Editor’s note: This article was originally published on February 20. It is re-posted now to supplement the Living Word exhibition of Biblical manuscripts and artifacts taking place at the Regent University Library from March 20th to March 23rd.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of around 850 scrolls and fragments, dating between c. 250 BC and c. 70 AD, discovered in caves at Qumran, near the Dead Sea.1 Most scholars believe that the documents were hidden in caves by members of a Jewish sect (probably Essene) before the destruction of their community by the Romans in 68 AD.2 Roughly a third of the texts are from the Hebrew Bible, with the remainder made up of apocryphal or pseudepigraphic texts and sectarian writings. The finding of these priceless artifacts between 1947 and 1956 was the most important discovery in the history of Biblical archaeology. The most complete of the documents, the Great Isaiah Scroll, provided Biblical scholars with a complete text of the Book of Isaiah 1,100 years older than what had been the earliest known copy.
In 2011, in a partnership with Google Israel, the Israel Museum went online with digitizations of five of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in 2012, the Israel Antiquities Authority followed with hundreds of the fragments found at Qumran. Both of these archives are beautifully organized and make use of the most advanced imaging technology. Like the digitization of the Codex Sinaiticus, which went live in 2009, the importance of these projects for scholars and lovers of the Bible around the world can hardly be overstated. A good place to begin exploring these archives is the video tour of the Great Isaiah Scroll by Dr. Adolfo D. Roitman at the Israel Museum:
1Tov, Emanuel. “Dead Sea Scrolls.” In The Oxford Companion to the Bible. : Oxford University Press, 1993. http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.library.regent.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195046458.001.0001/acref-9780195046458-e-0179.
2“Dead Sea Scrolls.” In The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, edited by Berlin, Adele, and Maxine Grossman. : Oxford University Press, 2011. http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.library.regent.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780199730049.001.0001/acref-9780199730049-e-0803.