Read this to find out more about why the Copper Scroll was hidden, how it was found, and how the Silver Scroll (and its additional fragment) was found, and surfaced at last. This is a fictitious account, though based on fact where available.
Northeast of Jerusalem, 70CE.
"Moshe… Moshe! Hurry up. Don't drop them, we haven't much time." Ibrahim trotted ahead of his student, their sandaled feet slipping and scuffing along the narrow path. The first sharp rays of the sun were now shooting like spears over the eastern horizon, but they had been hurrying along for some hours already, since the quiet cool of the morning.
Moshe glanced over his shoulder. They had time. He understood the feeling of urgency, the sense of flight, but his conscious mind also knew that the Roman army was engaged with a far bigger event than two sectarian stragglers, living alone in the hills. The Essene threat, such as it was, had been taken care of some years ago.
Had it only been three?
He missed their buildings, remembered the flames and violence that had brought them down.
Yes, already three years ago, but the memory was as clear as yesterday. Some of the survivors had returned to the cities or villages from which they'd come. A short respite, it seemed to Moshe.
Others, like him and Abrahim, had lived in the caves since then, or out in the open, huddled together in twos or threes; homeless, like the Bedouin. A Roman scout might spot them. Might be looking for some trouble. But even that was unlikely in such a remote, trackless place.
At least with the sun up, Moshe could see better where to place his feet, but his steps were still unsure, as fatigue and stress took their toll. He topped a little rise and turned to the south to make sure they were not being followed. Chills spread like long fingers up his sleeves.
The older man turned and gazed southward, but his pupil's eyes were not looking in the direction of Qumran, the ruins of their former home. Farther to the west, a tall plume of grey-black smoke rose among hills set alight by the glow of the dawn.
"They are there." Ibrahim's voice was a whisper. Both men had known the Romans were going to deal with the rebellion by making a military assault against Jerusalem itself. The beating heart of the whole region. Both of them knew that the Emperor's retribution would be swift and brutal. The outlying areas first — remove the support, prevent flanking — then the core of the rebellion, the heart of the people. The city of David.
Titus was there, taking the ancient stronghold in his father's name. There was a statement to be made, and it needed to resound throughout the Roman Empire. Jerusalem was to be made an example of. Still, to see the Holy City burning, even with the Temple still in the hands of the false High Priest and the teachers of wickedness…
"Do you think Yeshua has hidden the other one?"
"He must. It must be hidden or all is lost."
"They will flee to the south?"
"It is not for you to know. Nor for me." He fell silent.
"Ibrahim… the Temple."
"I know. But they will spare it. Surely they will spare it."
"Can you be certain?"
"They will use it as a center to rule. To collect taxes. They will also avoid angering the God within. Such are the ways of invaders." Most invaders, he thought to himself, a chill of sweat trickling down his back beneath his white robe.
"I hope you are right. But why then did the Pharisee bring us the treasures? Do they not know this?"
"The treasures are the physical marks of our legacy… that and the sign of circumcision. They are too precious to risk looting, even if the Temple is left to stand. Such men, such conquerors, are not to be trusted in any case. Thieves. Killers.”
Tears streamed from the old man's eyes and then Ibrahim rent the front of his white garment, tearing a gash in it from neck to belly. Moshe did the same.
"The world will not be the same after this. It is a profound wickedness." Ibrahim paused a while, as if daydreaming. "Now quickly, Moshe, we are almost there."
They continued down the slope and across a short, flat area, then altered their course toward a sloping bank of jagged rock. The ground rose slightly below it and there, tucked under the shadow of the overhang, was a narrow opening, the main of it already covered by a wall of stacked stones. The two men crawled over it, squeezed into the opening, and then back toward the farthest depths of the cave.
