Uncovering the Two Thousand Years of Sand

Shelley Neese and her The Copper Scroll Project Book

The most unusual from the Dead Sea Scrolls

The cover of the new book by Shelley Neese. (C) Shelley Neese.

Everything regarding Qumran is fascinating. It always was and it always will be. Such is the intensity of the messages from the period that it still attracts the mind of people in the most powerful way thousands years since the events that had taken place there. Practically, this unique in its own way and class place, its culture and events, fascinates one generation after another during all the way of the ancient history forward, for two thousand years.

The Dead Sea scrolls are the part of its non-wading interest towards Qumran. It is the essence of the Qumran narrative and thus is the most powerful magnet of it. And then, among the treasure of the Qumran scrolls and manuscripts, there are two small , even minuscule scrolls which are unique. They are made on copper which was of the highest preciousness at the time. So, to inscribe the text on that super-precious material at year 71 CE, there had had to be something of a very special class of importance there.

The Copper Scroll. (C) The Ancient Origins.

The scrolls were found in 1952 by the young French archaeologist Henri de Contenson, and after true-life history detective thriller which always is in the place when major archaeological discoveries are in question, the one of them was deciphered partially in 1953 by the German antiques authority  George Kuhn, and later on with thorough elaboration and effort by the British expert John Allegro. Many top-experts of the second part of the XX century were involved into the deciphering and making sense of the writings on the tiny Copper Scroll.

The Copper Scroll cut into 23 strips and displayed at the Jordan Museum, Amman. (C) Estate of John Allegro.

In 2006 the scroll had attracted the attention of Jim Barfield,  the Arson Chief Investigator and Fire Marshal from Oklahoma and devoted Christian Zionist. Jim had spent the years of his time, energy, effort, money, aspirations and hope in unrolling the scroll, so to say. He did a huge work, and inevitably had become a subject of both hot interest by the hundreds of admirers who learned about his theory at many of his lectures, and also of a severe critique by the several well-known archaeologists who were very unhappy of what is known and what they have attested in the case of Barfield’s theory on the Copper Scroll as ‘sensationalist archeology”.

The one objective reason for such harsh treatment, as it is explained by the author of the new book The Copper Scroll Project ( Morgan James Publishing, 2018) is that ‘in this case, the subject of search lays very deep down, and in archaeology, the work is done by millimetres, extremely carefully and slow. There is a clear conflict of methodology in the quest of The Copper Scroll which leads to the conflict of scientific approach and the applied archeology”.  

The Hill of Kokhlit, the key place in the research, 300 yards outside the Qumran ruins complex. (C) Shelley Neese.

Verifying the Project

In 2009, Jim Barfield was lucky to meet Shelley Neese, researcher and writer who slowly but surely started to get involved into that unique chase.

Shelley is a very diligent person. She is mother of four lovely kids aged from 4 to 12, wife of US military doctor, managing director of The JerUSAlem Connection, the powerful and highly reputable Christian Zionist organisation in Washington DC. She is also a keen researcher who has got her Masters in the Middle Eastern Studies from the Ben-Gurion University when she lived and studies in Israel in early 2000s.

Author and researcher Shelley Neese. (C) Shelley Neese.

For those who are lucky to know her, Shelley’s imperative is emphatically about education and knowledge: “this is a good subject to study”, “ this has to be researched thoroughly”, ‘this is important educational material” – phrases like these are peppered her narrative. I am not even sure if she does register this major underlying thought and intention in her attitude to life.  It comes as quite natural to her. To me, it is both good and serious. It is promising and  is a quality-proof in what Shelley does and produces.

Ten years ago, the young researcher of the Middle-Eastern studies has embarked onto quite challenging journey. There are so many things which just cannot be done, told, revealed, proceeded regarding Qumran and its subjects that the very thought of it would distract and has distracted indeed quite many able researchers. Too demanding, too complicated, too questionable in the matter of publicity and further results. With regard to the Copper Scroll, the subject itself stays in Jordan and is under jurisdiction of the Jordan Antique Authority.  It is on display at the Jordan Museum in Amman.

Shelley was not a doer in the effort of the Jim Barfiled and his team to decipher the Copper Scroll anew, and then attempting to apply his theoretical conclusions to practice. She was a witness and an observer who tried hard to keep her head cool on the subject, and her facts triple-checked in a cross-examination way. The amount of work she did only on checking and double-checking the facts and researching the subject – and everything around it and what does it involves – amounts to several PhD works by its own.

In this, Shelley’s integrity, both intellectual and personal, and her serious attitude to an author’s responsibilities transpires in its best. She did not opt for an easy journalistic path, just publicising sometimes sensational, or sounding like, narrative of the people who were driven this quite unbelievable project. She worked very hard for a decade to be responsible for every sentence she had produced in her book.

