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2002 articles 1995 articles

C. D. Ginsburg and the Shapira Affair: a nineteenth-century Dead Sea Scroll controversy

Fred N. Reiner

Abstract

IN July 1883, Moses Wilhelm Shapira, a well-known Jerusalem dealer in antiquities and ancient manuscripts, offered to sell a scroll of Deuteronomy to the British Museum, one of his regular customers. Thus began one of the most celebrated incidents in the history of biblical scholarship, a saga that continues more than a century later. The Deuteronomy scroll offered by Shapira was written in the same ancient Canaanite Hebrew script (also called Palaeo-Hebrew or Phoenician) that appears on the Mesha or Moabite Stone. This particular palaeography, coupled with significant differences between this text and the standard biblical text, made the fifteen fragments of this scroll extremely interesting to Victorian Bible scholars. The possibility that an original or (at least) very ancient manuscript of Deuteronomy had been discovered generated great public interest.

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