I wanted my readers to know about an impressive new blog recently begun by Ross Nichols, author of the new book, The Moses Scroll: The Most Controversial Case in the History of Biblical Scholarship. If you have been following the news on recent reinvestigations of the scroll fragments, obtained by Moses Shapira in 1878 from Bedouin who found them in caves in the Wadi Arnon (Arabic Wadi Mujib), you know that March could well be called “Shapira Month” in the academic world of biblical studies.
In 1883 Shapira’s scrolls were declared to be forgeries by scholars in Germany and England, and since that time have been largely forgotten–and were subsequently lost. They became a classic example of academic caution–that we should all beware of forgeries–which is surely the case! When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947-1956, Shapira’s scrolls were even cited by several scholars who argued against their antiquity. Solomon Zeitlin’s infamous Jewish Quarterly Review article, “The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Travesty on Scholarship,” is well worth reading today. Zeitlin, Solomon. “The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Travesty on Scholarship.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 47, no. 1 (1956): 1-36. Accessed March 31, 2021. doi:10.2307/1453184. It seemed impossible to believe–in 1883 or in 1956–that leather scrolls wrapped in linen could survive in the salty atmosphere of the Dead Sea region for millennia. If you have never read Edmund Wilson’s classic piece, “The Scrolls from the Dead Sea,” published in The New Yorker, in May, 1956, it is a must read. It captures the whole period of the Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries so well.
It now appears we might be entering a new era of Shapira studies. Two weeks after Nichols published The Moses Scroll, which is a readable account of the entire Shapira story, extensively documented, and including a transcription and translation of the scroll–a bombshell hit. The New York Times published a lavish story with impressive color layout titled “Is a Long-Dismissed Forgery Actually the Oldest Known Biblical Manuscript?”
The writer, Jennifer Schuessler, apparently unaware of Nichols’s book, was reporting on an new academic book by Idan Dershowitz titled The Valediction of Moses—along with a peer reviewed scholarly article, summarizing the basic thesis of the book. Dershowitz argued not only that the lost Shapira fragments were genuine, but that they might be the greatest biblical discovery in modern times–although spurned and rejected by the academic world. In fact, he, like Nichols, is inclined to date them in the first Tempe period–hundreds of years earlier than our second Temple period Dead Sea Scrolls. His book written for scholars, but even those without technical training in biblical studies can profit from reading it and following the main contours of his arguments. I find the case he makes, along with all that Nichols presents, puts me squarely on the side of authenticity. There has been flurry of publicity since, among academics as well as the popular media–full of controversy and dispute on all sides. It is kind of amazing how often two people, working completely independently, and unknown to one another, end up presenting a very similar thesis–one for the non-specialist reader, the other with an academic press. In this case within days of one another. You just can’t make this stuff up.
I posted a “roundup” of links and updates as of March 19th on my blog, but it is already woefully out of date. Here are some of the main stories I have tracked since March 10th through today–the end of the … Continue reading
But back to Nichols’s new blog. He has five posts up so far, with many more to come, that will cover both the academic and the popular aspects of the Shapira Scrolls in depth. I find these first five to be very impressive and want to recommend them to all my readers. Take a look and I think you will be drawn in and look forward to future posts. You can sign up for notifications at the bottom of the page. See The Moses Scroll: Author’s Blog. And yes, of course, read the book–The Moses Scroll! I think you will find it a real page-turner. The Shapira Saga has captured my attention and my imagination now for many months and I am keen to see what unfolds ahead.
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