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Dead Sea Scrolls Go Online in Israel Museum Project With Google

Great Isaiah Scroll
Screen Shot of the Great Isaiah Scroll, one of five of the eight Dead Sea Scrolls housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which was put online in a joint project between the museum and Google Inc. Source: Israel Museum via Bloomberg

The Dead Sea Scrolls, so ancient and fragile that direct light cannot shine on them, are now available to search and read online in a project launched today by the Israel Museum and Google Inc.

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it accessible and useful,” said Yossi Matias, managing director of Google’s R&D Center in Israel.

The people who wrote the scrolls hid them in caves along the shore of the Dead Sea, probably about the time the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and are generally attributed to an isolated Jewish sect that settled in Qumran in the Judean Desert. The manuscripts, for the most part in ancient Hebrew, were discovered between 1947 and 1956.

Sections of the scrolls are on display at Israel Museum’s Shrine of the book and rotated every three to four months so as to minimize exposure. Only a facsimile of the Great Isaiah Scroll is on display. The Google tool on the Israel Museum website makes entire scrolls accessible and allows browsers to zoom into the text as well as read its translation in English.

“This gives you a way to understand the beginning of biblical history,” said museum director James Snyder. “Nothing could be more important.”

The project follows a Google project that went live in January and put online an archive and search function for photos from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. The world’s largest Internet search engine is also working on a project in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority that will make available on the Internet fragments of the scrolls so they can be studied by scholars.

Cultural Opportunity

“The opportunity is amazing here for culture and heritage information,” Matias said. “We are trying to expand this and address these historical and heritage archives and there are great things that can be done here.”

Five of the eight scrolls housed at Israel Museum since 1965 have been digitalized, including the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Temple Scroll and the War Scroll. The Great Isaiah Scroll can be searched by column, chapter and verse, including the famous “and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” It is accompanied by an English translation tool and includes an option for users to submit translations of verses in their own languages.

“For us, the Dead Sea Scrolls couldn’t be a more important iconic cultural artifact,” said Snyder. “Any opportunity for us to bring them to the widest possible public audience and offer the opportunity to really begin to understand what these amazing documents are all about is something that we embrace.”

Google’s Chief Executive Larry Page is pushing into new markets such as mobile and display advertising, while trying to preserve the company’s leadership in search, an area that generates most of Google’s revenue. Shares of Google have dropped 0.3 percent in the past 12 months, compared with a 1.1 percent decline of the S&P 500 Index.

Both Israel Museum and Google declined to say how much the project cost.

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