And the gripping book it is. It is concise, written lucidly and tightly, vivid and palpable account of a real-life Indiana Jones project and adventures around the Copper Scroll, the most enigmatic one among the Qumran Scrolls known to us so far. Professor Richard Freund’s characteristic of The Copper Scroll – ‘probably, the most unique, the most important and the least understood ( among the Dead Sea Scrolls) – was not formulated without a good reason.

The Neese’s book is honest and realistic, it  presents vividly and masterly interesting characters and the individuals which would stay in a reader’s memory for a long time.  Shelley has succeeded in picturing the characters because she respects people and is seeing deep into them. People like Jim Barfield, Israeli archeologists late Yuval Peleg and Oren Gutfeld, director of the Masada Archeology Site, the UNESCO Heritage site Eitan Campbell and the others are portrayed in her book with a sharp-eyed detail and a good-heart attention and understanding.  

Jim Barfield’s meeting with the researchers of the Israel Antique Authority, with late Yuval Peleg in the centre. (C) Shelley Neese.

She also has succeeded in making her book on archaeology a powerfully thriller, and this is truly hard to achieve if you are sticking with the facts, not fantasies.

Shelley have had a healthy and proper distance to the subject of her book, in a clear sign of maturity as an author and educator, which is somewhat surprising quality for a debut book . In her comments on her book – in a very good video-interview with Abi Abelow  – for whom I am cordially grateful for a possibility to include it into this review -, Shelley notes that ‘actually, the Copper Scroll is the most ‘boring’, the most dry text of all known Qumran Scrolls. This is an inventory, a list’. But inventory of what? What kind of list Jewish people of year 71 CE  had had to scribe with all that difficulties on the most precious material, and to hide it in the so special way as it was done with The Copper Scroll?

Two Thousands Years of Sand

We know that according to all existing deciphrings of the Copper Scroll ( and there are  several major of them, including the one which Jim Barfield had done based on his own method) , there is the phrase in that inventory: “My High Priest vestments… would be found… there and there”. Before going any further in all our questions, speculations, suggestions, interpretations and conclusions, I personally would like to understand and to know for sure: whose High Priest’s vestments are in question in the text dated 71 CE and written on the copper scroll from the first name? This, and the rest of the book  full of events which had occurred in Israel during the decade of 2009-2018 gets the events occurred 2000 years ago in the place which any of us can visit today to be felt in real-time. And this is dizzy and magnetic. 

There is not without a reason that in 2017, the Israel Antique Authority has launched a special project, Operation Scroll which is understood to be a planned systematic effort to explore every cave in the Dead Sea region, as Shelley explains in her book.

Based on their long and intense research into the matter, Jim Barfield and his colleagues believes that The Copper Scroll is effectively the inventory of the Second Temple’s treasures. This definitely makes their project the real-life’ Indiana Jones adventure. Shelley’s book is providing us with open, honest and gripping account of the events unfolded as the Barfield’s team tried to pursue their quest in Israel during their twelve expedition trips there  from 2008 until 2014 .

As of today, the situation is open and bears quite many questions. We cannot get the answers to those questions because of many objective and subjective reasons. It somewhat irritating, but then, analysing and processing what is written in the Shelley’s book, one realises that perhaps, due to many reasons, the time is not right for that as yet, the moment is not ripe enough to become the moment of truth in the matter of The Copper Scroll.

The one of the undoubted achievement of this highly interesting and well written and composed book is that it also brings archaeology alive  which really demands a full command of the knowledge involved, mature analyses, and high ability for writing. As we all know well, archeology always is alive , thriving and gripping in Israel. Also because of that fact of life, it is doubly challenging to contribute in a distinguished way into the popular archeology knowledge about Qumran and to do it in a qualified way.  

It was Shelley’s own large article published back in 2009 in The Jerusalem Post that had brought the qualified analyses of the Jim Barfield’s theory into the public domain world-wide. From that very moment and from that very article, the world has learned about our days’ effort to crack on the inventory scribed on the tiny Copper Scroll of Qumran.

Today, almost ten years after the appearance of her article, Shelley’s book demonstrated quite convincing results in the pre-release period yet: at Amazon, it is rated as number one in the New Releases in Israel ( and Palestine – this is Amazon’s own classification) History; as number 4 among the books on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and as number 35 among the books on Israel  – this is among over 42 000 titles on the theme available at Amazon.

Shelley has created a wonderful metaphor while talking about the subject of her book: “ There is two thousand years of sand which we have to uncover, both literally and metaphorically”. It had stacked in my mind. What Jim Barfield and his team is doing for so many years with this devotion, and what Shelley Neese has described in her book with such masterly story-telling and such responsible attitude towards the people and the history, is a noble and loving human effort to uncover those two thousand years of sand – “for Israel and its people”, as both Jim Barfield and Shelley Neese are not tired to emphasise.  And I am extending a cordial Thank You to them for that. 

The Copper Scroll replica made specifically for the Shelley Neese’s book cover. With kind permission by the author. (C) Shelley Neese.
About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Inna's family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, Holocaust and post-Holocaust, arts and culture. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi is the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association.
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