In the 1990s the copper scroll was crumbling to dust due to neglect. As we know, it had been cut in 23 curved sections when it was thought that it could not be unrolled. These sections lay for thirty years, sides by side, in velvet-lined boxes in the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman. In 1993 the Department of Antiquities of Jordan decided to restore them and to take accurate photographs of them.
The copper scroll had always been considered an oddity as it was the only one found in Qumrân engraved on metal, and the only one kept in Jordan. Its script and its content were also different from the other Dead Sea Scrolls. It was found by scholars from the Ecole Biblique in 1952 lying in two pieces in cave 3. The rolled sheets were found to be parts of the same text -badly written- listing the locations of sixty-four hiding places in Jerusalem and Judea of gold, silver, precious vestments, sacred vessels and sacred scrolls. The gold and silver described have been estimated to weight between sixty and two hundred tons. There was no indication where this treasure came from. Some scholars believe that it is linked to the treasure of the Jerusalem Temple although it has always been thought that the Qumrân community had nothing to do with it.
The first Jerusalem Temple was taken over, together with Palestine, by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and its priests were send to exile. When Babylon was taken over by Persia, some priests were allowed to come back to Jerusalem and they imposed a rigid observance of the Law of Moses on the Jews. Later on the Macedonian Alexander the Great invaded Palestine and his soldiers occupied the land until the Maccabean Revolt of the second century BC. Once more a rigid Law was imposed on the independent Jews and the Temple was restored to its ancient condition. Still later the Romans invaded Palestine and imposed Herod as King.
We have also been told that the Essenes did not like the way the Temple was run and used, and they retired in the desert to follow their own rituals and live in poverty. From what the Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed to us, they appeared to act as the precursors of Christianity. Moreover Josephus led us to believe that the people of Qumrân were Essenes. If it is so, how can we explain the wealth accumulated as described in the Copper Scrolls? In the first article published on the Copper Scrolls Father Milik, stated that its content was mere legend, tradition, or folklore and could not be believed. In addition he said that it had been written in about 100 AD. Later scholars, among them John Marco Allegro, have taken the copper scrolls more seriously and they arrived to the conclusion that the treasure came from the Jerusalem Temple and was hidden, together with the copper scroll, in Qumrân by the Zealots during the Great Revolt against the Romans. Allegro asked Milik to publish the full text of the copper scroll but to no avail. As he had supervised the unrolling of the scroll, he decided to publish his own translation, even before Milik published the official version. Allegro made many excavations in Jordan but he did not find any treasure. He suggested to open a research centre in Jordan, free of religious and political interferences, that would buy all the scrolls and scroll fragments still in the hand of the Bedouins, and publish them. Father De Vaux, Harding and the others working on an international team in Jerusalem were very upset, but they could not do anything about it. They knew, of course, that Allegro was convinced that the Dead Sea documents showed that the Christian doctrine had nothing original in it, that it was “stolen” from the Jewish Qumrân community. In part due to Allegro’ s request, the Jordan Government forbid the export of the scrolls to many scientific foreign universities that had already paid for them. The universities were reimbursed but the scrolls remained in Jerusalem that was part of Jordan at that time. The Palestine Archaeological Museum was nationalised in 1966, its International Board of Trustees dissolved, and the International Team fell under the supervision of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities to which Allegro was very close. Unfortunately, before the new advisory board of the Palestine Archaeological Museum could meet for the first time in July 1967, the Israeli took over Jerusalem and all the scrolls deposited in the Museum. Jordan was left with the Copper Scroll that was in Amman. Only De Vaux from the International Team remained in Jerusalem.
The Israeli authorities did not touch any of the international non-Arab organisations working in the new Jewish territories. As the Museum had been nationalised by Jordan, it was taken over by Israel. Finally an agreement was reached between Israel and the International Team and the work was resumed, although at a very slow pace. The only positive thing that came out of this was that, for the first time since 1947, the Christian and Jewish scholars worked together.
In 1960 and 1961 Israeli Archaeologists found some more documents near the Dead Sea and, in particular, some papers dealing with the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 AD). This title -Bar Kokhba- is still used by the Israeli President to-day and the discovery was seen as a continuity link between the past revolt and the present war with the Arab countries (even if the former revolt failed).
