The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible - Chanan Tigay
A couple of weeks ago I reviewed a history book that pained me to actually read. This week, I went back into the history section of the new releases to give another shot to some of the books waiting for a friend to take it home. I settled on The Lost Book of Moses by Chanan Tigay. It was one of the best choices I could have made. Where the previous book fell short in my expectations, this book exceeded those same expectations. In all honesty, I wish more history books were written in the way this book was.
This book is the account of Chanan Tigay as he searches for what could possibly be the oldest books of the Bible ever discovered. In 1883, some six decades before the Dead Sea Scrolls changed the face of Biblical history, Moses Wilhelm Shapira unveiled the discovery of previously unknown versions of books from the Bible. These mysterious scrolls displayed a drastically different set of events and narratives, especially for Deuteronomy.
Shapira quickly became a household name. The scrolls that he was trying to see to the British Museum drastically altered our understanding of the Old Testament. But, could they be real? In the time before the incredible discoveries in the caves around the Dead Sea, the Bible was generally thought to be infallible and complete as the Prophet Moses had written. This discovery would change all that.
Shapira in previous years had tried to pass off forged pottery as authentic and had been sent home with his tail between his legs. He was back again to redeem himself with these unknown scrolls, and to change the face of religion. However, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, the same man who discovered the truth behind the pottery scam, was quick to declare that the scrolls were also forgeries. Shapira fought for the legitimacy of his claim, only to later flee the country. Six months later, he committed suicide in a hotel in Rotterdam.
That seemed to be the end of the story of Shapira’s scrolls. Then, in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves. These scrolls were discovered in the same area as Shapira’s scrolls, and were nearly as Bible-altering as those earlier scrolls. Maybe there was some truth behind Shapira’s discovery, and Ganneau was quick to judgment. The investigation was reopened, only to learn that the scrolls Shapira were selling had vanished. It was assumed they were destroyed in a fire in 1899. But were they? Could they still be hidden away somewhere, the owner unaware of their significance?
Enter Chanan Tigay. An award-winning journalist, Tigay is the son of a Biblical scholar. This gives him a unique view on Biblical history. As a journalist, he has the ability to dig deep into the mystery and deliver a coherent rendition of both his search, as well as the history surrounding Shapira and the scrolls. His drive to discover the truth behind these supposed pre-Dead Sea Scrolls weaves around the historical record, and gives us a fair rendition of those events of 1883.
Tigay takes each piece of evidence and follows all possible trails to the discovery of the long-lost scrolls. He builds his case from chapter to chapter. The chapters are set up with one chapter detailing the history around the particular piece that sent him halfway around the world. The subsequent chapters are set in modern times while Tigay follows up on clues left behind in the historical record. These chapters end with new clues which lead right into the next historical chapter. It is a smooth transition.
As a journalist, Tigay is able to clearly and succinctly deliver a history piece which also details his adventures as he strives to uncover the mystery of Shapira’s scrolls. He is not afraid to admit when his research was faulty. Ultimately, this is an adventure story set within the confines of an historical event. It is quite an adventure, and Tigay keeps us on our toes as he tries to pull back the shadows.
In the end, Chanan Tigay delivers a history book that is engaging and sticks true to the facts. The reader feels as if he or she is a part of the adventure as the author crosses the globe in search of the truth. By the last chapter, Tigay comes to the only conclusion the evidence can tender. The Lost Book of Moses is exactly how a book of history should be written. It doesn’t need to be dry and boring, or full of modern revisionism. It is a fun book, and you learn something at the same time.
Next Week: Renovating the Richardsons - Virginia Smith
Craig Bacon loves history. In his quest for accuracy, he follows many of the same procedures that Chanan Tigay did in this book. That made this book even more fun to read.