Google makes 5 Dead Sea Scrolls searchable

Jerusalem, Israel – In a perfect blending of 21st-century advances with the cutting-edge technology of an earlier age, starting this week internet users can, for the first time, use Google search and scanning technology to examine five manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Google and the Israel Museum unveiled the project Monday in Jerusalem with the launch of a museum website that allows users to interact with the ancient texts in a way impossible just a few years ago.

"You have the capability with high-resolution definition to look at the scrolls in a comfortable setting - to enlarge them, to magnify them, to translate them into English and to search for words, phrases or verses that you want to find on your own," said James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum. "It really allows for your own interactive research with the material."

Made up of 30,000 fragments from 900 manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls are considered by many historians to be one of the most important archaeological finds ever made.

The ancient manuscripts, made of leather, papyrus and copper, were first discovered in 1947 by a nomadic shepherd in a cave near the Dead Sea. In the years that followed, more scroll fragments were located.

Dating back over 2,000 years, the scrolls reveal details about the development of Judaism during the Hellenistic period and shed light on the relationship between early Christian and Jewish religious traditions.

The Israel Museum is home to eight of the manuscripts that are considered to be among the most complete and best preserved. Snyder said the museum and Google began working on the project six months ago.

"It's becoming a much more simple process than it used to be," Snyder explained. "With camera technology today, to do this kind of high-resolution imagery is not that difficult."

The most important of the museum's manuscripts, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll, contains the oldest known written text of the Bible. On the new museum internet site users can search the scroll with keywords. Clicking on the Hebrew text pulls up English translations of every verse.

Snyder said he hopes putting the collection online will attract more visitors to the museum and make the concepts in important texts more accessible.

"It shortens the formidable distance between an individual out there in the world and an object of such unique significance," he said.

For Google it is not the company's first foray into bringing its technology to bear on historic artifacts. A year ago the company announced collaboration with the Israeli Antiquities Authority to scan and catalog its collection of thousands of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, and the company has worked with Israel's Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, to put its photo collection online.

Yossi Matias, Google's head of research and development in Israel, says projects like these are in keeping with the company's mission.

"Our bigger goal is to take all heritage cultural information and make it available online," he said. "We are connecting people worldwide to the scrolls. ... In a way, you get engagement between people (today) and the people who wrote these scrolls over 2,000 years ago."