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The Dead Sea's Copper Scroll



The Copper Scroll!

The oldest treasure map in history, the Copper Scroll that was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, has detailed instructions on how to find buried treasure. The following lines are an English translation of the opening lines of the Copper Scroll! Ready to go treasure hunting?

“In the ruin which is in the valley of Acor, under
the steps leading to the East,
forty long cubits: a chest of silver and its vessels
with a weight of seventeen talents.”

So far, no treasure has been found in relation to any of the treasure maps in the Copper Scroll. Maybe you’ll be the first to find some gold!

The Copper Scroll from the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls–unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls that were written on papyrus or parchment, the Copper Scroll was written and pressed into metal.


The Mystery of the Copper Scroll

JERUSALEM, Israel - In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd wandered the hills of Qumran in search of a missing sheep.

He threw a stone into a cave, hoping to drive the lost animal outside. Instead, the sound of shattered pottery drew the shepherd inside the cave.

There he stumbled on the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Copper Scroll

In the years that followed, archaeologists found eleven caves and more than 900 documents here at Qumran. But one scroll was different from all the rest.

Instead of leather or parchment, it was made entirely of copper, and it could be the greatest treasure map in history.

The Copper Scroll describes a hidden cache of gold and silver buried in more than 60 locations throughout Israel.

The monetary value is close to $3 billion, but the historical value - is priceless.

The only place in ancient Israel with that much wealth was the Jewish Temple.

Stephen Pfann is one of the editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"This is a tremendous witness to history. To actually have a list of treasures from the temple itself from the first century is just amazing. We have nothing better than the Copper Scroll now for telling us what was really there," Pfann, one of the editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls said.

Pfann took CBN News' Chris Mitchell up to cave number 3 at Qumra, where the Copper Scroll was hidden for nearly 2,000 years.

"You can actually see the place where the Copper Scroll was found," Pfann said.

The Purpose of the Scroll

"Well, the copper scroll had to be written just immediately before the destruction of the temple," Pfann explained.

"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," he said

Some of their hiding places are easy to find on a modern map like Jericho, the Valley of Achor, and Mount Gerizim.

Others are more cryptic like "Solomon's Canal," which contains a stash of silver coins, a well in Milham where garments for the high priest were hidden, or Matia's Courtyard, where more than 600 gold and silver temple vessels were buried.

"The instruction on the scroll is like a kids' treasure map in a way They're talking about caves, they're talking about tombs, they're talking about aqueducts and pools that were known to them at the time - probably with aliases of names applied to these places so that only those people who are part of the inner circle would know where to go, how many steps to go away and where to find the temple treasure that was buried in that spot." Pfann said.

The scroll's language is a mystery in itself.

Some passages use a style of Hebrew that's 800 years older than the scroll itself. Adding to the puzzle is a series of random Greek letters.

Pfann said, "It kind of freezes in time the language to around 70 AD to what the Hebrew language looked like among the common people of that time.

The Fate of the Lost Treasure

Pfann says anyone looking for it today is about 2,000 years too late.

"In my mind, most if not all of these were actually found by the Romans under the point of the sword And we do know that Titus used the booty to build the Colosseum in Rome. It says so on the Colosseum. You can actually see the impression of the letters, 'this was built with the booty,'" Pfann said.

"If there's any treasure left, there would have been small parts that might not have been found that still lie out there ready for people to find today. We don't know," he said.

The scroll's last line hints at an even greater treasure, "In a dry well at Kohlit a copy of this document with its explanation and an inventory of each and every thing."

"What's interesting is that there were actually two treasure maps that were made," Pfann said.

"Line 64 of the copper scroll is the most fascinating of all - hard to decode but quite compelling," said author Joel Rosenberg.

The Discovery of all Discoveries

Rosenberg hit the New York Times bestseller list with his novel on the Copper Scroll.

He believes the second scroll is still out there and it could be the key to the greatest archaeological prize in history.

"What if finding the treasures of the Copper Scroll did in fact lead to the Ark of the Covenant being found?" he asked.

Rosenberg may be on to something.

Ancient Jewish writings say the ark and other first temple treasures were hidden by priests before the invasion of the Babylonians.

Their locations were inscribed on a tablet of copper.

Rosenberg said, "The Key Scroll has never been found, nobody has any idea where it is."

"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."

*Originally aired March 31, 2008.

