The Dead Sea Scrolls - Psalms ScrollA lot of ink has been spilt over the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of texts initially found in caves near the Dead Sea in 1947 (with more being found in subsequent years as nearby caves were scoured). While some of the texts were published soon after scholars got their hands on them, not all were; in fact, there was some outright stalling, and even scholarly turf-wars being played out over access to some of them. It took decades for them all to finally be published … and really, there was no good reason for it to have taken that long.

But how things have changed! The Scrolls’ guardians, the Israel Antiquities Authority, will partner with Google to create high-resolution scans of them, and to host their content on the World Wide Web, as the CBC reports (WebCite cached article):

Biblical scholars, students and anyone with an internet connection will be soon able to peruse any of the Dead Sea Scrolls online for free.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, which has been engaged in a project to scan the ancient, fragile artifacts, announced this week that is teaming up with internet giant Google to put the digitized images online.

The high-resolution images will be accessible for free in a searchable database. They will also be translated into English.

“The images will be equal in quality to the actual physical viewing of the scrolls, thus eliminating the need for re-exposure of the scrolls and allowing their preservation for future generations,” the IAA said in a statement.

The scanning techniques may actually make visible some writings which are currently not legible, which will be to everyone’s benefit. The Dead Sea Scrolls are significant for the study of religion, particularly Second Temple Judaism:

The 2,000-year-old scrolls are a collection of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts that shed light on Jewish history as well as the origins of Christianity. They include early texts from the Bible.

From the Old Testament portion of it, to be exact. At the time of their discovery and shortly after, it was widely believed that the Scrolls would have something to say about early Christianity, but that turned out not to be the case: All the texts date to the middle of the last century BCE, so they contain no Christian content.

The turf-wars over the Dead Sea Scrolls were not only fought among scholars; as one might expect in the Middle East, the wrangling has become political. The CBC reports (back in January) separately on this aspect of the Scrolls (cached):

The Canadian government says it will not act upon a request by the Jordanian government that it seize the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls, now on their last day of display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Discovered in 1947 by Bedouin tribesmen in caves bordering Israel and Jordan, the 100,000 fragments of ancient religious parchment and papyrus manuscripts have been a source of conflict between Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians — who all claim ownership. …

Jordan contends Israel acted illegally in 1967 when it took the scrolls from a museum in East Jerusalem, which Israel seized from Jordan during the Six-Day War.

Ottawa, however, begged out of the conflict and decided to do nothing:

According to The Globe and Mail, the Canadian government issued a statement at the end of the year in reaction to Jordan’s request saying that “differences regarding ownership of the Dead Sea scrolls should be addressed by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. It would not be appropriate for Canada to intervene as a third party.”

Can’t say I blame them for not wanting to stumble into even just a marginal aspect of the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict.

Photo credit: onBeing.

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