Moses Shapira
Moses Wilhelm Shapira was a Jerusalem antiquities dealer and purveyor of fake Biblical artifacts. The shame brought about by accusations that he was involved in the forging of ancient biblical texts drove him to suicide in 1884. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name...

 in 1947, in the same area he claimed his material was discovered, has cast significant doubt on the original forgery charges.5

Early career

Moses Wilhelm Shapira was born in 1830 to Polish
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

-Jewish parents in Kamenets-Podolski, which at the time was part of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n-annexed Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 (in modern-day Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

). Shapira's father emigrated to Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 and in 1856, at the age of 25, Moses Shapira followed. His grandfather, who accompanied him, died en route.

In Jerusalem, Moses Shapira converted to Anglicanism and in 1861 founded a store devoted to pilgrim trade in Christian Quarter Road. He sold the usual religious tourist paraphernalia and ancient pots he had acquired from Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...


Moabite forgeries

Shapira became interested in biblical artifacts after the appearance of the so-called Moabite Stone, the Mesha Stele
Mesha Stele
The Mesha Stele is a black basalt stone bearing an inscription by the 9th century BC ruler Mesha of Moab in Jordan....

. He witnessed the schism and interest around it and may have had a hand in negotiations between German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, British
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 representatives. France eventually got the fragments of the original stone.

Shapira proceeded to create many fake Moabite artifacts – clay figurines, large human heads, clay vessels and erotic pieces, with inscriptions that had been copied from the Mesha Stele. His associate was a Christian Arab potter Salim al-Kari.
To modern scholars, the products seem clumsy – inscriptions do not translate to anything legible, for one – but at the time there was little with which to compare them. He even organized an expedition to Moab where he had his Bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

 associates bury more forgeries. Some scholars began to base theories on these pieces.

Since German archaeologists had not gained possession of the Moabite Stone, they rushed to buy the Shapira Collection before their rivals. Berlin's Altes Museum
Altes Museum
The Altes Museum , is one of several internationally renowned museums on Museum Island in Berlin, Germany. Since restoration work in 1966, it houses the Antikensammlung of the Berlin State Museums...

 bought 1700 artifacts with the cost of 22,000 thaler
The Thaler was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. Its name lives on in various currencies as the dollar or tolar. Etymologically, "Thaler" is an abbreviation of "Joachimsthaler", a coin type from the city of Joachimsthal in Bohemia, where some of the first such...

s in 1873. Other private collectors followed suit. One of them was Horatio Kitchener, a British military officer, who bought eight pieces in his own expense. Shapira was able to move to Aga Rashid (modern-day Ticho House
Ticho House
Ticho House is a historical home in Jerusalem, Israel, now a museum. It was one of the first homes built outside the Old City walls at the end of the nineteenth century....

), outside Jerusalem city walls with his wife and two daughters.

Still various people, including a French scholar and diplomat Charles Clermont-Ganneau, had their doubts. Clermont-Ganneau suspected Salim al-Kari, questioned him and found people who supplied him with clay.
He published his findings in Athenaeum newspaper in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and declared them forgeries, a conclusion with which other scholars concurred (cf. Emil Friedrich Kautzsch
Emil Friedrich Kautzsch
Emil Friedrich Kautzsch was a German Hebrew scholar and biblical critic, born at Plauen, Saxony. He was educated at Leipzig, in whose theological faculty he was appointed privatdocent and professor...

 and Albert Socin, Die Echtheit der moabitischen Altertümer geprüft, 1876). Shapira defended his collection vigorously until his rivals presented more evidence against them. He made Salim al-Kari the scapegoat, played the role of innocent victim, and continued to do a considerable trade especially in Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 manuscripts from Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....


Manuscript forgeries

In 1883 Shapira presented what is now known as the Shapira Strips, fragments of supposedly ancient parchment he claimed to have found near the Dead Sea
Dead Sea
The Dead Sea , also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are below sea level, the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface. The Dead Sea is deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world...

. Their inscriptions of ancient Semitic
In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic was first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages...

 script hinted at a different version of the Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

 and Deuteronomy
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, and of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch...

. Shapira sought to sell them to the British Museum for a million pound
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

s, and allowed them to exhibit two of the 15 strips. The exhibition was attended by thousands.

However, Clermont-Ganneau also attended the exhibition; Shapira had denied him access to the other 13 strips. After close examination, Clermont-Ganneau declared them to be forgeries. Soon afterward British biblical scholar Christian David Ginsburg
Christian David Ginsburg
Christian David Ginsburg was a Polish-born, British Bible scholar and student of the masoretic tradition in Judaism....

 came to the same conclusion. Later Clermont-Ganneau showed that the parchment of the Deuteronomy scroll was cut out of a genuine Yemenite scroll that Shapira had also sold to the museum.

Shapira left London and wandered around Europe for months. He shot himself to death in Hotel Bloemendaal in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam on the Rotte river, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre...

 on March 9, 1884.

The Shapira Scrolls disappeared and then reappeared a couple of years later in a Sotheby's
Sotheby's is the world's fourth oldest auction house in continuous operation.-History:The oldest auction house in operation is the Stockholms Auktionsverk founded in 1674, the second oldest is Göteborgs Auktionsverk founded in 1681 and third oldest being founded in 1731, all Swedish...

 auction, where they were sold for 10 guineas. In 1887 they were possibly5 destroyed in a fire at the house of the final owner, Sir Charles Nicholson
Charles Nicholson
Sir Charles Nicholson, 1st Baronet was a British-Australian politician, university founder, explorer, pastoralist, antiquarian and philanthropist...

. Shapira fakes still exist in museums and private collections around the world but are rarely displayed.

New evidence

It must be noted, despite the claims of Clermont-Ganneau, that significant doubt about the Scrolls being a forgery has been raised. A recent Publisher's Marketplace news item announced author Chanan Tigay's non fiction work UNHOLY SCRIPTURES was sold for publication to Free Press5. In it Tigay writes about Shapira and the finding of the oldest bible. Archeologists now believe the scrolls may have been the real artifact, and not a forgery as previously assumed. The search for the scrolls by author Chanan Tigay is ongoing. It is uncertain if the Scrolls were destroyed in a fire, as previously suggested. The Curtis Brown Agency represents Tigay's work. (

Further reading

  • E. F. Kautzsch and A. Socin, Die Echtheit der moabitischen Altertümer geprüft (1876)

External links

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