The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 and took half a century to be fully deciphered and published. Despite the secrecy and jealousy that characterised scholarship of the scrolls in the early decades, all the scrolls and fragments are now out in the open.
In a significant new step, the scrolls are currently being digitised and the images published online, giving academics and other interested folk unprecedented access to the scrolls. The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls project has this to say about the project:
Developed in partnership with Google, the new website 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… Five complete scrolls from the Israel Museum have been digitized for the project at this stage and are now accessible online.
The five manuscripts that have been digitised thus far are:
- The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaª)
- The Temple Scroll (11Q19)
- The War Scroll (1QM)
- The Community Rule (1QS)
- The Commentary (Pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab)
This is certainly an excellent development that should not just foster interest in the scrolls, but also boost interest in the Bible, the Second Temple Era, Early Judaism, textual criticism, paleaography, and Hebrew. There is so much to glean from the scrolls. The resolution of the images is very impressive, and both Google and the Israel Museum are to be commended for their efforts. I must say, though, that the final word on the scrolls must always lie with a personal inspection of the physical scrolls themselves. I learnt this when studying the fragments of the Tel Dan Inscription and realised that the published photos and drawings masked elements of the actual physical fragments, including (amongst other things) another letter that changed what the text was saying. While the resolution of these images of the scrolls is certainly much better than the photos of the Tel Dan Inscription taken in the early 1990s, the principle is, I believe, still applicable: personal inspection always trumps photographic images.
Nonetheless, this new website (http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/) is a great boon to study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.