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Deciphering the Scroll

The Copper Scroll was written in a Vernacular of the Times

The Copper Scroll was hammered in with a tool on very pure copper. There is some debate if there were 3 craftsmen who did the hammering, or just one. There is very likely a pressure by the author and or craftsmen to keep the words short.

The scroll is written in an early form of Hebrew sometimes referred to as proto-Mishnah. This form of writing does not have vowels.  Therefore, the problem of translating gets very, very sticky as the translation is extremely sensitive to the context of the document, and the knowledge of vernacular use of the language for that era.

For example, if I had a chocolate bar that I hid from my wife, that I taped under my sink and I made a note of its location. The note would be

“Taped candy under sink.”

Already, I’ve substituted candy for chocolate bar because it is shorter and the vernacular of the day lets me substitute it.  Now, if we apply the filter of the removal of vowels we get


Here, you may note the use of “Y” which some consider a vowel and some don’t. Many  odd nuance of language could affect the proto-Mishnaic Hebrew as well.

Re-interpretation of Vowels

So if we try to understand the note as we do the Proto-Mishnaik Hebrew, we might interpret the meaning to be

  • “TeePeeD Cindy No DooR SuNK” or
  • “(brand name) CaNDY NoD Senik(Senic?)

Look alike letters

To further obfuscate the words, there are some letters that are so similar, they are called look-likes. Such as ‘B’ and ‘8’ in English.  In proto-Mishnaik Hebrew these would be beth and kaph, daleth and resh, waw and yod.

So you begin to see the type of challenges in translating the Scroll. Fortunately, the nouns encountered have been seen and successfully interpreted in other dead sea scrolls.  There is plenty of challenge left in stringing together nouns, verbs, and direct objects in meaningful combinations. But this exercise should allow the average hobbyist to understand the scope of the problem without having to learn Hebrew.



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