Saturday, December 19, 2015

The curious case of the Shapira fakes


Any offers for my daughter's genuine clay penguin? 
For this blog post we are going back in time to the 1880's. Israel was still known as Palestine and was part of the Ottoman empire. 

The Jewish born Moses Wilhelm Shapira from Kamenets-Podolski, which is today part of the Ukraine, emigrated to this world in 1856. Somewhere along the way he converted to Christianity.

Moses Shapira settled in Jerusaelm, got married and became the father of two girls. He made his living selling religious souvenirs and antiques to the pilgrim tourists from his shop on the Street of the Christians. Here is a short video clip of how the street looks today. ( Apart from that baby tractor, I do not think much has changed)..:)

Palestine in those days saw at lot of archaeologists and missionaries who were looking for proof that the Bible was indeed true. So the discovery of the Mesha Stele or the Moabite Stone caused a lot of interest and various museums from Europe tried to buy it. The Moab people, previously only mentioned in the Bible, lived in  modern-day Jordan. Ruth, King David's great-grandmother was a Moabite. 

The Mesha Stele, housed today in the Louvre, is quite interesting in its own right, but for now we are only interested in the misters Charles Clemont-Ganneau and Selim al-Qarim. Charles Clemont-Ganneau was the French archaeologist who eventually managed to procure the Mesha Stele for the Louvre. Selim al-Qarim was a Christian Arab from Jerusalem who was a painter and tour guide. The Bedouin nicknamed  al-Qarim, "the reader" because of his work with ancient alphabets. 

In October of 1869, al-Qarim was sent by Charles Clemont-Ganneau to the right banks of the Dead Dea to make a schematic copy (also in the Louvre today) of the inscription on the Mesha Stele. This inscription helped Clermont-Ganneau to recognize the importance of the Mesha Stele and soon various other museums tried to get hold of the stone.

All the fuss about the Moabite Stone piqued our friend Moses Shapira's interest and he and Selim al-Qarim became the bona-fide providers and sellers of Moabite antiques. The only problem was these 'antiques' were not actually all THAT old. 

These fake Moabite artifacts included large stone-made heads but mostly consisted of vessels, figurines and erotic pieces made from clay. They were covered with inscriptions based on the signs that Salim apparently copied from the Mesha Stele. The inscriptions were a bit weird though and the fakes looked kinda odd but because of the Maobite Stone, the world was ready to collect "Moabitica"!

Shapira managed to sell 1700 of these fake artifacts to the Altes Museum in Berlin and various other collectors. He and and his family moved from the crowded Old City in Jerusalem to a lovely grand house which today is known as Ticho House, now an art museum.

There were some doubts regarding the authenticity of the Moabitica but Shapira and al-Qarim organized excavations and some more artifacts were 'found'. But then Charles Clemont-Ganneau, who probably considered himself as some sort of Moabite expert because of the Moabite stone, started to dig around a bit more and finally the Moabite artifacts were outed as fakes.

Apparently Moses Shapira placed the blame squarely on Selim al-Qarim's shoulders and went quietly back to his shop selling again religious souvenirs and antiques. All was quiet for a while but then Shapira made the news again in 1883 when he offered to sell the Shapira Strips.

The Shapira strips are several pieces of parchment that Shapira said was found in the Dead Sea area and were part of and earlier version of the Bible book Deuteronomy. Apparently the parchments also mentioned an eleventh commandment, instead of the ten that we know. 

Shapira offered to sell the strips for a million pounds to the British museum. Not surprisingly, this caused a HUGE interest and many people came to see the parchments that was displayed in the museum. One of these visitors was none other than...yes, you have guessed it..Charles Clemont-Ganneau, Moses Shapira's arch enemy.

Shapira had asked the British museum not to give access to Charles Clemont-Ganneau to the parchment strips.The British biblical scholar Christian David Ginsburg however allowed Clemont-Ganneau a brief inspection of a couple of the strips. Mostly though he had to look at the two strips of displayed parchment together with the rest of the public.

