Dead Sea Scrolls Go Digital

Antiquities Authority and Google Israel cooperate on photographing and uploading 900 Dead Sea manuscripts.

Gil Ronen , | updated: 7:12 PM

Psalms scroll
Psalms scroll
Wikimedia Commons

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is cooperating with Google Israel on a huge project: the creation of an online digital library that will finally display the Dead Sea scrolls to the general public, more than 50 years after their discovery. The scrolls include all of the books of the Bible and date from the late Second Temple period.

The project – The Leon Levy Digital Library of the Judean Desert Scrolls – will display 900 manuscripts online. The manuscripts are made up of about 30,000 pieces of different sizes. Besides a grant from the Leon Levy Fund, it is being underwritten by the Arcadia Fund and Yad HaNadiv Fund.

The images of the scrolls will be created using innovative imaging technology by scanning each fragment with light in different wavelengths. The scrolls have been reconstructed by researchers, who put the fragments together in a way that they believe reflects the original. However, once the project is complete, online researchers and lay viewers will be able to use the library's online tools to select a fragment and move it around on their computer screen, to try and see if it fits better in another place. All the text will also come with transcriptions and translations.  

The new scans may also reveal letters that have faded over the years, leading to more discoveries.

IAA Director Shuka Dorfman said that the project is “a historical connection that we have made with progress, in order to preserve heritage for future generations.”

Prof. Yossi Mattias, Director of Google Israel Research and Development Center, said: “We are proud to take part in a project that makes the IAA's rich collection available to the entire world. This project will enrich and preserve an important part of the world's cultural heritage by making it available for web users everywhere.”

The director of the project for the IAA is Pnina Shor, who has been assisted by leading experts from Israel, the US and Italy.

For decades, the Dead Sea Scrolls were the subject of intense academic dispute, not just because of varying interpretations of their content but also because only a select group of researchers had access to them, causing great frustration and anger among those who did not.