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In Search of the Shop of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, the Leading Figure of the 19TH Century Archaeological Enigma

In Search of the Shop of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, the Leading Figure of the 19TH Century Archaeological Enigma

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Published by Shlomo Guil
In Search of the Shop of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, the Leading Figure of the 19th Century Archaeological Enigma. Identification of the house in Christian Street, Jerusalem.
By Shlomo Guil.
In Search of the Shop of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, the Leading Figure of the 19th Century Archaeological Enigma. Identification of the house in Christian Street, Jerusalem.
By Shlomo Guil.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Shlomo Guil on Dec 02, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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In Search of the Shop of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, the LeadingFigure of the 19
Century Archaeological Enigma
Shlomo Guil
The following article is the full original version of the abridged
Hebrew article “In the Footsteps of the ConcealedShop” (
) which was published in Et Mol, number 223, June 2012.
Abstract :
The present research intends to indentify the exact location of the shop of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, inChristian Street , in the old city of Jerusalem. The applied technique is a cross reference between selected descriptivetexts of 
“La Petite Fille de Jerusalem”
by Myriam Harry and nineteenth century photos .
Shapira, Shapira Affair, Fakes, Jerusalem, Myriam Harry.
Moses Wilhelm Shapira , born in 1830 ,was an antiquities dealer who was active in Jerusalem during the second half of the nineteenth century. Shapira left Kamenets-Podolsk (presently in Ukraine) at the age of 25, on his way toPalestine. He was of Jewish origin but converted to Christianity sometime during his voyage. In 1861 he opened atourist shop on Christian Street in Jerusalem where he initially sold standard religious tourist paraphernalia and in1871 started to deal with local antiquities.His business grew at a rapid pace. The discovery of the Mesha Stele in 1868 triggered significant interest in Moabitesartefacts. Shapira started to produce fake items of that nature with illegible engraved inscriptions. Many scholars werefooled to believe that these items are authentic. The German archaeologists, who had no access to the Mesha Stele,rushed to buy these artefacts to the extent that by 1873 the Berlin museum bought, according to Clermont-Ganneau,1700 of such items . The purchase of the German government was based upon the confirmation of authenticitypublished by Prof. Konstantin Schlottmann in 1872.It was the French scholar, Charles Clermont Ganneau, who finally put an end to this illicit trade by declaring theseitems to be fakes. Clermont-Ganneau published an article in The Athenaeum in January 1874, and later in the PEQ of that year, claiming that according to his inquiry, the Moabite items are fakes. Only in 1876 did the German scholarsEmil Friedrich KautzschandAlbert Socinconcur with Clermont Ganneau. Shapira defended himself by putting the blame on his partner Salim al Kari. This enabled Shapira to continue his business specializing mostly in trade of Hebrew manuscripts.In 1883 Shapira offered to the British Museum fifteen parchment scrolls written in ancient Hebrew script. Thesescrolls contained the Ten Commandments, in a version that differs from that of the Massorah. The asking price was 1million British pounds. Shapira claimed that the scrolls were found by an Arab in a cave east of the Dead Sea .Twoscrolls were exhibited to the public.Prior to his arrival in London, Shapira presented the scrolls in June 1883 to Hermann Guthe in Leipzig . Guthedecided that the scrolls were fakes but nevertheless produced a transliteration of the scrolls which he published in thesame year.The publication of Hermann Guthe, 1883
The Shapira scrolls were inspected in London by Christian David Ginsburg on behalf of the British Museum.Ginsburg analysed the scrolls and prepared a full transcription of them pending his decision of their authenticity.Charles Clermont- Ganneau suddenly appeared in London in the midst of the excitement reflected by the local press.He then requested the permission of Ginsburg to inspect the scrolls but was refused by Shapira himself. Clermont-Ganneau was obliged to glance at the scrolls from afar, together with the general public. It took only an hour or so forClermont -Ganneau to reach the conclusion that the scrolls are forgeries. He immediately reported his view to thepress. Shortly after, Ginsburg came out with a notice that the scrolls are obvious fakes.Shapira could note bear the shame. He left London after having written to Ginsburg a note of despair.He thencommitted suicide in March 1884 in a hotel in Rotterdam. The scrolls were left behind in the British museum.The scrolls were then auctioned off 