In 1956 the Bedouins discovered cave 11, the last important found at Qumrân. It contained complete scrolls (psalms, Leviticus) and fragments. They were brought to Harding by Kando who estimated their value at $75,000. After the June 1967 war, Yagael Yadin applied pressure on Kando who sold him a twenty-six-foot-long, perfectly conserved scroll known as the Temple Scroll, for $135,000. Yadin had it translated and published in Hebrew in 1977. It was not a messianic document but a detailed manual of rules (observance of the festivals, architecture and layout of temples, the proper conduct of its sacrifices, the conduct of a righteous King of Israel, law of purity to preserve the sanctity of the Temple and the Holy City of Jerusalem). Yadin thought that it was written by the Teacher of Righteousness in the second century BC as a founding document of the Qumrân sect. Some scholars think that it is even older. However the copy found at Qumrân has certainly been written in the late first century BC, at the time of Herod. In any case the Temple Scroll contains a comprehensive vision of the order of time, space and leadership. There are only some fragments of the first thirteen columns but the remaining fifty-three are complete. It is, in fact, a criticism of the way the real Temple of Jerusalem was run at the time and, in particular, the fact that Israel was led by a non-Israelite King. The Temple Scroll envisions the perfect Temple as a symbol of the independence of Israel.
By the beginning of the 1970s, it was obvious that Jerusalem would not return to Jordan, and the International Team had to deal with the Israeli even if some, like Milik, refused. Maurice Baillet took his place in Jerusalem. More or less at the same time the scroll fragments were removed to another room where light, temperature and humidity could be controlled. Father Paul De Vaux died in 1971 and he was succeeded by Father Pierre Benoit who was a weak leader in comparison to De Vaux. By the early 1980s John Strugnell was nominated his deputy and successor-to-be.
Strugnell worked on a short document, of which six copies were found, but each of them incomplete and fragmented. With Milik before, he reconstructed 120 lines that contains regulations about sacrifices, purity, Temple administration and intermarriage. The language and the style are closer to the Mishnah and the Copper Scroll than to the biblical Hebrew Qumrân texts. In 1979, Elisha Qimron, a young Israeli scholar agreed to study it. He was able to reconstruct most of the text by 1981. It soon became evident that it was a party manifesto -or “Declaration of Independence” of the Qumrân community- written by the Teacher of Righteousness in the second century BC, when the sect was founded. It became known as “Miqsat Ma’asei ha-Torah” or MMT. In it the author made it clear that he disapproved the laxity shown by the priesthood of the time, and that this was the reason why he and his people retired to the desert. This was the proof of the Halakhic origin of the Community (not in messianic, baptism or proto Christian Spirituality but in the rigorous observance of Temple worship, exclusion of the Gentiles and ritual purity). Moreover the identification of the Qumrân sect with the Essenes was seriously put in doubt. The message contained in MMT, and in the Temple Scroll, is Sadducean. In addition there is also a clear link with the content of the Copper scroll. Even after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 AD the Jewish priests were still collecting offerings. These had to be hidden from the Romans and this would certainly justify the content of the Copper scroll and its hiding in Qumrân.
Even in 1984 the prospects of an early publication of the Qumrân scrolls were uncertain.
Subsequent research by Strugnell, Qimron and Sussmann confirmed the connection between the Temple Scroll and the MMT, both based on the Law, but they had some reservations about who wrote the MMT. Yadin thought that it was the Teacher of Righteousness but they were not convinced. The documents attributed to the Teacher, and revealed to him by God, (the War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Hymns, the Damascus Document and the Community Rules) clearly separated the world into Light and Darkness, ordered the members of the sects, the Sons of Zadok, to love their brothers and to avoid any contact with God’s enemies. The MMT and the Temple Scroll, on the other hand, are softer, more respectful of the Law, and look like if they had been written by a different kind of persons. The Damascus document tells the story of the early days of the sect and is thought to have been written around 196 BC. It states the sect disagreement with the official priesthood but it is done in a mild way, adding that without repent and if the Torah is not followed, the people of Israel will suffer. But the Sons of Zadok did not succeed to convince the people of Israel, and they became more radical and isolated. The Teacher of Righteousness received some revelations directly from God and his preaching assumed harder tone. The members of the sects described themselves as the forces of Light and their writing became more militant. There are some evidences that the teaching of the Qumrân sect influenced some segments of the Judean people who started to revolt against the Romans at the beginning of the first century BC. By the time of Pontius Pilate (26-36 AD) the religious protests of some Zealots extended, for the first time, to the people at large. The strong reaction of the Romans led the author of the Qumrân Commentary on Habakkuk to identify them as the Kittim, the Sons of darkness. Pontius Pilate’s cruel reaction makes it difficult to believe that he had any difficulty to deal with Jesus who was arrested for subversive teaching. On the other hand, Jesus’ attitude is easier to understand. At that time it was widely believed that the Holy warriors put to death by the Romans would be bodily resurrected from the grave, as it is also described in the Thanksgiving Hymns, the War Scroll and the Messianic Apocalypse.
