Online Encyclopedia

M SHAPIRA

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V24, Page 804 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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M SHAPIRA. W. (c. 1830-1884), Polish vendor of spurious antiquities, was of Jewish birth, but appears to have become a Christian early in life. He opened a shop for the sale of antiquities in Palestine, and after the discovery of the Moabite Stone in 1872 was successful in selling to the Prussian government for 20,000 thaler a number of alleged pieces of Moabite pottery. These were shown by Clermont-Ganneau and others (cf. Kautzsch and A. Socin, Achtheit der moabitischen Altertumer, 1876) to be forgeries produced by Shapira's client Selim al-Kari. Undeterred by this exposure, Shapira continued to do a considerable trade especially in Hebrew MSS. from Yemen, but ultimately ruined himself by a fraud perpetrated upon the British Museum. In 1883 he offered, for the price, it is said, of £1,000,000, a number of leather strips containing speeches of Moses varying in many particulars from, though similar in matter to, those in Deuteronomy, and written in archaic Hebrew characters. He pretended that he had obtained them from a Bedouin who had discovered them in a Moabite cave. The fragments were submitted to C. D. Ginsburg, who published translations in The Times of Aug. 4, 17, 22, 1883. The French government, however, sent over Clermont-Ganneau to investigate, and, though the British Museum authorities declined to give him permission to make a complete study, he satisfied himself from a few strips which were publicly exhibited that the whole collection must be a forgery (The Times, Aug. 15). This view was con-firmed by Ginsburg's report to the Museum. Shapira, who was never shown to have been the actual forger, committed suicide in Rotterdam on the 1 rth of March 1884. For the fragments see Guthe, Fragmenta einer Lederhandschrift (Leipzig, 1884) ; see also Clermont-Ganneau, Les Fraudes archeologiques (Paris, 1885), iii., iv.
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