The Process of Writing the Copper Scroll

George J. Brooke and Philip R. Davies (eds.), Copper Scroll Studies, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002, pp. 198-209  Meir Bar-Ilan


The Copper Scroll is one of the most unusual of those found at Qumran, and it is plausible that for this reason it has received less attention than any other scroll.1 In a recent dissertation devoted to this scroll, a work of over 1300 pages, the scroll was defined in the summary as "mysterious",2 a description that for me is sufficient to undermine the method of the research.3

The goal of this paper is to analyze the unique literary nature of this scroll - the listing - in order to propose a new way of understanding how the scroll was written.

A. The Question of the Authenticity of the Copper Scroll

One of the questions that disturbed the researchers who dealt with the Copper Scroll and held up its research was the question of the scroll's authenticity. It is clear that a literary fabrication on the one hand, or a day to day inventory, on the other, require entirely different treatment and understanding. But the inability to arrive at a consensus on this topic has prevented progress in the research. The issue of the nature of the scroll depended on a single question: does the quantity of the treasures mentioned in the scroll reflect realia or are these amounts simply imaginary? Consequently, is the scroll imaginative literature which should be studied either with the traditional Aggadic material that deals with the hidden vessels of the Temple or parallel with the description of Jerusalem in the imagined future but not as part of the geographic / historic realia of the first century of the Common Era.4

Two central contributions lead to the definition of the Copper Scroll as authentic:
a) the research of several scholars, among them B. Z. Luria, in which the Copper Scroll is matched against Rabbinic legends dealing with the hidden treasures of the First Temple, prior to its destruction. These legends derive, apparently, from the actual hiding of these treasures during the final of days of the Second Temple (not as Luria posits that we are dealing with the revolt of Bar Kosiba, as this point of view can be refuted outright).5
b) Harper's research regarding the plausibilty and the reasonableness regarding the quantity of the treasures that were stored.6 These two points of view, together with the attempts at identifying some of the places mentioned in the scroll, nullify, almost by themselves, wild fancies that were attached to the scroll from the very start. The intent of this paper is to strengthen the authenticity of the scroll by regarding it as a list.

B. The Uniqueness of the Scroll as a List - Explanation of the Process of the Writing and its Sitz im Leben

We know that the Copper Scroll differs from all the other Qumran scrolls in several respects:

  • the material of the scroll: copper, unlike the other scrolls that are written on parchment or paper.
  • paleography: the script differs from the usual script of Qumran (at that time).
  • language: closer to Mishnaic Hebrew than almost all the other Qumran texts.
  • content: treasures hidden underground.
  • genre: a list.

Actually, each one of the unique aspects of the Scroll requires explanation, and surely the combination of these aspects in one scroll emphasizes its uniqueness. Nevertheless, it is the intent of the following to focus on only one aspect of the Scroll: the nature of the Scroll as a list. Even though this phenomenon has been mentioned previously it has not received enough attention. Furthermore, we will attempt to explore the significance of this phenomenon as an instrument for the understanding of the process by which this Scroll was composed.

The nature of this Scroll as a catalogue was diagnosed many years ago, in fact, from the very first moment it was discovered.7 So too, Lehmann, for instance, noted that the style of the Scroll is that of a list.8 But, until now this definition has not played a significant role in serious research. Apparently, the first one who dealt with the list-like characteristic of the Copper Scroll as well as the importance of this aspect, was the late David Wilmott.9

Indeed, within the last few years Wolters devoted several research articles to the Copper Scroll, in which he supports the approach taken by Wilmott.10 But he does not explain the advantage of this opinion. That is to say, Wolters showed that the structure of the Copper Scroll is of a list of 64 (or 60, according to Luria or Lefkovitz) locations where various treasured articles and gold were hidden; and he indicated that each of the entries is a combination of a fixed number of "field" on the list - according to modern terminology - and they are:

1. designation of the location;
2. additional information for designation of the site;
3. directions for digging;
4. the distance (usually indicated in amot);
5. description of the treasure;
6. additional remarks regarding the place of hiding;
7. two or three Greek letters.