To no big surprise Clemont-Ganneau declared the parchment as fake and soon after, Ginsburg and other scholars concurred. The million pound deal was off and Shapira was ridiculed. Devasted he fled to the Netherlands and eventually shot himself in a hotel in Rotterdam. The parchment strips were auctioned off and no one has ever heard  about again them.

Our tale however does not end there...The story continues again 60 years later with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. The similarities between these scrolls and the Shapira strips is eerily familiar.

They were all found in the dry Dead Sea area. A place that Clemont-Ganneau thought was 'too wet' for parchments to survive. The narrow strips ( 8-9 cm), the vertical lines used as margins for the columns and the use of dots as word divisions found in Shapira Strips are also features of some of the scrolls found in the Dead Sea scrolls.

So, who was right? The humble store keeper with a taste for forgery who managed to mess up the find of the century or the renowned scholar with a vendetta?  The mystery lingers..., and the Shapira strips stays lost. 

And I?  I keep wondering what the heck that eleventh law was!


Many thanks to the people of 'Israel story' who got me interested in Moses Shapiro's fakes. 

More leads to follow:

19 December, 2015
Zichron Yaakov


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Happy Hanukka - or why you shouldn't be afraid to shine as bright as you can..


During Hanukka Jews all over the world remember that a tiny light can disperse a great darkness
I always enjoyed catching little unexpected snippets of Jews doing good deed:

In Angela's Ashes Frank McCourt wrote about their helpful Jewish neighbour.

And Sidney Poitier wrote in his biography that a grumpy Jewish waiter in the restaurant where he washed dishes, helped him to learn to read.

Louis Armstrong's Jewish friends bought him his first musical instrument and helped a poor young black man who eventually became an amazing musician.

I thought that these little acts of kindness would not only help the people who needed it but also show non-Jews that it is a good thing to have Jews in the world.

But on the flip-side I has also got worried when I learned about Jews doing extra-ordinary things. A Jewish doctor in Bolivia who got local women to knit little heart plugs for sick children. 

The conservationist Alan Rabinowitz created various wild-life sanctuaries all over the word, including one for jaguars. And then there is Mark Zuckerberg, Steven Spielberg ....all the Jewish Noble-prize winners...

I was worried that all the attention would shine too much light on the Jews. That people would start thinking that Jews are always sticking in their noses everywhere and trying to take over the world. We get more than enough attention as it is for just BEING. As soon as I saw that Jewish/Israeli surname of someone who did good, I would feel a tinge of apprehension

Isn't it better to just live quietly and help where you can? To shine a light, yes...but a little one. 
Let all the JK Rawlings's and Bill Gates's and Steve Jobs's fly high and do amazing things and light up the sky. Nobody cares that they are Christian or agnostic or whatever. 

We will just sit quietly in the corner and try not to get killed by a suicide bomber or knife-wielding killer. Anyway, not all of us are destined for greatness in the first place. 

Why aim for the stars if:
a. You will never get there
b. You will be shot down on the way because you are Jewish
c. You will get there but because you are Jewish, you will just add unnecessary attention 

But then a kosher Jewish supermarket in Paris got attacked. A Muslim immigrant from killed several people but another Muslim immigrant who worked in the supermarket managed to hide several people in a walk-in fridge and then helped the police free the hostages. He very deservedly received an award for his bravery from the French president but I keep thinking about the Jewish owners of the supermarket who hired him in the first place. 

What would have happened if they never hired Lassana Bathily in the first place? 

This may seem like a small thing to do: Supermarket owners hires an immigrant worker. 
But it is definitely more than that -  the owners of a kosher JEWISH supermarket hired a MUSLIM immigrant worker. I wonder if the supermarket's patrons or even the owners' family 
voiced their concern? In Israel a Muslim worker in a corner store slaughtered several Jewish men praying in a nearby synagogue. 

The owners in the Paris supermarket had no reason to believe that Lassana Bathily would one day save the lives of several Jewish patrons in their own supermarket. That single, small act of kindness became a huge act of bravery. And what if it does not stop there? 

The owners gave the immigrant a job and the immigrant saved people and the people who were saved..What if one of the people whose life were saved would one day make cold fusion work..or cure cancer?