There were scrolls there, in the darkness, stacked neatly to one side about halfway down the cavern, but they were not like the scroll now brought by Ibrahim and Moshe. The stacked cylinders were made of parchment and papyrus, the one Moshe held wrapped in the sleeve of his garment was of pounded copper, a precious material, the letters hammered into the metal itself. The item was valuable for the copper on its own, but what it contained in the writing was beyond price. Moshe paused beside the neat pile of scrolls and jars.
"Come, Moshe, as deep in as we can get them."
Moshe did not move. "Will we be expelled for this?"
Ibrahim turned and squinted at the silhouette of his student in the dim light. "We may, if the Teacher finds out. But…" He fell silent.
"I do not think the Community will fare much better than Jerusalem. And I do not think Jerusalem will fare well." The older man took the bundle from his student and slid it farther down, into the darkness in the heart of the cave.
"But it must! The Teacher, the Yahad — are we not chosen to fight in the final battles?"
"Perhaps these are the final battles."
"Then we shall overcome the Sons of Darkness."
Ibrahim tucked the scroll into a hollow place, and pushed sand up over it, hiding it as best he could in the dim light. They then began to crawl back toward the opening and the bright sunshine of day.
Ibrahim squinted as they approached the opening. "Yes, the writings tell us we will win in the end, but not without loss. We shall lose three times, as we win three times. Only when Adonai steps in will the equilibrium be tipped to the side of good."
"Surely the loss of the buildings was one loss. Our survival one victory. The battle for Jerusalem might be victory, or a loss. Perhaps a great event of cleansing — perhaps we will be given rule of the Temple again! The battles will come and then pass. And will we not then be victorious?"
"We may be… those who are left may be… but that is not to say that the Community itself will build itself up again. Perhaps it will not survive at all. Tribulation awaits us, my friend. We must brace for great tribulation."
"And so you are cooperating with the Temple?" Moshe frowned, watching his teacher's face in the light that shone in through the opening, "With a corrupt priesthood?"
"I am cooperating with a just man, who also sees the coming darkness and wishes to safeguard the treasures that are rightfully ours, they are the Community's — the Teacher of Righteousness himself! It may not be for him to see all mysteries. In this thing, I see, and so I must do what is needed to keep the treasures of our people from the hands of those — Kittim!" He spat on the hot sand as he said the word, emerged from the cave and squinted into the sunshine, his scowl apparent even from Moshe's view in the darkness behind him.
"You are certain he is just?"
"Yes. He is a man of great presence. Destiny is upon him. And too, he was an Essene, once."
"But they say now he is a Pharisee."
"He lives thus, yes, but such matters are complex, Moshe. Not everything is thus, or thus. God’s mystery is upon us. This man… he sees visions. He dreams dreams, like the prophets of old.”
"Still… I am unsure of him."
"And yet you are here with me?"
Moshe smiled grimly, coming up to stand at his teacher's shoulder, "I am more sure of you."
Ibrahim nodded. "Then that must do for the moment. Calamitous things are upon us. We must take great steps to face them."
"They will hide it all?"
"They will leave enough that the Romans will not think to look for more. We cannot have them finding everything. Even so, what is left behind and what is found by chance will be a great loss."
"They cannot hide the furnishings?"
"The Romans know of them… there are spies as well, no doubt. If such items are missing, men will search. We must not allow that. Some will be replaced with similar things, but appearances must ring true. And we must use our wits, for our power is less than theirs… for this battle at least."
The two men stood still, watching the pillars of smoke rise in the distant air, their thoughts pregnant with ancient tales of their forebears, also wanderers in the desert."
"If I am expelled, Brother, I have no place to go. My initiation has passed, and my property was added to the communal treasury — before the Kittim came."
"If we keep God's wealth secure, and if we can present it at the Teacher's feet after this great calamity, then I suspect your place in whatever is left will be secure as well."
"It is much to lose."
"It is much to gain, as well.”
After a moment's thought, Ibrahim took the first few steps back toward the south, toward the caves that sheltered what was left of the little community on the northwestern shores of the Great Salt Sea. "Come, we must not be found near this place. It must be forgotten until such time as its finding is safe once again."
