The Copper Scroll and The Excavations at Qumran
Cave Q3 where the Copper Scroll Was Found
The Copper Scroll was discovered in the caves of Qumran in 1952. It remained an enigma for many years. However, intensive research over the past thirty years has begun to unlock many of its secrets. To understand the scroll, one must first understand the geology and geography described within its text.
Comparing the Copper Scroll to the physical location where it was discovered is not an irrational idea. However, such comparisons are really like a game jig-saw puzzle. Parts of the scroll are missing, and parts have been mishandled or damaged in the research process. Many words in the scroll run together. Others are split in the middle or end on the next line.
Based on the more recent photographs taken by Professor Bruce Zuckerman, (1) the earlier texts we have worked with contain at least 80 mistakes in transposition in just 12 columns. (No wonder some of the scroll's critics contend that whoever wrote the scroll did not know Hebrew.) To assemble a jig-saw puzzle, it's best to find the corner pieces and then the pieces that form the borders. Likewise with the scroll, we must take the geographical descriptions and then compare them with the lay of the land. Geological clues must be matched to fit the anatomy of the caves and descriptions of the area. The hidden treasures mentioned must be sized up by linguistic and hermeneutic rabbinical resources. Only then will a picture begin to emerge. This is exactly what we did.
After years of painstaking research and patient testing of each hypothesis through trial and error, we found ourselves holding a piece of the "real" thing, a thing that was only a word in the text when we started. After playing with this jig-saw puzzle for over 30 years, those of us who have been a part of the process are more excited today than ever before. The remaining pieces are falling into place and fitting together with ever-increasing speed.
The Copper Scroll is mysterious, intriguing, vague, controversial, and to say the least, linguistically evasive! The authorities, academia in general, and those who have attempted to deal with its content have, for the most part, labeled it as: "the work of a madman"; "a forgery"; "the Jewish folklore of a mystic"; "a charlatan who did not know Hebrew." ( And the list goes on....
Very few have given any credibility to this document. In De Vaux's own words (2)... "If we give any credence at all to the Copper Scroll, it will be an invitation to treasure hunters from everywhere to descend on the caves of Qumran and destroy any archaeological investigations that might be properly done." John Allegro, (3) in an attempt to get to the presses before T. J. Milik, published a book that only added to the skepticism surrounding the Copper Scroll. Allegro's exaggerated references to the amounts of gold and silver mentioned in the ancient document succeeded in arousing the kind of wild speculation that both De Vaux and Milik hoped to avoid. The work of T. J. Milik (4) on the Copper Scroll is a classic work of scholarship, a work in keeping with the theological views (5) of the Dominican Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.
It must be emphasized that the language of the scroll is outside the parameters of classical Hebrew. This characteristic brought a response from M. A Ben-Luria who said: "...the scroll could not be understood without a knowledge of rabbinical literature and vocabulary." (6) Ben-Luria further contended that: "the validity and authenticity of the Copper Scroll would remain in question until one single item mentioned in the scroll is discovered. Once something is found at Qumran that is listed among the 64 designated items and places, the scroll's validity will be unquestioned."
Ben-Luria was correct. The Copper Scroll lay entombed and ignored in the Museum of Amman, Jordan for over 20 years. The case was closed -- they considered the document a forgery a dead issue! However, in 1988 everything suddenly changed. Interest in the Copper Scroll was resurrected! The discovery of the juglet of Shemen Afarsimon (Anointing Oil) in Cave 13 (Jordan's cave #24) resurrected the dead scroll! The discovery was made by a team from the Vendyl Jones Research Institutes, in consortium with Hebrew University, assisted by Professor Yoseph Patrich, Benny Arubas (7) and the late Benny Agur. Several universities and institutions immediately set up chairs to re-evaluate the Copper Scroll.Four years later, on April 8, 1992, we were excavating in the Cultural Dome of the "hidden north entrance" at the Cave of the Column. Glenda Hurst, a excavation volunteer from Goshen, Indiana, had come upon something different. Glenda called to Larry Banks, "Larry, come over here and look at this. It's some kind of red stuff that is very different." Larry immediately realized it really was different. He smelled the substance, then he tasted it. "This is organic! I can taste and smell cinnamon in it."
