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Dead Sea Scrolls online: a window on Judaism in the time of Jesus (VIDEO)

Five of the Dead Sea Scrolls are now online. More could be coming in the years ahead. The Dead Sea Scrolls show the diversity of Jewish religious thought around the time of Jesus.

By Staff writer / September 27, 2011

An Israel Antiquities Authority employee photographs fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, at the IAA offices at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Monday. Two thousand years after they were written and decades after they were found in desert caves, some of the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls are available online. Israel's national museum and the international web giant Google are behind the project, which saw five scrolls go online Monday.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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The Dead Sea Scrolls entered the digital age this week with the launch of an online project that allows users to search through and read high-resolution versions of the 2,000-year-old texts.

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The online launch features five of the 950 manuscripts believed to have been written between 200 BC and AD 68, including the Great Isaiah Scroll, which was discovered in 1947 and is considered the best preserved and most complete.

Religious scholars say the documents provide a deeper understanding of the diversity of Jewish religious thought in the period leading up to the birth of Jesus, and how Jesus' teachings might have fit into that historical context.

“They’ve reminded everyone who isn’t a specialist of how complex the tapestry is around Christianity and Judaism around the time of Jesus,” says Richard Rosengarten, who teaches at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “The Dead Sea Scrolls have underscored that for everyone, which is exciting and good.”

The online project represents a partnership between Google and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which has presented the scrolls for public viewing since 1965. The scrolls exhibited at the museum are the 950 discovered in 11 caves on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956.

Because the scrolls were discovered by different expeditions, they are not stored in a single location. The first seven scrolls are entrusted to the Israel Museum while others are the property of other museums in Israel, Amman, Paris, as well as private collectors.

While the scrolls have long been available in competing translations in book form, the actual manuscripts have never been as accessible for viewing outside their respective homes. The new website is available here.

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