(Photo: AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner)
In a joint effort by Israel's national museum and Google, the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls, previously only available to a small group of scholars, have been made available online.
Five of the most important Dead Sea Scrolls will now be available to the digital public: the biblical Book of Isaiah, the manuscript known as the Temple Scroll, and three others. Visitors are also able to search the ancient texts at the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website.
The scrolls offer critical insight into customs and religion of ancient Israelis, including information on the birth of Christianity. The sacred texts include the oldest written record of the Old Testament ever found.
Written between the third and first centuries BCE, the Dead Sea Scrolls include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence, according to Google's press release. They were hidden in 11 caves in the Judean desert on the shores of the Dead Sea, around 68 BCE. The owners of the texts apparently wanted to protect the scrolls from approaching Roman armies.
The originals are kept in a secured vault in a Jerusalem building constructed specifically for that purpose. Access requires at least three different keys, a magnetic card and a secret code, according to the Associated Press.
"This partnership with The Israel Museum, Jerusalem is part of our larger effort to bring important cultural and historical collections online," Google's spokesperson wrote in the press release. "We are thrilled to have been able to help this project through hosting on Google Storage and App Engine, helping design the web experience and making it searchable and accessible to the world."
High-resolution images of the scrolls are available and viewers can zoom in and out and translate verses into English.
Photography work on the project began earlier this month in conjunction with a former NASA scientist, according to AP.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were reclaimed in 1947, when they were found on the West Bank in Qumran. A Bedouin tribesman fell into a cave where they had remained hidden for 2,000 years.
There are more than 15,000 Dead Sea Scrolls, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek between 150 BC and 70 AD. They are between 800-1,000 years older than previously known manuscripts.
The texts have resulted in hundreds of books and theories about early Christianity, as well as the life of Jesus. The parchment and papyrus writings are among the most famous in the world.
Google has been involved in similar projects in the past, including the Google Art Project, Yad Vashem Holocaust photo collection and the Prado Museum in Madrid.