As the authenticity of his Moabite pottery collection came under withering attack, Moses Wilhelm Shapira fell into a depression that put his business and his family under strain. His reputation had been marred. He spent a growing amount of time fighting to regain it—holding meetings, dashing off letters to the editor, trekking into Moab to prove his point. But receipts at the shop suffered. He argued with his wife Rosette and ignored the children. Maria, his youngest daughter, cried just looking at him.

Shapira was not yet fifty years old and his career was at the edge of a cliff. The pottery that had once seemed the key to his prospects was now the source of financial strain and embarrassment. The scholars he had so hoped to impress dismissed him. Schlottmann was livid. But it was attacks in the English papers from his nemesis, the French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau that did the most damage. If Shapira was teetering at the cliff ’s edge, that “horrid man” Ganneau was right behind him, sticking him in the flank with a hot poker.

But now—as he had done following his grandfather’s death, a series of illnesses, and a lowly start in his adoptive country—Shapira rebounded. Over the next several years he would boldly carve a niche for himself in a new line of work, one that was far enough afield from pottery to make a clean start but played sufficiently on his talents that he would not need to start from scratch. Pivoting once again, Shapira established himself as a dealer in antique Hebrew manuscripts.

As early as 1870, he had consigned two Torah scrolls to the Frankfurt book dealer Johannes Alt, and seven years later he expanded that side of his business dramatically. In the fall of 1877, Shapira negotiated a sale of forty manuscripts to the British Museum, among them a number of Bibles he had obtained in Yemen. That an institution of this stature would see fit to engage him even in the aftermath of the Moabite pottery scandal was a victory for Shapira. Perhaps the museum’s executives were convinced that he was not responsible for the Moabitica. Perhaps, in their zeal to amass the finest collection of old Hebrew documents in the world, they were willing to hold their noses. The texts Shapira sold them were not only unquestionably authentic—they were extremely rare. Their acquisition was a coup. Whatever their reasons, the sale buoyed Shapira. In England, he wrote letters home “in the most exuberant spirits.” On his return he brought with him trunkloads of gifts. Maria was thrilled; Rosette was horrified by the extravagance. Concerned with appearances and eager to prove that her mate was a good Protestant, she fretted, “What would the Bishop’s wife think of me?”

Shapira, on the other hand, seemed a new man. Having concluded his sale to the museum, Maria recalled, “he had never been more even-tempered or more contented to remain quietly at home.”

But he did not stay home for long. Over the next six years he traveled extensively, collecting Hebrew manuscripts throughout the Middle East and establishing himself as perhaps the British Museum’s top purveyor of such works. The Department of Oriental Manuscripts regarded his first sale as one of the “most important collections” among the institution’s Near Eastern holdings at the time. Shapira seized on his relationship with the museum as an opportunity to billow his flagging reputation, hanging a sign in his shop’s window announcing to the world that he had moved on: once a simple shopkeeper—and the subject of scandal—he was now M.W. Shapira, agent to the British Museum.

It was then, as a reenergized Shapira sought to shake the odor of the pottery scandal, that he claimed to have first laid eyes on the Deuteronomy scrolls.

In Shapira’s telling, it happened in July 1878, nearly five years to the day before his fateful performance for London’s scholarati. At the time, he’d been home in Jerusalem, a world away from the tony Victorian confines of the PEF. Waiting on the treacherous road between Bethany and the Fountain of the Apostles, Shapira knew little of the unsavory fixer he was shortly due to meet, save what he had picked up a few days earlier at the home of his friend Sheikh Mahmoud al Arakat. The courier’s name, the sheikh had said, was Salim—and he was the sort of man who would “steal his mother-in-law for a few beshliks.” The comment had the zing of a one-liner, but under the circumstances it was more like a compliment—a selling point for the business at hand.

The locale was unsettling, plunked at the edge of the brutish desert along the road east to Jericho, two miles outside the protective embrace of Jerusalem’s stone walls. Years later, in a letter to the German scholar Hermann Strack, Shapira would note that Salim had insisted on this spot, unwilling to risk a meeting in town, where Shapira guessed he was wanted for robbery or murder. Shapira had traveled this route before, though it was always an artery leading elsewhere, a landscape to hurry through as he exited Jerusalem at the start of expeditions east of the Jordan. During these difficult crossings, Shapira, like other Europeans who came this way, took precautions. He had established solid relationships with a number of Bedouin headmen, among them Sheikh Arakat and Ali Diab of the Adwan tribe. On prior outings, Shapira had engaged these men to protect him from those who might kidnap and extort travelers, as they had done several years earlier to the English Bible Scholar Christian David Ginsburg. Now here he was, lingering alone on this very road to rendezvous with precisely such a man.

