An Ancient Tradition of Writing on Metal? Surprise (?) from a Newly Translated Ancient Hebrew Text

Fate of Ark of the Covenant Revealed in Hebrew Text” is the title of an intriguing news item at dated Jan. 7, 2014. It discusses a newly translated ancient Hebrew document discussing the ark of the covenant and the preservation of sacred relics. Excerpts follow:

A newly translated Hebrew text claims to reveal where treasures from King Solomon’s temple were hidden and discusses the fate of the Ark of the Covenant itself….

The newly translated text, called “Treatise of the Vessels” (Massekhet Kelim in Hebrew), says the “treasures were concealed by a number of Levites and prophets,” writes James Davila, a professor at the University of St. Andrews, in an article in the book Old Testament Pseudepigrapha More Noncanonical Scriptures Volume 1 (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013).

“Some of these (treasures) were hidden in various locations in the Land of Israel and in Babylonia, while others were delivered into the hands of the angels Shamshiel, Michael, Gabriel and perhaps Sariel …” writes Davila in his article.

The treatise is similar in some ways to the metallic “Copper Scroll,” one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found near the site of Qumran in the West Bank. The Copper Scroll also discusses the location of hidden treasure, although not from Solomon’s Temple….

The structure of the story is confusing. In the prologue it states that Shimmur the Levite (he doesn’t appear to be a biblical figure) and his companions hid the treasures, “but later on the text mentions the treasures being in the keeping of or hidden by Shamshiel and other angels,” Davila said. “I suspect the author collected various legends without too much concern about making them consistent.”

Similarities to the Copper Scroll

The Copper Scroll, which dates back around 1,900 years, and is made of copper, shows several “striking parallels” with the newly translated treatise, Davila said.

The treatise says that the treasures from Solomon’s Temple were recorded “on a tablet of bronze,” a metal like the Copper Scroll. Additionally, among other similarities, the Treatise of the Vessels and Copper Scroll both refer to “vessels” or “implements,” including examples made of gold and silver.

These similarities could be a coincidence or part of a tradition of recording important information on metal.

“My guess is that whoever wrote the Treatise of Vessels came up with the same idea [of writing a treasure list on metal] coincidentally on their own, although it is not unthinkable that the writer knew of some ancient tradition or custom about inscribing important information on metal,” wrote Davila in the email, noting that metal is a more durable material than parchment or papyrus. [emphasis mine]

Students of the Book of Mormon might not be too surprised to learn of this evidence pointing to a possible ancient Hebrew tradition of writing on metal. They also won’t be surprised to learn of an ancient tradition of hiding such writings or the concept of angelic guardians of sacred writings and treasures.

Related resources:

Bonus tip: Some of the above links should be to the, which is where I tried to find these links, but their new search engine makes it far too difficult to find archived information. So much is still broken there. But I discovered there is a mirror site preserving the useful organization of the old Maxwell Institute site that is much easier to navigate and to search. The site is Hurray!

Special thanks to Catherine Taylor for bringing this story to my attention. 

Author: Jeff Lindsay

5 thoughts on “An Ancient Tradition of Writing on Metal? Surprise (?) from a Newly Translated Ancient Hebrew Text

  1. Thank Catherine Taylor from your readers for sharing this. I am very appreciative of people who see information and let others know about it, and people who share other knowledge.

  2. From Wikipedia, “Nevertheless, there is no known extant example of writing on metal plates longer than the eight-page Persian codex, and none from any ancient civilization in the Western Hemisphere.”

    I believe the implication of 8-pages is that metal writing has only been discovered in novelty form, ala 10 commandments on stone, Roman/Mayan stone carvings, or the rosetta stone. Lengthy tomes of note are yet to be documented, perhaps due to the expense and difficulty of metal/stone mediums. Of course with supernatural or some other advance technological means the expense and difficulty of the medium could be made much more tractable. For example some yet undiscovered alloy and some sort of super concise shorthand. Outside the LDS faith the best match of lengthy metal writing may be the Strangite plates. Oh, wait … those are preposterous, never mind.

  3. Neal,

    LOL. No pictures? I thought to myself, that is exactly something Hugh Nibley would do. Make a written claim that is easily demonstrated with a simple photograph (ie. Other facsimile hieroglyphics have been discovered with a human instead of a jackal’s head). Then I went to the footnote and saw “Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley” Made me laugh.

    Despite claims that I am lazy, I looked for the photographs for you.

    I was about to point this out on Wikipedia in an attempt to update it, then I re-read the Wikipedia paragraph, it was clearly referencing “the ancient Mediterranean”. I was wondering why you just didn’t update Wikipedia if it was wrong. I added to the talk page for you.

