Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) came together for an unprecedented sharing of information, making some of the oldest known writings available for all to see. No need to dress up in your very best museum clothes, for the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library is now available to view from your very own home. Director of the IAA Shuka Dorman told the Associated Press, “Only five conservators worldwide are authorized to handle the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, everyone can touch the scroll on screen around the globe.” And if you happen to sneeze into your coffee while reading them, take comfort in knowing you’ll only have to replace your computer, instead of inventing a time machine to go back and recreate the ancient texts.
Not that I’m the one to shower history lessons on anyone, but for those who don’t know, the Dead Sea Scrolls were — wait for it — a group of scrolls excavated from caves near the Dead Sea, initially in 1947, with further scroll discoveries continuing in later years. Most date back from third century B.C.E. to first century C.E., and while some are wholly preserved, many are just fragments of mostly parchment, some papyrus, and one in copper. Languages range from Aramaic to Hebrew to Greek. (Make your own Dead Sea/Zombie reference here.) Three quarters of the scrolls are of a religious nature, containing nearly all of the books of the Hebrew Bible, as well as many other books and psalms, some of which have been disputed within the Biblical canon. Those of a non-religious nature give insight into the lives, philosophies, and politics of the people living at the time.
Several thousand hi-res images are available for zooming and studying. As well, there is a ton of information about their discovery and everything that happened to them between then and now, to break the tip of the iceberg of the intellectual importance of this project. Regardless of your religious preferences or non-preferences, this is a true success for historical documentation and data sharing.