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The Most Ancient Bible: The Shapira Manuscript. A Hoax?

Greetings, chevarim & achim:

The Shapira Strips: Hoax?

The last few weeks I have been working with a text known only as The Shapira Manuscript or Shapira Strips – perhaps the earliest digest of Torah portions known to humankind, pre-dating the Dead Sea Scrolls by 600 years or more.  Audio & Manuscript is posted here.

Shapira Sketch Featuring Paleo-Hebrew

This manuscript, like the Scrolls, has a unique story behind it, worth reading at least in this abstract by the late John Marco Allegro:

In the late 1880s, Jerusalem shop-keeper Moshe Wilhelm Shapira arrived in England with several strips of parchment. Shapira claimed that these fragments were found in the Dead Sea area and were part of an early version of the book of Deuteronomy. Experts who examined the strips called them forgeries, saying that the manuscript could not have survived in the Dead Sea climate. Disgraced and dishonored, Shapira left England and soon after committed suicide. Ironically, scholars in recent years have come to believe that Shapira’s manuscript was not a hoax – and may actually have been a portion of the oldest Bible in the world.

J. M. Allegro goes on to describe his book on the subject:

This (speaking of his book) is the true story of a 19th century mystery and controversy which resulted in discrediting what may have been one of the most important archaeological findings of all time.

The book is The Shapira Affair: The Mystery of a nineteenth-century discovery of a Dead Sea Manuscript: a forgery of the oldest Bible in the world? If you like short mystery stories and ancient texts, The Shapira Affair is as good as any fiction – but the book is hard to find, since Allegro, who was (of course) a leading figure and the only Protestant on the original Dead Sea Scrolls team, published it in 1965 (his life itself stranger than fiction).  I found one on ebay; was it luck or destiny?

Here is the link to the translation and audio: www.jacksonsnyder.com/arc/2009/shapira/shapira-manuscript.htm

Allegro posits that the ‘scholars’ of the nineteenth century who ruled Shapira’s Torah manuscript a forgery did so on account of anti-Semitism as much as anything else, seeing Shapira as a Jew who converted to Anglicanism for the purpose of plying his forged antiques rather than for the sake of religion.  They judged his discovery as much by their prejudice as by any material evidence written upon the ancient black leather.  Indeed, the vitriol of these scholars drove Shapira to his desperate act, the leather “forgery” having taken on his name (thus his name became synonymous with forgery).  The ancient artifact itself was sold in a public auction and soon after disappeared.

Some Things You Should Know About the Shapira

If you’ve gotten this far with me, let me mention a few circumstances and characteristics of the Shapira before directing you to where you can read or listen to it.

  • It was found about the same time and same place as the famous Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone), which is firmly dated to 830 BC.
  • It is written in the characters of Paleo-Hebrew / Phoenician.
  • The text on the strips was copied and translated before the item itself disappeared.
  • Unlike the book of Deuteronomy, this account is first person with Moshe (Moses) speaking to the Israelites.
  • Moshe references locations in the locale of where the manuscript was (supposedly) found.
  • The sacred name Yahweh is used twice – at the beginning and end of Moshe’s speech.
  • The primary title of the Lawgiver is Elohim Eloheinu.
  • It contains a very different set of Ten Commandments.
  • The story does not stick with the canonical sequence of events, but weaves Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy into a seamless fabric of history.

Now the question becomes, which is earliest?  The material on the Shapira Manuscript or the canonical Pentateuch?

What Do I Think?

My thought is that if the Shapira Manuscript actually dates to the same time as the Mesha Stele, ie 830 BC, then it must of necessity come first, since it is something of an established fact that the canonical Pentateuch came into its final redaction in Babylon or Assyria during one ‘Captivity’ or another.

So if you are interested in this stuff, I took Allegro’s translation (which came from drawings on paper dating to before the actual manuscript disappeared), compared it with the Hebrew, added the citations of the canonical scripture throughout, and recorded it too; for, in hearing it, one can tell just exactly how the mishmash of bible bits and pieces fit together into a very succinct, first person speech, perhaps originally from the mouth of Moshe himself.

Here is the link to the translation and audio: www.jacksonsnyder.com/arc/2009/shapira/shapira-manuscript.htm

Let me know how you are doing on the Nazorean way!

In the Scripture,

Jackson Snyder


Roots & Branches: New Time: Roots & Branches Vero Beach will be meeting this week for a short Erev (Friday 13) service now at 7 PM (not 7:30 as before).  Then we will take up the subject of this mailing on the Sabbath (Saturday 14th) at 2 PM.  Both events will be in the River Room at Tabernacles Ministries, Vero Beach.  For directions, go to www.nevy.us or reply to this mail.  The Erev Service will be special, since we officially formed on the last Friday the 13th.

Note: Earlier messages in this this series are permalinked at https://netzer.wordpress.com/.

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment