The Mystery of a Purportedly Ancient Manuscript of the Bible May Finally Be Solved

April 12 2016

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).

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More about: Dead Sea Scrolls, Deuteronomy, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas

How to Prevent Saudi Arabia from Getting Nuclear Weapons

Skeptics of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran warned that it could prompt a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. As they predicted, Saudi Arabia has been seeking assistance from the U.S. in obtaining civilian nuclear capabilities, while also speaking—in imitation of the Islamic Republic—of a “right” to enrich uranium, something it pledged not to do in a 2008 agreement with Washington. Were Riyadh to begin such enrichment, it could also produce the fuel necessary for nuclear weapons. Emily Landau and Shimon Stein warn of the dangers inherent in Saudi proliferation, and discuss how the U.S. and Israel should respond:

So long as the motivation to go nuclear remains strong, states are likely to find a way to develop [nuclear] capabilities, even if they have to pay a price for doing so. In Iran’s case, the major motivation for going nuclear is to enhance its hegemonic power in the Middle East. . . . But in the case of Saudi Arabia, if strong international powers . . . were to take a harsher stance toward Iran’s regional aggressions and missile developments and were to cooperate in order to improve the provisions of the [2015 nuclear deal], this would most likely have a direct and favorable impact on Saudi Arabia’s calculations about whether to develop nuclear capabilities.

A decision by the U.S. administration (or for that matter any other supplier) to allow Saudi Arabia to have enrichment capabilities will confront Israel with a dilemma.

On the one hand, it has been Israeli policy to do its utmost to deny any neighboring country with whom it does not have a peace treaty the means to acquire and develop a nuclear program. If Israel remains loyal to this approach, it should seek to deny Saudi Arabia enrichment capabilities. In practical terms this would imply making its opposition known in Washington.

On the other hand, given the “tactical alliance” with Saudi Arabia which has been primarily developed in response to the common Iranian threat, Israel could consider sacrificing its long-term interest in denying nuclear capabilities for the sake of its current interest in cultivating relations with the Saudis. Israel, [however], should support the traditional U.S. nonproliferation policies that allow states to have access to nuclear fuel for civilian purposes, while denying them the option to produce it themselves.

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More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia