Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Israel to Show Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet

“The project began as a conservation necessity,” Ms. [Pnina] Shor (head of the conservation department of the Israel Antiquities Authority) 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.”
This is not by itself going to make understanding the scrolls any easier:
Only a handful of the scrolls exist in large pieces, with several on permanent exhibit at the Israel Museum here in its dimly-lit Shrine of the Book. Most of what was found is separated into 15,000 fragments that make up some 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.
I remember when I was attending Columbia University hearing about a rabbi at JTS down the block--who spent a lot of time studying the scrolls. He was visiting the home of another member of the seminary and complained about their precocious son who was playing with a puzzle under the table and getting underfoot (literally). When the rabbi complained, the mother retorted: you play with your puzzles and he'll play with his.

Now everyone can play--but it will take another 2 years.

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