That is to say, the Scroll is not a "free" literary prose creation; instead, it is a work designed acccording to a fixed and defined (preset) structure. Even if none of the sixty items is complete in containing entries for all seven subjects or "fields" that exist in the Scroll, the form of the description was preset, and the author was not permitted to express himself freely. Indeed, Wolters showed that the Copper Scroll could be written in seven columns, a fact that emphasizes that we cannot regard this as a free form text but a text with a rigid structure.

Along these lines, it should be mentioned that previous scholars who studied this Scroll did not dwell sufficiently on the nature of the Scroll as a list. Further on we will attempt to examine the list genre in general, and the import of this genre as it applies to the Copper Scroll, in particular. We do so in order to examine and combine the above findings as they apply to the uniqueness of the Copper Scroll. All this can enable us to reach some new conclusions regarding this Scroll.

C. The Implications of the Scroll as List

A "list" is a literary genre, a form of writing texts, apparently the most ancient of all forms of writing.11 In writing the list, the author records a series of entries without conjunctions or verbs (except when dealing with a list of verbs), in order to present the reader with a specific "inventory". For instance, a scribe would write a supply list of items in the royal treasury; a list of words as part of an exercise for a student; a list of "early ancestors"; genealogical lists, etc. A recognized portion of the most ancient texts are arranged as lists. Also in Jewish literature this genre has left its mark: the opening of Chronicles, the Scroll of Ta'anit, the list of basic, major forms of labor in the Tractate Shabbat, etc.12

As a result of a specific text being composed as a list, the following implications derive from the essential nature of a list:

A) Generally, a list has a cumulative nature: it is not written all at once. Instead, it is written in the sequence of a number of entries that may be separated over a span of time (or place). Thus, for instance, a list of groceries, much like even a list of ancestors or a list of nations, is nothing more than a summary of several lists that were prepared and summarized, not all at once. If we speak of a genealogic ordering , it is understood that such a list is a cumulative collection that by its very nature and chronological order cannot possibly be written all at once.

B) A list has an inherent order and internal organization of some kind (something that is absent from a conventional prose text). For instance, an alphabetical list is prepared according to the conventions of the alphabet of that language; a list of words in a dictionary is prepared according to the alphabet; but a list of dates or kings is prepared in specific order. This order could be, generally as we see in history books - a chronological order, or as we see in Scroll of Ta'anit - a calendrical ordering, within the yearly cycle. An ordering of facts according to a hierarchy is yet another way of listing in which items are listed according to their importance, their age, and even there we can discern secondary patterns: ascending or descending in importance (bottom up or top down).

C) The ordering of the entries in a list can characterize the type of list and the object of its composition. An inventory is unlike a list of students in a class, and it is worth remembering that books can be listed in various forms: by author, by title, by subject, by date of acquisition, etc.

D) A list is not necessarily read in a linear manner, as is a prose text. A list also has meaning in other ways of reading (for instance, according to "fields" such as the accumulation of treasures, etc.).

This summary of the characteristics of lists is presented in order to provide a key to understanding the Copper Scroll.

Thus, for instance, Wolters pointed out that each of the sections that described a place of hiding was composed of "data fields", maximum seven. That is to say, the list was combined from a large compilation of smaller lists (64 in number, according to his theory) a frequent occurrence in lists (just as a larger narrative is assembled from smaller episodes). Each section consists of a shorter uniform listing even though there are sections containing incomplete, partial data fields that are not uniformly formatted.

For example, only some of the sub-lists have Greek symbols (1, 4, 7, 10, 14, 17). Another example in the almost last data field (column F in the reading of Wolters 1992, the field including detailing of the hiding place) exists in the first 15 sections and in the last 13 but is missing in all the others except section 24. In other words, the text of the Copper Scroll is assembled from a large list consisting of tens of short lists having a more or less set structure. In some of the cases it is possible to recognize the secondary division of the longer list (more below).

Indeed, this examination is insufficient to clarify all that can be learned from the listing character of the Scroll. For this we need to examine a specific phenomenon in the Scroll: the duplication of some of the place names in it.

1. The Duplication of Place Names

In order to understand the significance of the Scroll as a list, the following discussion will focus on a single "data field": the hiding places of the the treasures, though - deliberately - without consideration of geographical identification of these places. As mentioned, this "data field" appears at the beginning of every entry and the study of its content can serve as a key to the understanding of the nature of the Scroll and the way it was composed.

