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The scrolls go digitalPosted Monday, October 10, 2011, at 3:30 PM
When the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit opened at the Minnesota Science Museum in 2010, I was one of the lucky few who got a private viewing prior to its unveiling March 12.
Not familiar with the Dead Sea Scrolls? They are 2,000 year-old Jewish texts discovered between 1947 and 1956 at Qumran. They were hidden in caves to prevent destruction by Roman armies. The highly fragile papyrus documents range from biblical texts to law, all painstakingly handwritten in beautiful Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic calligraphy.
Normally, the scrolls are hidden away in a dark, climate-controlled room at the Israel Museum Jerusalem, with a select few on display. The scrolls are highly sensitive to light, so displays must be constantly rotated. For that very reason, this was the first time some of the scrolls were on display.
Part of the exhibit included other archaeological finds, but I don't remember what they were, because I was on a quest to see the scrolls.
Finally, I made it to the circular, dimly lit scroll room, and was immediately surprised at how small the scrolls were.
When I hear the word "scroll," I think of a massive roll of paper with ornamental handles. While the Dead Sea Scrolls may have been that large during their creation, most are now miniscule fragments, with the whole "scroll" roughly the size of your hand.
Remaining bits of the scrolls have made translation a bit tricky, since pieces are missing.
I saw Genesis 32:30-33:1, Psalm 119, Isaiah 53:11-54:2, the Damascus Document and the Temple Scroll, one of the three sets on display during the seven month exhibit.
The portions that remain are readable, if you know ancient Hebrew. When my husband visited the exhibit, he was able to read some of the scrolls, since he has been a diligent student of ancient languages.
The experience of seeing the scrolls is something that has stuck with me.
Now, they've been put online through a collaboration of Google and Israel Museum Jerusalem. Price for the project? $3.5 million.
Photographer Ardon Bar-Hama captured high-resolution images of the Great Isaiah Scroll, Temple Scroll, War Scroll, Community Rule Scroll and Commentary on the Habakkuk Scroll using an UV-protected flash, which minimized damage.
Masoretic and English translations can be compared side-by-side.
It appears the other 895 scrolls will eventually be digitized, as well. Although it may be an expensive undertaking, it's an important one.
See the five scrolls online: dss.collections.imj.org.il
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