For the background, read: The First Jewish Revolt
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The Copper Scroll (3Q15)
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The Copper Scroll is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Khirbet Qumran, but differs significantly from the others. While they are written on leather or papyrus, this scroll is written on metal, specifically very pure copper mixed with only about 1% tin. Also, unlike the others, it is not a literary work in any way, but contains a listing of locations at which various items of gold and silver are buried or hidden. It is currently on display at the Archaeological Museum in Amman, Jordan.
The scroll was found in 1952 in Cave 3 at Qumran, the first cave to be explored by archaeologists, and is thus referred to as 3Q15. Two copper rolls were discovered off by themselves in the back of the cave, but being made of corroded metal they could not be merely unrolled by conventional means. Professor H. Wright Baker, of the College of Technology at Manchester, England, cut the sheets into strips, and it became clear that the rolls were part of the same document. Low-quality photographs of the scrolls were taken and published, but scholars have found these to be difficult to work with, and have relied on a drawing of the text by scholar J?zef Milik. While his edition was published in 1962, he was beaten to the punch by another scholar, John Marco Allegro, who published his translation separately, and controversially, in 1960. The scroll was rephotographed in 1988 in much better quality, thanks to efforts led by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr.
The style of writing is unusual, and different from that of the other scrolls. It is written in a style similar to Mishnaic Hebrew, there is an unusual orthography, and the script has the peculiarities obviously resulting from someone writing on copper with a stylus. There is also the anomaly of seven of the locations being followed by a group of two or three Greek letters. The text is a straightforward listing of sixty-four locations ? sixty-three of which are treasures of gold and silver, which have been estimated in the tons ? and the final listing points to a duplicate document with additional details.
The listings are by no means easy to decipher, containing city and street names, and none of the treasures have thus far been unearthed. There is some dispute, however, that the Cave of Letters contains one of the listed treasures , and the artifacts from this location have been recovered. Although the scroll was obviously made of pure copper in order to last, the locations are written as if the reader would have an intimate knowledge of obscure references ? e.g., "In the irrigation cistern(?) of the Shaveh, in the outlet that is in it, buried at eleven cubits: 70 talents of silver" (from Allegro's translation), or "In the cave that is next to the fountain belonging to the House of Hakkoz, dig six cubits. (There are) six bars of gold" (from McCarter's translation).
The treasure of the scroll has been assumed to be treasure of the Jewish Temple, presumably the Second Temple. Professor McCarter makes a preliminary link of one location, found on the property of the "House of Hakkoz", with the family of Hakkoz being treasurers of the rebuilt Temple, following the return from Babylon, as listed in the Biblical Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The theories of the origin of the treasure were broken down by Theodor H. Gaster. First, the treasure could be that of the Qumran community. The difficulty here is that the community is assumed to be an ascetic brotherhood, with which vast treasures are difficult to reconcile. Secondly, the treasure could be that of the Second Temple. However, Gaster cites Josephus as stating that the main treasure of the Temple was still in the building when it fell to the Romans, and also that other Qumranic texts appear to be too critical of the priesthood of the Temple for their authors to have been close enough to take away their treasures for safekeeping. Thirdly, the treasure could be that of the First Temple, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in 586 BC. This would not seem to fit with the character of the other scrolls, unless perhaps the scroll was left in a cave during the Babylonian Exile, possibly with a small community of caretakers who were precursors of the Dead Sea Scrolls community. Fourthly, Gaster's own favourite theory is that the treasure is a hoax. If so, it is an elaborate hoax by an ancient people not known primarily for their sense of humor.
The idea of ancient, lost, hidden treasures in the Holy Land is obviously not without fascination. The Second Book of Maccabees describes the prophet Jeremiah bringing the Ark of the Covenant and other items to be hidden in a cave on Mount Nebo. The very matter-of-factness of the listings in the Copper Scroll would seem to indicate that somewhere in the area from Hebron to Mount Gerizim there might just be some treasure lurking. However the listings, as stated, are not clear, and so finding the treasures is unlikely, short of an additional find with clarifying details.
The Mysterious Treasure of the Copper Scroll
If the scroll does list a real treasure, to whom did the treasure belong? Ruins at Qumran are thought to be the remains of a sect of Jews known as the Essenes. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls found near Qumran are believed to be from their library at Qumran. The texts were probably hidden in preparation for an attack by Roman soldiers who were systematically putting down a rebellion in the land.
Did the treasure belong to the Essenes at Qumran? Probably not. The treasure is much too big to have been accumulated by such a small community. By Milik's count, some 4,630 talents of gold and silver are listed on the scroll. Though nobody is exactly sure how much a talent was at the time the scroll was written, the figure lies somewhere between twenty-five to seventy-five pounds. This would mean the treasure could consist of between 58 and 174 tons of precious metal.