First, it must be admitted that the description of the places is very vague; only a native familiar with the paths of the land could have listed the names in this way. Furthermore, most of the names are not actual names but rather a mnemotechnical indicator: reference to the place only for personal use. For example, "in the pit beneath the wall" is not an exact location but a reminder, since any wall has a certain length, and the wall of Jerusalem is many kilometers long, and it is clear that the writer entered this sign only as a personal reminder. Similarly, "in the external valley" and "at the top of the rock" are not definite places. Indeed it is reasonable to assume that the storer (of the treasure) was not interested in providing details about where his treasures were hidden, and if in the future most of the "locations" mentioned in the Scroll are not identified, this should not be a cause for wonder or a consideration in establishing the degree of authenticity of the Scroll.

Thus, examination of the list of the names of the caches reveals that a number of names from the 60 (or 64) were written more than once. Two categories can be distinguished among them. The first is exemplified in the name "Sekhakha" which appears in items 20, 21, 22, 24 (or nearby, matching the different versions). In other words, we are dealing here with the hiding of treasures adjacent to a place called Sakka. However, the duplication of the second category is the duplication of names for places that are not consecutive. Thus, for instance, "the valley Akhor" (Ekun) and "Kahlt" (could be pronauned as "Kahlit", "Kehelet", or else), appear more than once. "The valley Akhor" is mentioned in No. 1 (in Pixner's opinion the correct reading is "which is in the valley, pass over") and in No. 17.13 "Kachlit" is mentioned in Nos. 4, 11, 15, 19, 60. Thus, the names Sekhkha, the valley Akhor and Kahlit are mentioned a number of times in the list of the hiding places.

What is the significance of the duplication in of the names? Pixner (p. 337) suggested seeing the name "Kahlit" as a nickname for a settlement place of Essenes. In any case it is reasonable to locate every "Kahlit" at a different geographical location. Clearly, according to this approach one is not dealing with duplication for "four Kahlit existed" and each occurrence deals with another "camp". However, I see this interpretation as taking the text beyond its literal meaning and basically contradicting the principles of the writing of the places in the Scroll. (In them the names do not have a double meaning). More seriously, this form of writing would not enable the storer to identify the place after the winds of war subside. In fact, Goranson (p. 287) also disputed Pixner's position and claimed that the name indicates a district, a region. However, definition of any name as district does not help the storer since every place has to be unambiguous with a distinctive meaning for recovery of the treasure from storage. Therefore it is preferable to assume that "Kahlit" - without geographic identification - is the name of a specific place (not necessarily the place mentioned in Kiddushin 66a) reached by the storer and his group in the course of storing the treasures. ln this way they reached the valley Akhor twice and Kchlit four times.

It is worth noting now that even if it is assumed that the Scroll is the creation of a single author alone, it reflects the activities of a complete team since the amount of treasures was well beyond the ability of a single person to watch over, at least from the point of view of those responsible for the beasts of burden (donkeys, camels or mules).In order to carry the treasures from their source (in the Temple) to the secret places in the ground, it was necessary to transport them on a number of animals. For guarding the treasure in the course of the trip and because of the physical effort involved in digging a pit, the burial, and covering of the treasures, many people obviously had to share the secret of the burial expedition. ln other words, even if there was only one recorder (apparently not the case - see below), the real situation in the storage required a team.

And so, what significance can be inferred from the repeated appearance of names of the burial places? It appears that the answer is self-evident: the storers did not carry out just a one-time project but reached the storage sites in a number of cycles (at least four). Thus, the burial expedition departed from the source of the treasures (i.e the Temple) with the articles meant for storage, buried them, and then returned to the starting point (i.e. to the Temple), loaded other treasures on the animals, and set out again on their burial expedition. In this frame of "cycles" it sometimes happened that the burial expedition returned to one of the places where it had been in the past and buried additional treasure there. In other words, the repetition of the names of the places, not consecutively, is instructive, on the one hand, regarding the storers' way of executing their mission and, on the other, regarding the form of the writing of the Scroll.14

Indeed it is obvious that anyone hiding a large treasure will not hide it all at once to avoid drawing too much attention to it (on the principle of not putting all one's eggs in one basket). Just as the storers of the treasures took care to bury them in dozens of places, exercising understandable caution, so it is reasonable that they also did not remove all their treasures at once, for fear of disclosure, robbery or some other concern. No less important a reason for the division of the storage operation into many events was the great bulk of the hidden treasures, estimated at tens of tons. Obviously, it would be difficult if not impossible to hide this large quantity in a single operation.

These words apply especially in light of the presumed secret nature of the storage operation. The storer does his work covertly since a long caravan carrying a large bulky load draws attention, in absolute contrast to the objective of the storer. Clearly the storers realized that they could not afford to draw too much attention and that they had to strive for an inconspicuous operation.

In other words, the logic behind the storage shipment required the operation to be divided into a number of stages, and the treasures to be hidden not only in dozens of places - as can be inferred from the body of the text - but also in a number of storage cycles in order to spread the risk of discovery.

Stated otherwise, the internal structure of the Scroll (duplication of names) as well as internal considerations deriving from the unique content of the Scroll (hiding a great quantity of treasures) informs us that the Scroll reflects activity at many stages. Indeed it can be assumed that the Scroll was written in this way - at different times. The delivery expedition reached the storage location, ascertained that no one saw them (perhaps at night), buried the vessels, while the man in charge of the expedition listed for himself a summary of the operation: treasure Y was buried at location X etc. The expedition then proceeded to an additional location and repeated the writing process. Thus, the list reflect a nonconsequative writing process in the pattern of lists, corresponding to the progress of the actual execution of the project.15

It is possible that the writer himself was replaced, as inferred from a change in the internal structure of repetitions of listings recognized as having a uniform and consistent structure (with or without signs in Greek). Another possibility is that the writer was not replaced but that, since he wrote the description of the places over different periods of time in the course of the various "storage expeditions" he subconsciously changed (through addition or deletion of details) his writing pattern (while remaining meticulous in writing the entire Scroll in a uniform and substantive style). In any case even if it is assumed that at the end the tentative list was edited and reworked into the list now in our hands (that is, we are dealing with a reworked text) this plausible assumption makes no difference in the understanding of the Scroll since we are still dealing with a uniform pattern of writing: burial and recording, burial and recording, the writing of the list concording with its implementation at the locale.

2. The Duplication as Indicator of the Joining of the "Repeated Lists"

The analysis of the text elaborated above does not hinge in any way on geographical identification, but it appears that a more penetrating understanding of the text could be achieved if its analysis incorporates the assumption that the treasures mentioned in the text are the treasures of the Temple, obtained from the Temple in Jerusalem. But it must be emphasized that the manner of the writing of the Scroll does not depend on this assumption. Anyone who wants to tie the source of the treasures to Qumran or to fix the places in Transjordan or the Carmel is free to do so but on condition that he identify a sequence of places near each other.

According to the assumption that the Temple was the source of the treasures, it follows that the man responsible for the Temple treasures left the Temple with the storage expedition as its head. This expedition had to bury a large quantity of objects and therefore performed its task in many cycles. They left Jerusalem, buried the treasures under their care and, on completion of their task, they returned to the Temple for another similar mission.

As stated above, a number of places are mentioned more than once. The proposed explanation ties the duplication into the way the Scroll was put together, a list entered in the course of implementation in the area (like a list of grocery items and their prices at the supermarket) and additional contact with the same place in the course of more than one storage trip.

As for the reason for the writing of the Scroll, a brief note is in order towards the close. Some claim that it is hard to imagine why already at the beginning of the war, any of the defenders would consider scattering the Temple treasures in various places, at a time they thought the city would remain in their hands forever.16 Regarding this, we can say that the proponent of this opinion does not recognize the thinking of quartermasters and those responsible for equipment; they do all they can to preserve their treasures. Furthermore even if there were people who thought Jerusalem would remain in their hands, this does not eliminate the possibility that there were others who considered it dangerous to keep all the treasures in the Temple and that it was preferable to bury the treasures in different places in order to ensure their survival. In this connection attention has to be paid to the subordinate nature of the treasures. We are not talking about the Temple candelabrum or another unique ritual object that has no alternative, but "ordinary" objects, part of the Temple inventory, whose removal from the Temple would neither be noticed nor impede the daily service at the Temple. In other words, the hiding of treasures of secondary importance in diverse locations before war reflects a precautionary measure in conjunction with the duty of some of the Temple priests as those responsible for its treasures.


