The Copper Scroll
Jordan Archeological Museum
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The Copper Scroll was created in about 70 C.E. Knowing that the Romans were about to ransack the Great Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish community hid its vast treasure and hammered the details into three large sheets of copper which they rolled up and hid. The resulting scroll lists the contents and numerous hiding places of the great treasure.
Known by the metal on which it is inscribed, the Copper Scroll, is the only Dead Sea Scroll inscribed on metal. Naming the locations and vast quantities of silver and gold, it tantalisingly does not reveal where to start the search. For example, “In the salt pit that is under the steps: forty-one talents of silver. In the cave of the old washer’s chamber, on the third terrace: sixty-five ingots of gold.”
While there are many theories surrounding the Copper Scroll, what is undisputed is that it provides an independent confirmation of the importance of the Second Temple and is considered to be one of the best sources of first century Hebrew.
Discovery and Subsequent Research
Henri de Contenson, a French archaeologist, and Józef Milik, a famous early Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, discovered the Copper Scroll accidentally in 1952 in Cave 3 near Qumran during a survey of the hundreds of caves along the western shore of the Dead Sea.
The Scroll was found in two pieces, rolled and buried in the cave. After 2,000 years hidden there, it had corroded and was too brittle to be unrolled.
In October 1955, in order to separate and unroll the fragile scroll, the two rolls were sent to the Manchester College of Technology in England (now University of Manchester) where, with a fine saw, they were cut into 23 semi-circular segments.
Rare silent clip shot in 1955 of the Copper Scroll being cut with a circular blade © Judy Brown
Forty years later, and after further deterioration, the segments were sent by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities to the Laboratoire EDF-Valectra in Paris for restoration and scientific, scholarly analysis. As part of the investigation and restoration, EDF-Valectra created flexible silicone moulds from the semi-circular segments. These moulds were then laid flat and joined to recreate (in negative) the three plates of the Copper Scroll. Using the silicone moulds, EDF-Valectra was able to create electro-formed bright copper plates to exactly reproduce the profiles of the original. Unfortunately, whilst a faithful technical reproduction of the texts, these electro-formed plates conveyed none of the ageing, corrosion or patina acquired over 2,000 years in the desert. Furthermore, the original EDF copies only reproduced the front face of the plates.
Making the Copper Scroll for The Museum of the Bible
The Making of the Facsimile
Utilising the precise imaging of EDF-Valectra’s reproduction, Facsimile Editions worked for two years with 3D imaging specialists, metallurgists and patinaters to reconstruct the 23 strips into an aged, solid copper replica of the original scroll. The scroll, in three pieces, is approximately 2.4 metres (8 feet) in overall length and 30cm (1 foot) wide.
Made of copper, the precise outline of the edges and holes of the original have been faithfully reproduced and finished by hand.
The finished 3D data files were then used to drive CNC milling machines to rout the pattern into high-density polycarbonate blocks, by far the most accurate and complicated part of the entire process. As far as is known, a double-sided object of this size has never been routed to such fine tolerances. These routed blocks would become the new ‘masters’ for the lost-wax casting process. As the casting process causes shrinkage, experimentation was required in order to cast the panels to the same size as the original. In order to achieve the target size, several test panels had to be routed with injection waxes and test casts being made at each stage.
In the casting process there is no tolerance – each casting has to be perfect. As a casting error cannot be retouched, if it is not perfect it has to be re-cast, and many were! Each panel is cast in sections delineated where they were originally cut during their ‘opening’ in Manchester. They are then reassembled and welded before finishing carefully by hand with direct reference to images produced during EDF-Valectra’s restoration.
From an electro-formed object we have made something that is as close as it is possible to get to the surface of the original and which imparts the look and feel of an ancient copper object made over 2,000 years ago.
The facsimiles of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Copper Scroll on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC
A sumptuous 160-page volume containing a full translation of the text, drawings, indices and a detailed bibliography accompanies the facsimile edition.
The facsimile of the Copper Scroll is presented in a specially constructed heavy-duty case with wheels and handles to offer full protection during transportation or long-term storage.
Each panel is protected with high-density foam.
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