Moses Shapira was a Polish-Jewish convert of Russian and Prussian citizenship from Ukraine, forerunner of the Dead Sea ScrollsMoses Shapira
was born in 1830 to Polish-Jewish parents in Kamenets-Podolski, which at the time was part of Russian-annexed Poland (in modern-day Ukraine). Shapira's father emigrated to Ottoman Palestine without Moses. Later, in 1856, at the age of 25, Moses Shapira followed his father to the Holy Land. His grandfather, who accompanied him, died en route.
On the way, while in Bucharest, Moses Shapira converted to Christianity and applied for Prussian citizenship, adding Wilhelm to his name. Once in Jerusalem, he joined the community of Protestant missionaries and converts who met at Christ Church, and in 1869 opened a store in the Street of the Christians, today's Christian Quarter Road. He sold the usual religious souvenirs enjoyed by pilgrims, as well as ancient pots he acquired from Arab farmers. While a patient in the German Lutheran congregation of Deaconess sisters, Shapira met a nurse, Deaconess Rosette Jöckel, who became his wife.
In addition to selling souvenirs to tourists, Shapira also sold a variety of antiquities, some of it legitimate, and some of it fake, becoming the pre-eminent antiquities dealer for European collectors.
Shapira gained a reputation as a reliable antiquarian, supplying libraries in Berlin and London with valuable Hebrew texts, mostly from Yemen.
Shapira attempted to sell a fake "coffin of Samson" in London, but it was exposed by Adolf Neubauer after he realized the epitaph had misspelled the name "Sampson."
After one lucrative deal in which he sold 1,700 fake figurines to a Berlin museum, Shapira was able to move outside the old city walls of Jerusalem with his family into an elegant villa on what is today Rav Kook Street, today known as Beit Ticho (Ticho House).
Shapira became interested in biblical artifacts after the appearance of the so-called Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha Stele. He witnessed the huge interest around it and may have had a hand in negotiating on behalf of the German representatives. France eventually got the fragments of the original stone, leaving the British and the Germans rather frustrated.
The squeeze which helped reconstruct the shattered Mesha Stele was taken on behalf of the French scholar and diplomat Charles Clermont-Ganneau by a Christian Arab painter and dragoman (tour-guide), Salim al-Khouri, better known as Salim al-Kari, "the reader", a nickname apparently given to him by the Bedouin due to his work with ancient alphabets. Salim soon became Shapira's associate and provided connections to Arab craftsmen who, along with Salim himself, produced for Shapira's shop large amounts of fake Moabite artifacts – large stone-made human heads, but mainly clay objects: vessels, figurines and erotic pieces, generously covered with inscriptions based chiefly on the signs Salim had copied from the Mesha Stele. 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. Shapira even organized an expedition to Moab for potential buyers, to sites where he had Salim's Bedouin associates bury more forgeries. Some scholars began to base theories on these pieces, and the term Moabitica was coined for this entirely new category of "Moabite" artifacts.
Since German archaeologists had not gained possession of the Moabite Stone, they rushed to buy the Shapira Collection ahead of their rivals. Berlin's Altes Museum bought 1700 artifacts for the cost of 22,000 thalers in 1873. Other private collectors followed suit. One of them was Horatio Kitchener, a not yet famous British lieutenant, who bought eight pieces for the Palestine Exploration Fund. Shapira was able to move to the luxurious Aga Rashid property (modern-day Ticho House), outside Jerusalem's squalid Old City, with his wife and two daughters.
Still various people, including Charles Clermont-Ganneau, had their doubts. Clermont-Ganneau suspected Salim al-Kari, questioned him and in time found the man who supplied him with clay, a stonemason who worked for him, and other accomplices. He published his findings in the Athenaeum newspaper in London and declared all "Moabitica" to be forgeries, a conclusion with which even the German scholars eventually concurred (cf. Emil Friedrich Kautzsch and Albert Socin, Die Echtheit der moabitischen Altertümer geprüft, 1876). Shapira defended his collection vigorously until his rivals presented more evidence against them. He placed the entire blame on Salim al-Kari, convinced almost everyone that he was just an innocent victim, and continued to do a considerable trade especially in genuine old Hebrew manuscripts from Yemen.