The many coins and pottery from the first century BC found at Qumrân show that this was a very active period of the life of the Community, even if the scholars tell us that most of the documents found were written before that time. The Qumrân documents show clearly the growing radicalisation of the Jews that culminated in the revolt of 66 AD, the involvement of the community in it, as well as the development of the ideology of the sect.
From this point of view it is difficult, as Eisenman said, to admit that the Teacher of Righteousness was an evolutionary ancestor of Jesus. On the contrary, he was an activist in the fight against the Romans, and a believer that God would lead the Jews to victory against these invaders and their Judean collaborators. But he also believes that Jesus, John the Baptist and James the Just, Jesus’ brother, were all activists in the same war of liberation and dedicated to the observance of the Law. The Dead Sea Scrolls are very important to help us to understand the political history of Judea because the Qumrân sect was not marginal in Judean society, and in the revolt against the Romans. It would be wrong to assume that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the literature of a radical Zealot fraction led by Menachem in whom some see the Teacher of Righteousness. It is also difficult to believe that the scrolls were written by early Christians and that Jesus, or John the Baptist, was the Teacher of Righteousness. What is more probable is that the Community of Qumrân, the early Christians and the Zealots were part of the same movement.
If this hypothesis is accepted then Christianity, as we know it to-day, is due more to St Paul that to Jesus. St Paul based his doctrine on Jesus’ teaching but he modified and enlarged it, after Jesus’ death, to suit his aims and, at the same time, reducing Jesus to a myth. His was, of course, a completely different faith in which salvation was attained not by hating one’s oppressors, but by loving them, not by following the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. In the meantime the Jerusalem Christian Community continued to insist on full observance of Jewish ritual and custom until it disappeared after the revolt of 70 AD. St Paul’s heretical church continued to spread and gain adherents among the “Gentile Christians” communities of the Greco-Roman world. Unfortunately there are little or no historical evidence to confirm the version of Christianity as described in the New Testament whereas the Qumrân scrolls are on the side of St Paul. However this theory attributed to Eisenman is not very popular among the other scholars.
At the same time that the Qumrân community was reaching its greatest size and preaching an angry fundamentalist Jewish faith based on modesty, purity and poverty, the Jews of the Diaspora were not so strict in following the purity laws and dietary codes. Moreover, St Paul and his Christian followers were teaching a new cult that appealed to many Jews and Gentiles alike. It was an idealistic and universal appeal based on the Bible, still with a messianistic hope, but accepting at the same time the Roman Empire as it was. Although Jesus did not come back within the expected short period foreseen, these Christians started to consider themselves as the true Israel within the Roman Empire. This preaching, that included the reject of the Mosaic Law was not well accepted in Judea. Its people, as well as the Qumrân community, were still fighting for their freedom from the Romans and believing that the Kingdom of God would only come if the People of Israel followed strictly the Law of Moses. This belief survived the destruction of the Temple whereas the Christians believed that the Law had been replaced by a New Covenant in which a crucified and resurrected Messiah had atoned for the sins of all. When Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, the Jews, with their old belief and request of independence, became the object of disdain and hatred for the following centuries. From all this it seems, again, that Jesus’ role in Christianity, as we know it, is, at best, marginal.
