Dead Sea Scrolls Digitization On the Occasion of the 60th Anniversary

imageOn the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Israel Antiquities Authority is convening an international committee of experts to offer advice on the Digitization of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls some sixty years ago is considered as one of the greatest manuscript finds in modern time. The scrolls were written or copied in the Land of Israel between 250 BCE and 68 CE, and were rediscovered in 1947 in the Judean Desert. The Scrolls represent the oldest written record of the Old Testament, and contain the earliest copies of every book of the Bible, except the Book of Esther. This “Ancient Library of Qumran" sheds insight into centuries pivotal to both Judaism and Christianity. Thanks to these remarkable finds, our knowledge of the people in the Land of Israel as well as the origins of Judaism and early Christianity has been greatly enriched.

Work on the unpublished texts, consisting of thousands of fragments, was monopolized for thirty-five years by a group of just ten scholars, all great experts in their respective fields. Inevitably, the limited size of the team prevented the speedy publication of the documents. In the early 1990’s major steps were taken by the Israel Antiquities Authority to reorganize the publication efforts, and Prof. Emanuel Tov of Hebrew University was appointed as the new editor-in-chief. The publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls in their entirety was completed in 2001. These important texts are now accessible to all and can be studied by scholars and laypeople alike.

The conservation, preservation and documentation of the Dead Sea Scrolls have concerned both scholars and conservators ever since their discovery. The removal of the fragile scrolls from the caves in which they had been preserved for over 2,000 years interrupted the environmental stability that had ensured their preservation for so long. Since their discovery, the scrolls were damaged by the ravages of time, as well as previous handling and treatment. In 1991 the Israel Antiquities Authority, advised by the leading experts on issues relating to conservation of manuscripts, parchment and papyrus, established the only dedicated Dead Sea Scrolls conservation laboratory in the world. The task of conservation and preservation of the scrolls continues to be an ongoing project due to their extreme brittleness and the need to make use of the most up-to-date conservation methods known worldwide. Recently, the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Culture, decided to reevaluate the conservation methods currently used, and investigate methods for issues still unresolved. In addition, since the more than 15,000 Scroll fragments were photographed only once close to their discovery, a committee of international experts in the fields of photographic technologies and management of digital projects databases, will convene in Jerusalem beginning November In addition, since many of the thousands of fragments of scrolls were only photographed once, close to the time of their discovery in the 1950’s, the IAA has decided to convene an international committee of experts to evaluate innovative techniques and methods of documentation. The committee will assist the IAA in selecting the most appropriate means of digitizing the scrolls for publication, research and conservation purposes.

Among the members of the committee are:
Professor Ya’acov Choueka – Bar Ilan University, The Friedberg Genizah Project; Dr Greg Bearman – Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA; Prof. Ferruccio Petrucci – Image Spectroscopy, University of Ferrara; Simon Tanner – King’s Digital Consultancy Services, London; Orly Simon – Head, IT Department, JNUL

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