Scholars Found a Bible with a Different ‘10 Commandments’: The story of the Shapira fragments

Jonathan Poletti is at it again: pushing the story that there are "alternative" Bibles or Bible fragments. He is right. There are, but which ones are canonical is the issue

His latest story below shows that he is no Bible student. He refers to fragments of a scroll that are probably ancient but which have a "different" version of the Ten Comandments (known to Anglicans as the "ten suggestions").

He seems to be unaware that there are actually three different versions of the commandments in the Torah.  Ironically the version usually quoted -- in Exodus 20 -- appears to be a priestly interpolation.  Though the version in Deuteronomy 5 is similar.

One wonders if Poletti has ever read Exodus 34.  It reads quite similarly to the Shapira fragments and no-one has challenged its originality.  The Shapira fragments could be an earlier reading of Exodus 34 and therefore need disturb no-one.  I offer a more extensive discussion of the various commandment sets here

In1883, another version of the Bible’s book of Deuteronomy surfaced. A Jerusalem antiquities dealer named Moses Shapira found it, and brought it to London
This was quite an extraordinary item, and in presenting it to the British Museum he was open to getting a million pounds.

Months later, he would be broke, infamous, and dead.

collage: Moses Shapira by Midjourney (2023); British Museum (vintage postcard); Shapira fragments
In London, Shapira set up viewings of the manuscript.
A viewing on July 26, 1883, before a group of scholars, archaeologists, and journalists, is recalled in the memoir of Walter Besant, a novelist and historian. He writes of Shapira:

“He had with him, he said, a document which would simply make students of the Bible and Hebrew scholars reconsider their ways; it would throw a flood of light upon the Pentateuch; and so on. The man was a good actor; he was a man of handsome presence, tall, with fair hair and blue eyes; not the least like an ordinary Polish Jew, and with an air of modest honesty which carried one away.”

How had Shapira acquired this manuscript?
He told a strange tale. A Bedouin man had found it in a cave on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, among mummies. It was then stolen from him by another man, who’d sold it to Shapira, then disappeared.

A strange story—and a strange manuscript, these leather fragments on whose blackened surface they could just barely see letters in the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

1883 illustration of the Shapira scroll (source: Michael Langlois)
There was a Moses story, but it was all different.
There were the Ten Commandments, but they were different too. One could only compare, in bewilderment, the differences between the ‘canonical’ Deuteronomy and this ‘Shapira Deuteronomy’.

The canonical Deuteronomy has: “You shall not murder.”

The Shapira scroll had: “You shall not slay the soul of your brother. I am Elohim, your god.”

The canonical Deuteronomy has: “You shall not steal.

The Shapira scroll had: “You shall not steal the wealth of your brother. I am Elohim, your god.”

And the Shapira scroll had, not Ten Commandments, but eleven. There was a ‘new’ one.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. I am Elohim, your god.”

While evaluating the Shapira fragments for purchase, the British Museum put them on exhibit.
It was a sensation. Crowds flocked to see this ‘different’ Deuteronomy.

The poet Robert Browning wrote to a friend: “You know about Mr Shapira’s pieces of leather with portions of Deuteronomy thereon?”

Browning thought they were real. “I hope!”

Many scholars were dismissive.
The very idea of a manuscript surviving in Palestine was just unthinkable. Archibald H. Sayce, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, published a brief dismissal:

“It is really demanding too much of Western credulity to ask us to believe that in a damp climate like that of Palestine any sheepskins could have lasted for nearly 3,000 years…”

Plus, the idea of another Bible was shocking—for scholars as much as Christian laity. As the scholar Frederic G. Kenyon reflects in 1897:

“In these strips of leather there was enough to cast doubt upon the whole of the received text of the Old Testament and to discredit the whole science of textual criticism.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments containing Chinese characters will not be published as I do not understand them