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Reviews for The Copper Scroll Project

As long as inquisitive spirits inhabit the world, there will be those who push the envelope of exploration. Sometimes it takes an adventurer with fiery soul to go where others fear to tread, taking the proverbial snake by its tail and propounding fresh new theories. Jim Barfield is one such unlikely researcher. His quest for the secrets of the mysterious Copper Scroll leads him on an unparalleled excursion into the most controversial arena of ancient biblical scholarship. Jim’s journey also touches on hundreds of tons of buried gold and silver and even the fabled Ark of the Covenant. Whether you agree or disagree with his avant-garde approach, his audacious journey will motivate and inspire. This story of Jim and his team is definitely worth a read!

Coordinator , Interdisciplinary Program in Judaic Studies at University of Central Florida

Neese’s narrative pacing and story-telling is masterful. She also gets the political and religious nuances of contemporary Israel. The Copper Scroll Project will inform even Jews like me who do not hanker for a Third Temple and abhor the notion of a 21 st century theocratic Israel. Furthermore, the genuineness and decency of Christians such as Jim Barfield who want to embrace the Jewish side of Jesus also comes through as real and touching.

Jerusalem-based author and former editorial page editor at The Jerusalem Post

The Copper Scroll Project, Shelley Neese’s brilliant new work of nonfiction, is equal parts mystery, treasure hunt and also erudite elucidation of biblical history. And, add to that a cast of characters as quirky and compelling as Ocean’s 11. This is a real-life plot ready made for Hollywood. With Neese’s profound gifts as a storyteller, you’ve also got a book that will keep readers on the edges of their seats. Moreover, it even makes them reconsider much of what they thought they knew about the most puzzling Dead Sea Scroll of all. Read this book now!


Secrets of the Copper Scroll

The mysteries of the Copper Scroll, found in one of the Dead Sea caves, have never really been solved. The Copper Scroll seems to contain a list of treasure—and is the kind of find that Indiana Jones could have used to track down vast amounts of gold and silver ingots. Its very substance—fine copper—indicates that the people who hid this text were wealthy. But not a single piece of treasure from the Copper Scroll has ever been located.

Scholars ask many questions: Was this treasure ever hidden, or is it a kind of fantasy? If treasure was hidden, when did this hiding take place? And what kind of treasure was it?

The Copper Scroll was discovered in the cave explorations done jointly by the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the Palestine Archaeological Museum, and the École Biblique et Archéologique Français in March 1952. It was found by a team headed by French archaeologist Henri de Contenson in a cave about 1 mile north of the site of Qumran, in the northwestern region of the Dead Sea. Known as 3Q (the third cave found with manuscripts in it [3], close to the site of Qumran [Q]), this cave otherwise contained fragments of parchment and papyrus manuscripts, textiles, more than 30 broken cylindrical jars, more than 20 lids, two jugs, and a lamp. 1


INTRODUCTION to the Dead Sea Scrolls

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS. Since 1947, when a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon a cave (about seven miles S of Jericho and a mile from the Dead Sea) containing many scrolls of leather covered with Heb. and Aram. writing, biblical studies have been considerably altered by what has come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Discoveries. When all of the great manuscripts from this cave (known as Cave 1) were assembled in the possession of the state of Israel, they included a complete Isaiah, a partial Isaiah, a Habakkuk commentary (including two chapters of Habakkuk), The Manual of Discipline (rules for members of the religious community living nearby), Thanksgiving Hymns, a Genesis Apocryphon (apocryphal accounts of some of the patriarchs) and Wars of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (an account of a real or spiritual war between some of the Hebrew tribes and tribes E of the Jordan).

This cache of documents stimulated exploration of some 270 caves in the vicinity of Cave 1, with the result that a total of 11 caves were found to contain manuscripts like those discovered in Cave 1. In Cave 2 there were about one hundred fragments of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Psalms, and Ruth. Cave 3 contained the famous copper scrolls, with directions to sites where treasure was located. To date none of this treasure has been found. Cave 4 contained fragments of about one hundred biblical scrolls representing all the OT books except Esther. A fragment of Samuel, dating to the third century b.c. and believed to be the oldest known piece of biblical Heb., came from this cave. Caves 5–10 had a variety of scroll fragments too diverse to list here. Prize pieces from Cave 11 included very fine portions of Psalms and Leviticus. The former included forty-eight psalms, forty-one biblical and seven nonbiblical. It should be noted that biblical manuscripts accounted for only a fraction of the scroll fragments e.g., some forty thousand fragments of an unknown number of manuscripts turned up in Cave 4.

As all this material came to light, interest centered on the ruin Khirbet Qumran, located on a plateau between Cave 4 and the Dead Sea. G. Lankester Harding, director of the Department of Antiquities for the state of Jordan, and Father R. de Vaux of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem dug there in 1951 and 1953 to 1956. Evidently, this was the center of the religious community (largely celibate) responsible for copying and assembling the library found in the eleven caves. Many scholars have classified them as Essenes, but not all are convinced of that identification.

