A Jewish convert to Christianity born in 19th-century Russia, Moses Wilhelm Shapira spent most of his life in Jerusalem, where became a prominent antiquities dealer. He managed to stay in the business even after he was caught selling a number of fake pottery artifacts he himself had a hand in forging. But the great scandal of his career came later, and is the subject of a new book by Chanan Tigay. Beth Kissileff writes in her review:
Shapira’s final attempt to sell manuscripts to the British Museum was the one that proved his undoing—and provided the story behind Tigay’s book. The “Lost Scroll of Moses” consisted of manuscripts of Deuteronomy that Shapira claimed were found by Bedouin in a cave in an embankment overlooking Wadi Mujib, east of [the Dead Sea]. From a man eager to give people what they wanted, these scrolls had a version of Deuteronomy touted as “a more original version of the Hebrew Bible” with which, Tigay says, Shapira was “hoping to make the Christian interpretation of the Bible seem to be the more authentic one.” . . .
Obviously, the parallels are tantalizing between ancient scrolls that might give a more “original” version of a biblical text than the Masoretic one, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in thirteen caves and containing 800-900 scrolls, 50,000 fragments in total. . . .
Shapira brought the scrolls to London in 1883. . . . At the time, though there was much debate, the scrolls were declared a hoax, and the British Museum declined their purchase. Shapira traveled to Rotterdam, Holland, where he committed suicide. . . . But when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in Qumran in clay jars in 1947, scholars recalled the similar story of Shapira’s claim about the origins of his scrolls. . . . One scholar . . . suggested in 1956 that Shapira’s scrolls might have been genuine and forerunners of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Tigay claims to have resolved the question of the scrolls’ authenticity while searching through Shapira’s papers (the location of the scrolls themselves remains uncertain).