The Copper Scroll (3Q15 or 3QTreasure) is an anomaly in the inventory of scrolls from Qumran. It does not fit readily into any of the categories customarily included when the scrolls are discussed. It is not biblical, it is not literary and it does not contain sectarian doctrine. It is written in a language—a form of Hebrew—that is different from the language of any of the other scrolls. It is written in a script that is not quite like the script of any of the other scrolls. It is made of a material that is different from that of the other scrolls. Most of them are leather, though a few are papyrus, but 3Q15 is a sheet of copper. It is an unusual phenomenon, an anomaly.
Most anomalous of all is the content of the Copper Scroll, which has no parallel at Qumran and no true parallel anywhere else. It is a list of the hiding places of dozens of caches of treasure—huge quantities of silver and gold. Some scholars think the treasure never existed. It was, they say, the chimerical creation of some ancient imagination. Others disagree. We (for I include myself in this group) believe the treasure was real. But whose treasure was it, and why was it hidden?
The Copper Scroll was discovered in 1952. Though the earlier scrolls were found at Qumran in 1947, the process of exploration was interrupted by the war that followed the United Nations resolution creating the nation of Israel. Because of this interruption, only two caves were known to the scholarly community in the early 1950s. By that time, however, fragments of leather with writing on them were showing up regularly in Jerusalem’s antiquities market, and it was clear that other caves had been found by the Bedouin. Early in 1952, a major archaeological expedition was mounted under the aegis of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities. It was a joint project involving a number of the international research institutions working in Jerusalem at the time, including principally the French school, Ecole Biblique, and the American School of Oriental Research. A survey of caves was begun in a kind of loose cooperation with the Ta’amireh Bedouin, who knew the area best. This survey began the process that led, over a period of a few years, to the discovery of the rest of the 11 Qumran caves containing inscriptional material.
In Cave 3, the first discovered in the 1952 survey, the Copper Scroll was found. Other, more conventional, leather scrolls were also found in Cave 3, but off by themselves in a niche were two rolls of copper. Later it became clear that these were two pieces of one scroll—and that was the discovery of 3Q15.
The scholars who found the Copper Scroll could see that there was writing on the inside because the letters that were punched into the thin sheet of metal had embossed the back of the surface with their outlines. K. G. Kuhn, a German scholar 036visiting Jerusalem, noticed that the writing seemed to describe the hiding places of treasures of silver and gold! He hypothesized that the scroll was an inventory of the hidden treasures of the Essene community.1 There was general excitement and great eagerness to unroll the copper so that the scroll could reveal its secrets. Unfortunately, the oxidized metal was extremely brittle. The scroll would crumble into pieces if anyone tried to unroll it and the techniques being developed at that time for working with leather materials did not apply to copper.
After a great deal of discussion, the Copper Scroll was taken to the Manchester College of Technology 037in England, where Professor H. Wright-Baker opened the scroll by cutting it into 23 sections with a saw. Soon afterward, photographs of the sections, now laid out side by side were taken. These were not good quality photographs even for the mid-1950s, and, when Copper Scroll was published, they were reproduced on grainy surface. It is frustrating to go to the publication volume and try to use the photographs to reconstruct the text. As result, people have been largely dependent over years on the official edition J. T. Milik, the scholar who published the text.2 His transcription of the scroll’s text is what most people use when they read the Copper Scroll.
Milik’s edition was published in 1962 amid controversy. Although formal publication rights had been assigned to Milik, another member of the official publication team, John Allegro, was very excited by the prospect of a treasure hunt and did not want to wait. An Englishman, Allegro went along to Manchester to be present at the opening. Two years before Milik’s official edition came out, Allegro published his own edition,3 and then went to the West Bank to start looking for the treasure. It was an embarrassing episode that caused great consternation.4 Nevertheless, as idiosyncratic and uncollegial as he was, Allegro was a good scholar, and his edition contains much that is still useful.
A few years ago I was asked to prepare a new edition of the Copper Scroll to be published under the general editorship of Professor James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary. At the time I assumed, quite mistakenly, that I would have to work from the existing photographs, because copper and bronze artifacts are subject bronze disease, a particularly destructive form of oxidation. Most bronze artifacts that have been out of the ground for very long have deteriorated badly. I had faced this problem before, working with texts of a quite different type. After making inquiries, however, I was delighted to find out that is not the case with the Copper Scroll.
