The Dead Sea Scrolls, coming to a screen near you

04.15.2013 | Kristian Heal

Note: Each month, the Maxwell Institute Blog will feature posts from each of our initiatives to keep readers informed about the variety of work we do. Today’s post is from Kristian Heal of the Institute’s Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts. Heal announces the exciting news that the Institute reached an agreement last month to publish all of the DSS’s biblical scrolls in an electronic database. —BHodges 

The Dead Sea Scrolls are still turning heads after more than 60 years. The curious story of their discovery in 1947, the intrigue surrounding their publication, and the speculations about their contents all contribute to the mystique of the scrolls. Many see them as the most important archaeological find of the 20th century (and there’s some pretty good competition).

Latter-day Saint interest in the scrolls is natural. The very idea of a lost community coming to light through the discovery of their ancient records is going to get our attention. It comes as no surprise then to learn that within a decade of their discovery Hugh Nibley had already published two items on the Dead Sea Scrolls (available here and here). This interest in the scrolls by Latter-day Saints has continued, and even intensified over the years, as this 2010 list of LDS publications on the scrolls suggests. Three recent volumes on the Dead Sea Scrolls published by the Maxwell Institute can be found here, here and here.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have a particularly important place in the history of the Maxwell Institute because they, along with some recently acquired Syriac documents, were the impetus for the creation of the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) in 1996. Specifically, the primary goal of CPART was the creation of the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library. The first part of this electronic library, which includes all of published sectarian or non-biblical scrolls, was published in 1999, with a revised edition appearing in 2006. Since that time, CPART has been working on the second part of the Electronic Library, which will contain all of the biblical scrolls. This project, led by Professor Donald Parry of BYU’s department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, is near completion and is expected to be published within a year.

The electronic library includes images, annotated transcriptions and translations of the biblical scrolls, combined with the advanced search functionality of the WordCruncher software. As such, it is primarily a research tool for Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical scholars and students. As with part one of the electronic library, the publisher, E.J. Brill of Leiden, has kindly agreed to allow us to make part two available to faculty and students at BYU. Information about accessing the library is forthcoming.

However, if you are not a BYU student or faculty member, fear not. Thanks to a recently launched project by the Google Cultural Institute, many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are now available on a screen near you. Go take a look!