The next morning, Eliyahu Mallenbalm took a sample to Dr. Marvin Antelman at the Weizman Institute. Larry and I took a sample to Ya'acov Arkin at the Israel Institute of Geology. Both determined that the substance was organic. Three days later, Dr. Antelman called to tell us to save all the red substance. The staff at Weizman had found that the material contained at least eight of the spices present in the Pitum haQetoret. Meanwhile, Dr. Antelman had taken two samples to Bar-Ilan University for testing. In the end, all three Departments identified eight of the eleven spices which were used in the manufacture of the Qetoret (Temple Incense).
This second discovery satisfied the condition previously set by Ben-Luria to substantiate the accuracy of the Copper Scroll.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution to the Copper Scroll's validity is the work now being done by Professor Bruce Zuckerman at the Center for Ancient Biblical Manuscripts. Zuckerman was permitted to photograph the Copper Scroll in 1991.
In our own work on the Copper Scroll, Zahava Cohen (my technical assistant) utilized her rabbinical and linguistic expertise to interpret the Copper Scroll. She developed a list of over eighty words that are not found in classical or rabbinical literature. When Zahava and I visited Professor Zuckerman, she showed him the list. Professor Zuckerman explained that he and his associates had found roughly the same number of questionable words. They occur because of the faulty work and subsequent publication of the errors by Allegro and Milik. When Zuckerman's work is published, it will no doubt answer many questions about the Copper Scroll.
I began excavations in Qumran on June 8, 1967, with Solomon Steckoll, (8) and later with anthropologist, Professor Haas from Hebrew University. Steckoll was working under a permit from Jordan's Department of Antiquities. Even then, I was very much aware that the response from many in the academic community would not be favorable. If the Copper Scroll was a "hoax," as many considered it, then to use the "hoax" document as a guide for excavations had to be totally absurd! This criticism was expected and it came! I had no pretense or response.
Our objective was to avoid publicity to keep a low profile and to continue with our task despite the many difficulties. We worked continuously with the scroll from 1967 until 1977. I walked the area for many months in order to "lay the scroll on the ground" and to identify the geography and geology mentioned in the scroll. For those 10 years, I excavated the "words" of the scroll and sought to correlate the places referenced in the scroll with the sites on the ground. The late Pesach Bar-Adon gave me the greatest assistance and encouragement. His suggestions were invaluable and his constant companionship was most rewarding. Pesach was my mentor. He was like a father to me. With his assistance we were ultimately able to identify over 30 points of geographical and geological references in the scroll. These references accurately matched the physical location, corresponding caves, and geographical terrain of the area from "Even Bohan Ben-Reuben to the Canal of Succacah."
The interpretation and analysis of the information contained in the scroll was extensive and time consuming. It was necessary, however, and the ten years of research absolutely essential, to resolve the question of the scroll's validity. If the geography and geology of the area could not be correlated with the "geo-data" of the Copper Scroll, then the scroll was irrelevant. Conversely, if the "geo-data" was accurate with respect to the environment, then the account of the things hidden was more likely to be accurate and factual. A brief synopsis of our research follows.
In the beginning, I had assumed, as did others, that the Copper Scroll was a document written by the Essenes. This assumption later proved to be wrong! However, given such an assumption, and given that the document was considered a hoax by the "authorities," it would have been the Essenes who had perpetrated the hoax!!
This was of course absurd. It would be a breach of logic to think that the same community that wrote the "Manual of Discipline," the "MMS" document and other serious community scrolls, would fabricate, as some have suggested, a practical joke. For the writers of the scroll, particularly these writers, to take the time and trouble to pound out two meters of copper sheet, then painstakingly engrave that sheet with text written in bas relief, (9) and etch thereon a message written in "mirror image," from the reverse side, to make a joke, would be silly in the extreme. Especially if they knew that they would not be alive to laugh at their pun.
Writing the script with a stylus on a copper medium was in itself an arduous task. There had to be a reason why the scroll was written from the back side in "mirror image" so that the letters would protrude on the face side. That answer was literally "wrapped-up" in the windings of the scroll! Those windings were filled with hard clay (10) that was fired to the hardness of pottery in a low temperature kiln. Since the clay contained the impression of the protruding letters of the copper sheet, it was the clay that the writers expected to survive the eons of time, not the copper. Fortunately, the copper too survived because it was encased in the clay. However, the specialists (11) at Manchester did not realize the importance of the scroll's having been written in bas relief. They had no idea that the clay contained the impression of the text. Moreover, they thought that it was necessary to remove the clay before the scroll could be opened. Little did they realize that the clay itself contained readable text. Even more unfortunate, the process they used to remove the clay damaged the highly oxidized copper material and resulted in the loss of some of the scroll's text.
