Is a Long-Dismissed Forgery Actually the Oldest Known Biblical Manuscript?


Over the years, some who have tried to reopen the Shapira case have speculated that the manuscript might be a “rewritten Bible” of the sort found among the Dead Sea Scrolls — texts that revised the canonical books of the Bible, to clarify certain points or appeal to new readers.

But Gesundheit, of Hebrew University, said the absence of the laws suggests that V is older than Deuteronomy. In antiquity, he said, people who copied biblical texts might add or compile different versions. But they did not delete, he said.

“For them, the text was holy,” he said. “It’s hard to believe somebody would delete those divine laws.” Moreover, he said, V’s version is “smoother and looks more original” than canonical Deuteronomy, where the laws “interrupt the narrative flow between the beginning and the end of the book.”

And the implications of the absence of the laws, Gesundheit said, are enormous. “These laws are really important for the history of Judaism, for Christianity, for the tradition,” he said. “We have whole libraries of interpretations of the laws, but suddenly we see that there could have been a version which only speaks of beliefs and stories and theology, without the laws.”

As for the Ten Commandments — or “proclamations,” as Dershowitz translates it — they take a form that is quite different from the familiar text, Dershowitz said. They are all rendered in the first-person, from the standpoint of the deity — for example, “I made the heavens and the earth.…” (In the canonical version, they are in the third person.)

And the presentation, in sharp contrast to biblical tradition, implies that there were no other divine laws communicated by Moses.


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