If you didn’t notice, a million others did: five of the scrolls debuted in late September, and in less than a week the site had recorded more than a million visitors, including more than 400,000 from the U.S.
And there’s good reason: the images (up to 1,200 megapixels) are crisp and sharp, allowing users to zoom in so tightly that they can see every pore in the parchment.
The best news for Bible students is that one of the first scrolls online is the Great Isaiah Scroll, dating to 100-125 B.C., the oldest complete text of a biblical book known to be in existence. The wizards at Google and the Israel Museum have constructed the display so that one can digitally “unroll” the scroll, which has numbered columns for easy reference.
Scroll the mouse pointer over the text, and individual verses are highlighted and identified. In one instance, which I deal with in the Dec. 4 lesson for Baptist Today‘s new “Nurturing Faith” curriculum, the scroll (called 1QIsaa) provides evidence of how scribal notes later came to be incorporated into the text, with Isa. 40:7 being a prime example.
Even if you don’t read Hebrew, this terrific website is worth a look, just so you can appreciate the painstaking way in which the scriptures were copied through the years, the beauty of the text, and wonder that these scrolls, some more than 2,000 years old, have been preserved.
To check them out, try going to http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/. Click on the header for the Great Isaiah Scroll, then click on the image of the scroll. Click on the number 33 at that bottom and it will unroll to the column containing Isaiah 40:2-28. Zoom in with the magnifying glass tool at the bottom right to see the incredible detail. Put the mouse pointer on the scroll, hold down the left button, and move the image around. See if you can find where the scribe inserted comments of his own, or that he knew from other sources. Notice the four dots, used in the insertion to represent the Hebrew letters for God’s revealed name, YHWH, considered by the Hebrews as too holy to pronounce.
Then thank God, however you pronounce the name, for the many marvelous ways in which revelation works, including the written word.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.