The Copper Scroll, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1994.


Copper Scroll Strip 13

Copper Scroll Strip 13. By Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The priests and sectarians of Qumran never cut off entirely their relations with the priests of Jerusalem, despite their strenuous opposition to and criticism of the views and practices of those priests. As a result of this ongoing contact, the strange document known as the Copper Scroll reached Qumran. This scroll, engraved on copper sheets, contains a list of buried treasures hidden in the Judaean Desert at various locations. The text mentions some sixty-four items, specifying the amount of treasure and the hiding place of each one.

Because this scroll was composed in a Hebrew dialect somewhat closer to mishnaic Hebrew than the rest of the texts authored or preserved at Qumran, scholars have concluded that the Copper Scroll originated in different circles, most likely from Jerusalem. Apparently, as the war approached, or soon after the Temple was destroyed, some persons put together a list of treasures that they either buried, or intended to bury, in the desert. No one has yet located any of these treasures despite many attempts to find them.

Certain scholars have argued that the Copper Scroll is entirely a fabrication, a fantasy concocted by some powerless sectarian who could never approach these great treasures of the Temple. The basis for this claim is that the amounts of silver and gold cataloged in the scroll seem inconceivable. However, recent studies have shown that although the amounts do appear large, they are not impossibly so. Furthermore, certain terms in the text link the scroll intimately with the system of tithes and offerings that existed in the Jerusalem Temple.

Others have suggested that the moneys recorded here were collected after the destruction as tithes and other offerings and were then buried in the desert. But that interpretation also cannot be supported. First of all, such substantial funds would never have survived the Roman pillage of Jerusalem. Second, no sources report that offerings were disposed of through burial after the Destruction of the Temple.

Yet another theory claims that the Copper Scroll constitutes the central document of the Qumran collection, a hypothesis that would require a radical reinterpretation of the entire Qumran collection. According to this view, the scroll records the placement of Temple documents throughout Judaea, including the scrolls placed in the caves of Qumran. However, though the Copper Scroll does mention that a copy of itself was deposited in another location, that statement cannot be interpreted to refer to numerous written texts that were then deposited throughout the Judaean Desert. Other passages, taken to refer to the deposit of numerous scrolls in the Judaean Desert, have been both incorrectly read and misinterpreted. It is entirely unlikely that the Qumran documents would have constituted the hidden library of the Jerusalem Temple, since these documents uniformly object to the conduct of the Jerusalem Temple and its priests.

If indeed the items on this list referred to treasures from the Temple, then the document could not have been created by the sectarians, who had separated themselves from the Temple and the Jerusalem priesthood. It must have been brought in to Qumran, probably by some priests who fled there before the destruction of Qumran in 68 and of the Temple in 70 C.E.

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