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Officially titled 3Q15, this artifact is a unique piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. It is actually two pieces of one scroll made of thin copper sheets into which the Hebrew text was indented with a punch. It is believed to have been placed in Cave 3 of the Qumran ruins sometime around 70 CE, and when it was found on March 20, 1952, the copper had oxidized, rendering the scrolls too brittle to be unfolded and read. After three years of prolonged deliberation, the Jordanian authorities allowed the scroll to be opened by way of a delicate sawing machine invented by H. Wright-Baker of the Manchester College of Technology, that sliced the copper into 23 readable strips.

The Copper Scroll was first translated by John Allegro, a member of the international team assigned to the acquisition and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He found it to be a list, utilizing uncommon Hebrew spelling and vocabulary, of 64 separate sites in which buried treasure was hidden in areas around the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem; presumably treasure taken from the Temple of Jerusalem after the revolt of 68 CE. The list indicates, among such things as gold in the amount of approximately 26 tons and silver 65 tons. When Allegro sent his findings back to his superiors in Jerusalem, they opted to suppress the information, even going so far as to instruct Allegro not to give any mention of the Copper Scroll in his upcoming book on the Qumran material. Allegro initially went along with keeping things hush-hush, as he thought that the information would be released at a later date and after further study. As time passed though, he grew increasingly suspicious of the true reasons behind the cover-up. He began to write letters to scholars in the field, exerting pressure on the international team's director, Roland de Vaux, to publicly release information. De Vaux responded, and under his direction, a press release was issued stating that the Copper Scroll was merely a legendary accounting of fictitious stores of buried treasure, and furthermore was not really connected with Qumran or any of the other Dead Sea Scrolls that had been found.

It would make sense that authorities would choose not to publicize the existence of hordes of treasure in the Dead Sea area. A frenzy of dig-happy treasure hunters in the Judean desert would be dangerous to both political climate and to the integrity of the ancient ruins in the area. Not to mention the fact that any riches or artifacts found would go to private hands, never to be heard from again, instead of to the government which would legally hold claim. That's another thing; rightful political claim could well have been a fighting issue had treasure been found. Israel and Jordan, with the supposed treasure in one nation and the scroll detailing the treasure and how to find it in the other, would no doubt both have had arguments for their rights to any finds. All of this aside however, it could be said that plunderers were not the only or even the main concern that spurred de Vaux and his associates to keep the Copper Scroll's contents quiet. The Catholic-headed international team had long purported the idea that the community at Qumran had been an isolated sect, completely removed from contact with the society in which Jesus lived and from which Christianity later sprang up. Many of the various Dead Sea Scrolls, after all, contained text that held very different and new slants on religious history and interpretation. To show that Qumran was somehow connected to Jerusalem, the very centre of political and religious development in first century CE, might prove dangerous for Christian and Catholic tenets.

In any case, many authorities have continued to insist that the Copper Scroll is merely folklore and that none of the treasure it refers to in fact exists. Certainly, no great caches of gold, silver or other listed items have ever been found. The quantity of riches, besides, seems far too great to be realistic. But other scholars believe the Copper Scroll's list of unfound treasure to be authentic. Their main bases for argument seem to be that: a. The timing coincides with the 1st century warring in Jerusalem, during which mass quantities of treasure are said to have been taken from the Temple, and b. If the list were merely a story, it would be much more embellished and storylike; not such a matter-of-fact inventory, and the writers of it likely would not have spent the time and effort required to create such a scroll of copper(which is valued for its ritual purity, by the way) unless they meant to insure its preservation for future use.

An interesting thing to note before I'm done:
In 1988, a former Baptist minister from Texas by the name of Vendyl Jones was excavating a cave just north of Cave 3 in Qumran. He had become seriously interested in The Copper Scroll some twenty years before and was digging near Qumran in hopes of unearthing some of the treasure. About three feet below the surface, Jones and his team discovered a small jug wrapped in protective palm fibers. It was filled with a dark oily liquid. Chemical analysis of the substance failed to conclude exactly what type of oil it was, only found that it smelled sweet. But, though there was no conclusive identification of the substance, many experts believe that it was balsam oil - from the balsam tree, which is 1500 years extinct. This type of oil used to be produced in Jericho and was used for the anointing of Israel's kings. The Copper Scroll mentions several sites where vessels (jugs) are buried. Even if this jug is not of those listed in the scroll, some take it to serve as evidence that the sect at Qumran, possessing of oils not indigenous to its immediate surroundings, may not have been quite so isolated as has commonly been illustrated.

The Copper Scroll strips are now kept in the Archaeological Museum of Amman in Jordan.

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