When he first began to probe the mystery behind these ancient scrolls, Tigay had no idea the search would require hundreds of hours of research and take him to nine countries. After four years, he finally saw physical evidence that granted him answers he had been seeking, close to home—in the library of San Francisco State University, the very place where he teaches in the creative writing department.Everybody is keeping the ending of the book very hush-hush, which I guess is understandable. But I shall be very surprised indeed — pleasantly surprised, but surprised — if he has found any good reason to think that the Shapira scrolls are genuine ancient objects. I'm guessing not, though. If he had, I think he would have decided that announcing the breakthrough would sell more copies of the book than keeping it quiet like this. But maybe that's just what I would do.
San Francisco State housed a collection of manuscripts that had once belonged to Jerusalem-based 19th-century antiquities dealer Moses Wilhelm Shapira. Tigay didn’t immediately appreciate the significance of what he’d found. It wasn’t the scrolls themselves, but what he discovered ultimately suggested a conclusion to his quest to find what and where the scrolls were and how and why their owner had acquired them. This discovery gave Tigay a satisfying conclusion after his years of research—including visits to Israel, the Netherlands, Australia, Jordan, Germany, England, and France. That painstaking research is the core of Tigay’s new book, The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible. (Read an excerpt here.)
Unfortunately, Tigay’s discovery in the library came just eight days before his book was due to the publisher; he had to quickly rewrite the ending based on what he’d found. Tigay’s goal was to “try to have the reader feel like they are in my shoes the whole way through,” he told me recently in a Skype interview from Boston. “At any given moment, the reader knows what I knew, not what I don’t know yet.” So, just as Tigay rode a “roller coaster of emotion” during his research, readers will also not know the outcome until the very end of the book.
Also in Tablet, this excerpt from Tigay's book: The Antiquarian and the Murderer. In an excerpt from Chanan Tigay’s new ‘The Lost Book of Moses,’ a historical detective tracks down what could be the original Book of Deuteronomy. Excerpt:
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.This story is eerily like the story of the discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls, which you can read, for example, at the link given here. That said, one could ask where else one would be likely to find ancient scrolls preserved and who else in the region would be more likely to find them. Ancient manuscript treasures are sometimes discovered, or at least reported to have been discovered, in caves (e.g., here and here). But fakes or dubious cases are also sometimes reported to have been found in caves (e.g., here, here, and here). Such stories go back to Aladdin's cave and beyond, so they prove nothing in themselves.
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.
I look forward to the formal announcement, in due course, of what Mr. Tigay's big discovery is. And if he wishes to make a case for reconsidering the genuineness of the scrolls, I look forward to seeing his evidence. Background on his book and on the Shapira scrolls in general is here.