Jerusalem Post Puffs Jim Barfield’s Copper Scroll Treasure Quest

The Jerusalem Post carries a puff-piece by Shelly Neese on Jim Barfield’s quest (blogged by me several times) to find the treasure described in the Qumran “Copper Scroll”:

…The theory to which Barfield ascribes – and most Dead Sea scholars reject – is that the scroll is neither a hoax nor a remnant of the Second Temple period, but rather was created during the First Temple period. His hypothesis derives from the Second Book of Maccabees, as well as a lesser known seventeenth century book called Emek Hamelech (“Valley of the King”). These two works tell the story of the prophet Jeremiah who, with the help of five Holy men, one named Shimur Halevi, carefully hid the holy objects of the Temple to protect them from the conquering Babylonians, and documented those locations on a copper tablet.

This is nonsense; as Neese goes on to note, the Copper Scroll was written in an early form of Mishnaic Hebrew, and so dates from far later than the time of Jeremiah. The passage from 2 Maccabees to which Barfield refers is in Chapter 2, and it claims to be quoting an older source:

The same document also tells how the prophet, following a divine revelation, ordered that the tent and the ark should accompany him and how he went off to the mountain which Moses climbed to see God’s inheritance. When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he blocked up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it. When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: “The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. (NAB)

The New Jerusalem Bible has an acid note on his:

The description is not historical: the Tent of Meeting did not exist after the building of Solomon’s Temple, the ark disappeared when the Temple was destroyed, and the historical Jeremiah did not regret it.

We are directed to Jeremiah 3:16 as evidence of this last point:

When you multiply and become fruitful in the land, says the LORD, They will in those days no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD!” They will no longer think of it, or remember it, or miss it, or make another. (NAB)

As for the Emek Hamelech, this was written by a German Kabbalist named Naftali Bacharach (also known as Naftali Hertz ben Yaakov Elchanan) in 1648, and it is highly mythological. The claim is that Bacharach derived his account from earlier manuscripts, although I have not been able to find much in English about the text and its origins.  One purported translation of the relevant section can be seen on this somewhat eccentric website (the author of which claims that the Temple treasures were found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, but let’s deal with one thing at a time…). The site seems to have drawn on writings by Vendyl Jones.

We are told that:

In 1992 Rabbi Rachmael Steinburg…and his student, Rabbi Mendel Tropper, began to search for sources that could shed light on “the other records.” [regarding the Copper Scroll] “They found another source for and reference to “the records” in a book published in Amsterdam, Holland in the year 1648. It was written by Rabbi Naftali (ben Elchanan) Hertz. The work was entitled Emeq HaMelekh (“Valley of the King”) … Rabbi Hertz calls these records Mishnayot, and included them in the introduction to his text.

These rabbis have no other internet presence (at least in non-Hebrew) besides this story.

The text follows (square brackets in original):

These are the vessels dedicated and concealed when the Temple was destroyed: The Tabernacle and the Curtain, the Holy Menorah, the Ark of Testimony [Covenant], the golden forehead Nameplate,the golden crown of Aharon the Cohen, the Breastplate of Judgment, the silver Trumpets, the Cherubim, and the Altar of burnt offerings, the Curtain of the Communion Tent,the forks and the bread molds, the Table [of the Showbread], the Curtain of the Gate, the Copper Altar, the sacred garments of Aharon which were worn by the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) on the Day of Atonement, Pa’amonim (bells) and Rimonim (pomegranates) on the hem of the robe [of the Cohen Gadol], the holy vessels that Moses made on Mount Sinai by the command of the Holy One, the Staff, and the Jar of the Manna.

These are the holy vessels and the vessels of the Temple that were in Jerusalem and in every place. They were inscribed by Shimur HaLevi and his companions, on a “Luach Nehoshet” (Copper Plate), [this of course is the Copper Scroll] with all the Vessels of the Holy of Holies that Shlomo son of David made. And together with Shimur were Hizkiyahu, Zidkiyah, Haggai the Prophet, and Zechariah, son of Berachiah, son of Ido the Prophet…

We then read an inventory of treasure, and we are told that some was buried in the ground, some was “hidden and concealed in the wall of Babylon and in Tel Bruk under the big willow tree in Babylon upon which they hung their lyres”, and some (this is less promising) “was taken by angel Shimshiel”.

The two stories cannot be reconciled in way Neese would have us believe. In the first story, Jeremiah goes alone to a cave – he does not create a guide to finding it, as it will be revealed by God in due course. There are no five “Holy Men”, either. In the second story there is no Jeremiah and no cave, and although we are told the “Holy Men” made an inventory in copper, we are not told that they also recorded a guide to finding the treasure. And the items and amounts listed, and the locations given, do not match the Copper Scroll anyway.

Barfield has declined to make public how he cracked the true meaning of the Copper Scroll (which, although obscure, is not really a “code”), but Neese tells us that

After looking at the scroll for five minutes he deciphered the first location, and twenty minutes later he identified the next four locations…Once again applying his experience as a fire marshal, Barfield packaged up his research in the style of an arson investigative report. He then boarded a plane, and delivered his report directly into the hands of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Jerusalem. Given his lack of archeological background, his Christian faith, and the fact that the IAA confronts treasure hunters every day, I asked if they treated him skeptically. “Once they saw my report,” he replied laughingly, “they just moved me to the head of the class.

…He says that all of the archaeologists, rabbis, and historians presented with his research have been convinced. “It is so simple.” He says. “They just all thump their heads.”

At the foot of the report, we read that

Shelley Neese is managing editor and columnist for the DC-based pro-Israel Christian magazine, The Jerusalem Connection.

An earlier article about Barfield produced for that magazine can be seen here. The Jerusalem Post has relationships with a number of Christian Zionist organisations, so presumably Neese’s gushing article (“I can’t help but wish he is indeed ‘the guy who cracked the code on the Copper Scroll.'”) – which has no note of caution or scepticism, and only the faintest hint of a passing reference to serious scholarship on the subject – is there as a sop to this constituency. In particular, the Post runs a “Christian Edition” in conjunction with the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem.

(Hat tip: Jim West, who suggests that “Whoever the IAA archaeologist who is meeting with him is, he or she should be called on the carpet. And whoever gave him a permit [to dig] should explain himself fully.”)