Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times

As global trade has grown, shipping companies have steadily increased ship sizes. But the Suez Canal blockage, in which a vessel longer than the Empire State Building, above, created a global shipping snarl that could take weeks or months to unravel, showed that bigger is not always better.

A question about pieces of a manuscript found in 1883 that may or may not be authentic led Jennifer Schuessler, a reporter covering intellectual life for The New York Times’s Culture Desk, into The Times’s archive. Here’s an edited excerpt.

Earlier this year, a scholar named Idan Dershowitz argued that 15 manuscript fragments that had surfaced in 1883 and that initially were said to contain an alternate version of the Book of Deuteronomy were indeed authentic ancient documents, and not the forgeries they were later denounced as.

The claim came with a wild back story involving a 19th-century Jerusalem antiquities dealer named Wilhelm Moses Shapira, who had offered them to the British Museum for 1 million pounds and then committed suicide after they were deemed fake.

As it turned out, the mysterious Shapira had made a number of fleeting appearances in The Times over the years. A skeptical 1873 column headlined “Explorations in the East,” describes a “Prof Shapira, of Jerusalem” (no first name given) as a leader in the often dubious trade. The anonymous correspondent wrote, “He sells a hundred things dug up out of the ground — tiles, pots, vases, tablets and pieces of statuary with inscriptions.”

A year later, in 1874, The Times reported that supposedly ancient Moabite pottery sold by Shapira, “the Great Showman of the East,” had been revealed as “a colossal swindle.” In 1883, after the Deuteronomy manuscripts were declared forgeries, the paper ran a scathing denunciation.

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