The general date of the scrolls is bound up with the date of the community and is established on the basis of at least five lines of evidence: (1) carbon 14 tests on linen wrappings of the scrolls (range of c. 327 b.c.–a.d. 73) (2) coins found in the community, dating from 325 b.c. to a.d. 68 (3) pottery chronology for the jars in which the scrolls were found, as well as other pottery found in the community center and the scroll caves (4) comparative paleography (science of handwriting) (5) linguistic analysis of Aram. documents found in the caves.

Discoveries in the Qumran area sparked interest in other cave investigation. From caves in the Wadi Murabba‘at (twelve miles S of Qumran) in 1952 came fragments in Heb. of five leather scrolls: two of Exodus and one each of Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah. Bedouin later found in this area an incomplete scroll of the minor prophets and fragments of Genesis, Numbers, and Psalms. At Khirbet Mird in the Wadi en-Nar, six miles SW of Qumran, a Belgian expedition found biblical materials (dating to the fifth through eighth centuries) consisting of portions of Mark, John, and Acts in Gk. and Joshua, Luke, John, Acts, and Colossians in Syr. In 1960 an Israeli team found Heb. fragments of Pss. 15 and 16, Ex. 13, and Num. 20 in caves in the Nahal Hever gorge, about three miles S of En-gedi. They also found a considerable collection of Bar Kochba materials there. Then at Masada, Yigael Yadin found the following first-century a.d. materials: Pss. 81–85 and 150, fragments of Genesis, Lev. 8–12, Deuteronomy, and Ezekiel.

The Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The big question yet to be answered is what all the magnificent discoveries near the Dead Sea have done for biblical studies. In the first place, they pushed the history of the Heb. text back a thousand years. Before the discovery of these texts, the oldest Heb. manuscript of any length dated to the ninth century a.d. The Isaiah manuscript and other materials from Qumran dated to the second century b.c. or earlier. Second, the Dead Sea Scrolls have thrown much light on the meanings of individual words often not clearly understood from their OT usage. Third, some higher critical views have been brought into question by the scroll discoveries. For example, the supposed second-century date for the composition of Daniel is difficult to support when a Dead Sea manuscript of Daniel dates to about 120 b.c. Likewise, a second- or first-century b.c. date for the composition of Ecclesiastes can hardly be maintained when part of Ecclesiastes, dating about 175 to 150 b.c., is produced from Cave 4. Moreover, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not support the existence of a deutero- or trito-Isaiah, at least during the second century b.c. The two Isaiah manuscripts from Cave 1 treat the book as a unit. Fourth, the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the OT text. The new information shows that there were three or four families of texts, of which the Masoretic, or traditional Heb., text was one. But even though the Masoretic family of texts had to compete with the other textual traditions, it did not greatly diverge from them in most OT books, and the differences have a bearing only on minor points. Probably it is reasonably correct to say that there is at least 95 percent agreement between the various biblical texts found near the Dead Sea and the OT we have had all along. Most of the variations are minor, and none of the doctrines has been put in jeopardy. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal a miracle of preservation of the text in transmission. In fact, when the Revised Standard Version translation committee was preparing that new version, they finally decided to adopt only thirteen improvements on the MT of Isaiah based on the complete Isaiah manuscript from Cave 1. Later Millar Burrows, a member of the committee, concluded that only eight of the changes were warranted. Last, the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that the contents of John’s gospel reflect the authentic Jewish background of John the Baptist and Jesus and the writer, rather than an alleged Hellenistic or later Gnostic orientation.

bibliography: C. Rabin, The Zadokite Documents (1952) H. H. Rowley, The Zadokite Fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls M. Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1955) G. Vermes, Discoveries in the Judean Desert (1956) T. H. Gaster, The Scriptures of the Dead Sea Sect (1957) A. Y. Samuel, The Treasures of Qumran (1957) M. Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (1958) F. M. Cross, Ancient Library of Qumran (1958) W. S. LaSor, Bibliography of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1948–1957 (1958) J. T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea (1959) J. M. Allegro, The Treasure of the Copper Scroll (1960) R. K. Harrison, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1961) A. Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings from Qumram (1962) G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1962) G. R. Driver, The Judaean Scrolls (1965) J. de Waard, ed., A Comparative Study of the Old Testament Text in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the New Testament (1966) M. Black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins (1969) J. R. Rosenbloom, The Dead Sea Isaiah Scroll (1970) B. Jongeling, Classified Bibliography of the Finds of the Desert of Judah, 1958–1969 (1971) R. de Vaux, Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1973) J. A. Fitzmeyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Major Publications and Tools for Study (1975) G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective (1977) J. C. Trever, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Personal Account (1978). [1]


Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Israeli archaeologist yuval peleg halts his jeep where the jagged Judean hills peter out into a jumble of boulders. Before us, across the flat-calm Dead Sea, the sun rises over the mountains of Jordan. The heat on this spring morning is already intense. There are no trees or grass, just a few crumbling stone walls. It is a scene of silent desolation—until, that is, tourists in hats and visors pour out of shiny buses.