Eisenman went to Israel in 1985 but he was not well received. He, nevertheless, managed to get a computer listing of all the scrolls at the disposal of the International Team. They were more numerous that what was publicly known. As a result he did his best to destroy the International Team and its monopoly on the scrolls. With the help of Dr. Yuval Ne’eman, a member of the radical right wing of the Parliament of Israel, he managed, in 1988, to put the scrolls under the responsibility of the Israel Department of Antiquities. But the department charged Strugnell of their editing, which is the opposite of what Eisenman wanted. Eisenman asked again to have access to some scrolls found about thirty-five years before, and not yet published, but his request was rejected by Strugnell. He was left with no alternative but to launch a newspaper campaign in 1989.
Hershel Shanks is a lawyer and an archaeologist, the publisher of the “Biblical Archaeological Review” and Bible Review for the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAR). In 1984 he reviewed the Qimron’s presentation of his work on the MMT Dead Sea document. Shanks was very interested in the suggestion that the author was the Teacher of Righteousness and its importance for the history of Halakka. He also was very critical towards Qimron to publish only five or six lines of the MMT, keeping the remaining 115 secret. He repeated his criticism in 1985 after attending the Dead Sea Scrolls conference at New York University where, again, most of the documents mentioned were made inaccessible by the members of the International Team. He got in touch with the Israel Department of Antiquities in 1988 after he found that it was the authority in charge of the scrolls, and he was told that the publication of all the scrolls was on its way. However the “Suggested Timetable” presented in 1989 was difficult to believe. In the last thirty-five years about fourteen volumes had been published; the timetable now foresaw that ten more would be published in the next three years and ten more in the following period of three years. Shanks, at that point, did not limit his criticism to the International Team but he also attacked the Israel Department of Antiquities for joining the conspiracy of silence and obstruction. He was convinced that they would not respect the timetable and said so in his review. In addition he asked, and the media followed, that the scrolls be put at the disposal of all qualified scholars without exception. Even Poland joined the fight in 1989 to have free access to the scrolls but to no avail although it was already clear that the deadlines would not be met. Strugnell once more refused to release the scrolls or even their photographs. Finally Strugnell was removed from his post as editor-in-chief of the scrolls in 1990 and replaced by the Israeli professor Tov whose first tasks were to reorganise the International Team, to increase its size to more than sixty scholars and to define clear and reasonable deadlines.
More or less at the same time Eisenman received, from an unknown source, a complete set of photographs of all the scrolls of the cave 4, published and unpublished. Eisenman decided to publish all of them so they would be available to all the scholars, although he had no time to study them himself. One of his helper, Professor Wise from Chicago University, was able to identify some unknown important texts that validated part of Eisenman’s theories about the early pre- Pauline Christianity in Judea (normal Jewish messianism without incarnated Messiah). The date of publication was postponed. In the meantime Professor Kapera of Poland distributed unauthorised copies of the MMT and was publicly blamed by the International Congress on the Dead Sea Scrolls that met in Madrid. As a result the publisher chosen by Eisenman refused to publish the photographs of the scrolls of cave 4. Michael Baigant and Richard Leigh’s book “The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception” dealing with a supposed Vatican conspiracy to suppress the cave 4 material was published at that time too. This book is based on Eisenman theories about James the Just, Paul and the “real” Judean messianic movement. Eisenman looked for another publisher without success. So he went to Hershel Shank.
Shanks thought that Strugnell’s fall of power led only to a change of people, not of procedure. The new editors and the Israeli Oversight Committee members still kept the scrolls for themselves and refused to make them available to all the scholars. However he had learned of the existence of a secret concordance of all the Cave 4 material and that Professor Ben-Zion Wacholder had found a way to reconstruct the scrolls from it. The availability of computer made the job easier and Shank made plans to publish the reconstructed Dead Sea Scrolls. However when he was told that Eisenman had a complete set of photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls he negotiated a contract to publish them.