The Copper Scroll is unusually pure copper—with only about 1 percent tin—and that seems to have protected it from severe oxidation. There has been some deterioration; it is not in the same condition it was in 1952, or even in 1956 when it was opened. But in general, we still have the Copper Scroll. It is not in the Archaeological Museum of Jordan in Amman. (This, by the way, is another way in which the Copper Scroll is anomalous: It is not in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem nor in Shrine of the Book. The vicissitudes of history were such that it wound up in Amman. The Jordanians prize the scroll greatly and have it on display in a special case of wood and velvet that was built for in the 1950s.)
After I learned these things, it became clear to me that what I needed first was new photographs. I could go look at the Copper Scroll (and I did that), but I knew I could not work from the scroll itself. Because the fragile copper cannot tolerate the kind of handling and manipulation that would be necessary to work directly from it, most readings would have to be done from photographs. My hope, therefore, was that we could get new ones using the best modern techniques and the highest quality film available.
It was possible to obtain new photographs only because of a collaborative international effort involving the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR), West Semitic Research and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. ACOR, the American archaeological center in Amman, facilitates scientific projects in Jordan. The staff of ACOR has a close working relationship with antiquities officials in Jordan. The ACOR director at this time was Professor Bert DeVries, a scholar and an archaeologist. He was the key to the success of the project to rephotograph the Copper Scroll.
The director of West Semitic Research is 038Professor Bruce Zuckerman of the University of Southern California, a preeminent photographer of inscriptions and ancient manuscripts, which is the principal work of the project. He and his brother Kenneth Zuckerman have developed techniques for photographing many kinds of materials, and they were excited by the challenge of photographing a copper document (see the sidebar to this article).
The director of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Dr. Ghazi Bisheh, was very supportive of the plan to produce a new edition of the Copper Scroll and of the proposed photography project. His only requirement was that we should also develop a conservation plan. Not only would we rephotograph the Copper Scroll, but we would also try to conserve it.
The agreement was that the photographs would be taken in December 1988. They would be published first in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and then as a separate volume, which would include the text I would establish on the basis of the photographs—that is, a new edition of the scroll—together with my English translation. A Jordanian scholar, Professor Fawzi Zayadine, would prepare an Arabic translation so that the volume would include both English and Arabic translations.
The museum where the Copper Scroll is kept is on the Amman Citadel, the ancient capital that rises as a sharp hill in the middle of the modern city. Appropriately enough, the Jordanian Archaeological Museum stands near the summit of the Citadel. The Copper Scroll is in a glass case along with a couple of fragments of leather scrolls. The individual pieces (sections) of the Copper Scroll itself are laid down on velvet-lined trays in the wooden box that was built for them.
The first step was to remove the individual trays from the case. The director of the museum supervised their move into a photography lab that the Zuckerman brothers had set up in the museum. They took a series of very high resolution photographs of each section with both top and bottom lighting. At the same time, they took 35 mm shots to keep a record of the project and a large number of Polaroid shots as a preliminary check to be sure that the expected results would be achieved. When the Zuckermans returned to California, they developed the film both as color prints and as transparencies to be studied with back illumination. The results were spectacular. The new photographs are vastly superior to the black and whites taken in the 1950s.
Before turning to an analysis of the contents of this unusual document, let me comment on its conservation needs. The Copper Scroll is in jeopardy. The places touched by the saw in England exhibit an oxidation pattern. Centuries in the caves did minimal harm, but somehow the insult of the modern tool has started a process of deterioration along the cuts. By comparing the new photographs with those taken in the 1950s, one can see that a fair amount of material has been lost—in some sample locations almost half an inch—on both sides of each saw cut. The Copper Scroll, in other words, is slowly disappearing. There is a substantial amount of crumbling along the top and bottom edges, and a number of small pieces had fallen down into the case. We have approached conservation experts about this, and they have shown a keen interest in our project.
