Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls to be available online


This raises an interesting question: If we are viewing the scrolls in High Res and we have the name of Hashm before us, are we permitted to close the window? Are we allowed to erase the file?

Aug 27, 2008 10:44 | Updated Aug 27, 2008 11:16

Israel will display the entire Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The scrolls are made up of thousands of fragments and digitally photographing all of them is a task of Herculean proportions.

The scientists working on the project, led by Simon Tanner, use high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and also lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays.

They are also uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, and these discoveries might have significant scholarly impact.

The 2,000-year-old scrolls were found in the late 1940s in caves near the Dead Sea east of Jerusalem, and contain the earliest known copies of every book of the Hebrew Bible (missing only the Book of Esther), as well as apocryphal texts and descriptions of rituals of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus. The texts, mostly inscribed on parchment but some on papyrus, date from the third century BCE to the first century CE.

Several of the scrolls which were found in bigger pieces are permanently displayed at the Israel Museum in its dimly lighted Shrine of the Book. Most of what was found is separated into 15,000 fragments that make up about 900 documents, fueling a longstanding debate on how to order the fragments as well as the origin and meaning of what is written on them.

After the scrolls were initially discovered they were tightly held by a small circle of scholars. In 2001 they were published in their entirety, but debate over them seems only to grow.

Scholars continually ask the Israel Antiquities Authority, the custodian of the scrolls, for access to them, and museums around the world seek to display them. Next month, the Jewish Museum of New York will begin an exhibition of six of the scrolls.

The keepers of the scrolls, people like Pnina Shor, head of the conservation department of the antiquities authority, are happy about the interest awarded the scrolls but say that each time a scroll is exposed to light, humidity and heat, it deteriorates. She says even without such exposure there is deterioration because of the ink used on some of the scrolls as well as the residue from the Scotch tape used by the 1950s scholars in piecing together fragments.

The entire collection was photographed only once in the past - in the 1950s using infrared - and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room because they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.

"The project began as a conservation necessity," Ms. Shor explained. "We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That's when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now."

The process will probably take one to two years - more before it is available online - and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London.
Jonathan Ben-Dov, a professor of biblical studies at the University of Haifa, is taking part in the digitalization project. Watching the technicians gingerly move a fragment into place for a photograph, he said that it had long been very difficult for senior scholars to get access.

Once this project is completed, he said with wonder, "every undergraduate will be able to have a detailed look at them from numerous angles."

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