By Shelley Neese
In the spring of 1952, Henri de Contenson, a young French scholar, mounted an expedition to scout desert terraces and cliffs in the Judean desert. They were looking for Dead Sea Scrolls, racing against the illicit Bedouin excavations by using their own team of hired Bedouin. The expedition was sponsored by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities who controlled the region at that time. The team came across a large natural cave. The cave’s entrance was narrow and rock-covered, barely perceptible to the scanning eye. For eleven days, they carefully cleared a mountain of debris. The cave contained forty scroll jars, shattered from the crushing weight of a ceiling that had collapsed in antiquity. All that was left from the once robust library were five intact jars housing disintegrated scrolls.
After ten days of excavation, the team was about to quit when they noticed that a large limestone rock was hiding what appeared to be a lesser side cave. Like a false wall for a castle’s secret chamber, the rock camouflaged the nook and barred it from intruders. Curious, workers carefully chipped through the chalky barricade. Resting alone on a low shelf were two stacked copper rolls. The scroll’s strategic position allowed it to narrowly escape the collapsed ceiling. Nature had created the perfect hiding place for the most intriguing manuscript in the Dead Sea Scroll collection: The Copper Scroll.
Rather than papyrus or leather, the Copper Scroll is inscribed on thin sheets of almost a hundred percent pure copper. Copper was particularly valuable in ancient times and much more strenuous to inscribe. Each letter had to be hammered out with chisels. The choice of copper indicated that the contents of the scroll were of such importance that the scribe wanted to be sure it could withstand the ravages of time. Originally measuring over seven feet long and a foot wide, the scroll is one of the largest ancient metal documents ever found.
But after 2,000 years, the copper coils were green and brittle. The scrolls crumbled at the slightest touch. No one knew how to open the rolls without destroying them. For three years the scrolls sat in a museum in Jordan unopened.
Stay tuned for the rest of the story…..