Biblical scholars, students and anyone with an internet connection will be soon able to peruse any of the Dead Sea Scrolls online for free.
The Israel Antiquities Authority, which has been engaged in a project to scan the ancient, fragile artifacts, announced this week that is teaming up with internet giant Google to put the digitized images online.
The high-resolution images will be accessible for free in a searchable database. They will also be translated into English.
"The images will be equal in quality to the actual physical viewing of the scrolls, thus eliminating the need for re-exposure of the scrolls and allowing their preservation for future generations," the IAA said in a statement.
The use of modern infrared light technology is also expected to help bring out faded writing — now invisible to the naked eye — in the digitized images.
The 2,000-year-old scrolls are a collection of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts that shed light on Jewish history as well as the origins of Christianity. They include early texts from the Bible. In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd discovered the first of the scrolls buried in caves bordering Israel and Jordan, just above the Dead Sea — one of the driest, most barren areas in the world.
Though possessed by Israel, both Jordanian and Palestinian authorities have also claimed ownership of the scrolls.
The IAA began a pilot project to scan the thousands of extremely delicate parchment and papyrus manuscripts in 2008.
Scholars and experts have long complained about their extremely limited access to the scrolls, several of which have nonetheless been displayed in strictly controlled exhibitions around the globe, including in Jerusalem in 2008 and in Toronto at the Royal Ontario Museum in 2009.
The IAA will work with Google's Israel-based research team for the project, with the first images expected to be posted in several months and the entire collection to be online within five years.