The association of the Copper Scroll with actual events does not depend on geographic identification of the places mentioned therein but rather on its literary analysis. The Copper Scroll is a collection of lists of hidden inventory, lists written by the man (or men) responsible for a "salvage campaign" - the hiding of the treasures of the Temple for their preservation in case the Jerusalem Temple should fall to the enemy. The "duplicated" places are those places that the storage expedition visited more than once. It is only natural that in circular courses (especially under the conditions of the Judean Desert) there be places that are traversed more than once in moving along the course.

Analysis of the literary character of the Scroll as a list with the resulting implications explains the historical character of its writing. Identification of the Scroll as a list shows that it is not a polished literary document but a list generated in the course of its implementation, matching the geographical progress of the storage expedition in the chronological and geographical sequence of the procession of the storers.

The uniqueness of the Scroll in all of its components refutes almost in itself the conclusion of anyone who sees in the Scroll an integral part of texts from Qumran, and this (conclusion) on the basis of its proximity (to other texts).17

A final note. After about forty years of research, it appears that the time has come to cease talking about the "puzzling" or "mysterious" nature of the Scroll. If we set aside for the moment the controversy over the reading of not too small a number of words, a controversy resembling the status of the reading of the texts from Qumran, we find that the bounds of the "unknown" in the Scroll is now basically limited to the exact identification of the places where the treasures were hidden. However, the exact identification of the places the writer kept to himself. In any case there is no difference in this matter between places not recognized in the Copper Scroll and various places mentioned in the Scriptures without anyone knowing today where they are.

1. In spite of following anything connected to Qumran in general and the Copper scroll in particular I have found only few publications devoted to this scroll (most of them in the bibliography in the appendix below) unlike the accepted practice in the field (in complete contrast to works such as "selected stories of", for example). See: E. Tov, "On the status of the research: the Qumran scrolls in light of the new research", Sciences of Judaism, 34 (1994), pp. 37-67 (Hebrew).

2. See: Judah K. Lefkovits, The Copper Scroll - 3Q15, A New Reading, Translation and Commentary, New York University 1993.

3. Tractate Kelim, in: A. Jelinek, Bet-HaMidrash, Jerusalem 5698; 1938, B, pp. 88-91 (Hebrew). It is worth noting that several pseudoepigraphic writings from the days of the Second Temple moved the time of their appearance to the end of the First Temple, like the Letter of Baruch and the Vision of Ezra, so that the shifting of the storing of treasures to the days of the First Temple does convert the writing to "folklore" but reflects pseudoepigraphic tendencies (some examples penetrated the literature of the Sages). More on the storage of the vessels of the Temple in general and on this book in particular, see L. Ginzberg, On Law and Lore, Tel Aviv 1960, p. 270, Note 16; P. Churgin, Researches in the Period of the Second Temple, New York 1950, pp. 157-160; S. Lieberman, Tosefta Kifshuta, VIII, New York 1973, p. 733; Y. Yadin, The Temple Scroll, Jerusalem l977, II, p. 21 (citing Lieberman, Hebrew). Also see: Marilyn F. Collins, 'The Hidden Vessels in Samaritan Traditions', JSJ, 1-3 (1970-1972), pp. 97-116.

4. B. Z. Luria, The Copper Scroll from the Judaean Desert, Jerusalem l964 (Hebrew). The current basis for setting the chronology of the Scroll relies on the paleography (of the first century of the Common Era), but Luria was prepared to recognize the research that disputes this possibility because of the erection of the temple in the time of Bar Kosiba. See: Y. Cohen, "The Construction of the Temple by Bar Kochba", Jerusalem, VI (5664; 1904), pp. 306-317 (Hebrew); Y. Goldman, "The Destruction of the Third Temple", Jerusalem, VII (5667; 1907), pp. 70-76 (Hebrew); M. Auerbach, "Sacrifices after the Destruction of the Temple", Jeschurun, X 3-4 (1923) pp. 23-29 (Hebrew); M. Beer, "One bit of evidence regarding the question of non-renewal of sacrificial worship in the days of Bar Kochba ?", S. Cohen, Z. Kaplan, Y. Y. Hacohen-Avidor, S. Markovitz (editors), Isolated from his brothers: words of Torah, meditation, research and appreciation, a memorial to God's hermit Rabbi David the Cohen [the hermit rabbi] of blessed memory, Jerusalem 1978, III, pp. 196-206 (Hebrew). Also see: Y. Tabori, The Festivals of Israel in the Period of the Mishna and the Talmud, Jerusalem 1995, p. 99 Note 65 (Hebrew).