What will conservation of the Copper Scroll mean? First of all, an expert in copper and bronze conservation must go to Jordan and try to find some kind of treatment that will stop the oxidation process. Second, a new case must be made with special equipment to regulate the climate inside. Finally, if the surface of the copper can tolerate it, latex casts should be made from which copies of the Copper Scroll can be made for distribution to scholars.
Now let me list the peculiarities and problems in working with this text. It is written in a form of Hebrew that has a lot in common with Mishnaic Hebrew (the Mishnah is an early rabbinic text 039assembled in about 200 C.E.), but is not identical to it. In fact, it is not identical to any Hebrew that we know, and is probably a village dialect of Hebrew. Although at this time Aramaic was the primary language in Judea, Hebrew was still spoken in villages, so that we may assume that the scribe who produced the Copper Scroll, whoever he may have been, was writing in his own dialect with all of its idiosyncracies.
The spelling of individual words is often peculiar. We know a variety of spelling systems—a variety of kinds of orthography, as it is called—from the various Qumran scrolls and from other manuscripts; but no orthographic system quite matches the one used in the Copper Scroll. Sometimes this seems to be because mistakes are being made. At others, it may be that it is not a spelling peculiarity but a grammatical peculiarity with which we are not familiar.
Next, the script itself is unusual. Anyone who takes a sheet of copper and attempts to write on it with a stylus or some other sharp object would probably produce something quite different from his or her normal handwriting. Someone who, like our scribe, was accustomed to writing with brush and ink on a piece of leather, would find that his handwriting, when transferred to a metal surface, would be considerably distorted. In part, therefore, the handwriting is peculiar because the scribe is working on an unfamiliar material. In addition, however, it seems likely that this is not the hand of an expert scribe, such as those who wrote most of the leather manuscripts in the Qumran archive.
In content, the Copper Scroll is a list of 64 locations of hidden treasures. It has no introduction and no embellishment. It simply lists one place after another, usually beginning with a prepositional phrase (“In such and such a place…”) followed by a location; then a quantity of valuables is given. Most of the hidden material is silver or gold. Some of it seems to consist of items related to certain religious practices, but most of it is silver and gold. The quantities are extremely large, perhaps even unreasonably large, and they are measured primarily in terms of talents. By Milik’s count, approximately 4,630 talents of silver and gold are listed in 3Q15.5 There has been a lot of discussion about the exact size of a talent at that time, and there is more than one possibility, ranging from about 25 to 50 or even 75 pounds. A rough calculation suggests that the total treasure consisted of something between 58 and 174 tons of precious metal! In any case, they raise a series of questions that must be addressed. Was this a real treasure? If so, whose treasure was it? If not, why did 040someone go to the trouble of making the list?
Before addressing these questions, let me offer some sample locations. The first location is “In the ruin that is in the Valley of Achor.” Although the biblical Valley of Achor lay south of Jericho, Jewish and Christian sources contemporary with the Copper Scroll place it northeast of Jericho, probably the Wadi Nuwei’imeh.6 We have no way of knowing what ruin (
The list goes on in this fashion for 64 locations. Many times the locations are in or near known cities or villages, but often they are in villages unknown to us. A few of the locations lie fairly far afield from Qumran. Some are to the north, Shechem and beyond, almost into the Galilee. A few seem to be on the east bank of the Jordan. Most, however, are either in Jerusalem itself down the main wadi system that goes from Jerusalem toward Jericho and, on one of its branches, toward the Wadi Qumran.
Of the many peculiarities of the Copper Scroll, perhaps the strangest of all is the existence groups of two or three Greek letters that follow seven of the locations. These groups of letters (
Many scholars believe that the groups of Greek letters are part of some kind of code that helped preserve the secrecy of the hiding places, and there are other reasons to believe that the text of the Copper Scroll is partly encoded or at least not entirely straightforward. The 64th and last location, for example, is not said to contain more treasure but “a duplicate of this document and an explanation and their measurements and a precise reckoning of everything, one by one.” This gives the impression that the second copy contained more complete information than our scroll and perhaps instructions for interpreting its cryptic prepositional phrases and gargantuan numbers. It might well be that neither 3Q15 nor the duplicate hidden at location 64 was sufficient by itself to locate the hiding places, so that both documents were necessary to the successful recovery of the treasure.
