The Dead Sea Scrolls, known as the oldest surviving written biblical and non-biblical documents, have been made available online as part of a greater attempt by their custodians to spread information contained within the documents to the world. For a long time, these documents were only viewable to a select few in the scholarly world, leading to widespread speculations as to their contents and meaning. To access the scrolls, you would need to access a special vault that requires three keys, a card, and a passcode to open. Now, five of these important scrolls are being made available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.
Possibly the most significant of these is the Great Isaiah Scroll, which is the most complete of all the biblical scrolls found at the Dead Sea site. In addition, it is also one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls. The Great Isaiah Scroll contains 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the Book of Isaiah. With a believed date of writing around 125 BCE, it is also one of the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls.
Another of the scrolls featured in this online release is the Temple Scroll. The Temple Scroll is the longest of all the scrolls discovered in the Qumran caves at a total of 8.146 meters in length. The scroll appears in multiple parts, as time and decay set in causing the outer of half of the scroll to break apart. Over all, the scroll itself is quite well preserved, especially the inner portions, which can be read very clearly. The Temple Scroll details instructions given regarding the construction and operation of God’s temple. These instructions are believed to have been given to Moses.
The War Scroll is also part of the recently released online collection. Popularly known as “The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness,” the War Scroll one of the seven original Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. The scroll itself, partially preserved, describes a seven-stage confrontation between the community for which it was written and its enemies, resulting in the end of days. The “Sons of Light” is a name relating to the community of good, led by Michael the Archangel, while the “Sons of Darkness” are their enemies.
The Community Rule, also released for viewing online, is believed to be part of a document that listed various rules that governed the community. Formerly called the “Manual of Discipline,” the Community Rule is a list of regulations that help historians to determine what life was like for the community. Everything from admission to new members to proper meal-time etiquette is covered in this document.
The Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll is also one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls, and focuses on interpretation of the book of Habukkuk. This scroll features a word-for-word copy from the original text followed by an interpretation of its meaning. As a source of information regarding the spiritual life of the secluded Qumran community, the Commentary on Habukkuk Scroll is an important source on which historians base their theories on how the Qumran community lived and worshiped.
These scrolls, in addition to over 900 others presently under the care of the Israel Antiquities Authority, are being made available online for everyone to see for themselves thanks to a partnership with Google, which powers the software that allows users to browse and view translations of the text in English.
To see the first five original Dead Sea Scrolls, you can visit the Israel Museum online.