 by Sotheby’s in July 1885. The
buyer was Bernard Quaritch, a well known book dealer who paid for them an amount of 10 pounds and 5 shillings.B. Quaritch later (probably in 1887) sold the scrolls to an unknown buyer for amount of 25 pounds. The fate of thescrolls remains a mystery despite the fact that A. D. Crown suggested in 1970 a name of a buyer without being able toprove his claim.Proving or disproving the authenticity of the Shapira Scrolls, without first locating them, remains quite a difficult task.
Searching for
Shapira’s shop
in Jerusalem
The first written reference to S
hapira's shop appears in Baedeker’
s guide to Palestine and Syria of 1876. There, on
 page 145, is stated that “Shapira, Christian Street, is the best shop” (for books and photographs). However, the exact
address is not provided.The younger daughter of Moses Shapira, Maria Rosetta Shapira, who later on changed her name to Myriam Harry,became a well known authoress in France. She published in 1914 her
La Petite Fille de Jerusalem
in which shedescribes the life of her family under the shadow of the Shapira Affair. In this book, she refers to herself as Siona.There is no precise indication in her book, or in any other of her books, as to the exact location of the shop. However,her book does contain some sporadic remarks that can provide some clues.Myriam Harry,
a Vie Heureuse, March 1905 The research technique applied in this article is based upon cross reference between the agglomerate of clues providedin her book and 19
century photos of the relevant area in Jerusalem.Before turning to the book of Myriam Harry, let us first consider an old letter of Moses Shapira which is in thepossession of the British Library in London. In this letter addressed by Shapira to David Ginsburg in August 6 , 1883 ,Shapira states that
“My business with antiquities begins from the end of the year 1871”
We will now refer to the book of Myriam Harry in its French version. I was obliged to translate from the originalFrench version despite that both a Hebrew and English translations do exist. The Hebrew translation was done in 1935in a poetic style without adhering to the original technical details. The English version likewise omits detaileddescriptions which are of importance to this research.The following citations are referred to according to the page and chapter numbering of the French version of  
“LaPetite Fille de Jerusalem” and are listed
by order of relevance.Page 88, chapter 7
The front of the shop , decorated in European style, with its signs , showcases and itsimposing entrance facing Christian Street being the busiest and most cosmopolitan streetduring the pilgrimage period. On the other hand, the back premises, with their archaicarchitecture, their Moucharabys, their recessed windows hanging over an old water poolcovered with mildew and dozing its peaceful sleep from year to year.They say that it is a pool of thousands of years, Bathsheba's Pool, in which Uriah's beautifulwife , the army officer, was bathing herself while King David watched her from the topof his tower.
 Page 91 chapter 7
father never bothered to serve others than distinguished tourists or American millionaires. He always sat atthe farthest end of this large room, at a table in an alcove, which was lighted by a Moucharaby overlookingBathsheba's Pool.
Behind the simple corridor of Herr Alfred's were the back arches. ... A greenish light filtered through the barredwindows.
 Page 96 chapter 7
She (a beautiful lady client) purchased a small prayer book, and was on the point of leavingthe shop, when she caught sight of the pool. With a cry of delight she ran towards thehanging cage ( the Moucharaby) , "it reminds me of Venice, like a dream, or more preciselyof Benares (Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges)
 Page 97 chapter 7
He (her father) left the other clients. He existed only for her… He showed her the rare parchment manuscripts …and at the
end of the back arches (he showed her) the small
neglected garden.”
 Page 89 chapter 7Siona loved very much her father's shop. From afar, when she turned from David Street(towards Christian Street) she looked up with pride at the large signboard settransversely above the five-fold cross of Jerusalem and embellished with gold letterson a white background. At the top , the little girl knew to read her father's name
 bookseller and antiquarian," whilst at the foot of the cross was the title of which she wasextremely proud: "Correspondent to the British Museum."Page 91 chapter 7Three high stone steps, with a low reinforced door, led to yet another place, in the direction of the real kingdom of Siona,. It was - how should it be described?- it was , a medley of various picturesque things, ruins of an ancient harem , a platform, a neglected garden, two

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