Scrolling through the Dead Sea Scrolls
I spent some time this morning scrolling through the new Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. I have to say, I'm a total Joe Schmoe when it comes to the Dead Sea Scrolls — I know they were important, were discovered in the last 50 years or so, and gave us some new books for, um, versions for, um…Well, they were important.
That said, the central feature of the scrolls for me: they scroll. In fact, they scroll very nicely — it's a satisfying and visually pleasing interface. One thing I discovered — they scroll from right to left, a big discovery for schmoes like me that emerges through interaction. Another nice feature: you can roll over sections for immediate translation into English. And, a big feature: you can zoom in to a 1200 mega-pixel image of sections of the scroll. As I wrote in my blog entry on Google Art Project, this zoom leads to a much more personal (and sometimes idiosyncratic) connection to the work. In my case, I think I found a couple sections in the Great Isaiah Scroll where the scribe made a mistake — wrote over a letter in heavier ink or had to insert text in the space between lines. I felt a human connection to whoever it was who held that pen or quill or whatever it was.
There are some interesting (and not too long) videos with an introduction from the curator for each of the scrolls — I enjoyed picking up on his enthusiasm and it added to the sense of wonder for the images about to be revealed to me. There is a comments section, notably with a "translate" button needed because of the worldwide interest in the work. And a final note: some museums still ask the question: "Will we get fewer visitors to our museum if we put it online?" We've moved beyond that question now…prior to viewing the website, I didn't even know where the Dead Sea Scrolls were housed. Now the Israel Museum and actual scrolls are on my map of destinations to visit someday. Nicely done.