The Dead Sea Scrolls became one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century because of the relevance of these texts to biblical studies. This collection of almost one thousand manuscripts of biblical books and other religious writings were found at Khirbet Qumran in the 1940s and the 1950s.
Of the hundreds of manuscripts found at Qumran, about twenty-five percent of them were manuscripts of biblical books. All of the books of the Old Testament, with the exception of Esther, were found at Qumran.
The importance of the biblical manuscripts found at Qumran to biblical studies lies in its antiquity. Until the discovery of the Scroll of Isaiah, the oldest Hebrew manuscript was dated to the 9th century of the Christian era. The Dead Sea Scrolls are dated to one to two centuries before Christ, thus preserving a very traditional reading of the biblical text.
The Israel Museum has made several manuscripts available online. This project is designed to help scholars to study them and to help lay people to become better acquainted with this important archaeological discovery.
Below is a description of the project. The information below are excerpts from the texts put out by the Israel Museum. The texts are accompanied by a digital copy of the manuscripts. Click on each link to visit the Dead Sea Scroll Digital Project online, to read the texts, and to look at the manuscripts.
The Israel Museum welcomes you to the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, allowing users to examine and explore these most ancient manuscripts from Second Temple times at a level of detail never before possible. Developed in partnership with Google, the new website gives users access to searchable, fast-loading, high-resolution images of the scrolls, as well as short explanatory videos and background information on the texts and their history. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence, offer critical insight into Jewish society in the Land of Israel during the Second Temple Period, the time of the birth of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Five complete scrolls from the Israel Museum have been digitized for the project at this stage and are now accessible online.
The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It is the largest (734 cm) and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that is almost complete. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the biblical Book of Isaiah. Dating from ca. 125 BCE, it is also one of the oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some one thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible known to us before the scrolls’ discovery.
The War Scroll (1QM), popularly known as “The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness,” is one of the seven original Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It contains 19 columns (originally there were at least twenty), of which the first 14–19 lines (out of at least 21–22) are preserved. The work is written in Hebrew in a square Herodian script and is dated to the late first century BCE or early first century CE. Seven additional fragments (4Q491-497) with similar contents have also been found, but the relationship between these texts to 1QM is not entirely clear; they may represent an earlier version of the War Scroll, or source materials on which the War Scroll was based.
The Temple Scrolla (11Q19) was almost certainly discovered in 1956 in Cave 11, located about two kilometers north of Khirbet Qumran. The manuscript is written in Hebrew in the square Herodian script of the late Second Temple Period (the first half of the first century CE), on extremely thin animal skin (one-tenth of a millimeter), making it the thinnest parchment scroll ever found in the caves of Qumran. Two other copies of the same composition have also come to light: one in Cave 11 (Temple Scrollb [11Q20]), and another (possibly a fragmentary copy of the last part of the work) in Cave 4 (4QTemple Scrollb [4Q524]). Most scholars believe that all three manuscripts are copies of an original work composed in the Land of Israel in the second half of the second century BCE (after 120 BCE, perhaps during the rule of John Hyrcanus I).
The Commentary on Habakkuk (Pesher Habakkuk, 1QpHab), is a relative complete scroll (1.48 m long) and one of the seven original Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in caves of Qumran in 1947. It interprets the first two chapters of the biblical book of the prophet Habakkuk and comprises 13 columns written in Hebrew, in a clear, square Herodian script. However, the tetragrammaton, the four-letter, ineffable name of God, is written in ancient Hebrew characters, unlike the rest of the text. The scroll has been dated to the second half of the first century BCE.
The Community Rule (Serekh Hayahad, 1QS), formerly called the “Manual of Discipline,” is the major section of one of the first seven scrolls discovered in Cave 1 at Qumran in 1947. Written in Hebrew in a square Hasmonean script, it was copied between 100 and 75 BCE.
The scholarly community is grateful to the Israel Museum for making this project available to a wider audience.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary