SHAPIRA, M. W.:
Polish purveyor of spurious antiquities; born about 1830; committed suicide at Rotterdam March 11, 1884. He appears to have been converted to Christianity at an early age, and to have then gone to Palestine, where he opened a store for the sale of local antiquities. After the discovery of the Moabite Stone he obtained, in 1872, a number of Moabite potteries, which were purchased by the Prussian government for 22,000 thaler. These, however, were proved by Clermont-Ganneau to have been fabricated by one Salim al-Kari, a client of Shapira's. This conclusion was confirmed by Kautzsch and Socin ("Aechtheit der Moabitischen Alterthümer," Strasburg, 1876),though Schlottmann and Koch for some time upheld their authenticity. The matter was brought before the Prussian Landtag March 16, 1876.
Shapira still continued to buy and sell antiquities and manuscripts, many of the earliest Yemenite Hebrew manuscripts purchased by the Berlin Royal Library and the British Museum being furnished by him. In July, 1883, he offered for sale to the British Museum, it is said for £1,000,000, a number of strips of leather bearing, in archaic Hebrew characters, matter similar to, but with many variations from, the speeches of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. These he declared he had received from a Bedouin who had found them in a cave in Moab. Great interest was shown in these fragments, which were examined by C. D. Ginsburg, who published translations of them in the London "Times" Aug. 4, 17, and 22, 1883. Commissioned by the French government to investigate into the authenticity of these writings, Clermont-Ganneau arrived in London Aug. 15, 1883, and applied for permission to see them, which was refused by the British Museum authorities at the request of Shapira. Notwithstanding this, from an examination of the strips exhibited to the public, he was enabled to publish in the "Times" of Aug. 18 a convincing proof of their spurious nature. The forger had taken the lower margin of some scrolls of the Law and written his variants of Deuteronomy upon them, but they still showed traces of the stylus used to mark off the original columns, over which the new writing extended without regard to them. Ginsburg shortly afterward reported to the British Museum that the document was spurious. Shapira then went to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in which latter city he committed suicide, as stated above. It was never definitely proved that he himself was the forger. The text of the fragments was published by Guthe ("Fragmente einer Lederhandschrift," Leipsic, 1884).
- Ha-Meliẓ, 1883, Nos. 62, 65; 68; 1885, p. 915;
- American Hebrew, 1902, pp. 332-333;
- Clermont-Ganneau, Les Fraudes Archéologiques en Palestine, ch. iii.-iv., Paris, 1885.