In 1870, Shapira sold five scrolls written on leather to Edward Yorke McCauley; these were discovered in 1884 to have been artificially aged.
In 1883, Shapira presented what is now known as the Shapira Strips, a supposedly ancient scroll written on leather strips which he claimed had been found near the Dead Sea. The Hebrew text hinted at a different version of Deuteronomy, including a surprising alternate commandment ("Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: I am God, thy God"). Shapira sought to sell them to the British Museum for a million pounds, and allowed them to exhibit two of the 15 strips. The exhibition was attended by thousands.
The manuscripts lay in Shapira's house for five years, and it was not until 1883 that he presented them to Professor Schröder, the German consul in Beirut, who found them to be genuine. However, an examination in Berlin by Professor Lepsius ended with the manuscripts - three long leather strips - being found to be "shameless forgeries".
He claimed that he took them to Europe only after Professor Schroeder, the consul in Beirut, confirmed the authenticity of the manuscripts in mid-May 1883. Shapira was convinced that he had in his possession one of the sources of the Bible. Financially, such a discovery meant even more than a life of luxury. Shapira's daughter recalled the naive dreams of her family: not only would they live in a palace, but they would also build a beautiful sanitarium with a garden for lepers, or even buy the whole of Palestine.
According to Shapira's own version, in 1878 he visited Sheikh Mahmud al-Arakat, from whom he learnt that the Bedouins had found some old "witchcraft spells" wrapped in a decayed cloth in a cave in Wadi al-Mujib, near the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. As a result, he managed to get some fragments of leather-bound manuscripts from the sheikh, in which he recognised fragments of Deuteronomy, but without the final part, which tells of the death of Moses. Shapira speculated that it might even have been his autograph. The Antiquary assumed that it is about the handwritten, autographic version of the writing of the greatest of the prophets, because, despite the greatness of the prophetic gift, his death he could not yet describe, and the final lines appeared in the Scripture already in subsequent copies.
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 came to the same conclusion. Later Clermont-Ganneau showed that the leather of the Deuteronomy scroll was quite possibly cut from the margin of a genuine Yemenite scroll that Shapira had previously sold to the Museum.
After the discovery of the Qumran manuscripts in 1947, all these details in Shapira's account correlated with the circumstances of the actual finds; textually, the content of the published part of Shapira's scrolls also finds correspondence in the Qumran texts.
According to the French archaeologist's version, Shapira used synagogue leather scrolls, which were no more than 300 years old, and then trimmed the lower edge of the scroll by treating it with chemical reagents. The text of Deuteronomy was arbitrarily altered and then written in a script that resembled the Moab Stone. Scrolls with similarly trimmed edges were soon found in the British Library, purchased from Shapira himself as early as 1877.
Following the rejection of the scroll by a large range of scholars, Punch ridiculed Shapira with a cartoon using anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Shapira fled London in despair, his name ruined and all of his hopes crushed. Having spent some time in a hotel in Bloemendaal (Netherlands), in hotel Adler in Rotterdam, he shot himself in Hotel Willemsbrug in Rotterdam on March 9, 1884. He was buried in the poor men's part of the Crooswijk cemetery.
The Shapira Strips disappeared and then reappeared a couple of years later in a Sotheby's auction, where they were sold for 10 guineas. Although it is now known that the strips were not destroyed by fire in 1899 as had previously been suggested, the fact that their current whereabouts is unknown leaves room for speculation.
In light of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, some scholars have called for a re-examination of the forgery charges.
A major proponent of Shapira's rehabilitation was University of Wisconsin professor Menachem Mansour.
Shapira "Moabitica" fakes still exist in museums and private collections around the world but are rarely displayed. By now they have become desirable collectibles in their own right.
Shapira's life is the subject of the novel Ke-heres Ha-nishbar (As a Broken Vessel - Keter, Jerusalem, 1984) by Shulamit Lapid, translated into German as Er begab sich in die Hand des Herrn.
Younger daughter Maria later became a French writer under the pseudonym Miriam Arri (1875-1958). In 1914 she published an autobiographical novel, The Little Daughter of Jerusalem, where she devoted much space to her father. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shapira_Scroll https://library.biblicalarchaeology.org/article/fakes https://agesmystery.ru/rubriki/zagovory-i-afery/zagadka-shapiry