Clues to the Largest Treasure Ever Buried Are in a Dead Sea Scroll

The Copper Scroll contains clues to the locations of 63 gold and silver treasures buried around the Holy Land.
Marcia Wendorf

Let's say we're playing a computer game whose goal is to find multiple ancient buried treasures.
Column I Treasure #1:
In the ruin of Horebbah which is in the valley of Achor,
Under the steps heading eastward about forty feet:
Lies a chest of silver that weighs seventeen talents. KεN

Column I Treasure #3:
Nine hundred talents are concealed by sediment towards the upper opening,
At the bottom of the big cistern in the courtyard of the peristyle.

Column I Treasure #6:
Enter into the hole of the waterproofed Reservoir of Manos,
Descend to the left,
Forty talents of silver lie three cubits from the bottom.

A talent is an ancient measure of weight and is about 33 kg (75 lbs), but can vary from 20 to 40 kg. The international price of gold today is US $48,960.76 per kilogram. That means for Column I Treasure #1, 
$48,960.76 per kilo x 33 kilos per talent x 17 talents = $27,466,986.36. And, that's just the first treasure, there are 62 more!

What a cool game you might say, but it isn't a game at all, it's the real Copper Scroll.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Copper Scroll is one of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947 by bedouin who were searching caves overlooking the Dead Sea. These caves had been inhabited between the second century B.C. and the second century A.D. by the Jewish ascetic sect, the Essenes. The Dead Sea Scrolls date to this specific time period.

Dead Sea Scroll
Dead Sea Scroll Source: Israel Antiquities Authority/Wikimedia Commons

Column III Treasure #1:

Dig down nine cubits into the southern corner of the courtyard.
There will be silver and gold vessels given as offerings, bowls, cups, sprinkling basins, libation tubes, and pitchers.
All together they will total six hundred nine pieces.
Dig down sixteen cubits under the eastern corner to find forty talents of silver. TR

In 1952, a team of archaeologists began a systematic examination of all 11 caves in the area. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found rolled up in pottery jars, but on March 14, 1952, on a shelf carved into the wall of Cave 3, archaeologists found the Copper Scroll.

The Copper Scroll
The Copper Scroll Source: Wikimedia Commons

It was found along with 14 other scrolls in the cave, so it was designated "3Q15" because it was the 15th, and last, scroll to be found in that cave.

All the other Dead Sea Scrolls were written on either papyrus or leather, but the Copper Scroll was written on copper mixed with about 1% of tin.

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The Copper Scroll

While the other scrolls contain codes of conduct, hymns and prayers, the Copper Scroll contains a list of gold and silver treasures hidden in 63 locations around what is today the State of Israel.

The Copper Scroll
The Copper Scroll Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Copper Scroll was found in two sections of what was originally a single 8-foot-long (240 cm) scroll. Archaeologists couldn't unroll the corroded metal without damaging it, so the Jordanian government sent it to Manchester University's College of Technology in the UK.


There, in 1955 and 1956, experts unrolled the scroll by cutting it using a miniature circular saw and a dentist's drill. This resulted in 23 sections, which could then be read.

Between 1994 and 1996, the Copper Scroll was extensively photographed, x-rayed, cleaned and a facsimile was created. Experts dated it to around 70 A.D., a date that is significant.

Column XI Treasure #1:
Very near there, under the southern corner of the portico in Zadok's tomb,
Beneath the pillars of the covered hall are ten vessels of offering of pine resin, and an offering of senna.
Gold coins and consecrated offerings are located under the great closing stone that is by the edge, next to the pillars that are nearby the throne, and toward the tip of the rock to the west of the garden of Zadok.
Forty talents of silver are buried in the grave that is under the colonnades.

The Copper Scroll differs from the other Dead Sea Scrolls in its language, which is Mishnaic Hebrew. The Mishna is the written collection of oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah".

Another anomaly in the Copper Scroll is the inclusion of two- or three-letter Greek letter groupings following seven of the treasure location clues. Remember the "KεN" in Column I Treasure #1 above?

The treasure

All told, the Copper Scroll lists treasure amounting to 160 tons of gold and silver, which would make it the largest hoard of treasure ever buried. It's possible that the scribe who created the Copper Scroll actually specified the weights in the karsh rather than the talent. While the karsh is smaller, that's still a lot of silver and gold.

If the treasure is indeed measured in talents, its value would easily exceed $3 billion today. And, it's clear that whoever buried the treasure and created the Copper Scroll wanted the treasure to be found.

So, where did all this treasure come from? Most likely, it came from Jerusalem's Second Temple, which was built between 516 B.C. and 70 A.D. It had replaced the First Temple, or King Solomon's Temple, and it was extensively remodeled by King Herod the Great, 74 B.C. - 4 B.C.

The Second Temple
Second Temple model Source: Berthold Werner/Wikimedia Commons

The Second Temple was the largest religious shrine in the entire Roman Empire. Visitors were required to leave half a shekel as an offering, which was about 7 grams of silver. Over time, the offerings accumulated and became known as the Temple Treasure.

You can still see part of the Second Temple today in Israel's Western Wall.

Western Wall
Western Wall Source: Golasso/Wikimedia Commons

In 66 A.D., the Jewish population rebelled against their Roman rulers. Four years later on August 4, 70 A.D., Roman soldiers led by future emperor Titus sacked the Temple and destroyed Jerusalem.

Destruction of Jerusalem
Destruction of Jerusalem Source: David Roberts/Wikimedia Commons

Column X Treasure #5:
Eight talents of silver can be found by digging under the western side of Absalom's Memorial.

The Romans clearly made off with some of the Temple Treasure because it is commemorated on the Arch of Titus in Rome, which was built in 82 A.D. Carved into the arch is an image of Roman soldiers carrying the Menorah from the Second Temple.

Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus Source: Steerpike/Wikimedia Commons

But, it's possible that the main part of the Temple Treasure was spirited away, possibly by Essene priests, who hid the treasure around the Holy Land, then left clues to its location on an indestructible metal scroll.

The final 64th clue on the Copper Scroll refers to the location of a duplicate scroll, but with additional details in the clues. This scroll is called the Silver Scroll. Neither the Silver Scroll nor any of the treasure has ever been found, but people have certainly been looking for it.

Searching for the treasure

In 1962, Dead Sea Scroll scholar John Allegro followed clues in the Copper Scroll and excavated several places mentioned in the clues, including Absalom's tomb. He came up empty-handed.

In his book James the Brother of Jesus, Robert Eisenman, argues that the Copper Scroll is an authentic treasure map that was created by the Essene community. Eisenman also asserts that the Silver Scroll is what was discovered by the Knights Templar during the First Crusade, and that they then dug up all the treasure. The Temple Treasure would thus have become the famous missing Templar Treasure.

It's also possible that after the Roman army left Jerusalem, the Jews used the Copper Scroll to dig up the treasure and used it to rebuild their city.

The Copper Scroll makes an appearance in Lionel Davidson's 1966 thriller The Menorah Men, and it also appears in Edwin Black's novel Format C:. In 2006, Joel C. Rosenberg published The Copper Scroll. The Copper Scroll and a search for its treasures was featured in a 2007 episode of The History Channel series, "Digging for the Truth."

You can find an English translation of the Copper Scroll online. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed at Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, while the Copper Scroll is displayed at the Jordan Museum in Amman.

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