Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

I've added a new link to the Biblical links down the side. It's for the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls, which is a joint effort of Google and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which maintains the famous Shrine of the Book. The project is a bit of a work in progress. At the moment, you can view 5 scrolls: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the War Scroll, the Temple Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll and the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll. Others will be added progressively. When I first heard of the project I thought all the texts would be both searchable and come with translations. On the initial offering, however, it seems I was wrong. All five scrolls currently available are searchable and magnifiable so that they can be examined in exacting detail. However an English text is only provided for the Great Isaiah Scroll. The only problem is that it's not a translation. The text is instead the JPS translation of the Masoretic Hebrew version of Isaiah. However as the site itself says, the Great Isaiah Scroll contains many variants from the Masoretic text, more than 2600 of them and so a person just exploring the scroll online without checking the explanatory material can be misled into thinking that what they are reading is a translation of this, the oldest relatively complete text of Isaiah. If you play around a bit more with the some of the links you can find a parallel English translation of the first 5 chapters of Qumran Isaiah in comparison with the JPS translation. Peter Flint has translated the entire Isaiah Scroll into English and the first 5 chapters are taken from that. Presumably copywright restrictions meant that no more was possible. My own personal view is that Bibles should have Isaiah in parallel: Qumran and Masoretic and perhaps even Greek/LXX and the Targum Isaiah too. That way readers will come to appreciate the diversity within the greater textual gestalt that each biblical book represents, will realise that the biblical texts are not set in stone but have always been fluid, that there is pretty much no such thing as a definitive or standard text form handed down for all time. 

It's a shame that the other scrolls also didn't come with an English translation to give casual readers better access to the texts in question. I have a couple of  English translations, the Vermes one and the Wise/Abegg/Cook translation too. The latter is well thumbed. So I presume the people behind the project expect that we will all have copies of one or other of these translations to crosscheck to. Perhaps when more scrolls are on site then direct English translations will become available. I certainly hope so.

But still check out the site. It's quite a fascinating resource now and will likely over time become a rich and invaluable resource too.

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