Thursday, March 11, 2021

Reconsidering the Shapira affair?

THE SHAPIRA SCROLL HAS A NEW DEFENDER: Is a Long-Dismissed Forgery Actually the Oldest Known Biblical Manuscript? (Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times).
In a just-published scholarly article and companion book, Idan Dershowitz, a 38-year-old Israeli-American scholar at the University of Potsdam in Germany, marshals a range of archival, linguistic and literary evidence to argue that the manuscript was an authentic ancient artifact.

But Dershowitz makes an even more dramatic claim. The text, which he has reconstructed from 19th-century transcriptions and drawings, is not a reworking of Deuteronomy, he argues, but a precursor to it, dating to the period of the First Temple, before the Babylonian Exile. That would make it the oldest known biblical manuscript by far, and an unprecedented window into the origins and evolution of the Bible and biblical religion.

Dershowitz’s research, closely guarded until now, has yet to get broad scrutiny. Scholars who previewed his findings at a closed-door seminar at Harvard in 2019 are divided, a taste of fierce debates likely to come.

The epigraphers cited in the article are skeptical. The linguist and biblical scholars sounded more open to the idea.

The story is also covered by the Daily Mail: Has the mystery of the Shapira Scroll finally been solved? Ancient manuscript dismissed as a fake since 1883 is actually the oldest known Biblical script, expert claims (Ryan Morrison).

The underlying article by Idan Dershowitz is The Valediction of Moses: New Evidence on the Shapira Deuteronomy Fragments (Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 133(1): 1-22)

Abstract: Wilhelm Moses Shapira’s infamous Deuteronomy fragments have long been deemed forgeries, with Shapira himself serving as the obvious suspect. I provide new evidence that Shapira did not forge the fragments and was himself convinced of their authenticity. Indeed, the evidence for forgery is illusory. In a companion monograph, I show that the Shapira fragments are not only authen-tic ancient artifacts but are unprecedented in their significance: They preserve a pre-canonical antecedent of the Book of Deuteronomy
The article attempts to rebut some of the arguments for the scroll being a forgery. It does not make a positive case that it was a genuine ancient manuscript. It lays the groundwork for Dershowitz's forthcoming book, which will make the positive case. Dershowitz has also published a recent unrelated book with Mohr Siebeck, which I have noted here.

Epigrapher Christopher Rollston has published a blog post aimed at refuting Dershowitz's claims: Deja Vu all over Again: The Antiquities Market, the Shapira Strips, Menahem Mansoor, and Idan Dershowitz.

I have not worked with the Shapira materials enough to have a strong view of my own. At present I am willing to go with the century-and-more-old consensus that they are forgeries. And Rollston makes a key point, which also occurred to me: "Dramatic claims require dramatic, compelling evidence, and we just don’t have it with regard to the Shapira Strips." (His emphasis). That about sums it up. So far I still see no dramatic, compelling evidence that we should rethink the Shapira Scroll. If the book presents such evidence, I will listen to the argument.

Several years ago I noted another scholarly defense of the authenticity of the Shapira scroll. For additional PaleoJudaica posts on the Shapira Scroll controversy, start here and follow the links. Incidentally, the current New York Times article tells what the big revelation was in Chanan Tigay's book on the Shapira scroll affair.

UPDATE (12 March): More here.

UPDATE (15 March): More here.

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