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They have come to this harsh and remote site in the West Bank, known as Qumran, because this is where the most important religious texts in the Western world were found in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls—comprising more than 800 documents made of animal skin, papyrus and even forged copper—deepened our understanding of the Bible and shed light on the histories of Judaism and Christianity. Among the texts are parts of every book of the Hebrew canon—what Christians call the Old Testament—except the book of Esther. The scrolls also contain a collection of previously unknown hymns, prayers, commentaries, mystical formulas and the earliest version of the Ten Commandments. Most were written between 200 B.C. and the period prior to the failed Jewish revolt to gain political and religious independence from Rome that lasted from A.D. 66 to 70—predating by 8 to 11 centuries the oldest previously known Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.

Tour guides shepherding the tourists through the modest desert ruins speak of the scrolls’ origin, a narrative that has been repeated almost since they were discovered more than 60 years ago. Qumran, the guides say, was home to a community of Jewish ascetics called the Essenes, who devoted their lives to writing and preserving sacred texts. They were hard at work by the time Jesus began preaching ultimately they stored the scrolls in 11 caves before Romans destroyed their settlement in A.D. 68.

But hearing the dramatic recitation, Peleg, 40, rolls his eyes. “There is no connection to the Essenes at this site,” he tells me as a hawk circles above in the warming air. He says the scrolls had nothing to do with the settlement. Evidence for a religious community here, he says, is unconvincing. He believes, rather, that Jews fleeing the Roman rampage hurriedly stuffed the documents into the Qumran caves for safekeeping. After digging at the site for ten years, he also believes that Qumran was originally a fort designed to protect a growing Jewish population from threats to the east. Later, it was converted into a pottery factory to serve nearby towns like Jericho, he says.

Other scholars describe Qumran variously as a manor house, a perfume manufacturing center and even a tannery. Despite decades of excavations and careful analysis, there is no consensus about who lived there—and, consequently, no consensus about who actually wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“It’s an enigmatic and confusing site,” acknowledges Risa Levitt Kohn, who in 2007 curated an exhibit about the Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego. She says the sheer breadth and age of the writings—during a period that intersects with the life of Jesus and the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem—make Qumran “a powder keg” among normally placid scholars. Qumran has prompted bitter feuds and even a recent criminal investigation.

Nobody doubts the scrolls’ authenticity, but the question of authorship has implications for understanding the history of both Judaism and Christianity. In 164 B.C., a group of Jewish dissidents, the Maccabees, overthrew the Seleucid Empire that then ruled Judea. The Maccabees established an independent kingdom and, in so doing, tossed out the priestly class that had controlled the temple in Jerusalem since the time of King Solomon. The turmoil led to the emergence of several rival sects, each one vying for dominance. If the Qumran texts were written by one such sect, the scrolls “help us to understand the forces that operated after the Maccabean Revolt and how various Jewish groups reacted to those forces,” says New York University professor of Jewish and Hebraic studies Lawrence Schiffman in his book Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls. “While some sects were accommodating themselves to the new order in various ways, the Dead Sea group decided it had to leave Jerusalem altogether in order to continue its unique way of life.”

And if Qumran indeed housed religious ascetics who turned their backs on what they saw as Jerusalem’s decadence, then the Essenes may well represent a previously unknown link between Judaism and Christianity. “John the Baptizer, Jesus’ teacher, probably learned from the Qumran Essenes—though he was no Essene,” says James Charlesworth, a scrolls scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary. Charlesworth adds that the scrolls “disclose the context of Jesus’ life and message.” Moreover, the beliefs and practices of the Qumran Essenes as described in the scrolls—vows of poverty, baptismal rituals and communal meals—mirror those of early Christians. As such, some see Qumran as the first Christian monastery, the cradle of an emerging faith.