On 4 September 1991 Shanks and the Biblical Archaeology Society published the first fascicle of the Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls, based on the secret concordance deciphered by Professor Wacholder. It contained Cave 4 copies of the Damascus Document and about twenty other unpublished documents, all of it for $25. On September 22, Dr. William A. Moffet decided that his institution, the Huntington Library of San Marino, California, would open its collection of Dead Sea Scrolls photographs to all qualified scholars and the monopoly over the scrolls ended this way. On September 25 the Israel Antiquities Authority and the International Team surrendered, and this became official on 27 October 1991 when the Cave 4 material was made available to all scholars. On 19 November 1991 Shanks published the photographs he had received from Eisenman and Robinson. Shanks also published, without authorisation, the MMT text reconstructed by Qimron as half of the words were missing in the known version. On 14 January 1992 Qimron sued Shanks, Eisenman, Robinson and the Biblical Archaeological Society. The judge in Jerusalem issued an injunction against further divulgation of the document and accorded Qimron $200,000 in damages. The final judgement was delivered on 30 March 1993. Qimron was accorded damages for an amount of about $55,000 -to be paid by Shanks and his Biblical Archaeological Society- and the Court stated that he had the copyrights on the translation of the MMT document. This last point is the more important in the sense that it confirms the monopoly of the International Team led by Tov on the translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It must be stressed that Tov is a more efficient team director that his predecessors. Many documents have been published and most of the scrolls will be available in translation in around 1997.
After having reviewed all the scrolls now available, Eisenman was further convinced that his theory was right. In his view, Christianity had begun within the context of militant Jewish messianic resistance to the Romans. The image we now have of Jesus Christ is the result of a conscious, politically inspired, reworking of his doctrine by St Paul and the latter Catholic Church to accommodate the Gentile world, and to forget the participation of the early Jerusalem Christian Church in the Jewish revolt against the Romans. He went as far as saying that the Christian Messiah was the Messiah that the Jews were expecting with a name, a mythological earthy existence away from the Jewish Law. The Bible, for him, was no more that a revision of the real history of Jesus. The publication of the “Pierced Messiah”, a six-lines fragment, in November 1991, allowed him to say that the people who were responsible for these writings, acted in the same scriptural and messianic framework than the early Christianity.
Eisenman asserted again that the International Team had hidden some important information for decades such as the fact that the passion of the Messiah by crucifixion was a common expectation and not a historical event in view of what Jesus really did and represented. Eisenman went on to publish more and more books on the subject, most of them rejected by the majority of the scholars. If he was right or not will be decided in the future.
It is true that access to the Dead Sea Scrolls is now open, but the acceptability of new ideas is limited as a result of the judgement of 1993. The study of the Qumrân documents as an expression of protest against the Roman Empire is restricted. Very few scholars dare to emit opinions that go against the generally admitted Christian or Jewish present-day doctrine. The scholars are specialists in palaeography and textual analysis, not in religious behaviour. To see in the scrolls the voice of people that do not accept the Roman invasion and occupation, or their local collaborators, is not very well accepted by the Church.
The ruins of Qumrân attract more and more tourists every year but they do not know that the people living there, two thousand years ago, were fighting for independence. The members of the community were convinced that, at the end, God would help them to conquer their freedom on Judgement Day. The Sons of Darkness, as they called the Romans, would be destroyed by the Elect People, the Sons of Light. The revolt started in 66 AD and, at first, the Judeans were successful but in 70 AD they were defeated, the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish population was killed or send into slavery. It was difficult for them to accept that God had allowed such a thing and they carried some kind of underground preparation for another revolt, collecting money, and training for other battles as it is recorded in the Copper Scroll. With time, however, only those forms of Judaism and Christianity that were tolerated, survived, while the fractions that believed in revolt disappeared for ever. The belief in the imminent coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God was forgotten or ignored. The observance of the Temple service and its rituals were terminated by Roman order as they clearly saw in it the political symbol of the independence of Judea, as much as a place of worship.
We have been led to believe that modern Judaism and Christianity represent the normal evolution from early rituals and sacrifices to modern universal faiths of prayers, study and piety. However the religion established by the rabbinical sages survived, not because it was the best, but because it was acceptable to the Romans. Here again the Copper Scrolls show clearly that many people rejected the changes but they were destroyed. Other battles against the Romans took place in 115-117 AD, and again with the Bar-Kokhba revolt in 132-135, but without success and the expectation of a Holy War between the forces of Light and those of Darkness faded slowly. The Rabbinical tradition reduced the image of the coming Messiah to tradition or folklore, like putting an extra glass of wine of the table, and to let the door open for Elijah the Prophet. It also accepted the destruction of the Temple and its replacement by the local synagogues, scriptural interpretation and universal purity codes. In the Christian Church the changes brought by St Paul were even more important. Our Saviour was transformed in a transcendent being, with faith taking the place of the observance of the Law. (28)