One Dead Sea Scroll stands out as unique—in many ways. First, of course, is the material it is written on. It is the only one of the more than 800 scrolls in the collection that is written, or rather scratched, on copper—thin copper sheets. Obviously, it must have been an extremely important document. The Copper Scroll, as it is known, is also unique in its content. It consists simply of a list of 64 hiding places of enormous amounts of gold and silver.a
The Copper Scroll was discovered by archaeologists rather than by Bedouin, so we know not only the cave in which it was found (Cave 3), but also the precise location within the cave. It was placed on a separate shelflike space separated from the other inscriptional materials found in the cave.
Its language is also different from that of the other scrolls. While it is in Hebrew, the kind of Hebrew is closer to the Hebrew of the Mishnah, the great rabbinic law code dated to about 200 C.E. that forms the core of the Talmud.
Although one may expect the writing scratched on copper to differ from writing with a pen on leather or papyrus, still the forms of the letters on the Copper Scroll seem to date from a later period than the other scrolls, which scholars generally date between 250 B.C.E. and 68 C.E., when the Roman armies, on their way to Jerusalem, destroyed the settlement at Qumran.
The first major question scholars addressed when the general contents of the Copper Scroll became known was whether the list of buried treasure was fictional or real. The British scholar John Allegro was the first to publish the Copper Scroll,1 even though he was not the editor assigned to it. He was able to get access to the scroll because it was sent to the University of Manchester, Allegro’s university, when its two rolls could not be opened by any ordinary means; they were so brittle and oxidized that they would crumble at any effort to unroll them. In desperation, the two rolls of which the Copper Scroll consists were sent to the University of Manchester where an extremely fine, high-powered electric saw cut through them layer by layer forming half cylinders, which could then be read. When Allegro saw these, he was so astounded that he broke academic protocol by publishing the text, even though it had been assigned for publication to Jozef Milik, then a Catholic priest living in Paris.
Allegro believed the buried treasure described in the Copper Scroll was real, not fictional. He even began—unsuccessfully, to be sure—to hunt for the buried treasure in the Qumran area.
Prodded by Allegro’s publication and aghast at his treasure hunting, Milik then published his own version of the text in the official series of Dead Sea Scroll publications known as DJD, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert.2 Whether from conviction or an effort to discourage more treasure hunting like Allegro’s, Milik and other scholars on the official editing team argued that the list of buried treasure was entirely fictional. Hunting for it was therefore silly—or worse.
With the passage of time and more mature consideration, however, most scholars who have addressed the question have concluded that the list is real (although the amounts may be exaggerated or in some kind of code). The reason for this conclusion is simple- If it were a fictional list, it would most probably be accompanied by a narrative setting; it would be part of a story, not simply an artless laundry list.
But if it is real, what or whose hidden treasure was it? The most common speculation is that it was the Temple treasure, hidden in anticipation of the Roman siege of Jerusalem that ended with the burning of the city and the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. The suggestion is that the Temple authorities hid the treasure at many sites and then placed the key to the locations of the hiding places in Cave 3.
This speculation runs into a major difficulty, however, if you accept the notion—which I do not—that Qumran was an Essene settlement of Jews bitterly opposed to the ruling priesthood in Jerusalem. They were regarded by the Essenes, according to this hypothesis, as illegitimate. Why would the Jerusalem priests hide the key to the location of their buried treasure in Essene territory, in a cave less than half a mile from the settlement at Qumran, a cave in which other manuscripts from the nearby settlement were already stored? This creates an almost insuperable difficulty for those who identify the Qumran settlement with the Essenes. As I have indicated above, I do not believe the settlement was inhabited by Essenes but by Sadducees. I also reject the treasure of the Copper Scroll as the Temple treasure. I do so because I believe the scroll itself gives us clues as to what the treasure was.
I believe this was Temple treasure collected after the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.
According to Jewish law, the Temple taxes, as well as voluntary offerings, continued even after the destruction of the Temple. These offerings were collected in anticipation of the rebuilding of the Temple. The Temple had been destroyed once before, in 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians, and 70 years later it was rebuilt. The same hope burned in Jewish breasts after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple. Thus, the Temple contributions were to be continued even though the Temple itself was in ruins. However, until that great day, the offerings had to be hidden and buried.