The total amount of gold and silver is so large that the question arises whether the treasure was imaginary. Milik believed so and compared it to ancient documents from Jewish folklore purporting to describe the concealment of the treasure and sacred vessels from the First Temple. Documents of that kind, however, are very different in character from the Copper Scroll. Typically, they refer to Moses and the holy objects whose construction he supervised, such as the Ark, the incense altar, the lampstand, etc. They often credit Jeremiah or some other famous figure of the past with concealing the 041sacred treasures. There is nothing of this kind in the Copper Scroll. It is plodding and businesslike. Neither Moses nor Jeremiah is there, nor is any famous relic—neither the Ark nor the ashes of the red heifer. In fact, it is extremely difficult to imagine that anyone would have gone to the trouble to prepare a costly sheet of pure copper and imprint it with such an extensive and sober list of locations unless he had been entrusted with hiding a real and immensely valuable treasure and wanted to make a record of his work that could withstand the ravages of time.
But could the Qumran community have possessed such a treasure? We know that the members of the community gave up their property to live a communal life, but even so it is difficult to believe that the value of their shared property could have amounted to even a fraction of the riches recorded in the Copper Scroll. So how are we to solve this conundrum?
Scholars have taken at least three approaches. Some follow Milik in supposing the treasure to be imaginary. Others use the Copper Scroll as evidence that the material found in the 11 caves did not come from the site of Khirbet Qumran but from Jerusalem.8 A third approach, which I prefer, is to argue that the Copper Scroll was placed in Cave 3 independently and had nothing to do with the rest of the Qumran library. At first glance, this idea may seem difficult to accept. It assumes that an extraordinary coincidence occurred with two caches of roughly contemporary documents being hidden in a single cave by independent parties. On the other hand, there are a number of things about the Copper Scroll that favor the assumption. We have already noted that the Copper Scroll is unique at Qumran. Many of its characteristics—the material from which it was made, its content, even its language—have no parallel in any of the hundreds of other scrolls from the 11 caves. It was found in an isolated part of Cave 3, lying apart from the jars and broken pottery where the other scrolls were found. There were no scraps of leather or papyrus near the two rolls of copper. Roland de Vaux, the chief excavator of Qumran and its caves, believed that the Copper Scroll was deposited independently of the other artifacts in Cave 3.
Thus far we have concluded that the treasure of the Copper Scroll was probably a real treasure and that it probably was not a treasure that belonged to the Qumran community. We must now attempt to discover its origin. It is natural to turn our attention first to the Temple in Jerusalem. Probably no other institution in the region at the time had the capacity to accumulate a fortune of the magnitude indicated in the scroll. Moreover, apart from the gold and silver, most of the hidden things listed in the text have associations with the Temple and its priesthood. For these reasons, most of the scholars who study the Copper Scroll think that the treasure belonged to the Temple. Many think that the treasure is imaginary, as we have noted, but most of those who think so think it the imaginary treasure of the Temple.
Moreover, a specific reference, in location 32, links the Copper Scroll to the Temple treasury. Unfortunately, the text describing location 32 occurs on a damaged edge of cut 13, and it is not as well preserved as other parts of the text. Nevertheless, we can read this much:
“In the cave that is next to the founta[in ] belonging to the House of Hakkoz, dig six cubits. (There are) six bars of gold.”
It is interesting to find treasure hidden on the property of the House of Hakkoz (
The Hakkoz estate was in the Jordan Valley not far from Jericho. This is shown by the lists of people involved in the restoration of the walls and gates of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, where one contingent of the Hakkoz family (Nehemiah 3:4) works near the men of Jericho (Nehemiah 3:2) and immediately alongside the family of Hassenaah, whose estate was located a few miles north of Jericho, and the other contingent of the Hakkoz family (Nehemiah 3:21) works alongside “the men of the Kikkar,” that is, “the men of the district of the Jordan [
Ezra 2:59–63 and Nehemiah 7:61–65 show that the members of the House of Hakkoz were unable to substantiate their genealogy after their return from exile; so that they were disqualified from priestly duties. We should expect that under such circumstances they would have been assigned some other task that supported the Temple operation but did not require the highest degree of genealogical purity. In Nehemiah 3:4 we learn that the leader of the family at the time of Nehemiah’s reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem was “Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz,” and in Ezra 8:33 we are told 063that the Temple treasure, when it was brought back from Babylon, was entrusted to “the priest Meremoth son of Uriah.” In short, the Hakkoz family were the treasurers of the Temple!
