The search for the world’s oldest biblical manuscript. In an intriguing and wide-ranging tale, journalist Tigay takes readers along on a mystery spanning two centuries and four continents. The author, son of a Hebrew scholar, became fascinated with the story of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, a Jewish-born Christian convert who dealt in antiquities and was briefly one of the most famous men in England. Prior to his suicide in 1884, Shapira had claimed to have procured an original copy of the book of Deuteronomy, a find that was poised to shake the foundations of biblical scholarship. However, accusations that the document was forged led Shapira to disappear and, eventually, take his own life.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls several decades later renewed the possibility that Shapira’s scrolls were real; but by then, they were lost. Tigay is the latest in a line of scholars and adventurers intent on discovering more about Shapira and, if possible, his mysterious scrolls. The author succeeds in weaving two stories together: the tale of Shapira’s life, career, and downfall and his own search for the scrolls. Both are arresting. Shapira’s tragic tale, painstakingly reconstructed, is touching and informative. “No matter how far Shapira had come or how high he had climbed…the world he had so strived to impress and in which he had tried so desperately to fit still saw him as a tricky little Jew from Poland,” writes the author. His own tale concerning his dogged search for the manuscript builds satisfying drama. He takes readers along on forays into quaint museums, aging archives, libraries of all sizes, private homes, and even the unoccupied space where Shapira took his own life. In the end, Tigay found what he was looking for, though not as he expected. Beyond that, he also came to know Shapira as a human being, not simply as a shadowy figure from the past. A work of broad appeal, for the history buff and mystery lover alike.