    The story of an ancient book written on metal made sense to me when I first heard it. What better way to preserve it for decades. It was only Mormon apologist claims that critics “used to” claim that this was implausible made me question it. The conclusion becomes that it is not implausible if some technologically unknown alloy and shorthand existed it would be plausible. “Reformed Eygptian” being the shorthand, it appears that apologist later added unknown alloy to fulfill those conditions.

    I could not find the Egyptian plate example, but your two Korean peninsula examples are very good. The 19 plates appear to definitely win the contender for longest content. Though I am surprised how beat up they look for being produced in the 8th century and untouched in a time capsule. Apparently horizontal stacking is definitely the way to go.

    The two examples in the Korea peninsula really doesn’t retort Lamb’s claim that Jews did not keep the books of Moses written on metal plates. If they did as a means of preservation, it appears it did not work or are yet undiscovered.

    I found it extremely interesting that you did not include the Plates of Laban given to James Strange which were reported to be 18 in number.
    A codex (in modern usage) is the first information repository that modern people would recognize as a "book": leaves of uniform size bound in some manner along one edge, and typically held between two covers made of some more robust material. The first written mention of the codex as a form of book is fromMartial, in his Apophoreta CLXXXIV at the end of the first century, where he praises its compactness. However, the codex never gained much popularity in the pagan Hellenistic world, and only within the Christian community did it gain widespread use.[9] This change happened gradually during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and the reasons for adopting the codex form of the book are several: the format is more economical, as both sides of the writing material can be used; and it is portable, searchable, and easy to conceal. A book is much easier to read, to find a page that you want, and to flip through. A scroll is more awkward to use. The Christian authors may also have wanted to distinguish their writings from the pagan and Judaic texts written on scrolls. In addition, some metal books were made, that required smaller pages of metal, instead of an impossibly long, unbending scroll of metal. A book can also be easily stored in more compact places, or side by side in a tight library or shelf space.

  4. Copper Scroll DECYPHERED:

    Do yourself a favor and save both money and time by Not searching for the Copper Scroll treasures.

    The WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and WHO about the Copper Scroll Treasure is Common Knowledge; and to understand it, one
    must simply read about its historical Provedance. East of the Jordan River where Alexander Jannaeus had military campaigns is
    a place mentioned in the Scroll several times. Kohlit/Kohli; seems to be the city where the treasure is located, making Kohlit yet
    another lost city like El Dorado.

    According to Josephus; Jannaeus or Jannai/Yannai was king of Judea from 103 BC to 76 BC. He was the son of John Hyrcnaus &
    was the High Priest Jonathan; written about as a wicked tyrant in the Talmud, yet established the city of Gamla in 81 BC; as the
    capital for what is now the Golan Heights.

    Origins according to the Talmud teach: "Be not like the servants who serve their masters for the sake of the wages, but be rather
    like those who serve without thought of receiving wages." The maxim was taught by Antigonus of Sokho a Pharisee scholar whom
    according to Mishnah; was the disciple and successor of Simon the Just. Mishnah teachings became tradition; a major written
    redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah", the first major work of Rabbinic literature.

    The Mishnah consists of six orders, each containing 7–12 tractates; 63 in total, and further subdivided into chapters and paragraphs
    or verses. The orders and their subjects are: Zeraim ("Seeds"), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes and agricultural laws,
    Moed ("Festival"), pertaining to the laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals, Nashim ("Women"), concerning marriage and divorce,
    some forms of oaths and the laws of the nazirite (7 tractates), Nezikin ("Damages"), dealing with civil and criminal law, the
    functioning of the courts and oaths (10 tractates), Kodashim ("Holy things"), regarding sacrificial rites, the Temple, and the dietary
    laws (11 tractates) and Tehorot ("Purities"), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws
    of food purity and bodily purity (12 tractates).

    These Jewish traditions are Yidish in nature; ancient lore in Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine. Priests//Rulers
    were compelled to fulfill & sought out for lack of a better term a wishful prayer; dealing with the responsiblity of being seen humble
    before GOD, while at the same time succesfull as expected by other Priests/Orders; there inability to do more was limited to the
    wealth at hand. It took money and even; now takes money, to expand the Order.

    Yidish religious groups have a very structured Order. A priest for every occasion; including Inventory/Treasurer. The priest in charge
    of Treasury not only had access to the riches of the Order/Church, but also took on the responsiblity of praying in writting using
    Hebrew & Aramaic text. Part of these writtings included the "Forgive me for I am Not wealthy enough and at this time need to find
    more wealthy followers." prayer. Better known as: Samech-Alef-Lamed, which draws sustenance to us for financial success.

    The Copper Scroll is simply, a hopeful Jewish prayer; asking for the proper words needed to persuade future wealthy followers; the
    exact amount they need from each of them and their location, all in the name of expansion.

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