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Copper Scroll

COPPER SCROLL

COPPER SCROLL , designation popularly given to the document at *Qumran officially listed as 3q15. It was found in March 1952 in Cave 3, about two kilometers north of Qumran, in a much deteriorated condition. The use of the term "scroll" is perhaps incorrect, in so far as it was not intended to be frequently opened, read, and then rolled up like the rest of the Dead Sea scrolls. One suggestion is that it should be designated as a "rolled-up copper plaque."

Discovery and Unrolling

The document seems originally to have been a plaque of soft copper-base metal, about 8 × 0.9 ft. (2.46 m. × 28 cm.), made from three pieces riveted end to end. A hasty or clumsy attempt had been made to roll the plaque up, but the second row of rivets ceased to hold while this was being done, and the piece that remained was rolled up separately. The two scrolls were found embedded in the floor of Cave 3 in 1952. The writing, which had been punched out with about ten punching blows to a letter, was on the inside of the scrolls. From an examination of the lettering visible from the outside K.G. Kuhn concluded in 1953 that the document contained an inventory of the Qumran community's treasures and the places where they were hidden when its headquarters were abandoned. The metal was so utterly corroded and brittle that unrolling the scrolls or applying heat to reverse the process of decomposition was out of the question. The only means of exposing the inscribed surfaces was to cut the scrolls into strips, and even this was a precarious exercise in view of their condition. This was successfully achieved under the direction of H.W. Baker, then professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Science and Technology, Manchester, England. A spindle was put through the scrolls; they were coated with adhesive, warmed to 40°–50°C, and cut into 23 strips with a tiny high-speed circular saw. Each strip was photographed as it was cut, and dust and débris were removed from the remaining part stage by stage, by vacuum suction and a dental brush. When the strips were laid side by side with their inner surfaces exposed, the inscription could be read. It consisted of about 3,000 letters, and so carefully and skillfully had the operation been carried out that not more than five percent of the text was destroyed, while of the rest only about two percent was illegible. The language was colloquial mishnaic Hebrew; the writing was of the period 25–75 c.e., as suggested by various scholars, notably by Frank Moore Cross.

Contents and Significance

The first announcement of the contents of the document was made in 1956. It was said to contain an inventory of 64 hoards of treasure which had been deposited in various places, chiefly in the Buqeiʿa (Vale of *Achor) and its neighborhood and in the Jerusalem region. K.G. Kuhn's inferences from the limited amount of text visible in reverse in 1952 were vindicated. Three samples of the inventory were published in this first release: "In the cistern which is below the rampart, on the east side, in a place hollowed out of rock: 600 bars of silver" (item 11); "Close by, below the southern corner of the portico at Zadok's tomb, and underneath the pilaster in the exedras, a vessel of incense in pine wood and a vessel of incense in cassia wood" (item 53); "In the pit nearby toward the north, near the graves, in a hole opening to the north, there is a copy of this book, with explanations, measurements and all details" (item 64). A French translation of the whole text was published by J.T. Milik in 1959; a transcription of the text with English translation and notes was published by J.M. Allegro in 1960, while the official edition of text, translation, introduction, and notes by J.T. Milik, with photographic plates, appeared in 1962. One contribution of value made by this document concerns the topography of the areas where the treasures are said to have been deposited. For example, the name of the pool of Bethesda (mentioned in John 5:2) has been the subject of much debate because of the variant readings of the manuscripts; now it can be said definitely to be Bet-ʾeshda, "the place of outpouring," because this form (in the dual, Bet-ʾeshdatain) is mentioned under item 57 as the place where a cache of precious wood and resin was deposited. Some of the places mentioned are known either by geographical identification or by literary reference elsewhere (or both); others remain unknown. The references to sites around the Temple area are of particular interest. It is surprising to find one hiding place as far away as Mount Gerizim; there, "under the entrance to the upper pit," lot 61 was stored ("a chest with its contents and 60 talents of silver"). Josephus mentions the pretender in Pilate's time who promised to show the Samaritans the sacred vessels which Moses had hidden there (Ant., 18:85), but it may be that a hill in the vicinity of Jericho is meant (there is some patristic evidence for such a location).

A special problem is posed by the huge amounts of some of the caches; the gold and silver as listed would yield a grand total of about 200 tons or 200,000 kg. If the reference is to a collection of legends of buried treasure, there is nothing surprising in such a fantastic total; if the inventory is intended to be factual, it would have to be concluded that the amounts in some cases are in code for more realistic figures. Such use of a code is the less improbable because there are various cryptic signs and Greek letters in the document which appear to be intended to convey some meaning to those in the know. If the inventory is indeed intended to be factual, it may be asked if it lists the treasure seized from the Temple and elsewhere by the defenders of Jerusalem in the closing phases of the First Revolt to be used as sinews of war against Rome. The inclusion of incense, precious kinds of wood, tithe-jars, and so forth, along with the gold and silver suggests that some of the treasure may have come from the Temple. The use of such a durable material as copper for the inscription points to a factual inventory rather than to a collection of legends. But these and other questions raised by the inscription call for further examination. The fact that it was found in Qumran Cave 3 does not necessarily mean that it belonged to the Essenes or lists their property. Among other possibilities it may be considered that the Qumran headquarters were commandeered by Zealots or their Idumean allies as a useful strong point against the Romans, and that it was they who drew up the document and, at the approach of danger, rolled it up hastily and left it in a convenient hiding place. Its association with the Qumran scrolls on skin or papyrus need be no more than geographical.

bibliography:

J.M. Allegro, The Treasure of the Copper Scroll (1960); Barthélemy-Milik, 3 (1962), 201–302, pls. xliii–lxxi; Kuhn, in: rb, 61 (1954), 193ff.; Baker, in: bjrl, 39 (1956–57), 45ff.; Ulendorff, in: vt, 11 (1961), 227ff. add. bibliography: S. Goranson, "Sectarianism, Geography and the Copper Scroll," in: jjs, 43 (1992), 282–87; J.K. Lefkovitz, The Copper Scroll 3q15: A Reevaluation. A New Reading, Tranlsation and Commentary (1996); A. Wolters, The Copper Scroll: Overview, Text and Translation (1996).

[Frederick Fyvie Bruce /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

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