuel Yeivin at Jerusalem’s Dept. of Antiquities (which would eventually become the IAA). LMLKologists know Yeivin for publishing the “First Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tel Gat (Tell Sheykh ‘Ahmed el-Areyny)”, suggesting the site may have been MMST. Again, just because a scholar is wrong on one point doesn’t make him/her wrong on all points!

Mansoor also cites the work of LMLK VIPs Albright, Aharoni, & Cross; & footnote 105 will amuse/delight LMLKologists, wherein he quotes someone who criticized the Shapira text for eliminating “nearly all the vavs & yods which serve as matres lectionis, in order to bring his work in harmony with the ancient Phoenician inscriptions. But he had forgotten to be consistent. … The innovations introduced by the forger were ridiculous.” For the benefit of non-LMLKologists, some seals were inscribed both as ZF (defectiva) & ZYF (plene), HBRN was defectiva, SUKE was plene! And of course MMST was a ridiculous innovation since that word does not appear in the OT or any ancient Semitic texts!

Finally, it’s worth noting that the fate of these scrolls is unknown. Guil concluded his article by stating that Dr. Philip Brookes Mason of Staffordshire aquired them circa 1888/1889, exhibited them at the Burton-on-Trent Natural History & Archaeological Society on March 8th, 1889, & probably kept them till his 1903 death. His widow reportedly sold his collection at an auction. It sure would be nice to see them surface in the Green Collection when Museum of the Bible opens later this year!

G.M. Grena