Thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls went online this week with the launch of a new website by Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority, part of a move to make the famed manuscripts easily available to scholars and the general public. The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, stored on Google servers, will eventually hold all of the tens of thousands of fragments of the scrolls in very high resolution. For now, some 4,000 scans of infrared photographs taken right after their discovery in the 1950s have been uploaded, as well as 1,000 new scans done in a lab specially constructed for this task by the Antiquities Authority.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is in the process of photographing the thousands of fragments in its possession — pieces of an estimated 900 different manuscripts — using special imaging equipment first developed for NASA. The hi-tech cameras have rendered visible sections of parchment that were previously indecipherable.
On the new Dead Sea Scrolls site, surfers can search for phrases in Hebrew or English and find fragments that match, sort the fragments according to the Qumran caves where each was originally found, and view those locations on Google Maps.
On the website, the manuscripts are displayed as both infrared and color imagery, at 1215 dpi resolution. Accompanying the documents is a database of information for nearly 900 of the manuscripts. Interactive content pages let users click on the scroll images to see a scale on the left, click to go full screen, and to zoom in and out, allowing you to see right down to the fibers that make up the parchment, as well as each pen stroke and tear.
The “Featured Scrolls” page offers quick links to some of the better known works, including the Ten Commandments, Psalms, Genesis, and others. The collection isn’t only a great reference for biblical scholars, it’s also presented in an easy-to-browse layout and manner that makes it simple for anyone interested in learning about these documents to read about them in more detail, browse the images and even leave a comment on individual scrolls.
This new online exhibit joins the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website put online in 2011 by the Israel Museum, home to the most important of the complete Dead Sea Scrolls, also in partnership with Google. The five manuscripts put online on this site include the biblical Book of Isaiah, as well as the esoteric manuscripts known as the Temple Scroll and the War Scroll.
Google is involved in these projects as part of a broader effort to preserve world cultural heritage online. In 2011, the US web giant helped make material from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial available on the web, and has carried out similar projects at Madrid’s Prado Museum and at several national libraries in Europe.