LOST TREASURE OF THE COPPER SCROLL
by Doug Ward
AUGUST, 2008-When I began my undergraduate career at Haverford College in 1975, a former student was enjoying celebrity status. On a popular new television show called Saturday Night Live, comedian Cornelius Crane "Chevy" Chase was the "anchorman" for the show's Weekend Update comedy news segment.
Chase quickly became the talk of the student body. His Haverford career had been brief-he had been expelled after a semester and subsequently transferred to Bard College in New York-but several stories circulated around campus about the pranks he allegedly had pulled during his few months at Haverford. According to one account, he had once brought a cow into Barclay Hall, a dormitory. Another story claimed that he had been involved in directing neighborhood traffic into two college entrances, creating a huge tie up in the middle of campus.
It was exciting that a former student at our little college was a television star, but at the same time, it was disappointing that the star's connection with Haverford was so peripheral. Weren't there any exciting people who had actually graduated from Haverford?
Unbeknownst to me at the time, there were. During that same year, in fact, a Haverford alumnus launched a project that has since proven to be far more significant than the comedy of Weekend Update. In March 1975, Hershel Shanks (class of 1952) began a new magazine, the Biblical Archaeology Review. Shanks, a lawyer, turned his passion for biblical archaeology into a second, more illustrious, career. Over the years since 1975, Shanks has communicated the latest archaeological discoveries with many thousands of readers. Sometime in 2009, the two hundredth issue of BAR will appear.
With beautiful photography and articles by leading scholars, the Biblical Archaeology Review has been a delight to read and reread. Lively arguments appear in the "Queries & Comments" section. Even the advertisements, in their quirky variety, can be fun to check out.
Plenty of Controversy
Shanks correctly anticipated that his publication would stir up controversy, particularly with respect to the historical accuracy of the Bible. In an introductory editorial in the very first issue of BAR, he articulated his philosophy on this subject:
"Our readers differ in other ways. Not only are they of different religions (or no religion), they also have different kinds of commitments to the Bible. For some, the Bible is the sacred word of God against which all truth is to be measured. For others, the Bible is the literary remains of an ancient civilization which may be dissected and analyzed just like any other ancient literary document.
On this point, we have our own commitment which we shall make explicit at the outset. Our commitment is to scientific truth, not to sacred truth. Not that we deny or denigrate the validity of sacred truth. Simply that sacred truth is for each man or woman to find on his or her own, in his or her own way. We do not believe it is likely to be found through a study of Biblical archaeology, but we have no objection to someone's finding inspiration here. On the other hand, neither do we believe one's faith will be destroyed by a study of Biblical archaeology-regardless of the archaeologists' findings. If it is, it is a faith based on too shallow a version of sacred truth. In short, our view of the parameters of faith is that they do not infringe upon, nor are they threatened by, a search for scientific truth. Conversely, even the broadest search for scientific truth leaves plenty of room for faith. The rest is up to each reader."
As it has turned out, the BAR has carried articles by scholars from a variety of points of view. Some question the veracity of the Bible, moving disgruntled readers to cancel their subscriptions. (Almost every issue contains cancellation letters.) On the other hand, there have been a significant number of articles by scholars who hold a high view of Scripture, including the likes of Richard Hess, James Hoffmeier, Kenneth Kitchen, William Sanford LaSor, Alan Millard, D.J. Wiseman, Ben Witherington, Bryant Wood, and Edwin Yamauchi. My personal view: While I do not find everything in BAR to be of value, this magazine has definitely extended my knowledge of the Bible and the biblical world. I have found nothing in BAR that has shaken my faith, and evidence supporting the biblical record is frequently presented.
The controversy for which Shanks and BAR are best known involves the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the biggest archaeological finds of the twentieth century. By the late 1980s, hundreds of scroll fragments remained unpublished, even though the handful of scholars who were working with those fragments had had exclusive access to them for some thirty-five years. The aging scholars on the official scroll team were working very slowly, and they had no intention of letting others see the scrolls until they had completed definitive editions with extensive analysis and commentary. As other scholars who wanted to study the scrolls became more and more impatient, Shanks in 1985 began calling for photographs of the unpublished scrolls to be made available to the entire scholarly community. He repeated this call more forcefully in 1989, bringing the issue to the attention of major media and the broader public. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Shanks and the BAR, the scroll blackout was finally lifted in late 1991.
The Strangest Scroll
The year 2007 was the sixtieth anniversary of the time when the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls came to the attention of scholars. BAR marked the occasion with special reports on the scrolls and interviews with leading experts. As part of this commemoration, Shanks has published The Copper Scroll and the Search for the Temple Treasure, a book about one of the most intriguing scrolls of all.
As Shanks explains, the Copper Scroll was discovered by scholars on March 30, 1952, on a natural shelf near the back of the cave that was designated Cave 3 (because it was third cave in the vicinity of Qumran in which scrolls were found). At the time of its discovery it consisted of two rolls of thin copper, each about a foot wide.
From the outsides of the rolls it was clear that Hebrew words had been hammered into the copper. In 1953 Prof. Karl George Kuhn was able to pick out about 50 of those words. There were five instances of an instruction to "dig" at a certain number of "cubits" from something, along with mention of gold. Here was a hint that the rolls might be some kind of "treasure map," further increasing the excitement over this find. There was one problem, however: No one knew for sure how to unroll the copper without destroying the fragile document in the process.
