Google Dead Sea Scrolls Project

by Richard on September 26, 2011

From the Google Blog

Written between the third and first centuries BCE, the Dead Sea Scrolls include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence. In 68 BCE, they were hidden in 11 caves in the Judean desert on the shores of the Dead Sea to protect them from the approaching Roman armies. They weren’t discovered again until 1947, when a Bedouin shepherd threw a rock in a cave and realized something was inside. Since 1965, the scrolls have been on exhibit at the Shrine of the Book at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Among other topics, the scrolls offer critical insights into life and religion in ancient Jerusalem, including the birth of Christianity.

I can think of several people who’ll be excited by this.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Ric 09.27.11 at 1:46 am

For me the most amazing thing is that both the language and the alphabet have survived almost unchanged to the present day. A native-born Israeli can read this more easily than you or I can read Shakespeare. Consider how much our language has changed since the days of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: and these scrolls are nearly a thousand years older than that!


Tony Buglass 09.27.11 at 9:47 am

That is largely because modern Hebrew was a ‘resurrection’ of ancient Hebrew, begun by Eliezer ben Yehuda in the mid-19th C. Hebrew had continued in use as a rabbinic and religious language, but hadn’t been a widely-spoken everyday language in popular use. It hadn’t been exposed to the evolutionary process that we see in the development of other modern languages. To compare Hebrew with English would be more like recreating everyday English from the language of Beowulf or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

As you say, even that wouldn’t take us back as far as these manuscripts and their precursors. The Masoretic Hebrew texts which I studied at university were essentially a medieval version of the ancient texts, including the vowel-pointing invented in the 8th C. I then translated the Qumran “War between the Sons of Darkness and the Sons of Light” from Yigael Yadin’s transcription - simply amazing! To work from a pre-Masoretic text, with its differences of style and orthography, gave vivid sense of reaching right back. I have since seen some of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the flesh, when there was an exhibition in Glasgow - to read them from the original is almost a time-travelling experience. My Hebrew is very rusty, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity to step behind the translations and taste the original.


Ric 09.27.11 at 11:30 am

Thank you, Tony, for this erudite comment.

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