Le Rouleau de cuivre de la grotte 3 de Qumran (3Q15)

by Daniel Brizemeure, Noël Lacoudre and Émile Puech

Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 55. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2006), vol. 1: xxiv + 228 pp., 137 illustrations, vol. 2: xxviii + 424 pp., 383 plates
$254 (hardcover)

Reviewed by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr.

The so-called Copper Scroll, in many ways the most enigmatic of the hundreds of manuscripts found in the caves near Khirbet Qumran, was discovered by a team of archaeologists in March 1952. Because the two corroded metal cylinders were too brittle to unroll and resistant to the techniques developed for opening leather scrolls, it was eventually decided that they would have to be cut into longitudinal strips, which could then be removed layer by layer. This work was done in England in the winter of 1955–1956 at the University of Manchester, where the outside of each roll (that is, the side opposite the engraved surface) was coated with an adhesive material as a necessary precaution against breakage. The result was 23 segments of metal, which were then returned to Jordan for study and display.

As time went by, the ancient metal suffered from the normal depredations of exposure to the atmosphere, and the consolidation adhesive began to lose its effectiveness. Some 40 years after its discovery, therefore, Jordanian antiquity officials resolved that the Copper Scroll was in urgent need of conservation, and they invited the ElectricitÉ de France (EDF) to undertake the project. Though it might have come as a surprise to some, the EDF was a natural choice for the job. Yes, EDF’s principal business is to supply energy to 31 million people in France, but through its scientific wing it has been involved in Near Eastern archaeology for decades, especially in Egypt but also in Jordan. Moreover, the EDF Valectra laboratory has broad expertise in the nondestructive evaluation and conservation of objects, ranging from statues from the chateaux at Versailles and Fontainebleu to 2,000-year-old relics excavated in the Takla Makan Desert of China to articles raised from the wreck of the Titanic.

So from 1994 to 1996, with the oversight of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, the EDF Valectra lab performed the various tasks involved in the conservation of the Copper Scroll. The record and results of these tasks are painstakingly, elaborately and even lavishly published in the extraordinary two-volume work reviewed here. Much of the first volume is devoted to a detailed discussion of the physical interventions undertaken by the conservators. These included (1) treatment of the material to impede the progress of the corrosion process, including, as far as possible, the removal of existing surface corrosion, (2) elimination of most of the components of the old consolidating adhesive and their replacement with new materials that provide greater stability while presenting a less intrusive barrier to the epigrapher, and (3) the molding, reproduction and reassembly of the entire scroll by means of galvanoplasty—that is, electrotypy (an electrotype is a facsimile, typically used in printing or engraving, consisting of a thin metal shell deposited in a mold by electrolytic action). This last undertaking may prove to be not only one of the most spectacular achievements of the EDF Copper Scroll project but also one of the most useful, since it has permitted the production of replicas of the scroll in its original material and a near approximation of its original condition, as it appeared prior to the dismemberment caused by the saw in Manchester or even prior to the distortions caused by the ancient rolling of the copper sheets. These replicas will be an invaluable tool for epigraphers and an educational guide for museum-goers in Amman and elsewhere.

Surely the most important by-product of the EDF conservation of the Copper Scroll is the production of a first quality photographic record of the present state of the scroll. These pictures, which are presented in the second volume, include not only a beautiful set of visible-light photographs of both sides of the 23 segments, taken both before and after treatment (superbly reproduced in sections 2 and 3 of chapters 1 and 2), but also a complete collection of radiographies (X-ray photographs) of the segments, also made both before and after treatment (reproduced in section 4 of chapters 1 and 2). The purpose of these remarkable radiographic studies was not only to reveal information concealed beneath the corroded surfaces of the segments but also to facilitate the correction of the photographic distortion caused by the curved surfaces of the individual segments and other surface deformities. A further consequence of the radiographic studies (and really of the whole process) was the recognition and recovery of a number of lost or displaced fragments (see especially Table 3.5 on p. 64 of volume 1).

The first epigrapher to have the opportunity to make use of the wealth of new information generated by the EDF Copper Scroll project was Émile Puech of the École Biblique et ArchÉologique Française de JÉrusalem. The last part of volume 1 (pp. 169–227) contains a new edition of the scroll by Puech, including both French and English translations, and the last part of volume 2 contains a new drawing of the scroll by Puech, positioned section by section alongside photographs of the galvanoplastic reproductions of the relevant portions (pp. 397–424) and following a set of radiographies that have been manipulated, flattened and arranged according to the 12-column structure of the scroll (pp. 369–396).

P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. is the William Foxwell Albright Chair in Biblical Studies and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at The Johns Hopkins University.

Related Posts

May 15
Review: Mount Machaerus

By: Konstantinos Politis

Book cover for Ancient Synagogues Revealed 1981-2022
Mar 20
Review: Ancient Synagogues Revealed 1981–2022

By: James Riley Strange

Image of book cover for 'God: An Anatomy' by Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Mar 6
Review: An Anatomy of God

By: Erin Darby

Dec 6
Review: The Magi in History and Tradition

By: Christopher A. Frilingos

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend