Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Summary of Copper Scroll Seminar

This is a summary of the second seminar we held yesterday. I usually post the summaries in the order they happened, but there seems to be a malfunction in my e-mail that is randomly gobbling up e-mails sent to me (including from me), so the draft of the summary of the first seminar which I sent myself from home last night has been lost in the ether.

Early on, an interesting question was asked: if the Copper Scroll (hereafter "CS") treasures were real, why have none been found? It was notes that the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves were only discovered by chance, but this point is outweighed by the fact that the Israelis have been searching the caves and other remote parts of the country for decades to uncover archaeological relics and nothing certainly identifiable with a CS cache has ever been found. A jug of ancient balsam oil has been noted as a possibility, but it's not clear that the CS included this particular item. And for Freund's interpretation of the Cave of the Letters, see below. I suggested that the Romans would not have left any loose ends and if they had a suspicion that any Temple treasures or Essene hoards of treasure had not been recovered, they would have rounded up knowledgeable individuals and subjected them to persuasive interrogation until all the details had been tidied up. Indeed, Josephus reports that the Romans did torture some of the Essenes, but he doesn't say for what purpose.

Another question is worth referring to readers. How do the CS treasures, amounting to something in the range of 4500 talents of precious metals, compare to other ancient accounts of treasure (i.e., tribute to emperors, plunder of temples, etc.)? Granted, the ancients often exaggerated such things, but it would be helpful to know what numbers they actually give us. I vaguely remember, for example, that some of the tribute to kings in the Amarna letters was surprisingly large (and unlikely to be exaggerated). Can anyone point to specific accounts of treasure roughly contemporary with the CS, especially accounts unlikely to be exaggerated?

We discussed how much stock to put into the paleographic dating of the CS to c. 25-75 C.E. My view is that the paleography of the Scrolls is controversial and the paleography of the crude hammered letters in the CS, perhaps chiseled in by an illiterate person or persons, all the more so, so we should take any paleographic dating with a fair bit of caution.

Some problems to do with the cave in which the CS was discovered (Qumran Cave 3) are also important. Pixner's drawing of the cave in his RevQ 11 article shows scroll jars lining the walls, with the ledge on which the CS was put fairly far back in the cave. He says that a later ceiling collapse mostly cut the scroll off from the rest of the cave. The implication was that the CS could not have been placed in the cave after the scroll jars were, since whoever put the CS in the cave would have to have passed and ignored a bunch of potentially treasure-containing jars while hiding the copper treasure map, which hardly seems likely. However, after Pixner's article was published, Patrich published his article on further explorations of the Qumran caves (in Methods of Investigation). His team moved the large boulders in the cave and ascertained that the ceiling collapse that put them there happened thousands of years before the scrolls deposit. This raises a couple of questions.

1. Was Pixner wrong when he said that "a huge part of the ceiling caved in right in front of [the CS], hiding the CS in a sort of a niche and barring all access to it" (p. 327)? Was this a later collapse, or part of the much earlier one that Patrich cleared?

2. Were there in fact far fewer scroll jars than Pixner thought, given that there weren't any under the boulders after all? And given that the cave was full of boulders, might the jars that were there have been easily missed by whoever put the CS in the cave?

In other words, does the physical evidence leave open the possibility, contra Pixner, that the CS may have been deposited long after the other scrolls? If anyone who has been in Cave 3 can answer any of these questions, pleas drop me a note.

Also regarding Cave 3, it is normally (I'm tempted to say always) assumed that the scrolls deposit in it was part of the same sectarian one that left scrolls in most of the other 10 caves. But is this necessarily so? None of the scroll fragments from Cave 3 use explicitly sectarian terminology. There are biblical fragments and nonbiblical Jewish texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, but 3Q4, despite being called an "Isaiah Pesher," does not use the term pesher. A manuscript of Jubilees was left there too, but one was left at Masada as well. Should we or can we rule out that multiple deposits of scrolls were made in the Qumran caves by different groups? Most of the caves contain obviously sectarian texts, but not all. Besides Cave 3, note that Cave 7 had only Greek texts with nothing demonstrably sectarian. In short, maybe the people who left scrolls at Qumran were from different groups and there is no sectarian connection for the CS. Necessity makes strange bedfellows.

Then it was asked if the apparent genuineness of the CS had any implications for any other treasure stories. This seems unlikely, there are a great many ancient treasure stories and no connection with the CS hoard has been shown (at least so far) with any of them. It seems prudent to assume that treasure stories are legends unless there is compelling reason (as there is with the CS) to think otherwise.

Regarding Freund's theory that the Cave of the Letters (which contained important manuscript finds from the Bar Kokhba period which will occupy us later on) should be identified with location 25 of the CS, his book was not available to us, so we had to rely on news reports. One of the most thorough is this transcript of a Nova program. It should be noted that Edward Cook on his blog Ralph the Sacred River has advanced some philological objections to Freund's theory that look on the face of it to render the theory very unlikely. But a final judgment must be reserved until we actually see the book.