The Copper Scroll (3Q15)
"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." So begins the first column of the Copper Scroll, one of the most intriguing, and baffling, scrolls to be found among the collection known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sounding like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, the text of the Copper Scroll (3Q15) describes vast amounts of buried treasure.
What about all that treasure? What is it? Has anyone found it? The answer to the last question is, no, at least that they are telling.
The treasure described in the Copper Scroll consists of vast quantities of gold and silver, 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.
With this great treasure list, you may ask, why isn't everyone out looking for the treasure? (And why hasn't Stephen Spielberg made a movie out of it?) The truth is, some people are looking for it, but it is not all that easy. To begin with, we do not know what all the words in the text mean. The text is in Hebrew, which is certainly a known language, but most ancient Hebrew texts that we have are religious in nature, and the Copper Scroll is anything but religious. Most of its vocabulary is simply not found in the Bible or anything else we have from ancient times.
Not only is the vocabulary of the scroll very technical, some
of the geographical locations are unknown after so many years,
many are too specific and some refer to places that no longer
exist. Take some of the following examples:
"In the gutter which is in the bottom of the (rain-water)
"In the Second Enclosure, in the underground passage that
"In the water conduit of [...] the north[ern] reservoir..."
There are those who have suggested that the treasure never actually
existed, that the Copper Scroll is simply a work of fiction.
Even if the treasure did exist, we do not know where it came from
or who it belonged to. 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.
Photograph by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research, in collaboration with the Princeton Theological Seminary. Courtesy Department of Antiquities, Jordan.
Commentary by Marilyn J. Lundberg.