December 31st, 2012
01:52 PM ET

Googling the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Sara Sidner, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='sarasidnerCNN']

Jerusalem (CNN)–Tania Treiger pulls on her tight blue gloves and picks up her tweezers, preparing for the extraordinary job she has been hired to do. She is one of only five conservators in the entire world allowed to handle one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century. Treiger’s job is to help conserve and record the more than 2,000-year-old pieces of parchment that make up Dead Sea Scrolls.

Many of the fragments are smaller than a bottle cap, and Treiger is taking painstaking measures to preserve the tiny pieces of history by laying each one under a camera to be photographed. The work she and many others are doing now is making it possible for anyone around the world with access to the Internet to see and study the scrolls.

The scrolls were found by Muhammad Ahmed al-Hamed, a Bedouin shepherd, in Khirbet Qumran in caves near the Dead Sea 65 years ago in what was then the British Mandate Palestine, now the West Bank. When pieced together, the scrolls reveal some of the holiest and well-known texts of the world. In the delicate pieces of ancient parchment you can see the text of the Ten Commandments, the first chapter of Genesis, Psalms and many of the writings that make up the Bible as well as other non-biblical books. Nearly 900 manuscripts are now online because of a partnership between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google.

Pnina Shor, who heads the Dead Sea Scrolls project, says she hatched the idea five years ago.

“These are manuscripts written 2,000 years ago, at the time when both Judaism and Christianity were formalizing as we know them today,” Shor said.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

It has taken five years to get 5,000 scroll fragments online, which includes an exciting development due to modern technology. A thousand of the fragments have been photographed using NASA technology to reveal text previously impossible to see.

“For me, this is a dream come true," Shor said. "I have been working on this five years, and it is now like a dream come true because now not only the scholarly world is going to care for this but the public as well."

The process of revealing even more detail in the scrolls and digitizing them includes photographing each fragment 28 times front and back, using 12 colors of the spectrum and NASA technology.

Once Treiger puts the scroll fragment on the table to be photographed, photographer Shai Halevi sets the computer, and it snaps away using filters that are blue, green, red and many colors undetectable to the eye.

Halevi explains how it works: “We took the pictures over there with all the colors, different light length, then we're getting all the exposures on the screen, and I'm combining them all into one multispectral image. And now secret writings are going to be revealed with the infrared image.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls website offers all kinds of information, even details about each fragment. The search engine will tell you what cave the fragment was found in (the scroll fragments were found in several caves that came to be known as the Qumran caves); what language is written on the fragment; and what it says, translated into English or Hebrew and, very soon, Arabic. You can zoom in to see the finest detail.

At a press conference in Jerusalem, the head of Google’s Research and Development in Israel, Yossi Matias, explained the company’s role in making these ancient scrolls available to the masses.

“Google's mission is to organize the world's information to make it universally accessible and useful. And it's hard to think about more important content than the scrolls that have such significance to so many people worldwide.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

In the 1950s, some of the scrolls were photographed, and last year, the Israel Museum teamed up with Google and put five of the 900 manuscripts on the Internet. But, for this project, all the photos taken in the 1950s are now online. The team is continuing to photograph and preparing to put another thousand of the enhanced photos online this month.

Controversy has followed these scrolls from the day they were discovered. Arguments abound over who actually wrote them and who owns them. Now that they are available to the entire world for crowdsourcing, who knows what new controversies or perhaps answers can be uncovered in the ancient writings?

CNN's Michael Schwartz contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible

soundoff (458 Responses)
  1. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses................POLITICIANS too !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Gravity is not up for debate ! ............E = mc2..........(U–Pb).................two math formulas..........that do not lie or sin !!!..........

    BY the way ...................Splat goes a fairy in the sky !...............bye bye tinker bell !

    Einstein's Gravity Theory Passes Toughest Test Yet..............................E = mc2..........(U–Pb).................two math formulas..........that do not lie or sin !!!

    Apr. 25, 2013 — A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before


    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like.............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.


    April 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |

    May 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |

    Dinosaur Egg Study Supports Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs: How Troodon Likely Hatched Its Young


    And NO ANGELS the pope KICKED them OFF the TEAM last year !

    From Soup to Cells—the Origin of Life


    the wrong path is Adam and Eve !

    Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought

    Mar. 4, 2013 — The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils.


    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

    Remember : Adam had to POKE himself hard with his OWN BONE to create Eve.

    No god(s) needed................... Old. DNA works..................also catches crooks !

    Ancient DNA Reveals Europe's Dynamic Genetic History

    Apr. 23, 2013 — Ancient DNA recovered from a series of skeletons in central Germany up to 7,500 years old has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern Europe.


