The Copper Scrolls

One of the more interesting finds among the dead sea scrolls is a text that was written onto copper rather than papyrus of animal skin. It’s a unique find, and has become an area of interest for the noted scholar George J. Brooke, who recently spoke with the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the copper scrolls. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview, covering some of what these copper scrolls are.

To start, George J. Brooke explained what the copper scrolls are:

The Copper Scroll is made from three sheets of 99% pure copper (30 x 83 cms; 29 x 72 cms; 29 x 79 cms) that were originally riveted together to form a single scroll. Each sheet contains four columns of engraved script.

When put in the cave in antiquity the scroll was in two parts, one roll containing two sheets and the other just one. The two rolls were discovered by archaeologists in Cave 3 in the foothills near Qumran on the north-west shore of the Dead Sea in March 1952.

The twelve columns of writing list at least 60 locations with descriptions of what was buried at each place. Its permanent home since 1967 has been in Amman, Jordan.

The copper scrolls are a record of buried treasures that was stored near Qumran.

Dr. Brooke also added some explanations about how the copper scrolls differed from other Dead Sea Scrolls:

The Copper Scroll is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it has certain distinctive features:

  1. Material. It is made of 99% pure copper, whereas all the other Scrolls are written on animal skin or papyrus. There are also some brief inscriptions on pottery sherds.
  2. Writing. Its writing was engraved, pressed into the copper with a tool, rather than written with ink by a stylus.
  3. Language. Its Hebrew is slightly different from that of most of the other Qumran Scrolls, having some features found in later Mishnaic Hebrew.
  4. Contents. It is the only list of buried treasures to be found amongst all the Scrolls. Fifth, in the margins of the first four columns at the end of some of the entries there are groups of two or three Greek letters.

In many ways, they are unique among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The subject of the materials is notable, since Latter-day Saints have a special interest in ancient documents inscribed in metal sheets, though that wasn’t a discussion in the actual interview.

One interesting note is about the writing on the scrolls themselves:

Some of the letters are so ill-formed and look-alike letters (such as dalet and resh) so difficult to determine that it looks like someone is copying a written text without knowing their letters. Having someone illiterate engraving the text would reduce the risk of the contents becoming known.

They were wanting to be careful to not let the treasure be found by others. Most of what is described “are quantities of silver and gold” in the forms of cups, dishes, and vessels, but it isn’t clear which, if any of them, existed, since none of them have been found. The directions themselves are “expressed somewhat cryptically” and it is likely that “The Romans got there first!” After all, “it is likely that the Romans tortured any people they thought responsible for hiding valuables until all was revealed.”

For more on the copper scrolls, head on over to read the full interview with George J. Brooke at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk. While you’re there, also check out the post by Robert Millett on the Dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham as well as the new David A. Bednar quotes page.

1 comment for “The Copper Scrolls

  1. I love the connection to the fact they wrote the “treasure map” info on copper because it was super important and valuable.
    Gold plates make a lot of sense.

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