“In the fortress which is in the Vale of Achor, forty cubits under the steps entering to the east: a money chest and it [sic] contents, of a weight of seventeen talents.” (First column of the Copper Dead Sea Scroll)
It may sound like one of Indiana Jones plots, but this is real. Found in 1952 in Cave 3 at Khirbet Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea, Israel, the Copper Scroll is one of the few scrolls among the collection known as the Dead Sea Scrolls to be discovered by archaeologists in the place where it had been overlooked for decades and unread for 2000 years.
The Copper Scroll is made of copper instead of more fragile animal skins. Unlike the other scrolls, it is not a literary work, but the Copper Scroll is a sort of ancient treasure map that lists 64 underground hiding places around Israel that is believed to contain gold and silver treasure, as well as many coins and vessels. It is difficult to assess the value of what is described, since we are not sure what the weights in the scroll are actually equivalent to, but it was estimated in 1960 that the total would top $1,000,000 U.S. Today, the monetary value is close to $3 billion, but the historical value – is priceless.
None of these hoards have been recovered, possibly because the Romans pillaged Judaea during the first century A.D. According to various hypotheses, the treasure never actually existed, that the Copper Scroll is simply a work of fiction. Some believe the scrolls refer to Temple treasure, hidden for safekeeping before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. Others believe the treasure belonged to the sect that lived at Qumran, a sect usually identified with the Essenes, a Jewish group mentioned in the work of the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote in the 1st century C.E. However, these are just educated guesses. Who the treasure belonged to, and what happened to it, we may never know.
The script has the features which would result from someone writing – a series of random Hebrew and Greek letters – on the copper with a hammer and chisels. “It actually fits the glove perfectly for these people known as the Zealots, who were the priestly group, who were holding down the temple, who were keeping it from the Romans in the best way possible. Before they were massacred, they left things behind in caves here in Qumran”, said Stephen Pfann one of the editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Perhaps, as some have theorized, copper was used to better withstand the passage of time. The sheets of bronze are composed of about 99 percent copper and 1 percent tin (approximately 1.5% of the scrolls), which were then joined together.
At the time it was found, however, the document was rolled into two separate scrolls of heavily oxidized copper which was far too brittle to unroll. For five years scholars and experts discussed ways of opening the scroll. Finally, they decided to cut the scroll into sections from the outside using a small saw. Working very carefully they cut the scroll into 23 strips, each one curved into a half-cylinder. Before it was cut, one scholar thought he saw words for silver and gold and suggested that the scroll was a list of buried treasure.
First hand-drawn transcriptions of the Copper Scroll was dated 1960. A new official edition was published in 1962 by the original editor, Józef Milik, also with hand-drawn transcriptions, though the accompanying black-and-white photographs were “virtually illegible”. The scroll was re-photographed in 1988 with greater precision. From 1994 to 1996 extensive conservation efforts by Electricité de France (EDF) included evaluation of corrosion, photography, x-rays, cleaning, making a facsimile and a drawing of the letters.
Portrayed in novels, the Copper Scroll story hit the New York Times bestseller list by author Joel Rosenberg. He b
elieves the second scroll is still out there and it could be the key to the greatest archaeological prize in history. “The Key Scroll has never been found, nobody has any idea where it is.”, said Rosenberg. He adds, “What would be most dramatic is if in fact the treasures that are described by the Copper Scroll -and perhaps revealed more fully in the Key Scroll – are in fact from the second temple. Finding them would in fact be the most dramatic archeological discovery of all time.”. We shall see.
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Sources: history.com, usc.edu, cbn.com
Pictures: philipcoppens.com, srsr.org, youngadventuress.com, Wikipedia, historicconnections.webs.com
Camilla G//SMC Editor