Part of the Isaiah Scroll, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Uploaded by Daniel Baranek, via Wikimedia Commons.

Take Five: Google and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Even though this is more of historical rather than art historical interest, it certainly is worth mentioning here.

Google has put the Dead Sea Scrolls online for everyone to view.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible in existence.  The collection of 972 texts date sometime between 150 BCE and 70 CE, which means they predate other early copies by about nine centuries.

What’s so great is not what Google did, but how they did it.  They took high-resolution photographs that are up to 1,200 megapixels, which means that a viewer can zoom in so closely that she can see the texture of the parchment on which the text is written.  One can also search for particular phrases in the texts or click on the images to read the English translation of the ancient Hebrew writing.

This truly is a remarkable achievement that will serve the scholarly community in many, many ways.  It’s also just plain cool for the rest of us.

WIRED magazine’s blog, Cloudline, posted an excellent essay on the importance of this event.

Google has done some brilliant things for the study of history and art history.  For example, the Google Art Project, launched last winter, is a collection of extremely high-resolution photographs of important works of art from major art museums. Anyone can view these works of art intimately, zooming in to look at the tiniest detail, taking all the time in the world if she wishes.  Everyone can enjoy a view of these works of art that previously only museum curators and conservators were privy to.

Keep in mind that nothing can ever replace the experience of encountering a work of art in person.  Scale, lighting, texture, and – if at all available – the original setting of a work of art are essential to the understanding of the true intentions of the artist and value of the object itself.

Nevertheless, Google’s reproductions surely are the next best thing.  In fact, they are a very close second.




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