Google and the Israel Museum bring the Dead Sea Scrolls online

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The Israel Museum launches its Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project today, allowing users to examine and explore these ancient biblical manuscripts at a level of detail never before possible. Developed in partnership with Google, the new website gives users access to searchable, fast-loading, high-resolution images of the scrolls, as well as short explanatory videos and background information on the texts and their history.

Dating from the third century BCE to the first century CE, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea. The manuscripts are generally attributed to an isolated Jewish sect, referred to in the scrolls as “the Community”, who settled in Qumran in the Judean desert.

The scrolls, which include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence, offer critical insight into Jewish society in the Land of Israel during the Second Temple Period, the time of the birth of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Five complete scrolls from the Israel Museum have been digitised for the project at this stage and are accessible online.

“We are privileged to house in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book the best preserved and most complete Dead Sea Scrolls ever discovered,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “They are of paramount importance among the touchstones of monotheistic world culture, and they represent unique highlights of our Museum’s encyclopedic holdings. Now, through our partnership with Google, we are able to bring these treasures to the broadest possible public.”

The five Dead Sea Scrolls that have been digitised thus far include the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll, with search queries on Google.com sending users directly to the online scrolls. All five scrolls can be magnified so that users may examine the texts in exacting detail. Details invisible to the naked eye are made visible through ultra-high resolution digital photography by photographer Ardon Bar-Hama — at up to 1 200 megapixels, these images are almost two hundred times higher in resolution than those produced by a standard camera. Each picture utilised UV-protected flash tubes with an exposure of 1/4000th of a second to minimise damage to the fragile manuscripts. In addition, the Great Isaiah Scroll may be searched by column, chapter, and verse, and is accompanied by an English translation tool and the opportunity for users to submit translations of verses in their own languages.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls Project with the Israel Museum enriches and preserves an important part of world heritage by making it accessible to all on the internet,” said Professor Yossi Matias, Managing Director of Google’s R&D Center in Israel.

“Having been involved in similar projects in the past, including the Google Art Project, Yad Vashem Holocaust Collection and the Prado Museum in Madrid, we have seen how people around the world can enhance their knowledge and understanding of key historical events by accessing documents and collections online. We hope to make all existing knowledge in historical archives and collections available to all, including helping to put additional Dead Sea Scroll documents online.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project is funded by George Blumenthal and the Center for Online Judaic Studies, which first envisioned the project in order to make these manuscripts widely accessible and to create an innovative resource for scholars and the public alike. Dr. Adolfo D. Roitman, Lizbeth and George Krupp Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Head of the Shrine of the Book, and Dr. Susan Hazan, Curator of New Media and Head of the Museum’s Internet Office, directed the project for the Israel Museum, working in collaboration with Eyal Fink, Technical Lead, and Eyal Miller, New Business Development Manager, at Google’s R&D Center in Israel.

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