Moshe followed him, his heart heavy with the weight of it all. "May God keep our brothers safe until we return."
"Amen. And from then onward."
The Fortress of Masada, circa 73AD
"You must take it Ruth."
"I cannot, father, please… please you bring it with us."
"I will not go below. My place is here, with my brothers."
The Roman troops had been at it for weeks. First they had built a circumvallation, a wall designed not to keep people out, but to keep their enemies in. Since its completion they had concentrated on only one thing: steady streams of men, like ants, hauling woven baskets of stone and sand and pouring them into the ravine between the fortress and the plateau on which the army was encamped. The heat was brutish, but the men kept moving. Slow. Steady. At first the majority of the Jewish warriors laughed at the actions. A wall to keep them in! Wells had been dug down through the rock when Herod built the place, cisterns filled from the rains every year since then, and stores of food were plentiful. They could outlast the Romans in a siege and defend themselves at the wall if any Romans were fool enough to attack them up the steep and treacherous slope; they weren't fleeing anywhere. And filling in a ravine of that size?! Had they become so desperate, the great juggernaut of Rome?
But the wiser among them were silent.
As the weeks passed and the trail of human ants continued without abatement, the marks of their progress, almost imperceptible day by day, began to show themselves. The sharp, rugged walls at the base of the ravine could no longer been seen. Then the ravine appeared flat at the bottom, like centuries of floods had washed sediment in to choke the flow of the next season's torrent.
But there had been no water. The flood was one of soldiers, commanded by men who were well aware of the power of mass labor, of unquestioned orders, patience, and of the importance of finishing the Jewish rebellion with a show of decisive force. Vespasian had gone to Rome to vie for the seat of the Emperor now that Nero had taken his own life in the face of public rejection and disgrace. Lucius Flavius Silva, Governor of Judaea, now stood at the head of the many thousands of armored faces. He was a veteran military and tactical commander. He was intelligent and had a will of iron. A sense of fate. As the remaining Jewish warriors were starting to realize, as the very earth slowly rose to grant passage to the massive army, the governor had the imagination to match his will.
"They will rape us, father. They will torture us. It is best that I die!"
"God will protect you, my child," he put his hands on her cheeks and looked into her eyes, almost too close to focus, "And if he does not, it is his will." Tears began to flow from her eyes, and then from his.
"I am afraid."
"I too, am afraid. Not for me, but for you. God's wealth is there, my child, his holy treasures and gifts to his chosen people. If the kittim get it, it will be profaned… we will have let the holy riches of God be profaned. But the Almighty One has shown his providence. He has chosen to hide it well," he could not help but grin at his own words and at the truth of them, "but we must let the others know. It must be found by those who survive."
She nodded. In her father's eyes, this terrible thing that was happening was also a kind of miracle.
He looked at her more sternly then, but still with tenderness. "You will do this thing for me? For God?"
"Good, my child," he reached out, pressing a silver object into her palm. It was the length of her hand, rolled into a cylinder about the circumference of her wrist. "Do not show anyone what you have. No one, not even our brothers or sisters. Hide it from friend and foe alike, until you can get word to the Yahad. I am proud of you, daughter. As proud as I could be of a son."
They strode over to the wall and looked across at the gathering storm. Her father leaned out over the edge at the result of the past few weeks of Roman effort. She could hear the enemy soldiers working, still building the earthen work ramp that would soon bridge the gap between the fortress and the long rows of soldiers on the other side. It was beyond her imagination and she still struggled to believe it was really happening. Her people had fought for months, then delayed the construction with bows and slings from behind the sturdy Herodian walls. But progress had been made. Slow and relentless. When the Roman soldiers came within range of the battlements and her people began hailing stones and arrows upon the basket- bearing men, the Roman general pulled back his troops to work on the side farthest from the fortress. He sent civilian slaves in to work in the shadow of Masada's walls. Many of them Jewish slaves. The stones had stopped. Faces on both sides of the wall were grim. The work had continued. The ravine between the two forces was nearly gone, a broad rampart of rubble and sand growing up in its place. Still too steep and loose for an army to cross. But the time was coming. As sure and steady as darkness followed the setting of the sun. The war was over. The Jewish forces utterly defeated — or very nearly so — and the spirit of the rebellion quashed.
