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Israeli and American scientists are bringing the oldest known version of the Hebrew Bible into the 21th century. They're digitally reproducing the Dead Sea Scrolls online.

The ancient manuscripts containing almost the entire Hebrew Bible date back over 2,000 years. They are widely considered to be one of the most important archaeological finds ever. They were discovered accidentally by a Bedouin shepherd looking for a stray sheep in 1947.

The Antiquities Authority said Wednesday that reproducing the thousands of scroll fragments will take about five years.

Special imaging cameras are being used to record the priceless manuscripts without damaging them.

The IAA says its goal is to image the thousands of Scroll fragments in the State Collections in color and infra red using sophisticated digital cameras and placing them in an Internet data bank.

Among those aiding IAA staff are experts renowned worldwide for their work in imaging technologies, including an American scientist from NASA and specialists in digital photography and motion pictures.

Using powerful cameras and lights that emit no damaging heat or ultraviolet beams, scientists in Israel have been able to decipher sections and letters in the scrolls invisible to the naked eye.

The scrolls, most of them on parchment, are the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible and include secular text dating from the third century BC to the first century AD.

A team of specialists has taken 4,000 pictures of some 9,000 fragments that make up the scrolls, which number 900 in total. A few large pieces of scroll are on permanent display at the Israel Museum.

"We are able to see the scrolls in such detail that no one has before," said Simon Tanner, a digital expert from King's College London, who is in charge of data collection.

Scientists hope the advanced imaging technology will also help them better preserve the scrolls by detecting any deterioration caused by humidity and heat.

The American space connection came through Greg Bearman, who recently retired as principal scientist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, an arm of the American NASA space agency. He offered the space-age imaging equipment.

"I am an acrchaeology buff," he told The Associated Press, and he brought imaging technology used in space to the Dead Sea Scrolls project. "This equipment is used to study planets," he said. "NASA uses the technology for imaging in space, and it works here."

A statement from the Antiquities Authority said the high-tech imaging would "improve the extent to which scientists can decipher the scrolls, using infrared photography that could appear to restore writing that faded over the centuries. Infrared technology was used to photograph all the findings in 1950, the statement said, but technology has advanced considerably since then."

"To protect the scrolls, the new imaging will be done in a setting that minimizes exposure to light," said Pnina Shor, an IAA official in charge of preserving ancient artifacts.

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