    Ca-nabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – National Cancer Insti-tute


    Mar 21, 2013 – [1,2] These plant-derived compounds may be referred to as phytocannabinoids. ... have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. ... In lung cancer cell lines, CBD upregulated ICAM-1, leading to ...

    Good stuff !

    The fact...............the earth is to old for this nonsemse ! Time to EVOLVE !

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

    Apr. 24, 2013 — Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.


    For what...................... ? Make sure to read what the pope said !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

    Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

    Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
    bears his name as the “God particle.”


    Pope praises science, but insists God created world updated Thur October 28, 2010
    Stephen Hawking is wrong, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday – God did create the universe. The pope didn't actually mention the world-famous scientist, who argues in a book published last month that the laws of physics show there is no need for a supreme... \



    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
    By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when...


    April 7th, 2012

    08:32 PM ET

    The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth


    Make sure to read comments

    April 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |

    Breaking News

    NASA: Three planets found are some of best candidates so far for habitable worlds outside our solar system.


    NASA: Mars could have supported life

    Star Dust we are


    Holy Hallucinations 35


    The ORIGIN story is bullsh-it...............so is the bible............... nasty !

    From Soup to Cells—the Origin of Life


    Scientists have unearthed the first direct signs of cheesemaking, at a site in Poland that dates back 7,500 years.

    Human Evolution


    BBC. Planet of the Apemen. Battle for Earth 1. Ho-mo Erectus


    BACKFILL on E =mc2.....

    Einstein letter, set for auction, shows scientist challenging idea of God, being 'chosen'

    By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

    Decades before atheist scientist and author Richard Dawkins called God a "delusion," one world-renowned physicist – Albert Einstein – was weighing in on faith matters with his own strong words.

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends,” Einstein wrote in German in a 1954 letter that will be auctioned on eBay later this month. "No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”


    May 4, 2013 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |

    Cheech & Chong's History of 420


    All cults...........creationists, ID believers and devil cults.................

    The fact...............the earth is to old ...........time to EVOLVE !.

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

    Apr. 24, 2013 — Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.


    Dover Trial Transcripts............................................. FACTS.

    Below are the complete transcripts from the Dover Trial. Thanks to our friends at the National Center for Science Education for helping us fill in the missing transcripts.


    Education works for children

    Earth From Space

    Detailed satellite images reveal the web of connections that sustain life on Earth. Aired February 13, 2013 on PBS

    Program Description

    "Earth From Space" is a groundbreaking two-hour special that reveals a spectacular new space-based vision of our planet. Produced in extensive consultation with NASA scientists, NOVA takes data from earth-observing satellites and transforms it into dazzling visual sequences, each one exposing the intricate and surprising web of forces that sustains life on earth. Viewers witness how dust blown from the Sahara fertilizes the Amazon; how a vast submarine "waterfall" off Antarctica helps drive ocean currents around the world; and how the sun's heating up of the southern Atlantic gives birth to a colossally powerful hurricane. From the microscopic world of water molecules vaporizing over the ocean to the magnetic field that is bigger than Earth itself, the show reveals the astonishing beauty and complexity of our dynamic planet.


    February 16, 2013 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |


    May 5, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  2. Hugo Survant

    It is just fantastic

    January 17, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
  3. carolyn rose

    Seek the past to know the present...time and change are an illusion. Seek humbly, abandon haughty pride and smug
    self conceit. Be open to higher wisdom and it will carry you across the rivers of terror in front of us. This here is but
    a journey. What path will you chose?,, Death is the equalizer that places the proud with the humble, the rich with
    the poor, the powerful with the weak. It comes for us all. The Watcher sees all.

    January 5, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  4. reasonablebe

    whether one believes or not does not matter as this is a slice of history- what the people who left these scrolls believed and what was going on around them.

    January 3, 2013 at 1:57 am |
    • reasonablebe

      also, a historical fiction of masada, The Dovekeepers (Alice Hoffman), provides more insight and information- although it is fiction, it weaves around actual artifacts and a contemporaneous story left by a man called Josephus. Very interesting, well written, and disturbing to say the least.

      January 3, 2013 at 2:00 am |
  5. Tom

    Personally, I think the Tea Party sucks!

    January 3, 2013 at 12:52 am |
  6. Eyeroll McGee

    It's the latest fiction e-book.

    January 3, 2013 at 12:09 am |
    • John A

      Reality to everyone once their mortality expires.

      January 3, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  7. JohnRambo

    You should fear the Daedra! God is just a silly fairy tale but the Daedra.....they are REAL and they're coming!
    May Talos help us all!