It seems very likely, then, that the Copper Scroll treasure was wealth somehow associated with the Temple in Jerusalem. It may be possible to explain this association more precisely by examining some of the technical religious terminology found in the text. We can do this by moving on to the fourth location, which is “On the mound of Kochlit,” a prominent place in the Copper Scroll, though its location is disputed. This time the treasure is not gold or silver but “vessels of contribution with a login and ephods.” The term translated “contribution” is
Our text goes on to explain that “All of the seventh (year) is second tithe.” The “accumulation of the seventh year” is the seventh-year produce, probably redeemed as money, which was collected and delivered to the central treasury in Jerusalem.10 The second tithe was either eaten by the tither in Jerusalem or converted into money and then brought to Jerusalem (cf. Deuteronomy 14:22–26).
These technical terms—“contribution,” “accumulation of the seventh year” and “second tithe”—provide the clue to solving the riddle of the Copper Scroll. They all refer to tithes and other priestly contributions that were required by law to be set aside, collected and taken to Jerusalem for the support of the Temple and the priesthood. Twenty-five years ago, an independent scholar named Manfred Lehmann followed these clues to their logical conclusion. He noted that if for some reason it was not possible to take the wealth accumulated from tithes and contributions to Jerusalem, it had to be hidden or buried.11 He believed that the Copper Scroll treasure was accumulated when the Temple lay in ruins during the period between the First and Second Jewish Revolts against Rome, that is, between 70 and 132 C.E. The basis of the treasure were “taxes, gifts, tithes and consecrations.” As Lehmann explained:
“The Scroll reflects a period when various types of such items had been redeemed for money or precious metals and had been centrally gathered and accumulated for the purpose of delivery to Jerusalem and/or the Temple, but for political or Halakhic reasons [reasons of religious law] could not be taken to their legal destination. Because of the prolonged inaccessibility of Jerusalem and/or the Temple, these objects had to be, temporarily or permanently, committed to Genizah [a storage place for sacred objects] according to legal requirements.”12
Although Lehmann’s argument has been given little scholarly attention, I believe that it advances our understanding of the Copper Scroll immensely. It takes seriously the technical meaning of 3Q15’s religious terminology, which most other studies have failed to understand.13 It also 064makes sense of the enormous quantities of gold and silver listed in the scroll; they could easily have accumulated during the period between the two revolts. Nevertheless one serious problem stands in the way of Lehmann’s hypothesis. The Script of the Copper Scroll belongs to the latter part of the Herodian period, roughly 25–75 C.E.14 In all probability the Copper Scroll, like the rest of the Qumran library, was deposited in Cave 3 before or very soon after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.
It seems likely, then, that the Copper Scroll treasure consisted of tithes and contributions gathered in the final, turbulent years before the Roman destruction of the Temple. It is possible that the treasure arrived at the Temple shortly before the war began, then was removed from the city in secret and hidden when the Roman army appeared in the Galilee. It seems more likely, however, that much of the treasure never reached the Temple. In view of the steadily growing chaos in the last years before the arrival of Vespasian’s army, the Jews who had the responsibility for gathering tithes and contributions may have felt it unwise to deposit them in the public treasury. Instead they elected to divide up the treasure and hide it in a large number of different locations east of the city.
The Copper Scroll (3Q15 or 3QTreasure) is an anomaly in the inventory of scrolls from Qumran. It does not fit readily into any of the categories customarily included when the scrolls are discussed. It is not biblical, it is not literary and it does not contain sectarian doctrine. It is written in a language—a form of Hebrew—that is different from the language of any of the other scrolls. It is written in a script that is not quite like the script of any of the other scrolls. It is made of a material that is different from that […]