The Manchester team assumed that the windings of the scroll had simply become filled with dirt from the cave -- dirt which had become hardened. However, the consistency of the soil in Cave Q-3 (as in all the caves of the area) is a fine dust powder classified as "sandy loess" that is void of any silicon which would promote the hardening of the dust soil (see fig. 7.71).12 When water is added to this soil and allowed to dry, the soil then returns to dust with no cementation. The hardened clay between the spirals of the scroll was therefore out of situ with the cave's geological environment. The clay had to have been intentionally poured between the copper windings or applied to the surface of the copper before winding, and then fired in a kiln sufficient to bond the clay to a pottery-like hardness.
It is evident that the writers of the scroll fully expected the copper to eventually oxidize. They wrote the scroll with the letters protruding into the clay so the message would be as permanent as a cuneiform clay tablet. It was most unfortunate that the Manchester team was not made aware of this soil data. If they had, the clay might have been removed intact, and when pieced together, might have provided a more legible and lasting message than the copper plate itself. Fortunately, the Copper Scroll had not totally oxidized and much of its message was preserved despite the deterioration and faulty work (13) performed by Manchester team. Few would disagree the Copper Scroll is the most valuable document ever written if it leads us to the discovery of the sacred treasures that are listed within.
There are, of course, those who criticize the use of ancient texts to locate historical treasures. However, Schliemann found Troy using Homer's Iliad and Carter found King Tut's tomb by taking an obscure Egyptian papyrus seriously. Both of these men were criticized by the academia of their day. It is worth noting, however, that while the world remembers the names of Schliemann and Carter no one remembers the names of their critics!The critics say, "To use a written document in an attempt to find what is written therein is not pure objective archaeology." This may be true from a logical point of view. After all, to use a document to search for something is a subjective approach. Yet, it is no more subjective than using a document of Byzantine origin to locate a monastery, or to use Josephus to locate a Herodian building described in his writings, or the Book of Joshua to locate a Middle Bronze city or geographical boundary.
For many, John Allegro's exaggeration of the gold and silver in the Copper Scroll turned the use of the scroll into a "treasure hunt." If the exaggeration were true, it could indeed be objectionable. However, honest scholarship must ignore the objection since it is based on a false premise. The exaggeration must be recognized for what it is, and proper archaeological excavations must proceed. Objectivity, when taken to its ultimate conclusion, always arrives at total subjectivity to objectivity!
Most critics of the Copper Scroll are those who have only scant working knowledge or a college/seminary working knowledge of classical Hebrew at best. They are not conversant in the language nor do they understand rabbinical terminology. As both Ben-Luria and Manfred Lehmann (14) point out: "Without an in-depth knowledge of rabbinical literature and terminology, an understanding of the Copper Scroll is impossible." Even a Hebrew speaking Israeli linguist will fall short of making sense of this "crazy" scroll if he is not conversant in rabbinical terminology. Those who sit in their academic ivory towers of theology, and hide behind sheepskins, only parrot what they think their "respected authorities" have already stated. Any vindication of the Copper Scroll by a "do-er" who begins to find items listed in the scroll, especially using high technology, high standards and elegant methods of excavation, will naturally be an insult to his critics.
The suggestion that the Essenes were the people of Qumran is, in its own right, quite controversial. An objection is raised, for example, because they never refer to themselves as Essenes. Another objection is linguistic: Specifically, the word "Essene" in Josephus (15) and Pliny is Greek, yet there is no root derivative for the word in the Greek language. If the Greek word "Essene" is a corrupt transliteration from a Hebrew original nominative, then it should not be sought through the Greek etymology. Rather, it should be sought through Hebrew etymology. Professor Robert Eisenman has suggested (16) that the word Essene is derived from the Hebrew word Yishiyim or Jessyites. Indeed, if he is correct, then the word Essene should not be expected to have a Greek derivative.
