"In 1883, a Jerusalem antiquities dealer named Moses Wilhelm Shapira announced the discovery of a remarkable artifact: 15 manuscript fragments, supposedly discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea. Blackened with a pitchlike substance and their paleo-Hebrew script nearly illegible, they contained what Shapira claimed was the “original” Book of Deuteronomy, perhaps even Moses’ own copy.
The discovery drew newspaper headlines around the world, and Shapira offered the treasure to the British Museum for 1 million pounds. While the museum’s expert evaluated it, two fragments were put on display, attracting throngs of visitors, including Prime Minister William Gladstone.
Then disaster struck.
Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, a swashbuckling French archaeologist and longtime nemesis of Shapira’s, had been granted a few minutes with several of the fragments, after promising to hold his judgment until the museum issued its report. But the next morning, he went to the press and denounced them as forgeries.
The museum’s expert agreed, and a distraught Shapira fled London. Six months later, he committed suicide in a hotel room in the Netherlands. The manuscript was auctioned for a pittance in 1885 and soon disappeared altogether. "
But in a new book scholar Idan Dershowitz recreates much of the disputed text and argues that it was, in fact an earlier version of Deuteronomy:
Moses Wilhelm Shapira’s infamous Deuteronomy fragments – long believed to be forgeries – are authentic ancient manuscripts, and they are of far greater significance than ever imagined. The literary work that these manuscripts preserve – which Idan Dershowitz calls “The Valediction of Moses” or “V” – is not based on the book of Deuteronomy. On the contrary, V is a much earlierversion of Deuteronomy. In other words, V is a proto-biblical book, the likes of which has never before been seen. This conclusion is supported by a series of philological analyses, as well as previously unknown archival documents, which undermine the consensus on these manuscripts. An excursus co-authored with Na’ama Pat-El assesses V’s linguistic profile, finding it to be consistent with Iron Age epigraphic Hebrew.
V contains early versions of passages whose biblical counterparts reflect substantial post-Priestly updating. Moreover, unlike the canonical narratives of Deuteronomy, this ancient work shows no signs of influence from the Deuteronomic law code. Indeed, V preserves an earlier, and dramatically different, literary structure for the entire work – one that lacks the Deuteronomic law code altogether.
These findings have significant consequences for the composition history of the Bible, historical linguistics, the history of religion, paleography, archaeology, and more. The volume includes a full critical edition and English translation of V.