The Dead Sea Scrolls, they’re some of the oldest surviving Biblical documents and today Google has made them available for free for the world to view.
Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls back in 1947, only a handful of trusted scholars had ever been granted access to them, out of fears that the precious documents would be damaged. Now, thanks to a partnership between Google and the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the entire world can get to see the scrolls up close and personal. More than 5,000 high-resolution images of the scrolls have been posted online, and can be accessed at deadseascrolls.org.il.
The new digital library was created by the custodians of the Dead Sea Scrolls in order to make what is one of the world’s most important historical discoveries widely available. For the first time ever, everyone can access portions of one of the oldest known copies of the Book of Genesis, and the Book of Deuteronomy, which lists the original Ten Commandments.
Israel has previously been criticized for refusing access to the scrolls to dozens of scholars, effectively monopolizing access to the artifacts to a small clique of those with the best connections.
Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, insists this is necessary to preserve the documents, which are presumed to have been written by an ascetic Jewish sect that settled at Qumran, near the Dead Sea, after fleeing from persecution in Jerusalem. Now though, after years of painstaking work, “everyone can touch the scrolls on-screen around the globe and view them in spectacular quality,” says Dorfman.
Google says that it took more than two years to assemble the digital library, utilizing technology that was originally developed for NASA. The fragments and pages of the scrolls have been digitized at a 1215 DPI (dots per inch) resolution, allowing users to view them in extraordinarily vivid detail. In addition, Google also applied infrared imaging techniques in order to recreate details that normally cannot be seen with the naked eye.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are written in ancient Hebrew, so the vast majority of people won’t be able to make much sense of them, but even so it’s fun to explore the documents and get a feel for just how ancient the texts are.
Users can browse through the multimedia website and view the scrolls according to the language they’re written in (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and various unidentified ones), the site where they were discovered, and also according to the type of content (scriptures, sectarian texts, unidentified etc).
Google said that getting the scrolls online is a major success in its efforts to preserve the world’s most important historical documents. Previous examples include the Google Cultural Institute, the result of a collaboration between 17 museums and institutes, and the Google Art Project. The web giant says that it has many more projects of this kind lined up for the future:
“We’re working to bring important cultural and historical materials online and help preserve them for future generations. Our partnership with the Israel Antiquities Authority is another step toward enabling users to enjoy cultural material around the world,” said Yossi Matias, head of Google’s Research and Development Center in Israel.