As a Christian, Shapira knew that Bethany—el Azariyeh to its Arab inhabitants—was the site at which Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps it was in hopes of a similar miracle that he’d set aside concerns and sought out this meeting. If Salim’s parcel contained anything like what Shapira imagined it might, such a marvel could yet complete the resurrection of his career.

All he knew were the tantalizing tidbits he’d gathered a few days earlier at Sheikh Arakat’s home in the village of Abu Dis. Shapira—who would tell this story several times, with slight variations, in letters and newspapers and in conversation—had been chatting with the sheikh and several Bedouin guests when the subject turned to ancient inscriptions, and one of the guests told a story. About a dozen years before, he said, a few tribesmen on the run from Ottoman authorities had taken refuge inside a cave hewn high in an embankment overlooking Wadi Mujib, that gorge in Jordan where I’d hiked in neck-high water. Hiding in that cave just east of Dhiban, the ancient Moabite city that had yielded King Mesha’s victory stone, the men chanced upon several bundles of very old rugs. Hoping to find a stash of long-hidden gold rolled within the carpets’ linen folds, they peeled away several layers of material. To their disappointment, what they discovered was not gold. All they found was a bunch of old blackened leather strips, smelling of asphalt and covered in some sort of scrawl they could barely see, let alone read. When the Arabs departed the cave, the man told Shapira, they tossed aside the worthless strips. One of them, though, thinking better of so hasty a decision, snatched them up off the ground. A good career move, as it turned out: the man had since gone from privation to comfort, and now commanded a large flock of sheep that allowed him to keep his family clothed and fed.

Shapira was unsure what to make of the story. It was undeniably alluring. Ancient leather scrolls, covered in weird writing, ferreted away in cliffside caves, wrapped in linen and discovered by Bedouin on the lam. But he had already been burned by the Bedouin and the stories they had told him, and anyway, all this was hearsay more than a decade old.

And yet the halo of truth hung about the report. Since biblical days, Moab had been known as a place of refuge. Before he was anointed king of Israel, David hid his parents there to protect them from a murderous Saul. Before that, Moses had established three “cities of refuge” east of the Jordan, where accidental killers sought sanctuary from victims’ blood-avenging families. More recently, Shapira and Almkvist, his friend from Uppsala, had made an expedition to the very area the Bedouin man had described. In his letter to Strack, Shapira described kicking up what appeared to be lumps of embalmed corpses along the way. At the time, he believed they had strayed into an ancient burial ground, and he marveled aloud that land this arid could preserve documents of extreme age. He had been thinking of papyrus—like discoveries earlier that century in Egypt. Now Shapira wondered if leather, too, could survive in such conditions.

At once skeptical and curious, he inquired whether or not he might see a few of these strips as proof the man’s story was true. That idea was swiftly rejected. Ornaments of this sort conferred blessings on the region in which they were found, the storyteller explained.

“Every Bedouin who delivers old charms or talismans to Europeans has to be driven out from among his people because he delivers the blessings of his country to others,” he said. This did not bode well. Then another guest jumped in—he thought he could convince the strips’ owner to part with them. Sheikh Arakat floated Salim as a suitable middleman, one who not only would kidnap his own mother-in-law but, more important, would “rob or steal away any antiquities of his country without caring a bit for their blessedness.” And so there was Shapira, awaiting the arrival of this shady functionary. As Salim approached that July afternoon, he may have been greeted by a man in flowing robes, meant to make him feel at ease among his own. Or perhaps Shapira wore his English gentleman’s costume, the one he’s wearing in the only photograph of him that has survived—the dark overcoat and the muted pants, the leather shoes and pith helmet—to emphasize his cultural superiority, or that he had money to burn. Shapira was a man of many costumes, a “good actor,” in one writer’s recollection.

Labeling someone a good actor is not a compliment unless that person is, in fact, an actor. Otherwise it implies vanity, selfimportance, and the ability to lie with an air of honesty. This was not the first—or the last—time someone attached the label to Shapira. His own daughter implied as much, describing her father as a man who constantly altered his appearance as though he were a player moving through scenes in a revue. “[He] assumed various disguises, just like the Emirs in fairy tales,” she wrote in The Little Daughter of Jerusalem, her novel about life with Shapira.