Not the spirit of the people though. A plan had been proposed.
A grim act of final defiance and dignity.
The Roman swords would not drink the blood of this remnant.
Tears continued to stream down Ruth's face as she followed the other women down into the tunnel, into the caves below the courtyard above. Above her she could hear the low tones of her father and the other men as they sang the great prayer of her people, grim and immovable as the earth itself. Shemaaa… Shemaaa… Her footsteps led her downward, into the coiled bowels of the place. One of the women fled back up, to die with her husband. Ruth paused, then continued on her way as her father had said. She would wait there. Wait for the invaders to enter the fortress, to see the fallen forms of her father and the others, all slain by their own hands in defiance of the unclean conquerors.
She would hide the rolled piece of silver. And then she would await her doom.
Northeast of Jerusalem. Cave Three. 1952.
"It's empty, let's go back."
"Just a last look. We're so close, it won't take a minute. My light was dodgy last time we were in. I want to make sure. The damn ceiling cave-in did some damage, but it may have covered something good as well. We need to be thorough. Pity if we leave something behind and the Bedouin find it."
"Wouldn't surprise me. They’re like bloodhounds out here. A sixth sense or something."
"You ever hear that luck comes to those who work hard?"
"Yeah yeah, but whoever said that, wasn't out here. It's bloody sweltering. Must be over a hundred in the shade today. Can't bear to think what it is out here in the naked sun. I'm sweating buckets."
"Well, luckily we'll be in the shade soon enough — there it is."
The two men walked up the slope to the angled slab of exposed marl and sandstone rock. Ducking in under the lip, they crawled through to the open area where the scrolls had been found — the third cave of them.
The first one had been discovered only five years before, by a young Bedouin shepherd, and once the desert nomads knew there was money to be made, they soon found another. And another.
Even as the two men crept in through the dark, Bedouin tribesmen and an international community of eager archaeologists were combing the hills, searching the hundreds — maybe thousands — of natural and man-made caves that might hide another hoard of ancient documents.
Nothing like this had been found since the tomb of Tutankhamen, and even that didn't have the religious and cultural impact that these writings promised. A bangle or a crown might tell something about those who made them and wore them, but written documents? About a religion that was, in several forms, still alive and flourishing? Something else altogether. And nowhere else on earth were they preserved so well. Below sea level, in one of the driest, most inhospitable environments on earth, the priceless artifacts sat in their subterranean cachés, waiting for their owners to return and reclaim them.
But those owners never did.
"Here, there's a silted-in area back here… I think I see something."
"What is it?"
"Not sure… might be another scroll."
"Odd that it wasn't with the others, can you-" "Get over here! Look. Touch it!"
"What's wrong with it?" He reached out and gingerly ran his finger along the encrusted edge. "Is that metal?"
"I think so… copper I would guess. Jésu, this thing is in rough shape."
"Rough is a relative judgment, it depends on how old it is."
"You're right there. But for it to be here? The initial dating on the other scrolls… And here, further back in the cave? Has to be older, doesn’t it?”
"Yes, I know. Let's get it out of here, into the
The two men stared at the two cylinders placed gingerly on a flat rock, a folded canvas duffle under it as protection from the rough stone.
"Damn… that's fantastic." "Definitely copper then?"
"That's my guess. Looks like it might have been one piece originally, but this edge… a fracture. It'll be something to clean this up."