    January 3, 2013 at 12:03 am |
    • Malacath

      how dear you mortal speak of our plans i shall impale your tongue to my chariot and charge for until your Large intestine a spread across the fields of rage

      January 3, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  8. Michael

    Cool stuff. My only hope is that for folks like myself, who don't understand all of the historical context of the language in these scrolls will eventually be able to have informed access on their site to put it all into context.

    January 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  9. Terrible_Ted

    The greatest deception ever. In this age of "enlightenment" where we have the worldwide interweb, this has been the greatest vehicle ever for Satan to spread the idea that God/Satan doesn't exsist. Live life without regret or worry, believe in nothing but yourself. Ugh ...what a beautiful world the "enlightened" have given us.

    In the entire universe there seems to be opposites, down to the sub atomic particles. Makes sense to me that God and Satan also exsist. But live life as you wish, its your soul not mine, and I guess you got a 50/50 chance of being right. But your phucked if your wrong. But the enlightened just can't be wrong....or can they?

    January 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • frank

      Well what do you expect after everything that happened last year? Old salesman Billy de Graham Cracker & Sons, Inc. taking on a new product: Planet Kolob and Co., Inc. to add to their conglomerate of folklore wares. Who knows, maybe Chick-fil-A will come out with a happy meal with a little toy planet Kolob to commemorate that partnership. Then of course there was the juicy NT scandal: finding out that the carpenter was actually gay and into feet evidently – and that he kept a wife, no less. I suspect the wife was all for show, so it was probably someone like Michele Bachmann, you know, very reptilian.

      And of course, the guy with the pointy hat in Rome was feeling left out, so he felt compelled to try to lift his idle (and idol) flock out of boredom by clarifying what kind of pets were around when the carpenter was born. Perhaps the big surprise was Pat Robertson becoming more sane – refuting the goofballs who keep trying to write a new screenplay for their little book of fable ever time we learn something new in science. So all in all, it was a fun year, religiously speaking.

      January 2, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • JohnRambo

      Only Dragons have a soul.

      January 2, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
    • The Truth

      "I guess you got a 50/50 chance of being right. But your phucked if your wrong." I hate to tell you this but you either guessed wrong or you are Terrible at math as well. A 50/50 chance would imply there are only two possible outcomes and paths to take. I know Christians love to just dismiss all the other religions and traditions of the world even though there are more "others" than there are Christians on this planet, but any person with half a brain can see there are more than just two possibilities, so Ted here is risking his soul by not kneeling 5 times a day and praying facing east, or he is just another egotistical moron that doesn't really care about logic, reason or truth and wants to do no homework of his own while calling other people stupid. It's like a bully beating you up calling you stupid if you refuse to do their remedial math homework for them... But I guess most Christians are immune to irony...

      January 3, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Terrible_Ted

      'The Truth" you're a boor who paints people in tired cliche'. Have you no original thoughts to entertain us with? Well you have a 50/50 chance whether you choose to except it or not. Your wrong or right...No easy ways out. God exsists or he doesn't. Had to laugh at the thought of saying penance 5 times a day. Do I believe in a God? Of course I do. I don't shove it in anybodys face. But I will defend what I believe, as you or anyone else does as well. A bully for defending what I believe...How comical.

      The current technoligies have allowed Satan to pull the greatest deception ever concocted. That we are so evolved, that we are so '"enlightened" to ever allow the belief in God or Satan...Thats for the people of ancient times. The greatest deception ever indeed. I can't imagine a universe that God doesn't exsist. I'm just a lowly man, who seeks to live a just life, and help my fellow man when I can. I'm not throwing out the fire and brimstone and hell damnation at ya.

      You can live life as you choose. If your to prideful to allow the belief in something greater than yourself, so be it. Just spare us the oh so tired cliche' of what you perceive of people who do. Love/Laughter...and to think that people actually believe this came from some primordial ooze...Yeh right. God and science are very much compatible, but thats for a book long commentary. Good Luck with the belief in the almighty yourself.

      January 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  10. Michael S.

    The scrolls were inaccessible for decades as the people who controlled them put severe restrictions on access. This is a move away from all that "turf" nonsense and is a good move for that reason as many others.

    The Scrolls are real, their content is subject to legitimate debate on several levels and their validity as Absolute Truth is nonexistent.

    January 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • Monica

      I like the way you think, bub.

      I wish I were more educated regarding these, they have a curious allure to me. They are mystifying objects, at least to me, but I know so little that seeing this online will not mean much unless smarter people than myself help put the information online to help translate and contextualize this sort of thing.

      January 2, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
    • Adinfinitum7

      Hey Monica and anyone else looking for more info: Google "download The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]" and you just might find a free download of that book.

      January 3, 2013 at 3:00 am |
1 2 3 4
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.