Neither Allegro nor Milik recognized the clues to this in the Copper Scroll because neither was familiar with Jewish law (halakhah), an essential element in understanding so many aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are, after all, as everyone agrees, Jewish religious texts.
In several places in the Copper Scroll (column 1, lines 9–11; column 9, lines 10 and 16; column 11, lines 4, 7, 10 and 14), three kinds of offerings are referred to as having been buried- kli dema’ (vessels of terumah), ma’aser sheni (the second tithe) and h\erem (consecrated offerings). Neither Allegro nor Milik recognized these for what they were, although Allegro came closer than Milik. Milik translated them as “aromatic vases,” “a second [offering]” and “cursed” or “condemned matter” (anathème, in French). Allegro translated the terms as “tithe vessels,” “second tithe” and “consecrated offerings.”
Generalized identifications, however, will not do. These are technical terms that will have meaning only for those steeped in Jewish religious law.
The first category (dema’) is what is sometimes known as terumah, a heave offering.3 Kli dema’ refers to vessels containing the heave offering, which could be liquid or solid food.
The next term is introduced with another word so that the full phrase is “redemption of the second tithe” (‘afudat [pidyon] ma’aser sheni). This first word is especially important. It occurs in connection with this tithe in the very first column of the scroll. In this position, the concept of redemption may be taken as applicable to almost all of the items of offerings listed in the Copper Scroll inventory. In short, the offering could be redeemed, that is, taken back by substituting money or precious metal of equal value, and this would apply to all the categories listed in the scroll—taxes, gifts, tithes, consecrations—that under Jewish law are subject to redemption.
The second tithe, according to Deuteronomy 14-22–26, had to be consumed in Jerusalem, either in its original state or redeemed into money. Interestingly, the Mishnah4 specifies how this tithe is to be made after the destruction of the Temple, with Jerusalem no longer accessible. There was a difference of opinion- The School of Hillel said that the second tithe could be redeemed for money or left unredeemed. The School of Shammai said it had to be redeemed for money. But both schools agreed that either the produce or the redeemed money value had to be buried. Since the second tithe had to be consumed in Jerusalem and since this was impossible after the Roman destruction and occupation of the city, the redemption (that is, the value of the offering in money or precious metal) must be committed to genizah, a storage for worn or unusable sacred materials.
The Copper Scroll makes it clear that large hoards of money or precious metal had been hidden, that is, committed to genizah, representing the redemption, or counter-value, of a large accumulation of second tithes and, by implication, the other two offerings as well.5 Even after the destruction of the Temple, the accumulation on these accounts must have been enormous. The treasure had to be committed to burial either permanently or for temporary safeguarding pending rehabilitation of a Jewish Jerusalem.
The third offering, h\erem, refers to “objects dedicated or consecrated [to the sanctuary]6, This was its original meaning (see Leviticus 27-28). In rabbinic literature h\erem refers to objects pledged as “sacred property destined for the material maintenance of the Temple” as opposed to “sacred objects belonging to the altar for sacrificial purposes.”7 H|erem is therefore of a lesser degree of sanctity than the second category.8 The implication from the debates in the Mishnah is that h\erem consecrated to the Temple can be redeemed for money or precious metal.9
The Mishnah contains a series of what today might be called appendixes that are printed in the back of the Talmud, each called a baraita. They are laws that were not included in the Mishnah, but which nevertheless are important enough to be preserved. They are in effect very early supplements to the Mishnaic laws. One famous baraita states, “In these days [when the Temple was destroyed] one should not make any consecrations of [several offerings, including herem]; if one, nevertheless, does so, the object of the consecration should be allowed to die or be destroyed, or [if redeemed], the money or precious metals should be taken to the Dead Sea.”10 The rather clear implication of this passage is that at least for a time after the destruction of the Temple, the h\erem offering continued, doubtless out of conviction that the Temple might soon be rebuilt. This principle remained the legal foundation for various dispositions in laws relating to the sanctuary.11 After the destruction, h\erem offerings of money or precious metals were disposed of by taking them to the Dead Sea.
