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Dead Sea Scrolls go digital

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The Israel Museum has launched its Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, allowing users to examine and explore the ancient biblical manuscripts at a level of detail never before possible.

Developed in partnership with Google, the new site 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.

The Dead Sea 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 at http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/.

“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,” says James Snyder, Anne & 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 so 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 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,” says Professor Yossi Matias, MD of Google’s R&D Centre 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.”