Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
A staff member from the Israel Antiquities Authority points at a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a laboratory in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
By
updated 10/19/2010 12:32:17 PM ET 2010-10-19T16:32:17

Israel's Antiquities Authority and Google announced Tuesday that they are joining forces to bring the Dead Sea Scrolls online, allowing both scholars and the general public widespread access to the ancient manuscripts for the first time.

The project will grant free, global access to the 2,000-year-old text — considered one of the greatest archaeological finds of the last century — by uploading high-resolution images that are exact copies of the originals. The first photographs are slated to be online within months.

The scrolls will be available in their original languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and at first an English translation. Eventually other translations will be added, and Google's translation feature may also be incorporated. They will also be searchable.

  1. Science news from NBCNews.com
    1. NOAA
      Cosmic rays may spark Earth's lightning

      All lightning on Earth may have its roots in space, new research suggests.

    2. How our brains can track a 100 mph pitch
    3. Moth found to have ultrasonic hearing
    4. Quantum network could secure Internet

Antiquities official Pnina Shor said the project will ensure the original 30,000 fragments that make up the scrolls are preserved while broadening access. The scrolls, which includes parts of the Hebrew Bible and treatises on communal living and apocalyptic war, have shed important light on Judaism and the origins of Christianity.

"Anyone in his office or on his couch will be able to click and see any scroll fragment or manuscript that they would like," she said.

Experts have long complained that only a small number of scholars were allowed access to the scrolls at any given time, which were found in caves near the Dead Sea in the late 1940s.

The delicate scrolls are kept in dark, temperature-controlled rooms at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where only four trained workers are permitted to handle the parchment and papyrus documents. Exposure to light risks damaging the scrolls.

Shor said scholars must coordinate viewing the scrolls with 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.

Researchers are given three hours with only the limited section they have requested to view.

For the last 18 years, segments of the scrolls have been displayed in museums around the world, each time undergoing painstaking efforts to move them from each location. Shor said a typical 3-month exhibit in the U.S. draws more than 250,000 people.

  1. Most popular

Yossi Matias, an official from Google-Israel, said the project was part of a greater attempt to "break down barriers" and encourage the "dissemination and preservation of global heritage and culture."

Matias said Google has worked with European universities and Iraq's national museum to bring other texts and artifacts online, but the nature of the scrolls makes them more appealing to a greater public.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: Eight Jewish archaeological discoveries

  • Image: scroll fragment
    AP

    It's been decades since the first pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves of the Judean desert, but yet another piece of parchment bearing 2,000-year-old scriptures - verses from the Book of Leviticus - was found just recently. Such finds demonstrate that the Holy Land can still produce ancient treasures, thousands of years after the events described in the Bible.

    Click the "Next" label to learn about seven more archaeological discoveries in recent years that have shed light on Jewish history and the Old Testament.

    — By John Roach, msnbc.com contributor

  • Ceramic shard may bear oldest Hebrew inscription

    Image: Elah Fortress ruins
    Bernat Armangue  /  AP

    A 6-by-6-inch pottery shard unearthed at the archaeological dig site of Hirbet Qeiyafa (the Elah Fortress) in Israel, shown here, contains five lines of faded characters that may bear the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. The 3,000-year-old text dates to the time of the Hebrew Bible's King David and is thought to be written in proto-Canaanite, a precursor to the Hebrew alphabet. While other people used proto-Canaanite characters as well, the inscription contains a three-letter verb meaning "to do" that existed only in Hebrew, according to Yossi Garfinkel, a Hebrew University archaeologist in charge of the dig. "That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found," he told the Associated Press. Other scholars, however, have urged caution until more is known about the inscription and its context.

  • Elusive biblical wall discovered?

    Image: pottery shards
    AP

    The Book of Nehemiah describes the construction of a wall as part of a rebuilding project after Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians. Archaeologists think they have now found the wall. Their case rests on the pottery pieces and other artifacts shown here. They were discovered near a wall that was previously thought to date to the Hasmonean period of Jewish history (142-37 B.C.). These pottery pieces date to the 5th century B.C., which suggests that the wall is older and corresponds with the time of the biblical account. Other archaeologists, however, are unconvinced.

  • Remains of 'miracle pool' found

    Image: water flows through remains of Siloam Pool site
    Kevin Frayer  /  AP

    In this image, water flows through a site where the remains of a pool serve as a link between Jewish rituals and a famous miracle said to have been performed by Jesus. The site, known as Siloam Pool, was used by Jews for ritual immersions before heading down to the Temple Mount. Jesus is said to have miraculously cured a man of blindness in the pool. Archaeologists have also found biblical-era coins with Jewish writing, pottery shards and a stone bottle cork — all helping confirm the authenticity of the site, located in what is now the Arab neighborhood of Silwan.

  • Dead Sea Scrolls shrouded in mystery

    Image: Dead Sea scrolls
    Tara Todras-whitehill  /  AP

    The ancient texts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls are considered one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century, yet to this day they remain shrouded in mystery and controversy. The 2,000-year-old collection of writings, which includes the earliest surviving pieces of the Bible such as the Book of Isaiah, shown here, was discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd in a cave above the ancient settlement of Qumran. Conventional interpretations hold that the texts were authored and stored by the Essenes, a hard-core Jewish sect thought to have occupied Qumran at the time. However, in recent years this view has come under attack by scholars who believe Qumran was a fortress or pottery-making facility that had nothing to do with Essenes. These scholars contend that the cave was just a convenient storage locker of sorts for Jews fleeing the Roman siege on Jerusalem in the year 70.

  • Evidence of King Herod's tomb mounts

    Image: sarcophagus
    Bernat Armangue  /  AP

    Archaeologists excavating King Herod's winter palace in the Judean desert continue to unearth what appear to be the remains of the ancient ruler's tomb. The sarcophagus shown here was pieced together from scattered fragments of a mausoleum archaeologists believe was smashed apart by Jewish rebels who reviled the king as a Roman puppet. Herod was the Jewish proxy ruler of the Holy Land under Roman imperial occupation from 37 to 4 B.C. After his death, scholars believe the palace became a stronghold for rebels fighting the Roman occupation. The rebels were defeated, and the palace destroyed, in the year 71.

  • Tunnels, chambers aided escape from Romans

    Image: drainage channel
    Emilio Morenatti  /  AP

    When the Romans sacked Jerusalem around the year 70, Jews took refuge in a network of underground tunnels and chambers, archaeological finds have revealed. This image depicts one of the tunnels dug beneath the main road of Jerusalem during what is known as the Second Temple era. Pottery shards and coins from the end of the era attest to the channel's age, according to one of the project's researchers. Elsewhere in the city, archaeologists have uncovered chambers filled in with supplies, an indication that the ancient Jews prepared for the uprising.

  • Archaeologists question Masada saga

    Image: archaeological site in Masada
    Rachael Strecher  /  AP

    The mountaintop fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea is famous in Jewish history as the final holdout for about 900 rebels who chose suicide over capture by the Romans in A.D. 73. The story plays a central role in Israel's national mythology, though recent studies have cast doubt on its credibility. Some scholars think the mass suicide was greatly exaggerated or never happened at all. In the 1960s, archaeologists found two male skeletons and the braided hair of a woman in a bathhouse - and the Israeli government gave those remains a state burial in 1969, thinking that they came from Masada's Jews. More recently, however, some archaeologists have suggested that the remains were actually those of the Jews' Roman enemies. Despite the recent controversies, the Masada fortress, seen here, remains one of Israel's top attractions. A cable car carries visitors to the top of the rock.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments