Scholars Debate the Authenticity of the Shapira Scrolls


Megan Sauter
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 8, 2021)—Renowned biblical scholars debate whether the Shapira Scrolls contain an authentic biblical manuscript or forged text.

These scroll fragments surfaced at the end of the 19th century to much fanfare. In 1883, antiquities dealer Moses Shapira presented to the watching world several scroll fragments that he claimed were an ancient biblical manuscript, an early version of the Book of Deuteronomy. If authentic, this would be a proto-biblical text.

The discovery seemed too good to be true, and many leading scholars of the day said just that: They cried forgery and said that the scrolls did not contain an ancient text. Disgraced and discredited, Shapira and his scrolls went down in infamy.

However, some scholars are calling for this 19th-century verdict to be overturned.

Earlier this year, biblical scholar Idan Dershowitz of the University of Potsdam gained international attention as he argued that the Shapira Scrolls do, in fact, preserve a genuine proto-biblical text, which he calls The Valediction of Moses. In his book The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-Biblical Book, he reassessed the Shapira Scrolls with the tools of modern biblical scholarship. Although he made a strong case, many scholars remained unconvinced. Two vocal dissenters were biblical scholars Ronald Hendel of the University of California, Berkeley, and Matthieu Richelle of the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium. They believe the verdict of forgery still stands.

Watch this debate unfold in the Winter 2021 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. On one side, Dershowitz and archaeologist James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte defend the scrolls’ authenticity in their article “The Shapira Scrolls: The Case for Authenticity.” On the other side, Hendel and Richelle contend that the scrolls are 19th-century forgeries in “The Shapira Scrolls: The Case for Forgery.”

Both articles analyze the scrolls’ discovery, script, and content—and come to dramatically different conclusions. Weigh the evidence yourself in the Winter 2021 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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