If this is what happens from a small act of kindness, what cannot happen from a huge act of greatness? What if the research done on the heart-valve patients in Ecuador may allow us one day to travel to the stars or mine asteroids? 

And so what if a Jew did something cool? Tomorrow it will be a non-Jew who shines. The important thing is just to do.

It is Hanukka now here in Israel and just like any other Jewish custom, there are a 101 how-to's. How to place the candles in the hannukia, from which direction to start to light the candles, etc. 

There are two "rules' however that I particularly find meaningful. 


1. The light of the lit candles must not be used for anything else except to be enjoyed for its beauty. 
2. The lit hanukkia must be placed in a windowsill or doorstep so that it can be enjoyed by passersby.

So learn from the Jewish hanukkia, dear readers. Shine as bright and as beautiful as you can. Maybe it is a big endeavour that will help millions, or something small that grows big and maybe it is just some small act of creativity that will help just a handful of people. And maybe it is just a tiny little thing that will only make one person smile for a few seconds.

Just don't YOU dare not shining your light as bright and as far as it can go. 

Don't dim your light because people think that you work too hard, or love cooking and is thus 'domisticated' or that you use your spare time to be creative or  that you are too old to go back to school. 

Don't worry about being a woman in a "man's world" or vice versa. Don't worry about being a Jew or a  Muslim or a Christian or about people who are going to point fingers.

Just go and SHINE already!

Hannuka, Israel, December, 2015


Monday, October 5, 2015

Another unhappy Jewish holiday

Pomegranates are now in season in Israel and are a prominent part of the Rosh haShana and Sukkot menu.
If you know any Jewish people, you have probably noticed that they have a LOT of holidays. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stepping back in time in Ajami, Tel Aviv





In a not-so-recent photo walk I was privileged to explore the beautiful, yet shabby neighbourbood of Ajami.

This old neighbourhood in Tel Aviv is probably the best contender elegant shabby chic that I have ever seen. Various photo and tourists group often meet up to explore this old neighbourhood and if you are one of them, I highly recommend that you come equipped with a camera or even sketch book!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Queen for a Day - Thoughts in the middle of the 2015 Gay Pride parade

I never thought that I would ever be part of a gay pride parade. I am on the shy side and also prefer to hang out in smaller groups.... not dance in the street with 100, 000 people!

Sometimes one has to wave a flag too.
And as my mom has taught me, everybody should be treated as a human being and be given a kind word. Isn't it better to treat people normal everyday instead of just partying with them once a year and waving a pretty flag around?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sahlab - An ethnic Middle-Eastern winter pudding

It seems strange to think that the winters here in Israel can be cold, sometimes even freezing.

We are so used to reading (and writing!) about the hot summer sun, camels, deserts and sand. And how one cannot survive the excruciating heat without drinking gallons of water or eating buckets of ice cream.

Israelis CAN and do basically eat ice cream throughout the winter months but there is a special warm, very local, very Middle-Eastern pudding called sahlab that should definitely be tasted.
A cup of warm sahlab topped with cinnamon on a cold winter's day

Thursday, March 12, 2015

10 things to see and do in Acco, the ancient harbour city in Israel

The fascinating old city of Acco is found in the northern part of Israel, about half an hour's ride north from Haifa. The modern city of Acco, that surrounds it, is actually a bit boring ..or maybe it just seems a bit watered down against the historical old city.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tisha be'Av - A historical mourning day



Another year, another war.

It has been awhile, but once again we find ourselves in another war. The IDF (Israel Defence Force) and Israeli nation are standing strong but it is still a sad time here in the holy land. Not only are we vilified in the international press for protecting ourselves, but too many young soldiers are dying defending us.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

To Cry and Pray together


The three mothers of the kidnapped teenagers comforting each other.

Living in Israel is just waiting for for an argument to erupt.

Not only are the Israelis VERY vocal in sharing their opinions, they also never seem to agree about anything.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ode to the Israeli bus drivers and other lessons from the Universe

"Coming home" -  an Israeli Egged bus
Coming from South Africa, a country with a very dismal public transportation system, I was happy to discover the wonderful public busses here in Israel. As Au Pairs, none or my friends nor I owned a car but we managed to criss-cross the country by bus.