Coins had to be defaced. The salt of the Dead Sea would do this. Otherwise, the coins (after defacing) and precious metals could be buried in any body of water.12 In column 9 of the Copper Scroll, some h\erem offerings were buried in a body of water “in the funnel silver from the h\erem stores, in the pipe of waters that run to the basin of the drain.”13
Such a hiding place is exactly in line with Jewish legislation calling for invalidation or demonetization of h\erem money through the means of the Dead Sea or, after defacing, other bodies of water.
The Copper Scroll is as interesting for the offerings it does not mention as for the offerings it does mention. There is no mention of sacrificial offerings. Before the destruction of the Temple, vast amounts of money must have come in from the redemption of such pledges. But of course sacrifices were discontinued when the Temple was destroyed. The omission from the Copper Scroll of any mention of sacrificial offerings indicates that the treasure referred to comes from a time when the sacrificial offerings were no longer being made- The Temple had been destroyed.
The Copper Scroll refers not to the Temple treasures collected while the Temple still stood nor to any hoards that were accumulated while the Temple was functioning, but to accumulations from a period following the year 70. The hope of a speedy rebuilding of the Temple was no doubt kept alive throughout the years following the Roman destruction, and appropriate offerings continued to flow in not only as a political and religious matter, but also as a legal matter in conformity with halakhah. Accumulated redemption funds were systematically hidden and stored away for the day when they again could—legally and politically—be delivered to Jerusalem and/or the Temple, as intended by the respective donors. For this purpose, a detailed inventory, such as contained in the Copper Scroll, would obviously be required.
Although I expressed these ideas long ago in a technical paper,14 I was glad to see that very recently Professor P. Kyle McCarter, the William F. Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, who is preparing a new edition of the Copper Scroll, has approvingly cited my article and expresses agreement with my contention that the offerings in the Copper Scroll are technical terms referring to particular halakhic pledges. These technical terms, says McCarter, “provide the clue to solving the riddle of the Copper Scroll … Lehmann’s argument … takes seriously the technical meaning of [the Copper Scroll’s] religious terminology, which most other studies have failed to understand.”b McCarter, however, dates the tithes to “the final turbulent years before the destruction of the Temple”; he does not explain why the Jerusalem authorities would hide the key to their buried treasure in a cave so near their, as he believes, Essene adversaries. Nor does McCarter address my arguments as to why the offerings referred to must be post-destruction offerings. But the question remains, what happened to all this buried treasure? I believe I have found the answer.
I am a collector both of ancient Hebrew manuscripts and coins of Jewish interest. The answer comes, I believe, from a coin of which I have a magnificent specimen in my own collection. It is a huge Roman coin struck by Emperor Nerva, a relatively unknown emperor who ruled for only two years, from 96 to 98 C.E. On one side of the coin is a palm tree, indicating that the coin is somehow related to the province of Palestine.15 Around the edge is an intriguing text- Fisci Judaici Calumnia Sublata (the insult of the Jewish taxes has been annulled). If you consult books on numismatics, you will be told that this huge coin was struck to commemorate the cessation of the imposition of the discriminatory tax (Fiscus Judaicus—in the singular) levied against the Jews in the Roman empire.16 But this makes no sense. For 50 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, three of the most important emperors—Vespasian, Titus and Domitian—struck commemorative coins celebrating the suppression of the great Jewish revolt. These are Judea Capta or Judea Devicta coins. Indeed, more of the Judea Capta and Judea Devicta coins were minted than any other Roman commemorative coin and over a more extended period of time, so proud were the Romans of their defeat of the Jews. Is it likely that in this same period a Roman emperor would commemorate something favorable and beneficial to the Jews—lifting the discriminatory tax hitherto imposed on them? Hardly, especially when you consider that this Fisci Judaici coin was one of the largest Roman coin issues ever struck, measuring 35 millimeters (1.4 inches) in diameter. Rome would never have considered their own taxes levied against a conquered nation an “insult.”
The legend on this coin must have a different meaning. I believe that the Romans discovered that the Jews were continuing to collect their own Jewish taxes relating to their destroyed Temple. The Jews had continued to collect various taxes right under the noses of their Roman occupiers. This was discovered during Nerva’s rule, 20 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. He forthwith ended this Jewish tax system and probably confiscated all the accumulated treasure as inventoried in the Copper Scroll. It was the Jewish self-tax system that was the “insult” (calumnia) to Rome, not the Roman tax imposed on the Jews, that the Fisci Judaici (in the plural!) coin refers to, because the Jews collected several types of taxes. It was the cessation of this insult—these Jewish taxes—that the coin celebrates.
This Nerva coin may therefore hold the key to understanding one of the most intriguing of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Copper Scroll records the hiding places of the Temple tax collections between 70 C.E. and about 90 C.E. when the Emperor Nerva discovered and confiscated them. This conclusion fits admirably with the language of the Copper Scroll and its paleography, both of which suggest a date after the destruction of the Temple, as many scholars have already suspected.
a. See P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., “The Mysterious Copper Scroll- Clues to Hidden Temple Treasure?” Bible Review, August 1992.
b. See P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., “The Mysterious Copper Scroll- Clues to Hidden Temple Treasure?” Bible Review, August 1992, p. 63.
1. John M. Allegro, The Treasure of the Copper Scroll (Garden City, NY- Doubleday, 1960).
2. J. T. Milik, “Le rouleau de cuivre provenant de la grotte 3 (3Q15),” in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert III, Les ‘Petites Grottes’ de Qumrân ed. Milik et al. (Oxford- Clarendon, 1962).
3. See Mekhilta on Exodus 22-28; Babylonian Talmud, Terumot 4a. Tosefta, Ma’aser Sheni 5.1 states that a vessel on which a dalet is written is ruled to hold terumah because the letter dalet (standing for dema’), is often translated heave offering.
4. Ma’aser Sheni 5.7.
5. It is true that the heave offering was nor normally subject to redemption. It had to be committed to burial either permanently or for temporary safeguarding pending rehabilitation of a Jewish Jerusalem. It was the custom to transport the terumah (Nehemiah 10-38–39) and the Second Tithe (Malachi 3-10) to the Temple; after the destruction, people apparently felt a voluntary need to preserve the terumah, or at least its counter-value, for delivery to the Temple in Jerusalem after its rebuilding. There are other special circumstances in which this offering might have been exchanged for money under the law. (See Manfred R. Lehmann, “Identification of the Copper Scroll Based on Its Technical Terms,” Revue de Qumran 17/4 , pp. 97–105, esp. p. 101.)
6. See Mishnah, Nedarim, especially chap. 2; also see Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, “Hilkhot Erkhin ve-Heramin,” chap. 1.
7. See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, “Hilkhot Erkhin ve-Heramin” 6.4.
8. See Mishnah, Arakhin.
9. Lehmann, “Identification of the Copper Scroll,” pp. 103–104.
10. Avodah Zarah 13a, Bekhorot 53a, Yoma 66a, Shekalim 22a.
11. For example, Babylonian Talmud, Bekhorot 53b.
12. Babylonian Talmud, Bekhorot 53a.
13. Allegro, Treasure of the Copper Scroll.
14. Lehmann, “Identification of the Copper Scroll,” p. 100.
15. British Museum Roman Coins Catalogue, No 105; Roman Imperial Coinage Catalogue (1972 ed.), No. 82.
16. Salo W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 2nd ed., 2 vols. Philadelphia- Jewish Publication Society; 1952), vol, 2, p. 106- “Vespasian established the so called ‘fiscus judaicus’ … This ‘fiscal tax’ of a half shekel annually was to be paid in lieu of the previous Temple tax. Nerva abrogated it as one of the first acts of his administration. He even commemorated this fact in a special memorial coin with the legend ‘Fisci judaici calumnia sublata,’ (On the Removal of the Shameful Extortion of the Jewish Fiscal Tax).” The 1972 edition of Roman Imperial Coinage (London, Spink), vol. 2, p. 221, however, but is not so sure anymore that the coin commemorated the abolishment of the discriminatory tax- “Nerva’s coin suggests that the tax was abolished, but since we find records of the tax being paid in later years, it seems that Nerva abolished nor the tax itself but the system of false accusations employed in its collection. Exemption from the tax was henceforth secured to all who did not admit themselves to be Jews.”