Sometimes he appeared like an ordinary Roomi so scantily clad that Ourda [her maidservant], scandalized, would avert her eyes. In this guise he would go into the city at regular hours, and always returned home looking more or less worried and careworn. At other times Mr. Benedictus [Maria’s fictionalized name for Shapira] would wrap himself in a flowing silk “simarra” like an Arab chief, and would lie full length with bare feet on the divan in the arched alcove and smoke his “narghileh,” the rose petals dancing merrily in its ample bowl. …

But the child retained the remembrance of one wonderful night (the incidents connected with which never faded from her memory) when she awoke to see her father standing by her crib. He was wearing a golden band round his forehead, and his dark hair was covered with a long silken veil with hanging tassels.

Where the actor’s work ends at the proscenium, Shapira’s extended into the audience, the lobby, the world. He shifted constantly, from one day to the next, one meeting to the next, one minute to the next—all part of an effort to belong. He was a searcher: a man with no real country and shifting religious beliefs. Adrift, he had spent the past three decades trying on different ensembles to see what fit; working to sink roots, to establish himself as a man of consequence, a man of note, a serious man with a reliable reputation as a purveyor of rare and important antiquities—a reputation that was now imperiled.

When at last Salim arrived, Shapira said, he handed over a small strip of road-black leather, creased and slimy. The strip had been generously oiled—its former owner’s effort to protect it from the extremes of desert life. Taking a closer look, Shapira reported, he was able to make out a few faded ancient Hebrew letters inscribed on the strip in some manner of ink or dye.

When Salim handed over the first segments of the scrolls that day, Shapira’s mind was certainly attuned to all the inherent possibilities in the bandit’s delivery: ancient Hebrew was the alphabet in which the Moabite Stone had been inscribed sometime in the late ninth century BCE. If these leather strips were anywhere near as old as their writing suggested, they would not only be unique, they would be incalculably valuable—far more so than any manuscript he had yet acquired.

Whatever means Salim had employed to come by this sample, he had done well. Shapira recalled handing him a few beshliks (winning at least a temporary reprieve for the man’s poor mother-in law) and informing him that there was more where that came from should he secure the rest of the manuscript. Salim grunted his assent and departed. Shapira, meanwhile, went home and waited, wondering if he had just stumbled across the discovery that would change his life.


Over the next five weeks, Shapira wrote, he met the Bedouin thief on four subsequent occasions. Each time, Salim brought along a bit more of the manuscript, until one day he informed Shapira that there was nothing more to be had of the blessed tribesman’s charm. Salim took his money and departed, never to be heard from again. Not long afterward, Shapira claimed, Sheikh Arakat—his only link to Salim—died, and with him any hint of the manuscript’s specific provenance. “Every trace of its history was lost to me, and is still so,” Shapira explained years later as he prepared to take his document to Europe. In other words, he was telling Strack, there was no way to find out where, exactly, the fragments had come from.

Once he had the full cache in hand, Shapira went to work, quietly. He had certainly studied the Old Testament as a young man and was intimate with biblical Hebrew. He had also become familiar with other scripts over the course of years in the antiquities trade. But he was not a trained scholar. In correspondence with men of greater formal education, he was comfortable setting forth his observations on manuscripts he had obtained, demonstrating a real depth of learning regarding their content, textual characteristics, and value as artifacts. At the same time, he remained deferential, often seeking the approval of his interlocutors, in hopes, perhaps, that they would see him as a sober-thinking man, intelligent, educated— and aware of his place in scholarship’s hierarchy. In such correspondence he could come off as a son seeking approval from his father. But once he had secured Salim’s collection, Shapira did not immediately contact the scholars he often consulted on such matters. Maybe this was because he had been betrayed before, badly, by such Bedouin intermediaries and could not afford another embarrassment. Perhaps he had other motives. Whatever the reason, he elected to keep his discovery to himself for the time being.

Here’s how Shapira described what happened next: he brought the leathers to his office, where he struggled mightily to decipher them. There were fifteen pieces all told, he told Strack, and they were folded, not rolled. Most were black as the cave from which they were reported to have come, covered in a layer of something like asphalt. The leather itself was decayed, eaten away by insects or saltpeter, both abundant in the caves overlooking Wadi Mujib. The opaque grime must have taken hundreds, maybe thousands, of years to set. It was impossible for Shapira to know whether anything significant lay beneath—and if so, whether he would ever be able to retrieve it. Still, he tried. Laying a strip flat on his table, he sprinkled some water onto the leather and gradually a few letters began to emerge.

