The Dead Sea Scrolls were written around 2,300 years ago. When Roman armies approached they were hidden in caves on the shores of the Dead Sea for protection. And there they stayed until 1947 when a shepherd discovered them.
Part of their value lies in their insights into life and religion in ancient Jerusalem, including the birth of Christianity.
Since 1965 you’ve had to visit The Israel Museum in Jerusalem to view them. And doubtless they were behind display glass and pretty much inaccessible to anyone but accredited scholars.
The scrolls online
But thanks to modern high-resolution scanning and the Internet now anyone can view 5 of the scrolls at any time from any Internet connected device.
Google partnered with The Israel Museum to digitise the Scrolls with immensely detailed photographs:
The high resolution photographs, taken by Ardon Bar-Hama, are up to 1,200 megapixels, almost 200 times more than the average consumer camera, so viewers can see even the most minute details in the parchment. For example, zoom in on the Temple Scroll to get a feel for the animal skin it’s written on—only one-tenth of a millimeter thick.
You can browse the Great Isaiah Scroll, the most well known scroll and the one that can be found in most home bibles, by chapter and verse. You can also click directly on the Hebrew text and get an English translation. While you’re there, leave a comment for others to see.
Culture and heritage online
Google’s Dead Sea scrolls project is a huge undertaking. There are doubtless numerous other historical works from around the world that are also worthy of being digitised and made available online.
I imagine that over time we’ll see more and more of them. The Dead Sea Scrolls project features extremely high resolution images and side-by-side translation to English.
Project Gutenberg, on the other hand, renders and sometimes translates the text of more than 36,000 books, including such works as Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, Beowulf and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. This is the work of volunteers and is funded by donations.
This kind of sharing is truly one of the wonders of the Internet. Enjoy.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, October 2011. This article has been modified for publication here.