Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Six months ago the Israel Museum and Google teamed up to digitize and publish online the Dead Sea Scrolls. They just released the firstfruits of their labors at a website called, appropriately enough The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls.

The site contains five Dead Sea Scrolls digitized thus far, including the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll. The site is still a work in progress, and thus far only the Isaiah Scroll is searchable by verse in English, but the site is still worth checking out! As it matures and develops, more material will be added...and additional resources for English-only readers will hopefully be provided.

Take the site for a "test ride" in the following way.
  1. Open the Great Isaiah Scroll and click twice on the "zoom in" button (lower right) to magnify the text.
  2. Scroll along the numbers at the bottom of the window (each number represents one stitched-together leather section of the scroll) until you reach number 32.
  3. Navigate to the bottom of the page and look for a handwritten notation at the very bottom (below the text) that looks like a backward "6." This identifies the column where Isaiah 39 ends and Isaiah 40 begins.
  4. Look at the last two lines of that column. On the right side, in the margin between these two lines, is what looks like a horizontal line with the letter "O" resting on it. That mark identifies the specific spot where chapter 39 ends (on the left side of the next-to-last line) and chapter 40 begins (the right side of the very last line).
Apart from not having the vowel points, a first-year Hebrew student could read the last line (from right to left) as saying "Comfort. Comfort my people says your God…."

So why is this significant? It indicates that when this scroll was copied (sometime around 130-100 B.C.) there was no indication that Isaiah 1--39 and 40--66 were thought to be two separate books by multiple authors (a common view among critical scholars today). Had the scribe thought this to be so, it seems most natural that he would have ended the Isaiah 1--39 portion and then begun the new book at the top of the next column. Nothing in the manuscript supports the idea that Isaiah was anything more than a single book at the time this copy was made! (And since this was a copy made from an earlier work, we can logically push the date back even further in time.) In short, this manuscript creates major problems for those who hold to the theory of multiple authors for the Book of Isaiah.

One last suggestion. Click the "zoom out" button for the scroll to return to the original size. And then hover your mouse over the text. Doing so will highlight the individual verses in the scroll. By clicking on the highlighted section you can read a translation of that particular verse. It gives those who can't read Hebrew a sense of what it is like to read from the text.

This site is definitely worth bookmarking...and returning to at frequent intervals!

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