"Is it pliable?" He reached down to it, gently pulling on the outer corner, hoping that the metal still held some flexibility and the ability to bend. A tiny fragment of the rim snapped off into his hand, a few flakes of copper-crumb tumbling away onto the canvas.
"Old then." "Yes." "Very old."
The two men looked at each other. This was a find like neither of them had ever seen before — Whatever was written inside could change their lives. Their very field of study.
But how on earth were they going to open it?
Israel, June 01, 1967. The Fortress of Masada.
"It is stuck."
"Easy, easy, don't force it!"
"It is lodged in the stone, Robbie, and stone does not bend."
"Old metals don't either, my friend." "How long have we got?"
"I don't know; a few minutes maybe." He glanced back up the stairs the way they had come.
The first man grunted and blinked sweat from his eyes as he gently rocked the item from side to side, fractions of an inch each time, watching the rolled metal make almost imperceptible progress from the stone cubby into which it had been jammed.
"I hear them coming!" the whisper struck the walls and ran off up the tunnel, "Quickly!"
He made one last attempt to slide it free. It would not move. He could leave it, but…
They had only spotted it by chance. Had he not been trained as an archaeologist, or Robbie not a geologist, they wouldn't have even noticed anything.
A funny anomaly was all it was, until they bent to take a closer look and realized that it was a hollow in the wall with some ancient metal item in it, tightly packed around with sand and seemingly undisturbed for some time. In a place like this, it could be thousands of years old, and might be an item of importance. Even more intriguing, it might be an item of great value.
They could leave it, try to pack some sand back in around it, but he doubted the result would be as subtle as when they had first spotted it, especially now that it had been disturbed. Someone else would find it, whatever it was, and they would miss this chance.
Hearing footsteps approaching, he pulled one last time, deciding a damaged item in his possession was better than an undamaged one in someone else's pocket. The metal popped from the cubby and he threw an old shirt around it before dropping it into his carrying bag.
"Hello? Hello?" The guide's voice was clear as he rounded the corner and saw the two men, one on his knees, the other crouching beside him.
"Please," Robbie said, his hand on John's shoulder, "My father has collapsed. I think it is the heat."
John glared at him, his thoughts clear. Father? You smug bastard, I'm only ten years older than you! It was all Robbie could do to keep the concerned look on his face. The consequences, should they be caught stealing an artifact from a protected site, was enough to keep him serious.
"Here," the guide produced a canteen and handed it to the fallen man, "Are you okay Monsieur? We have received a call. The tour must be cut short. Political reasons they say. Something political is brewing. We must return to Jerusalem. Are you able to stand? We will help you."
At a nod from the guide and from John, Robbie helped the latter to his feet amid all the pageantry of a feigned illness. As John reached his feet, the bag slid from his shoulder and hit the ground. The shirt-wrapped item rolled half way out of the opening.
The guide stooped to grab it.
"No it's alright!" Robbie said, with the volume of a whisper but the intensity of a shout.
"No, no, do not worry," the guide said, nudging the item back into the bag and lifting it to his own shoulder, "I have seen this before. It is the heat. Your father will be fine, he just needs cool air and water. We can get him more water right away, and cooler air at the bus. Do not worry."
Robbie and John both kept their eyes on the ground but their attention on the bag, gently swinging on the shoulder of their guide as the three men moved toward the stairs. They would no-doubt laugh about it later, well into a good bottle of wine, or two, but for the moment, the sweat now pouring from John's brow was very convincing, and very real. They left the cavern and made their way toward the cliffside paths to the upper levels of the fortress.
On the floor behind them lay a broken fragment of metal, roughly triangular in shape, with just a hint of ancient writing discernible through the thick layer of encrusted sand and black decay.
All around them nations armed themselves and pointed planes and tanks toward the small city of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem would not wait.
Jerusalem, Israel, June 3rd, 1967. Beth-Shalom Tea House.
"It isn't much, is it?"