“But this was only the case for a moment,” Shapira recalled. “Soon the leather became wet & I could see nothing more.”

He waited for the document to dry and tried again—to no avail. What’s worse, as anyone who’s worn new shoes in a rainstorm knows, water and leather don’t mix, and Shapira’s experiment “nearly spoiled the peace (sic).” The document, hidden away so many years in a cave, would not let go of its secrets so easily.

So, Shapira reported, he tried again—this time with spirits. It was a risk. If the ink was composed of organic materials, the alcohol might easily degrade it, erasing forever the author’s intent. Shapira splashed a bit onto the scroll, rubbed it gently into the leather, and leaned in to gauge the effect. When he did, the haze began to dissipate and words, phrases, sentences, buried beneath the detritus of centuries, emerged—visible for an extended moment before disappearing back behind their asphalt shroud. Over and over Shapira doused and read, each effort rewarding him with a quick glimpse of the scrolls’ text before the spirits evaporated and the words again vanished. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

After several such tries, something else became clear: these strips, unlike his “Moabite” pottery, contained more than a random dump of symbols. They were, in fact, inscribed with ancient Hebrew letters, nearly identical to those found on the Moabite Stone. Shapira had handled ancient parchment before, but he’d never seen leather manuscripts three thousand years old. No one had. Some similarly ancient sheets of papyrus had been discovered in Egypt, but until now all indications had been that parchment could not have survived so long in the peculiarly damp climate on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea.

As the rest of the text emerged slowly from the darkness, Shapira began to read:

Eleh hadevarim asher diber Moshe al pi Adonai el kol b’nei Yisrael bamidbar b’ever haYarden ba’Aravah. “These are the words that Moses spoke according to the word of Jehovah unto all the Children of Israel in the wilderness on the other side of the Jordan in the Aravah.”

The text was familiar.

Elohim eloheinu diber eleinu b’Horev lemor. Rav lachem shevet ba-har hazeh. “God our God spoke unto us at Horev, saying: You have dwelt long enough at this mountain.”

This was not the first time Shapira was seeing these words—but something was off.

P’nu u’se’u lachem, uvo’u har ha’Emori v’el kol sh’cheino baArava ba-har uvash’feilah uv’chof ha-yam. “Turn and take your journey and go to the Mount of the Amorites and to all the places near it, in the Aravah, in the hills, and in the valley, and by the seaside.”

This was the Book of Deuteronomy. The fifth and final book of the Torah. The book in which Moses addresses the Children of Israel before they cross into Canaan, not too far from where Shapira sat now. But what odd changes. He opened a traditional Bible to the first page of Deuteronomy and began to read.

Eleh ha-devarim asher diber Moshe el kol Yisrael b’ever haYarden, bamidbar baAravah, mol Suf. “These are the words that Moses spoke unto all Israel on the other side of the Jordan in the wilderness in the Aravah, across from Suf.”

The similarities were obvious—but there were differences: some words missing, others added. Shapira’s scroll began with a rendition of the traditional text’s first verse, but then it skipped to verses 6 and 7. That was followed by verse 19. Verses 20 and 21 came next—and they were followed, in turn, by 26, 27, and 34. It was wonderful. This was Deuteronomy, sure as day—but such a strange rendering.

When he had read the entire first strip, Shapira pushed it aside and went to work on the next fragments—wetting them with spirits, reading quickly before they dried, and writing each word down as a full transcript slowly took shape. The slips, he was amazed to discover, contained three different manuscripts. The first two were near-identical texts of the altered Deuteronomy—much shorter than the traditional rendition and interspersed occasionally with verses from elsewhere in the Pentateuch. Some of the differences stemmed from abridgments and a slight reordering of words. Elsewhere, the conventional words were replaced with synonyms. Sometimes the scribe used selected or partial verses that preserved the flow of the narrative, or lines taken from passages in Numbers (and, in one case, Exodus) that narrate the same episodes, or episodes that Deuteronomy alludes to but does not fully recount. Shapira’s scrolls also omitted chapters 12 to 26, in which Moses presents an exhaustive list of statutes by which the Children of Israel will be expected to live once they cross into Canaan—from animal sacrifices to avoiding swine to smiting Hittites, Jebusites, and Canaanites.

