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Published on Sep 9, 2012
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Judean Desert some sixty years ago, in 1947, is considered one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in modern times. The scrolls were either written or copied in the Land of Israel between 250 BCE and 68 CE. They represent the oldest written record of the Old Testament, and contain the earliest copies of every book of the Bible, except for the Book of Esther. This "Ancient Library" enables us a glance into a period of time pivotal to both Judaism and Christianity. Thanks to these remarkable texts, our knowledge concerning the origins of Judaism and early Christianity has been greatly enriched.
For many years, the study of the thousands of text fragments was monopolized by a group of merely ten scholars, all great experts in their respective fields. Inevitably, the limited team size prevented the speedy publication of the manuscripts. In the early 1990's, the Israel Antiquities Authority took major steps to advance the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This goal was essentially achieved in 2001 with the final publication of these important texts, which are now accessible to all, scholars and public alike.
Issues of conservation, preservation and documentation of the Dead Sea Scrolls have concerned both scholars and conservators ever since the scrolls' discovery. The removal of the fragile scrolls from the caves, where they had been preserved for over 2,000 years, interrupted the environmental stability that had ensured their preservation for so long. Since their discovery, the scrolls were damaged by ravages of time, as well as from mishandling and mistreatment. In 1991, the Israel Antiquities Authority - advised by leading experts in issues relating to conservation of manuscripts written on parchment and papyrus - established a designated conservation laboratory for the preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The conservation and preservation of the scrolls has since been an ongoing task due to their extreme brittleness and the need to meet up with the most up-to-date conservation methods.
Currently, the Israel Antiquities Authority is collaborating with international experts to reevaluate the conservation techniques under use, and to decide upon courses of action for still unresolved issues. The IAA is now engaged in an advanced, large-scale digitization project, which was initiated as part of the conservation efforts. This project "The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library" also generously sponsored by "Arcadia Fund" includes the monitoring of the scrolls and the creation of highest-quality color images and advanced near infra-red images. As the publication of the scrolls is formally completed, the IAA will upload the digitized scroll images online, with their transcriptions, translations, commentaries and bibliography, allowing a free access to all.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a universal cultural heritage. As such, it is our duty to safeguard the scrolls and preserve them for future generations, sharing them with the public and scholarly community worldwide.
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