It is more logical to assume that their "Essene" or "Yishiyim" name was derived from their belief. The Yishiyim believed that the One Messiah, or Anointed One, was King David, the Son of Yishai or Jessy. They believed that Mashiach HaShem, David, son of Yishai, would be raised up to be Israel's coming "One King Messiah." There are several references to support this suggestion (see for example Ez. 37:24-28). Also associated with this "raising up of David" is the resurrection and repair of the "geder" or boundaries of the Tabernacle (Succah of David) as indicated within the text of Amos 9:11-12: "On that day, I will raise up the Sukkah (Tabernacle) of David that is fallen. I will raise up the geder [to repair] the breaches thereof; I will raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they (Israel) may inherit the remnant of mankind, (17) and all the Gentiles upon whom My Name is called, says the L-rd, who will bring this about."
The "Son of David" in the Davidic Covenant of I Sam. 7:1-17 is restricted to Shlomo (Solomon) alone who built the Great House of G-d. However, no term of Messiah was applied to Shlomo other than his royal anointing by Nathan the Prophet. Nor was it said that the great House of G-d built by Shlomo was to be eternal. Only the terminology used for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was eternal.
Those appellations that pertain to the idea of a Messiah in the Davidic Covenant, and other above references, are purely eschatological. They refer only to the raising up of David himself. The Essenes believed that David was (and would be) the only one called "The L-rd's Messiah."
According to the preceding text in Amos, the recovery of the ancient Tabernacle, and the repair of its "geder," would precede the coming of Messiah. This concept fits within the sequential syntax of recent history (i.e. the return of the Land of Israel to the people of Israel, and the return of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel.)
It may well have been this Messianic idea that formed the beliefs of the Yishiyim (Essenes). If so, this would account for the absence of the traditional Jewish Messiah concept in the scrolls attributed to the Qumran sect, and for the fact that the idea of an imminent redemption for Israel (from the threat of Rome) would be missing in this document. To the contrary, the redemption of Israel that is mentioned in the texts suggests an eschatological redemption that is far in the future from the writers of the Copper scroll's own time.
Just as it is futile to equate the text of the War Scroll with the circumstances surrounding the Maccabeean period, as some have attempted, so the Messianic concept of the Yishiyim in the texts and its implications should be obvious. This document in particular, and the scrolls in general, ignore the normal Messianic tradition in Judaism because the Essenes had their own point of view a point of view that is even further removed from the Messianic concepts advanced by Christianity. Their name "Yishiyim" likely refers to their beliefs, and indicates that they expected the raising up of King David the Son of Yishi, and the return of the Tabernacle to Gilgal. They also expected the judicial system of the first commonwealth to be reestablished prior to the restoration of Temple worship in Jerusalem. (18)
This, however, raises a very important question. Did the Essenes (or whoever these Qumran people were) hide the Temple treasure before the destruction in 70 CE and write the Copper Scroll as is commonly believed? For years I accepted this conclusion. I was wrong, however, as were others. The Copper Scroll, contrary to popular belief, deals primarily with the treasures of the ancient Tabernacle, not the Herodian Temple!
Except for the spices of the Incense (Qetoret) and the Ashes of the Red Heifer (that are contained within a vessel called the "Kalal"), the items that are described in the Copper Scroll all belong to the First Commonwealth, not the Second. That also would explain why two things from the First Temple (19) were not present in the Second Temple (i.e. the Ark of the Covenant and the Shemen Afarsimon (Anointing Oil).
The first inkling we had that the hidden treasure belonged to the First Commonwealth was from the illustrious "First Ark Explorer," A. F. Futterer, (20) during the first two decades of this century. Futterer based his arguments on II Maccabees 2:1-6. Of course, the Book of Maccabees is apocryphal. It was not written to be of prophetic candor. It was written after the period of the Prophets had ended. The writer expressed his purpose and intention in II Maccabees 15:37-39: "So ends this episode... I shall bring my own work to an end here too. If it is well composed and to the point, that is just what I wanted. If it is trashy and mediocre, that is all I could manage. Just as it is injurious to drink wine by itself, and again to drink water, whereas wine mixed with water is pleasant and produces a delightful sense of well-being, so skill in presenting the incidents is what delights the understanding of those who read the story. On this note I will close."