This difficulty was surmounted a few years later when one member of the scroll translation team, the impetuous young John Marco Allegro, volunteered to find someone in Manchester, England, who could open the copper rolls. Allegro enlisted the services of Henry Wright Baker, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Manchester College of Science and Technology. Baker designed an ingenious process by which a plastic adhesive was applied to the copper as it was slowly unrolled, making it possible for the copper to be cut into cup-shaped strips by a tiny circular saw. In late 1955 and early 1956, Baker successfully implemented his plan, cutting the two rolls into a total of 23 strips. Allegro was then able to make an initial transcription of the text of the document. An official edition of the Copper Scroll text was subsequently published by expert scroll scholar Jozef Milik in 1962.
Contents of the Scroll
Shanks's description of the details of the unrolling of the copper, and his explanation of the falling out that soon occurred between Allegro and the rest of the translation team, make for absorbing reading. Even more fascinating is his discussion of the scroll's contents.
The text of the Copper Scroll is not a narrative, a prophecy, or a compilation of laws, psalms, or wisdom sayings. Instead, it is a simple list of 64 locations, with descriptions of items that have been buried at each one. For example, here are the first three items in the list:
Location 1: In Harubah, which is in the Valley of Achor, beneath the steps that enter to the east, 40 lath cubits: a chest of silver and its vessels. Weight: 17 talents. ken
Location 2: In the funerary shrine, in the third course of stones: 100 gold ingots.
Location 3: In the large pit that is within the court of the peristyle, in the gutter of its bottom, sealed in the entrenchment opposite the upper door: 900 talents.
This sample illustrates some recurring features of the document. A fairly specific location given in the first entry is followed by two less specific ones. Presumably the "funerary shrine" and the "large pit" are also at "Harubah, which is in the Valley of Achor." Sometimes a specific metal is mentioned, other times just a weight-e.g., 900 talents in the third entry. At the ends of several of the early entries in the list, some Greek letters appear with no explanation given-e.g., ken at the end of the first entry.
There are a number of indications that the treasure catalogued in the Copper Scroll is connected with the Jerusalem Temple. First, the document is written in Hebrew, the liturgical language of Israel. Second, temple inventories from the Roman period were sometimes inscribed in copper, as shown by some examples from Egypt. Third, the items in some entries include offerings-e.g., "second tithe" in Location 4-that had been redeemed for precious metals, or sacred vessels used in Temple worship. Fourth, a number of the locations seem to be near the Temple. One of the locations (number 32) is "the cave that is next to the cooling place belonging to the house of Hakkoz." The House of Hakkoz was a prominent priestly family (1 Chron 24:10).
For these reasons, it is generally believed that the treasure described in the Copper Scroll is associated with the Temple. But when, and under what circumstances, was it buried?
In one scenario, the treasure was buried during the Jewish revolt in 66-70 A.D. to protect it from the Roman invaders. This scenario raises questions about why the scroll was deposited in the Qumran region and why some of the burial locations are located in that region. The Romans controlled the Qumran region during the 68-70 A.D. period, and it is generally believed that the sectarians of Qumran were hostile to Temple authorities.
A possibility that I find more likely has been advanced by the late scroll scholar Manfred R. Lehmann.1 Lehmann suggested that the treasure was collected after the Jewish revolt for the purpose of financing the rebuilding of the Temple. He noted that the inventory of offerings includes no mention of sacrificial offerings, consistent with the post-Temple period when no sacrifices were conducted.
Lehmann believed that the Copper Scroll treasure was probably discovered and confiscated by Rome. As evidence for this scenario, he pointed to a coin that circulated during the short reign of the Roman Emperor Nerva (96-98 A.D.). This coin carries an inscription which says, "The insult of the Jewish taxes has been annulled." Lehmann saw this inscription as an indication that the Jews had continued collecting temple taxes and offerings after 70 A.D., in defiance of the Romans, but that Roman authorities had eventually learned about this practice and grabbed the proceeds for themselves.
Treasure Hunting at Hyrcania
The possibility that the Copper Scroll treasure was unearthed long ago has not stopped some modern treasure hunters from pursuing it. John Marco Allegro believed that the first three locations in the list were at Hyrcania, the site of a palace from the Hasmonean period. He led a brief expedition there in 1960, which found two tunnels that go into the hill on which the palace was built. Allegro's team cleared about 100 feet of one of the tunnels but found no treasure there.
Later, in the 1980s, a Continental Airlines pilot named Bob Morgan dug a little further into this tunnel in his spare time. Morgan later enlisted the help of Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist. Under Gutfeld's direction the first tunnel, which extends for 328 feet, has been completely cleared out, and investigation of the second tunnel has begun. Gutfeld does not know why the tunnels were originally dug.2
With vivid photographs, helpful maps, and a recent translation of the text, Shanks's book on the Copper Scroll will delight scroll enthusiasts. And since this mysterious scroll has generated more questions than answers, we can look forward to further articles about it in the BAR.
1See Lehmann's article, "Where the Temple Tax Was Buried: The Key to Understanding the Copper Scroll" in the November/December 1993 issue of BAR.
2See Gutfeld's article, "Hyrcania's Mysterious Tunnels: Searching for the Treasures of the Copper Scroll" in the September/October 2006 issue of BAR.
translated from TEX by TTH,
On 15 Aug 2008, 10:14.