There was probably only one organization in Israel at the time that could command anywhere near that amount of money: the temple at Jerusalem itself. But why would the instructions to find a treasure from Jerusalem be found many miles away at Qumran?
One suggestion made by researcher Manfred Lehmann is that the treasure consisted of funds accumulated throughout Israel from about 70 to 130 A.D.
Column 1 רוט
תחת רוכע קמעבש הבירחב
In the ruins which are in the Valley of Achor, under
תומא חרזמל תאובה תולעמה
the steps which go eastward, forty
הילכו ףסכ תדש ןיעברא חירא
rod-cubits: a strongbox of silver and its vessels
KEN הרשעבש ןירככ לקשמ
a weight of seventeen talents. KEN
תותשע ישלשה הבר ןב שפנב
in the sepulchre of Ben Rabbah the Third: 100 ingots of
רצחבש לודגה רובב 100 בהז
gold. In the big cistern in the court of
,אילחב םותס ועקרק ךריב ןילטסרפה
the peristyle, in a recess of its bottom which is plugged up with sediment
תאמ עשת ןירככ ןוילעה חתפה דגנ
across from the upper opening: nine hundred talents.
.תדופאו ןיג ל<ע>ב עמד ילכ תלחכ לש לתב
In the ruin-heep of Kohlit: vessels of tribute of the master of nations, and ephods
רסעמ יעבשה רצאהו עמדה לש לכה
All of this belongs to the tribute and the seventh treasure, a second
ןופצה ןמ אמאה ילושב וחתפ לגופמ ינש
tithe rendered unclean. Its opening is in the edge of the aqueduct on the north.
XAG הליבטה תרקינ דע שש תומא
six cubits to the immersion bath, XAG.
למסל אדריב סנמ לש אבעמ חאישב
In the plaster cistern of Manos, on the way down to the left
ןיעברא ףס[כ] שולש תומא עקרקה ןמ הבג
three cubits high from the bottom:
forty talents of silver.
The content of the scroll is listed in a consistent pattern following this order:
1. a designation of a hiding place
2. a further specification of the hiding place
3. a command to dig or measure
4. a distance expressed in cubits
5. a treasure description
6. additional comments
7. Greek letters
The script is roughly engraved making it difficult to decipher some of the letters. "It is possible to classify the script of the Copper Scroll as a ?vulgar semiformal? variety of the late Herodian script. The spelling of the Hebrew is unusual and does not follow the characteristics of standard orthography or "Qumran orthography" (Wolters 10).
Context and Significance
There are three significant areas that influence how the scroll is interpreted. The dating of the scroll changes who it might be associated with. There is great dispute over the authenticity of the scroll. Another question needed is what relation does the copper scroll have to the other scrolls? As these areas are studied many different theories have appeared. (Wolters 13)
Some, such as Milik believe that the scroll is folklore, a legend someone decided to inscribe on copper. Milik at first attributed the scroll to an Essene, but later changed his mind, as he couldn?t find anything relating the scroll to them. He decided it must have been placed there around 100 CE after the other Dead Sea Scrolls had been placed in the caves, and was not connected with them. (Wise et. al. 189)
During the 50s Harding, Cross, Silberman and Mowinckel, believe the treasure was the folklore of the Qumran community. Others conclude the treasure to be authentic. Lehman (Wolters 16) considers the treasure to represent what was collected for the temple after the destruction, but was not delivered. He dates the scroll to a period between 70 to 90-92 CE. The theory defended in the 50s and 60s by Roth, Rengstorf, Allegro and Driver gives ownership of the treasure to the Jerusalem temple. This view has been continued by many, including Wilmot (1984), McCarter (1992), Lefkovits (1993), Wise (1994) and Wolters (1994). A theory that the treasure "belonged to the Jewish rebels under Bar Kokhba around 135 CE was independently offered by French scholar Laperrousaz and Israeli scholar Luria. This was suggested in the 1960s and has not been supported. In the 1950s Dupont-Sommer defended the view that the treasure belonged to the Qumran community before 70 CE. Recently Pixner (1983) and Goranson (1992) have continued this defense (Wolters 15-17).
The theories that seem most likely indicate that it is an authentic treasure list, possibly belonging to either the Qumran community or the Jerusalem temple before 68 CE. It seems unlikely that such a document written in such an uninteresting way would be folklore. Why would it have been written on a material as expensive and difficult to write on as copper? It would likely have taken a very long time to punch the list into the copper. Another clue linking the scroll to the temple are the terms throughout the list describing temple related items (Wolters 15-17).
The Valley of Achor?
transparency, gelatin on glass
3 1/4 x 3 1/4 in.
Gift of University of Rochester
Kohlit has become a modern-day El Dorado.
Archaeologists Challenge Link Between Dead Sea Scrolls and Ancient Sect
GPR at Qumran