JERUSALEM – The Dead Sea Scrolls, among the world’s most important, mysterious and tightly restricted archaeological treasures, are about to get Googled.
The technology giant and Israel announced Tuesday that they are teaming up to give researchers and the public the first comprehensive and searchable database of the scrolls – a 2,000-year-old collection of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek documents that shed light on Judaism during biblical times and the origins of Christianity. For years, experts have complained that access to the scrolls has been too limited.
Once the images are up, anyone will be able to peruse exact copies of the original scrolls as well as an English translation of the text on their computer – for free. The collection is expected to be available within months.
For decades, access to 500 scrolls was limited to a small group of scholar-editors with exclusive authorization from Israel. That changed in the early 1990s when much of the previously unpublished text was brought out in book form.
But even now, access for researchers is largely restricted at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the originals are preserved in a dark, temperature-controlled room.
Pnina Shor, an official with Israel’s Antiquities Authority, said scholars must receive permission to view the scrolls from the authority, which receives about one request a month. Most are given access, but because no more than two people are allowed into the viewing room at once, scheduling conflicts arise.