After seeing two samples of the parchment Shapira Strips in a poorly lit glass case, Charles Clermont-Ganneau (above) pronounced them fakes. How did he know?
The first clue was the shape of the strips. Clermont-Ganneau speculated that the 7-inch-long, 3.5-inch-high strips had been cut from the blank lower margins of old Torah Scrolls (see drawing below) and inscribed with text. Whereas the upper parts of the strips are nearly straight, as if cleanly cut, the bottom edges are ragged from wear.
The Torah scroll from which they were cut had vertical lines marking where columns began and ended. These lines extended down into the lower margin. The script on the Shapira strips crossed these lines (as can be seen in the drawing below), which ancient scribes copying the text of the Torah would not have done.
Shapira had acquired some Torah scrolls in Yemen that were several hundred years old. Posing as a rabbi, he assured their owners that he would place them in a genizah, a storage room for worn-out holy writings. Indeed, Shapira sold some of these old Torah scrolls to the British Museum—and then hung a sign at his Jerusalem establishment reading “Correspondent to the British Museum.” (Shapira boasted about swindling the Yemenite communities to Ephraim Deinard, a bibliophile and book dealer from Latvia, who became infuriated and sent warning letters to the rabbis of 30 Yemenite communities. When Shapira later arrived in Yemen and found the Jews reluctant to give him their old scrolls, he bribed local imams to take scrolls by force.)
The final clue was that some of the strips still had little pinholes and thread where the panels of parchment had been sewn together in the original Torah scroll.
The content of the strips was also transcribed (see below) and studied by Christian David Ginsburg. (Clermont-Ganneau could barely see the letters through the glass case. Since the strips are very dark and the writing faint, to see the letters one had to dampen the writing, which again became illegible when the parchment dried.) These transcripts are still in the files of the British Museum. More recently, in the pages of Archaeology Odyssey’s sister magazine Biblical Archaeology Review, paleographers André Lemaire and P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., also pronounced the strips forgeries, designed to look like the script of the Mesha Stela (see “Tracking the Shapira Case: A Biblical Scandal Revisited,”BAR 23:03).