Welcome to my weekly series, Designing from Bones, where we use archaeology, mythology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories. Join me today as we seek an amazing treasure with its location etched onto a rare scroll that remained hidden for millennium.
Come, friends, follow me through the misty portal to a troubled time in Jewish history when treasures of gold and knowledge were hidden in caves to preserve them from marauding empires.
A Mystery Etched in Copper
On March 14, 1952, an archaeologist from the Jordan Department of Antiquities discovered a pair of copper sheeting rolls (later determined to be two halves of a single scroll) concealed in the deepest reaches of Cave 3, Qumran (West Bank region, Israel). This is the same location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, however, the Copper Scroll did not hold religious text, rather, it was a detailed treasure map to an untold fortune hidden throughout Jewish lands.
The Copper Scroll contains 64 listings providing the location of tons of hidden gold and silver, priestly vestments, three depositories featuring scrolls and a single entry pointing towards a second Copper Scroll that contained more detailed information.
Interestingly, the scroll is written in Mishnah Hebrew, which was used primarily for the writing of the Oral Torah in antiquity which consists of 63 tractates (or treaties) corresponding to the number of treasure entries on the scroll. This has made some scholars believe that the scroll details out the location of temple treasures hidden as a result of the abusive taxation practices of Roman governors. The scroll also contains Greek notations which may mean it is the translation of an older scroll. The Copper Scroll is dated to around 70 CE (although this is the subject of some debate).
While expeditions have been periodically taken, none of the items listed on the Copper Scroll have ever been located.
Imagine our hero, a treasure hunter, breaking the code and discovering one of the listed treasures. Would he keep the discovery quiet and sell the treasure onto the antiquities black market or would he announce it in order to receive acclaim? Perhaps something in between? How the hero responds speaks volumes to his character.
What if the priestly vestment allowed their wearer magical powers? What powers would we give them? How would our hero use the power and who would seek to take that power away for their own advancement?
What if the missing scroll depositories held the keys to missing aspects of the Bible? What if they provided evidence of a commonality between all the great religions as some scholars have suggested? After all, the Copper Scroll was hidden carefully behind the Dead Sea Scrolls that were left in the open.
We now slip through the misty portal to one of the bloodiest Jewish rebellions and a possible solution to the missing treasure.
The Bar Kokhba Revolt & Rome
In 132 CE, a revolt led by a potential Messiah, Bar Kokhba, swept through Jewish lands, attempting to overthrow the rule of Rome. Vast amounts of wealth are believed to have been hidden during this time in preparation for a victory and rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.
After three years, 600000 dead and 50 towns and 985 villages razed the rebellion came to a bloody end at the fortress of Betar with the death of Bar Kokhba and his remaining followers. The Romans suffered tremendous losses throughout this campaign, so great in fact that they refused to allow the burial of Bar Kokhba and those that fell with him for 17 years.
The Romans are well-known in history for seeking out treasure after a conflict to compensate their treasuries. Roman methods for accomplishing this were often brutal, including torturous interrogation. It is possible that they are responsible for the missing treasures, melting and incorporating them into the Empires wealth nearly two thousand years ago as a result of the Jewish rebellions.
What if our hero is the one tasked with protecting the Copper Scroll? While he may hide the scroll from detection in one of the thousands of caves throughout the region, he cannot so easily hide himself. How will he struggle to avoid capture and once found how will he keep from giving up his secrets in the face of torture?
On the contrary, what if our hero is the Roman investigator sent to refill the Empires coffers after the bloody rebellion? Consider the example of Colonel Landa in “Inglorious Bastards”. What guile, manipulation and methods will he use in the pursuit of his mission? Will he discover the treasure or will he instead find the strength of religious conviction to be greater than his brutal wiles?
Follow me once more through the misty portal to one of the most sacred places in Jewish history that corresponds with the origin story of a famous collection of knights.
Legends of the Templar Knights
The Templar Knights were founded on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, long associated with the Temple of Solomon. As such, rumors have always existed that the Templar’s came into possession of lost treasures and relics, (the basis of a certain Dan Brown book, I believe), including knowledge of the locations of hidden treasures throughout the region.
One author, Robert Eisenman, maintains in one of his books that the duplicate scroll was discovered by the Templar’s during their occupation of the Temple Mount, leading them to the capital resources needed to found and fund their organization. Most scholars dismiss this theory as fantasy, however, fantasy, is precisely what fiction writers thrive on.
Stepping away from the Templar myth, what if a mysterious band or cult from any time were to discover wealth equaling that alluded to on the Copper Scroll? Tens of millions in gold, silver and secrets falling into their hands. Imagine this group deciding to use this wealth for rebellion? Or to buy political favor? Or perhaps to fund a holy war of their own creation? Possibilities abound.
I now return you through the misty portal to your own time and place, the mysteries and treasures of the Copper Scroll yet await you, hidden in the imaginations of the clever mind.
Join me next week when we go looking for evil little people.
If you’re interested in more great information and ideas on writing, check out my previous Designing from Bones entries found in “Categories” on the side bar.