Copper Scroll (3Q15), Bargil (Virgil) Pixner, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.


Facsimile of the Copper Scroll

Facsimile of the Copper Scroll, Louvre Museum

In March 1952 a team of archaeologists discovered in Qumran Cave 3 a scroll engraved on two copper sheets which had originally formed one whole 2.40 × 0.30 m in size (de Vaux 1953- 85–86). In 1955/56 H. W. Baker (1956) at Manchester University in England solved the difficult task of opening the brittle and heavily oxidized scroll by sawing it into segments.

Even before the scroll was opened K. G. Kuhn (1954) examined the visible part of the engraving and came to the conclusion that the scroll contained a list of hiding places of the accumulated wealth of the Essenes. Upon further examination the scroll was found to list to twelve columns 64 underground hiding places in various regions of the land of Israel. The deposits include certain amounts of gold, silver, aromatics, scrolls, and also a copy of a more detailed inventory (col. XII, lines 11–13) of the treasures.

J. M. Allegro (1960), who gained access to the newly opened scroll at Manchester, published a transcription and interpretation of it before the official edition was published. His secretive digging around Qumran and elsewhere in search of hidden treasures was severely criticized by the official team. J. T. Milik (1959), a member of the team, published a translation and commentary of the Copper Scroll and maintained that it had no connection with the Qumran Essenes. He declared the scroll a mere compilation of legendary treasures concocted by someone around 100 C.E. (cf. Baillet, Milik, and de Vaux 1962- 199–302). Many scholars were not ready to accept his conclusions. They maintained the reality of the treasures but differed as to their origin. Some ascribed them to the Essenes (Dupont-Sommer 1962- 383–89; Pixner 1983), to the temple of Jerusalem (Kuhn 1956; Rengstrof 1960- 26–28), to the Zealots (Allegro 1964), to other Jewish refugees before 70 C.E. (Golb 1980; 1985), to a collection of money for rebuilding the destroyed sanctuary (Lehmann 1964), or even to the Bar Kokhba revolt (Laperrousaz 1961; Luria 1963). These discussions were summarized by H. Bardtke (1968), Vermes (HJP², 467–69), and M. Wise (1987- 232).

Despite the intricate difficulties posed by the interior structure of the Copper Scroll, a decisive argument for its dating and origin can be derived from a careful examination of Cave 3Q and its history (Pixner 1983- 334–35). In its original state the cave contained many jars with a variety of documents, which were almost completely destroyed when the outer ceiling collapsed. The few surviving fragments (Baillet, Milik, and de Vaux 1962- 94–104) are universally accepted as genuine Qumran documents. The shape of the cave and the hiding place of the Copper Scroll in it make it inconceivable that this double scroll could have been deposited at a later date while the jars with the other documents were still in place. F. M. Cross dated the scroll on paleographical grounds within the broad limits 25–75 C.E. (Baillet, Milik, and de Vaux 1962- 217–21). Its early Mishnaic Hebrew is not unique among the Qumran documents (Baillet, Milik, and de Vaux 1962- 222). The use of a precious material like copper and the prosaic, factual style of the Copper Scroll argue against a mere folkloristic composition.

Dupont-Sommer (1962- 383–84) points out that even the high sum total of the treasures (ca. 4500 talents) mentioned in the Copper Scroll does not necessarily exclude its reality (contra as J. T. Milik 1959). Since the Essenes had a community of goods and were preparing for the eschatological war (War Scroll) and the rebuilding of the temple (Temple Scroll), the amount of their common wealth is not surprising. The various assets of the community could also be considered a substitute or counterbank to the temple treasure, which the Essenes shunned (Pixner 1983- 339–40).

Since the Copper Scroll was meant to be an aide-mémoire for a secretive team of diggers, it apparently avoids well-known geographical terms. This fact makes it difficult to pinpoint the described hiding places. All scholars believe that some of the hiding places were situated around the monastery of Qumran, named Secacah (cf. Josh 15-62) in the Copper Scroll (IV,13–V,14; cf. de Vaux 1973- 93). This is another argument for the Qumran relationship of the scroll. Also Jerusalem and its surroundings, e.g., Shiloah (X,15–16; cf. John 9-7) and Bethesda (IX,11–14; cf. John 5-2), are generally (except Luria- 1963) considered as locations of hidden treasures. While Milik (1959; also in Baillet et al. 1962) and Allegro (1964) find that the caches were haphazardly distributed all over Palestine, Pixner (1983) professes to see a systematic order in their distribution- nos. 1–17 near the Essene Gate (Jos. JW 5.145) on the SW hill of the city, suggesting a special quarter there (Pixner 1983- 342–47; Reisner 1985); nos. 19–34 in and around Qumran; nos. 35–47 in the Yarmuk Valley area (“Land of Damascus” ?; cf. CD VII,15–19); nos. 48–60 again around the holy city; and nos. 61–64 at diverse locations in the N of the country. The solution to the intricate problems of the topography of Copper Scroll could be of utmost interest, because it might make us understand the general distribution of Essene centers of settlement. The rather poor quality of the original photos has certainly contributed to the divergence of interpretation (Thorion 1985). A new set of pictures of Copper Scroll taken with the help of modern techniques could further advance the research of this very important document.


Allegro, J. M. 1960. The Treasure of the Copper Scroll. Garden City, NY. 2d ed. 1964.

Baillet, M.; Milik, J. T.; and Vaux, R. de. 1962. Discoveries in the Judean Desert of Jordan III- Les “Petites Grottes” de Qumrân. Oxford.

Baker, H. W. 1956. Notes on the Opening of the “Bronze” Scrolls from Qumran. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 39- 45–56.

Bardtke, H. 1968. Qumran und seine Probleme II/2- Die Kupferrollen. TR 33- 185–204.

Dupont-Sommer, A. 1962. The Essence Writings from Qumran. Cleveland.

Golb, N. 1980. The Problem of the Origin and Identification of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 124- 1–24.

———. 1985. Who Hid the Dead Sea Scrolls? BA 48- 68–82.

Kuhn, K. G. 1954. Les Rouleaux de cuivre de Qumrân. RB 61- 193–205.

———. 1956. Bericht über neue Qumranfunde und über die öffnung der Kupferrollen. TLZ 81- 541–46.

Laperrousaz, E. M. 1961. Remarques sur l’origine des Rouleaux de Cuivre découverts dans la Grotte 3 de Qumrân. RHR 159- 157–72.

Lehmann, M. 1964. Identification of the Copper Scroll Based on its Technical Terms. RevQ 5- 97–105.

Luria, B. Z. 1963. Megillat han-Nahoshet mem- Midbar Yehudah. Jerusalem.

Milik, J. T. 1959. Le Rouleau de cuivre de Qumrân (3Q15). Traduction et commentaire topographique. RB 66- 321–57.

Pixner, B. 1983. Unraveling the Copper Scroll Code- A Study on the Topography of 3Q15. RevQ 11- 323–66.

Rengstorf, K. H. 1960. Ḥirbet Qumrân und die Bibliothek vom Toten Meer. Stuttgart.

Riesner, R. 1985. Essener und urkirche in Jerusalem. BK 40- 64–76.

Thorion, Y. 1985. Beiträge zur Erforschung der Sprache der Kupferrolle. RevQ 12- 163–76.

Vaux, R. de. 1953. Fouille au Khirbet Qumrân. RB 60- 84–85.

———. 1973. Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oxford.

Wise, M. 1987. The Dead Sea Scrolls- Part 2, Nonbiblical Manuscripts. BA 49- 228–44.


Vol.1, p.1133-1134.

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