It took 2,000 years, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have finally entered the digital age. For the first time some of the scrolls are available online thanks to a partnership between Google and Israel’s national museum.
Five of the most important scrolls can now be seen in high-resolution on the Internet. Users can zoom in and out, translate passages to English and access supplemental material.
“We hope one day to make all existing knowledge in historical archives and collections available to all, including putting additional Dead Sea Scroll documents online,” Yossi Matias, managing director of Google’s research and development center in Israel, told the Christian Science Monitor.
The scrolls were written from about 200 BC to 70 AD and according Jeffrey L. Rubenstein, professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at New York University, they offer an unrivaled look at the time after the biblical books were penned and before the Christian texts and documents of rabbinic Judaism were written.
“The Dead Sea scrolls help us fill in this two to three century gap to help us understand what religious developments took place,” said Rubenstein. “We see changes among different groups as they wrestle with powerful cultural and political forces. … These changes help us understand where monotheistic traditions in the west came from.”
“The Dead Sea Scrolls give us a new perspective about ancient life, society and thought,” said Adolfo D. Roitman, curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in a video produced by Google. “They promote interfaith dialogue. They promote understanding between human beings.”
Custodians of the scrolls had been criticized for only allowing select groups of scholars access to them.
The original scrolls are located in a specially designed vault in Jerusalem that requires multiple keys, a magnetic card and a secret code to open. They were found in caves near the Dead Sea starting in 1946.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.