These revisions alone were extremely unusual. Remarkably, though, the most extensive and creative variations were found in the book’s most famous passage: the Ten Commandments. Shapira’s Decalogue, as these laws are known to scholars, was markedly different from the version with which the world was familiar. Imagine taking the Declaration of Independence’s pronouncement that all men are created equal, adding to it language from the First Amendment’s prohibition on abridging the freedom of the press, moving the new hybrid law two-thirds of the way down the document, and replacing it at the top with the Constitution’s rules on presidential power, and you’ll have a sense of the radical changes underpinning Shapira’s Ten Commandments. These laws form the foundation of the Judeo-Christian ethic, which shapes the worldview of nearly a third of the planet’s population. Any changes to the text were shocking. But if the Ten Commandments could be altered, moved around, and added to, everything else would seem fair game.

In Shapira’s version, the exhortations against worshipping other gods and crafting idols are melded into a single edict, reducing the traditional Ten Commandments to nine. The scrolls’ author then adds a new final commandment, borrowed from another biblical book entirely: Leviticus’s well-known exhortation not to “hate thy brother in thy heart.” The punitive portion of the commandment against idols, in which God vows to visit vengeance on the descendants of idolaters, is plucked from its traditional spot in commandment two and moved to number seven, which now threatens such retribution for the progeny of those who make false oaths.

The Book of Leviticus, which includes a section conspicuously similar to the traditional Ten Commandments, was a ripe source for the author of Shapira’s scroll. The commandment that forbids taking God’s name in vain is replaced with a synonymous phrase from Leviticus 19. The Decalogue’s trio of two-word commandments is expanded by phrases from elsewhere in the Torah. The statute against adultery includes a line from Leviticus 20. Now, instead of the time-honored “Do not commit adultery,” the law reads, “Do not commit adultery with your fellow’s wife.” “Don’t murder” becomes “Don’t murder the life of your brother.” “Don’t steal” is rendered here as “Don’t steal the wealth of your fellow.”

The command to mark the Sabbath is replaced with the version of that commandment from Exodus (in which the Ten Commandments also appear), but where Deuteronomy orders the Children of Israel to “observe” the Sabbath, and Exodus insists they “remember” it, Shapira’s version exhorts the Israelites to “sanctify” the holy day.

The combination of age, novelty, and text meshing was highly unusual—maybe even unique. The very fact that it differed from what was believed to be the immutable text handed down from God to Moses raised myriad historical and theological questions. If these scrolls were as old as their script indicated, they would have been written many years closer to the Bible’s original composition than the printed editions Shapira sold in the front room of his shop, or even the older manuscripts he kept stowed away in the back. And if this was true, they were more likely to represent God’s original intent. What Shapira’s scrolls meant, in other words, was that the text that had been read and revered in churches and synagogues for thousands of years, the text from which he and his friends at Christ Church would quote once again come Sunday, was, in this way, a fraud.

Shapira worked on the scrolls for the next month. The task alternately distracted him from his responsibilities as a family man and inspired great bursts of enthusiasm. In The Little Daughter of Jerusalem, a young Maria falls for an older boy, a Jew in the process of converting. When she rushes home to tell her father about her

new love, he doesn’t hear a word of what she says. “You’ll never guess what I’ve discovered this very afternoon,” he says.

“Look at those parchments! For weeks I’ve been trying to clean them, and only think of it! if they are really and genuinely authentic, do you know what they will be worth?”

“But, papa, his name is Casimir Krakowitch—”

“They will make my reputation and your fortune, Siona.”

“And though he is still a Jew he is being prepared for baptism, and—”

“Just think, Siona, I verily believe that these parchments are the original book of Deuteronomy.” …

“I do assure you, papa, if I don’t marry Casimir—”

“Well, I’m very glad you’ve come back, my child, for after we’ve left those parchments to soak a little longer, you’ll help me to copy my reports. But just think, Siona,” persisted Mr. Benedictus, “if we can establish their authenticity, which I am pretty sure we can, they will turn out to be the very oldest MSS. in the whole world, actually the original, Mosaic Deuteronomy!”

When Maria fell ill, Shapira read the manuscript by her bedside, comforting her as he worked. Other times he recited passages aloud as he transcribed. Increasingly, he began to see the scrolls as the key to his own and his family’s future. Later, sitting with his daughter in the yard, “he would speak at intervals, whilst drawing on his long Turkish pipe, of his grand discovery, his Deuteronomy parchment, and would dilate on all his hopes for [his daughter’s] future which he founded on this marvelous prize,” Maria would write. “He was going to make her so wealthy, so prosperous!”