But Peleg and others discount Qumran’s role in the history of the two religions. Norman Golb, a University of Chicago professor of Jewish history (and an academic rival of Schiffman), believes that once Galilee fell during the Jewish revolt, Jerusalem’s citizens knew that the conquest of their city was inevitable they thus gathered up texts from libraries and personal collections and hid them throughout the Judean wilderness, including in the caves near the Dead Sea. If that’s the case, then Qumran was likely a secular—not a spiritual—site, and the scrolls reflect not just the views of a single dissident group of proto-Christians, but a wider tapestry of Jewish thought. “Further determination of the individual concepts and practices described in the scrolls can be best achieved not by forcing them to fit into the single sectarian bed of Essenism,” Golb argued in the journal Biblical Archaeologist.

One assumption that is now widely accepted is that the majority of the scrolls did not originate at Qumran. The earliest texts date to 300 B.C.—a century before Qumran even existed as a settlement—and the latest to a generation before the Romans destroyed the site in A.D. 68. A few scrolls are written in sophisticated Greek rather than a prosaic form of Aramaic or Hebrew that would be expected from a community of ascetics in the Judean desert. And why would such a community keep a list, etched in rare copper, of precious treasures of gold and silver—possibly from the Second Temple in Jerusalem—that had been secreted away? Nor does the word “Essene” appear in any of the scrolls.

Of course none of this rules out the possibility that Qumran was a religious community of scribes. Some scholars are not troubled that the Essenes are not explicitly mentioned in the scrolls, saying that the term for the sect is a foreign label. Schiffman believes they were a splinter group of priests known as the Sadducees. The notion that the scrolls are “a balanced collection of general Jewish texts” must be rejected, he writes in Biblical Archaeologist. “There is now too much evidence that the community that collected those scrolls emerged out of sectarian conflict and that [this] conflict sustained it throughout its existence.” Ultimately, however, the question of who wrote the scrolls is more likely to be resolved by archaeologists scrutinizing Qumran’s every physical remnant than by scholars poring over the texts.

The dead sea scrolls amazed scholars with their remarkable similarity to later versions. But there were also subtle differences. For instance, one scroll expands on the book of Genesis: in Chapter 12, when Abraham’s wife Sarah is taken by the Pharaoh, the scroll depicts Sarah’s beauty, describing her legs, face and hair. And in Chapter 13, when God commands Abraham to walk “through the land in the length,” the scroll adds a first-person account by Abraham of his journey. The Jewish Bible, as accepted today, was the product of a lengthy evolution the scrolls offered important new insights into the process by which the text was edited during its formation.

The scrolls also set forth a series of detailed regulations that challenge the religious laws practiced by the priests in Jerusalem and espoused by other Jewish sects such as the Pharisees. Consequently, scholars of Judaism consider the scrolls to be a missing link between the period when religious laws were passed down orally and the Rabbinic era, beginning circa A.D. 200, when they were systematically recorded—eventually leading to the legal commentaries that became the Talmud.

For Christians as well, the scrolls are a source of profound insight. Jesus is not mentioned in the texts, but as Florida International University scholar Erik Larson has noted, the scrolls have “helped us understand better in what ways Jesus’ messages represented ideas that were current in the Judaism of his time and in what ways [they were] distinctive.” One scroll, for example, mentions a messianic figure who is called both the “Son of God” and the “Son of the Most High.” Many theologians had speculated that the phrase “Son of God” was adopted by early Christians after Jesus’ crucifixion, in contrast to the pagan worship of the Roman emperors. But the appearance of the phrase in the scrolls indicates the term was already in use when Jesus was preaching his gospel.

Whoever hid the scrolls from the Romans did a superb job. The texts at Qumran remained undiscovered for nearly two millennia. A few 19th-century European travelers examined what they assumed was an ancient fortress of no particular interest. Then, near it in 1947, a goat strayed into a cave, a Bedouin shepherd flung a stone into the dark cavern and the resulting clink against a pot prompted him to investigate. He emerged with the first of what would be about 15,000 fragments of some 850 scrolls secreted in the many caves that pock the cliffs rising above the Dead Sea.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War prevented a close examination of the Qumran ruins. But after a fragile peace set in, a bearded and bespectacled Dominican monk named Roland de Vaux started excavations of the site and nearby caves in 1951. His findings of spacious rooms, ritual baths and the remains of gardens stunned scholars and the public alike. He also unearthed scores of cylindrical jars, hundreds of ceramic plates and three inkwells in or near a room that he concluded had once contained high tables used by scribes.