"C'mon mate, that's ancient writing on that!"
The older man scrunched his features and stared at the surface, his eyes more skeptical than interested. "Hmm, a little perhaps."
"This thing's old, mate, it's gotta be." "Why does it have to be old?"
"Look at it."
"Besides looking at it. Why must it be old?"
He knew what the old man was getting at. "I told you. I can't tell you where I found it."
"Such things, without provenance, are just trinkets."
"I told you though, I found it. I didn't buy it or dig it up — it was just layin' there on the ground."
"If it was just lying there, then it can't mean much to you, financially I mean. After all, it was mere chance."
"But my mere chance, not yours. The thing has value, you and I both know it. So c'mon mate, throw me a number."
"You also didn't tell me what ground you found it on."
"I can't do that. C'mon… make an offer."
A pause. Another close look. Could be something. Could be something very valuable. Could also be nothing. Could bring with it a lot of trouble in the first instance, and nothing but disappointment in the second. "Maybe… I could give you a pound for it, British sterling."
"A pound?" the man looked as if his best friend had just accused him of treachery. "A single pound for what could be a real treasure?"
"Or a full pound for a tarnished paperweight, and not much use as that even."
"At least a tenner, mate. At least a tenner."
"I could go a pound fifty, as you bought the tea. No more."
"Still too much."
"I tell you what, you go two pounds, and if you sell it for more than ten, we split the profits, eh?" "So I carry the risk, and you share the
"No, we both carry the risk. I sell for a mere two pounds, after all."
"Unless it is worth more."
"Alright, mate, I see what you mean."
The old man suspected he had seen what he meant before even making the proposal. "I'm sorry, I must go to meet my son, he is visiting from England and returns home tomorrow. If we have not reached an agreement…"
"Okay, you have a deal at two pounds. You drive a hard bargain!" He thrust out his hand to the old man.
The man held his hand out, one pound fifty in it in coin. He held out the other, palm up but empty. "I have no more time."
"Fine." The younger man grabbed the coin and placed the fragment of crusted metal, wrapped in tissue, into the waiting hand. "It's true what they say about you Jews." He stormed away.
The old man smiled to himself, Yes, it is probably true of us. And of so many more besides.
The Egyptians had mobilized troops along the borders and there was little doubt that tensions were about to burst. There was talk even that the Israelis should preempt the attack , strike first to gain the upper hand. His son, an archeologist's clerk working with the French École Biblique in Jerusalem, was due to return to his studies at the University of Oxford the next day. Normally he would have preferred his only son to stay, to become part of Israel and the new Zion, but these days his thoughts had strayed to other visions. He still hoped for grandchildren, though his son showed little inclination for anything outside of his books and the funny items and trinkets they dug out of the ground. Perhaps, back in England, at school, the boy would find a woman who shared his passion for such things. Perhaps other passions would follow, as such things often do.
In any case, he was pleased to have stumbled upon this opportunity to buy the small fragment. The man had come into the tea shop for lunch, asked the man at the counter where he might find an antiques dealer. He had been right there. It might be fake for all he knew — he dealt in tables and chairs mostly, a few cabinets and the like — but it looked old. It was the kind of thing his son liked. It would make a good parting gift. Perhaps it would help his thoughts and prayers lean toward his old father from time to time.
A car backfired and he jumped. War, again. Would they never see enough of war, these men? He looked down at the line of fading green numbers up his wrist. He thought of his own father. Wondered where his father's thoughts were in those last days. If he had been able to see any further into the darkness of the future than his son could. Perhaps. There were rumors, after all, that the old man had tapped into secrets in the great tomes he poured over, day after day. Jewish secrets. So alike, his old father and his young son. How had fate made this man in the middle so different from each of them? So alone in the way he saw the world?
He tucked the trinket into the breast pocket of his shirt and left the tea shop, waving at the waiter that they would see each other in the next day or two, as usual.
But he would be wrong.