In II Maccabees 2:1-8, the author writes: "(1) It is also found in the records that the prophet Jeremiah ordered those who were carried away to take some of the fire, as has been described. (2) And that after giving them the Torah, the prophet charged those who were carried away not to forget the L-rd's commands, and not to be led astray in their minds when they would see gold and silver idols and their ornamentation. (3) And with other similar exhortations he told them that the Torah should not pass from their hearts. (4) It was also in the writing that the prophet, in obedience to a revelation, gave orders that the Tent (Tabernacle) and the Ark should accompany him, and that he went away to the mountain where Moses went up and beheld G-d's inheritance. (5) And Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he took the Tent and the Ark and the Incense Altar into it, and he blocked up the entrance. (6) And some of those who followed him came up to mark the road, but they could not find it. (7) When Jeremiah found out about this, he reprimanded them and said, 'The place shall be unknown until G-d re-gathers the congregation of His people together and shows His mercy. (8) Then G-d will show where they (the Tabernacle, Ark, and Altar) are, and the Glory of G-d will be revealed as it was revealed in the days of Moses.'"
If, on the one hand, the Maccabeean writer had access to the non-canonical (21) writings of Jeremiah and reported their contents accurately, then the writings cannot and should not be considered apocryphal! On the other hand, even though the Maccabeean writer records events pertaining to Jeremiah, those events are not included in the text of the book of Jeremiah. Therefore, the writings cannot be considered Canonical Catch 22! And there is yet another catch. These other records also validate the oral tradition of Jewish sources.
Since the Copper Scroll is written explicitly about the Tabernacle and its contents, the Jeremiah passage in II Maccabees takes on an entirely different light. The Jeremiah passage seems to place the cave "where Moses saw G-d's inheritance" on the East side the presumption being that the cave was on the "East side," in apparent contradiction to the Copper Scroll which states that "the complete Tabernacle is on the West side" [QCS column VI line 11]. The latter would suggest that it might possibly have been moved from Mt. Nebo to "the chamber under the Ma'alot of the Cave of the Column facing the East" [QCS column I, line 1-5]. On the other hand, we must ask: What were the "records that were also found" mentioned in II Maccabees 2:1? Are they extant, and if so, can they reconcile the apparent conflict in the texts?
In 1992 Rabbi Rachmael Steinburg made an evaluation: "If Jones'
ideas are valid, then it must be somewhere in our tradition and has simply
been overlooked. We must begin now to search and ascertain the possibility
that Jones could be right." Rabbi Steinburg and his student, Rabbi
Mendel Tropper, began to search for sources that could shed light on "the
other records." They found another source for and reference to "the
records" in a book published in Amsterdam, Holland in the year 1648. It
was written by Rabbi Naftali (ben Elchanan) Hertz. The work was entitled
The reconciliation of the texts is really not so difficult. It revolves around the words, "[Jeremiah] went away to the mountain where Moses went up and beheld G-d's inheritance. And Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling..." (II Maccabees 2:4-5). As we have noted, at first glance, this would seem to refer to Mt. Nebo as mentioned in the Torah: "And Moses went up from the plains of Moav to the peak (Pisgah) of Mount Nebo, facing Jericho, and G-d showed him all the land of Gil'ad, to Dan, and all of Naftali, and the land of Efrayim and Menashe, and all the land of Yehudah, as far as the sea, and the Negev, and the plain; the Valley of Jericho, city of the palms, as far as Zo'ar" (Deuteronomy 34:1-3).
The truth is, however, that the "cave-dwelling" mentioned in II Maccabees 2:5 was not necessarily on Mt. Nebo! In fact, Mt. Nebo is not even mentioned in the II Maccabees account. It merely states: "...where Moses went up and beheld G-d's inheritance." The Cave of the Column complex can easily be seen from Mt. Nebo. On a clear day one can see the church on top of Mt. Nebo from the Cave of the Column. Obviously, we have all made the mistake of not reading the II Maccabbees text carefully, and reading into the text something that is not written there.
The entrance to the cavern under the mountain is today covered and its specific location unknown. According to some sources it is the exit from the Cave of Zidkiyah which begins just North of the Damascus Gate. The cavern descends toward the Dead Sea and finally exits in Emeq Achor. II Kings 25:4-5 reads: "[The wall of] the city was breached, and all the men of war [fled] by night by way of the gate between the two walls, which is by the king's garden. Now, the Chaldeans were against the city round about, and [Zidkiyah, the king] went the way toward the plain [Aravah]. And the army of the Chaldeans pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plain [Aravah] of Jericho...." According to other sources the exit's opening is over 7 meters (~23 feet) high and 20 meters (~66 feet) wide. That is larger than the overpass of a 3 lane freeway. Moses would have no problem viewing that gaping size opening from Mt. Nebo, even without prophetic vision.
WHY IS THE GEOGRAPHY
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This website was last updated Aug 20, 2009