Shortly before de Vaux began his work, a Polish scholar named Jozef Milik completed a translation of one scroll, “The Rule of the Community,” which lays out a set of strict regulations reminiscent of those followed by a sect of Jews mentioned in A.D. 77 by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder. He called the sect members Essenes, and wrote that they lived along the western shore of the Dead Sea “without women and renouncing love entirely, without money, and having for company only the palm trees.” Pliny’s contemporary, historian Flavius Josephus, also mentions the Essenes in his account of the Jewish War: “Whereas these men shun the pleasures as vice, they consider self-control and not succumbing to the passions virtue.” Based upon these references, de Vaux concluded that Qumran was an Essene community, complete with a refectory and a scriptorium—medieval terms for the places where monks dined and copied manuscripts.

Though he died in 1971 before publishing a comprehensive report, de Vaux’s picture of Qumran as a religious community was widely accepted among his academic colleagues. (Much of his Qumran material remains locked up in private collections in Jerusalem and Paris, out of reach of most scholars.) By the 1980s, however, new data from other sites began casting doubt on his theory. “The old views have been outstripped by more recent discoveries,” says Golb.

For example, we now know that Qumran was not the remote place it is today. Two millennia ago, there was a thriving commercial trade in the region numerous settlements dotted the shore, while ships plied the sea. Springs and runoff from the steep hills were carefully engineered to provide water for drinking and agriculture, and date palms and plants produced valuable resins used in perfume. And while the heavily salinated sea lacked fish, it provided salt and bitumen, the substance used in ancient times to seal boats and mortar bricks. Far from being a lonely and distant community of religious nonconformists, Qumran was a valuable piece of real estate—a day’s donkey ride to Jerusalem, a two-hour walk to Jericho and a stroll to docks and settlements along the sea.

And a closer look at de Vaux’s Qumran findings raises questions about his picture of a community that disdained luxuries and even money. He uncovered more than 1,200 coins—nearly half of which were silver—as well as evidence of hewn stone columns, glass vessels, glass beads and other fine goods. Some of it likely comes from later Roman occupation, but Belgian husband-and-wife archaeologists Robert Donceel and Pauline Donceel-Voute believe that most of the accumulated wealth indicates that Qumran was an estate—perhaps owned by a rich Jerusalem patrician—that produced perfume. The massive fortified tower, they say, was a common feature of villas during a conflict-prone era in Judea. And they note that Jericho and Ein Gedi (a settlement nearly 20 miles south of Qumran) were known throughout the Roman world as producers of the balsam resin used as a perfume base. In a cave near Qumran, Israeli researchers found in 1988 a small round bottle that, according to lab analyses, contained the remains of resin. De Vaux claimed that similar bottles found at Qumran were ink­wells. But they might just as well have been vials of perfume.

Other theories abound. Some think Qumran was a modest trading center. British archaeologist David Stacey believes it was a tannery and that the jars found by de Vaux were for the collection of urine necessary for scouring skins. He argues that Qumran’s location was ideal for a tannery—between potential markets like Jericho and Ein Gedi.

For his part, Peleg believes Qumran went through several distinct stages. As the morning heat mounts, he leads me up a steep ridge above the site, where a channel hewn into the rock brought water into the settlement. From our high perch, he points out the foundations of a massive tower that once commanded a fine view of the sea to the east toward today’s Jordan. “Qumran was a military post around 100 B.C.,” he says. “We are one day from Jerusalem, and it fortified the northeast shore of the Dead Sea.” Other forts from this era are scattered among the rocky crags above the sea. This was a period when the Nabateans—the eastern rivals of Rome—threatened Judea. But Peleg says that once the Romans conquered the region, in 63 B.C., there was no further need for such bases. He believes out-of-work Judean soldiers and local families may have turned the military encampment to peaceful purposes, building a modest aqueduct that emptied into deep rectangular pools so that fine clay for making pots could settle. “Not every pool with steps is a ritual bath,” he points out. He thinks the former soldiers built eight kilns to produce pottery for the markets of Ein Gedi and Jericho, grew dates and possibly made perfume—until the Romans leveled the place during the Jewish insurrection.

But Peleg’s view has won few adherents. “It’s more interpretation than data,” says Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who shares de Vaux’s view that the site was a religious community. She says that some archaeologists—by refusing to acknowledge evidence that residents of Qumran hid the scrolls—are inclined to leap to conclusions since their research relies solely on the ambiguous, physical remains at the site.

Even jurisdiction over Qumran is a source of contention. The site is located on the West Bank, where Palestinians and some Israeli archaeologists say that Peleg’s excavations are illegal under international law.

The Qumran controversy took a bizarre turn last March, when Golb’s son, Raphael, was arrested on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. In a statement, the New York District Attorney’s office says that Raphael “engaged in a systematic scheme on the Internet, using dozens of Internet aliases, in order to influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in order to harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars” who disputed his father’s findings. The alleged target was Golb’s old rival, Schiffman. For his part, Raphael Golb entered a plea of not guilty on July 8, 2009. The case has been adjourned until January 27.

About the only thing that the adversaries seem to agree on is that money is at the root of the problem. Popular books with new theories about Qumran sell, says Schiffman. Golb notes that the traditional view of Qumran is more likely to attract tourists to the site.

Some scholars seek a middle ground. Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, envisions Qumran as a fort that later sheltered a group producing not only scrolls but an income through tanning or pottery making. It was a settlement, he says, “that wanted to be self-reliant—the question is just how Jewish and just how devout they were.”

Efforts at compromise have hardly quelled the conflicting theories. Perhaps, as French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert suggests, Qumran scholars are shaped by their personal experience as well as by their research. “One sees what one wants to see,” says Humbert, whether it’s a monastery, a fort, a tannery or a manor house.

But the debate matters little to the thousands of visitors who flock to the Holy Land. For them, Qumran remains the place where a modern-day miracle occurred—the unlikely discovery of sacred texts, saved from destruction to enlighten future generations about the word of God. As I climb into Peleg’s jeep for the quick trip back to Jerusalem, new crowds of tourists are exiting the buses.

Andrew Lawler, who lives in rural Maine, wrote about the Iranian city of Isfahan in the April 2009 issue of Smithsonian.


On the Insignificance and the Abuse of the Copper Scroll

The Copper Scroll has perplexed scholars and fueled the minds of fringe theorists for decades. It is not that the scroll is "mysterious" we know what it says and what it purports to be: a list of buried treasure. Rather, the Copper Scroll is so anomalous among the Dead Sea Scrolls that scholars have relegated it to a realm of triviality bordering on insignificance. This 30 cm tall document etched on thin sheets of copper, rolled up, and oxidized by centuries of exposure to the environs of the Dead Sea was discovered in Cave 3 near Qumran in the West Bank. But while it was discovered along with hundreds of other documents that have collectively come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll remains the mother of all anomalies.

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written on parchment, with a few written on papyrus. But the Copper Scroll is etched on metal – unique among the documents discovered near the Dead Sea. Its language is unlike the literary Hebrew found in other Dead Sea Scrolls, and better resembles the Hebrew used much later in the Mishnah, the Jewish law code compiled around 200 CE. It also differs in palaeography (the script used to write the letters), orthography (the way words are spelled), date (50-100 CE), message (a vague map describing buried treasures), and genre (a list) from all other Dead Sea Scrolls.[1]

Scholars aren't quite sure what to do with the Copper Scroll. Milik concluded the Copper Scroll was placed in Cave 3 around 100 CE, after the other scrolls were abandoned in the other caves. Others like Lancaster Harding and Cross believe the Copper Scroll to be the folklore of Qumran. Still others believe it describes actual treasure belonging to the residents of Qumran. I join the scholars who conclude that the Copper Scroll describes articles from the second Jerusalem Temple (most likely legendary) supposedly hidden after its destruction in 70 CE, in keeping with later date of its composition. The Copper Scroll was most likely placed in Cave 3 long after the rest of the Dead Sea Scrolls were placed in their respective caves. And while it was discovered during the excavations that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll should not be considered part of this collection because its author(s), script, style, language, genre, content, and medium are otherwise unattested among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Because of this irregularity, amateur treasure hunters and even some scholars regularly appeal to the Copper Scroll in a seemingly perpetual effort to promote sensational fringe theories, raise money, and bring attention to their far-fetched claims. Sensationalists prey on the ambiguous and everyone loves a treasure hunt the Copper Scroll is both.

The most recent dilettantish foray into Copper Scroll-related nonsense is "The Copper Scroll Project,"[2] led by Vendyl Jones disciple Jim Barfield, a retired arson investigator with a self-proclaimed "limited knowledge of Hebrew" and "no archaeological experience."[3] And yet, Barfield claims, "There's little doubt I've broken the code on the Copper Scroll,"[4] as if scholars had not already translated the document a half-century earlier. Not unexpectedly, Barfield never reveals what he claims to have "discovered," yet circularly argues that since several "rabbis, historians, theologians, and archaeologists" have seen his research and have not disagreed with him, he must be right.[5] Barfield naïvely concludes, "One of my greatest advantages I believe is that, uh, my lack of education in this area."[6] And yet, the group has set up a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax exempt fund for raising $148,000 they claim is needed to carry out their investigation.[7]

So with (an admittedly illegal) metal detector in hand,[8] a snazzy (but now broken) website,[9] a Facebook page,[10] and regular YouTube video updates (produced by Barfield's son),[11] Barfield keeps his "supporters" updated on their progress, which has curiously come to a halt in recent weeks. It seems that the Israel Antiquities Authority, who Barfield claims provided the permit for their excavation, has stopped returning their calls, and is no longer interested in working with them. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Copper Scroll Project leaders have been making deliberately misleading claims about their role in the excavation. Or, perhaps it is due to a network of archaeologists, scholars, and bloggers working behind the scenes asking why the IAA would take money from posers like Barfield and the Copper Scroll Project.

Regardless of the reason, a few details have come to light regarding the Copper Scroll Project. An IAA representative familiar with the group says that they do not possess a license, are not permitted to dig, and are paying money to watch as observers. With only "observation" status,[12] they do not lead, coordinate, or participate in any excavation. They merely watch an IAA licensed excavation and document it on video. Thus, claims that they are leading an excavation are simply untrue. Ironically, claims by Barfield that the IAA excavators are "not digging to the required depth" are actually true. Because Barfield has no say over the excavation, the IAA digs as they wish and where they wish, and allow Barfield and company only to observe the excavation and report their findings to the public. That was, at least, until the IAA saw the claims Barfield was making. It appears the IAA now wants nothing to do with the Copper Scroll Project, fearing perhaps that their association with a fringe, prophecy-obsessed group of Messianic Christians with no archaeological experience might harm the department's credibility. Perhaps this is the reason that the Copper Scroll Project's April 26, 2009 YouTube update overdubs the name of the IAA "archaeologist" they claim was assisting them in the original update.[13] It certainly must explain Barfield 's most recent exasperated claim that, "Information and correspondence from Israel has stopped. Why, I can't tell you, but my email has not been answered since we left Israel in May."[14]

But it is not just wannabe archaeologists that prey on the Copper Scroll. Some scholars holding to fringe theories about the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls regularly make the Copper Scroll a central pillar of their unlikely arguments. The University of Chicago's Norman Golb has made a name for himself in part by appealing to the Copper Scroll to argue in support of his version of Karl Rengstorf's theory that none of the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced at Qumran.[15] Others, like author Robert Feather, have written several books touting the Copper Scroll's connection to treasures from Egypt.[16] The fact that most scholars have wholly dismissed claims by the Barfields, Golbs, and Feathers of the world has not stopped the latter from publishing books and raking in money from a public more than willing to entertain speculation and sensationalist claims over scholarly consensus and sound academic research.

The Copper Scroll will no doubt continue to tempt the imaginations of scholars and the public alike. A good treasure hunt has always been profitable subject matter for Hollywood and booksellers. But for the wise, the Copper Scroll is little more than what scholars have claimed since the beginning: an anomaly discovered among the otherwise informative manuscripts comprising the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Discovery of the Copper Scroll

In March 1952, Henri de Contenson, an archaeologist seconded from France to work with the team at the École Biblique in East Jerusalem, was leading a team of ten Bedouin, when he discovered two lumps of what is now known as the Copper Scroll, in a hillside cave, some 2 km from Qumran.

The Copper Scroll was in an highly oxidised condition, and had broken into two separate rolled up sections. In its original state it measured 0.3 m in width, 2.4 m in length, and was about 1 mm thick. No one knew quite how to open it up without damaging the text. One lunatic suggestion was to try to reduce the copper oxides with hydrogen, or even electrolysis, to recover the copper! After considerable preparatory research, John Allegro of Oxford University, a member of the original international translation team working on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem, persuaded the École Biblique team to let him take one of the copper pieces to England. There the first piece of scroll was finally ‘opened’ by Professor H. Wright Baker at Manchester College of Science and Technology (now UMIST) in 1955, followed by the second piece in 1956. The technique Wright Baker used was to coat the outside of the scroll with Araldite adhesive and then slice the scroll, using a 4,000th/inch thick saw, into 23 separate sections. Ever since that time Manchester has retained a special interest in the Copper Scroll.


What the Dead Sea Scrolls Mean to Modern Christians

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls didn’t render our Bibles obsolete. For the most part, it didn’t even change the way we read our Bibles. But these texts give us an important look into a little-known period of Judaism that stretched into Jesus’ lifetime and beyond.

The scrolls also give us confidence in the reliability of the Jewish scribes who faithfully preserved Scripture. And while the textual variants show a manuscript that didn’t make it into the Jewish canon, the Dead Sea Scrolls remain a valuable artifact for biblical scholars to examine the ancient foundations of today’s Scriptures.