By September 24, 1878, Shapira had finished his transcription of the scrolls. He grabbed a pen and paper and began furiously to scribble a copy of the transcript he’d been laboring over for the past month. The next phase of his life was about to begin—and he would start by breaking his self-imposed silence. Gathering his pages now, Shapira posted a copy of the transcription to the German theologian Konstantin Schlottmann. Although their relationship had faltered, Shapira once again found himself awaiting the German theologian’s verdict.

The French had their Moabite Stone, the Brits their Rosetta Stone. Had Shapira bested them all? Had he discovered the original book of Deuteronomy?


Schlottmann did not dally in responding—and he did not mince words. In a crushing rebuke, the German dismissed the discovery out of hand, calling Shapira’s judgment into question and insisting the manuscript was a pathetic sham and nothing more. Later, Shapira would recall Schlottmann’s censure.

“How I dare call this forgery the Old Test[ament]?” the scholar scolded. “Could I suppose even for a moment that it is older than our unquestionable genuine Ten Commandments?”

Schlottmann’s logic here is circular, and based strictly in faith. The Ten Commandments, he was arguing, were unquestionably genuine. Because Shapira’s scrolls called that genuineness into question, they could not themselves be genuine. The argument is weak. His other evidence was more substantial.

The scrolls, Schlottmann said, “contradicted” the traditional text of the Bible. He was referring here to the unusual way Shapira’s document referred to the Almighty. In the standard version of Deuteronomy, God is referred to overwhelmingly as YHWH (Jehovah), the proper name of the Israelite deity. In Shapira’s text, this name is used only twice, once at the beginning and again at the end. Elsewhere, the Lord is referred to as Elohim (God), which can function as both a title and a name. This leads to the repeated use of the awkward and redundant phrase “I am God, your God”—a clear sign, in Schlottmann’s view, of fraud.

As if this were not bad enough, Schlottmann went on, whoever wrote this manuscript was ignorant of biblical genealogy, labeling the nation of Ammon as descendants of Esau, Isaac’s hunter son and father of the Edomite nation, rather than the progeny of Lot.

Schlottmann leveled two further criticisms based on unusual phrases in Shapira’s Ten Commandments. In the first verse of the Decalogue, the text employs an extremely odd verb, hecheraticha, to describe God’s freeing of the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. This word, Schlottmann informed Shapira, was not only different from the one used in the traditional text, it was not even Hebrew—it was Aramaic. Finally, and to Schlottmann most damning, God’s admonition that a father’s sins will be revisited on his sons is laced with an embarrassing mistake: the correct word for “fathers,” avot, is replaced with the grammatically incorrect avim.

Given his facility with the Bible and its language, it seems strange that such oddities had escaped Shapira’s notice. Whatever the reason, Schlottmann’s rebuke shook his confidence.

“I confess, that when getting prof. S letter I begin to totter in my opinion,” Shapira later told Strack. “Not so much from the last rea sons as for the general reason the prof. gives, that it contradic’s our Bible . . . The [s]trong reverence I always had for our Bible which did not agree with the narrative of our M.S.S. made, still the M.S.S. some what doubtful in my eyes.”

Shapira said that he returned to his transcription to check it against the manuscript itself. Ping-ponging between the two documents, he realized that he had made a number of errors in transcribing that accounted for Schlottmann’s concerns. He quickly noticed, for example, that he had accidentally written “Esau” where the text actually said “Lot,” rendering Schlottmann’s second “proof ” moot. Another critique—avot versus avim—was also based on a small error in copying. Finally, the verb hecheraticha may have been Aramaic, but its root was Hebrew, so his reading had not been as wild as Schlottmann implied.

Surely the Moabite pottery scandal was at the forefront of Shapira’s mind as he absorbed Schlottmann’s reprimand, alternately accepting and rejecting the scrolls. It was certainly on Schlottmann’s mind. Not trusting that his admonishment would slow Shapira, the German wrote urgently the Prussian consul in Jerusalem to insist that he stop the merchant from taking his scrolls to market.

Shapira had hoped that the document from Salim would remake his career, finally overtaking the pottery as the matter for which he was best known. Now it risked plunging him into a new controversy. Once again, Shapira kept quiet. He took the manuscript and stashed it away in a bank vault for safekeeping. But he never forgot about it.


Excerpted from The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible © 2016 by Chanan Tigay, published by Ecco/HarperCollins on April 12, 2016.