5. James E. Harper, '26 Tons of Gold and 65 Tons of Silver', BAR, 19/6 (1993), pp. 44-45, 70.

6. S. Sharvit, "Inquiries in the Vocabulary of the Copper Scroll", Beth Mikra, XII (1967), pp. 127-135 (Hebrew).

7. K. G. Kuhn, 'Les Rouleaux de Cuivre de Qumran', RevQ, 61 (1954), pp. 193-205.

8. M. R. Lehmann, Essays and Travels, Jerusalem 1972, pp. l52-160 (Hebrew); idem., 'Identification of the Copper Scroll based on Its Technical Terms', RevQ, 17/4 (1964), pp. 97-105.

9. See: A. Wolters, 'Literary Analysis and the Copper Scroll', Z. J. Kapera (ed.), Intertestamental Essays in Honor of Jozef Tadeusz Milik, Krakow: The Enigma Press 1992, pp. 239-252 (esp. 242-243). Wilmot saw that the style of the Scroll resembles lists of shrines from the Hellenistic world, but this stylistic relationship did not lead him or the research to new research targets, as far as is known.

10. Wolters' articles are listed as follows: A. Wolters, 'Notes on the Copper Scroll', RevQ, 12 (1987), pp. 595-596; idem., 'The Fifth Cache of the Copper Scroll "The Plastered Cistern of Manos"', RevQ, 13 (1988), pp. 167-176; idem., 'The Last Treasure of the Copper Scroll', JBL, 107/3 (1988), pp. 419-429; idem., 'Apocalyptic and the Copper Scroll', JNES, 49 (1990), pp. 145-154; idem., 'The Copper Scroll and the Vocabulary of Mishnaic Hebrew', RevQ, 14 (1990), pp. 483-495.

11. See: J. Goody, The Domestication of the Savage Mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977, pp. 74-111.

12. On the list as a literary genre in ancient cultures and in Jewish sources, see: M. Bar-Ilan, "The Character and Origin of the Scroll of Ta`anith", Sinai, XCVIII (1986), pp. 114-137 (Hebrew); Peter W. Coxon, 'The List Genre and Narrative Style in the Court Tale of Daniel', JSOT, 35 (1986), pp. 95-121; M. S. Jaffee, 'Writing and rabbinic Oral Tradition: On Mishnaic narrative, Lists and Mnemonics', The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, 4 (1994), pp. 123-146.

13. According to Pixner who divides the scroll according to considerations of geographic location, the division is into five cycles (in accordance with 64 places): B. Pixner, 'Unravelling the Copper Scroll Code: A Study on the Topography of 3Q15', RevQ, 43/11 (1983), pp. 323-365.

14. This repetition is bound to assist in renewed identification of the places designated in the Scroll. And even if unambiguous identification of the places does not become possible, at least it will, in light of the analysis of the route of the storage expedition and the manner in which the Scroll was written, eliminate as impossible various suggestions that have been made till now.

15. See a close example in King Shishak's expedition to the Land of Israel: B. Mazar, Canaan and Israel, Jerusalem 1974, pp. 234-244 (Hebrew).

16. S. Goranson, 'Sectarianism, Geography and the Copper Scroll', JJS, 43/2 (1992), pp. 282-287 (esp. p. 285).

17. Such is the opinion of Goranson. It is worth noting that many archeological finds reach the researchers through antiquity thieves so that one cannot know the context in which they occurred. Nevertheless, a great deal can be learned about the find without depending on a relationship to nearby finds. Similarly it is worth mentioning that non-sectarian texts have also been found at Qumran so that any conclusion based on proximity alone is risky and does not stand up to criticism. The attempt to identify characteristics of one cave or another has not succeeded (and see Tov above, note 1). Goranson also seeks the support of Tov, but on this point he disregards the fact that Tov's analysis is based on the ways of writing and the language of the texts. In this area it is certain that the Copper Scroll differs entirely from the other texts.