The Dead Sea Scrolls are 2,000 years old and very sensitive to direct light. At the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where they are housed, the scrolls are rotated every few months to minimize the damage. As Bloomberg explains it, the Great Isaiah Scroll, which is the most ancient biblical manuscript on Earth, is so sensitive that only a copy of it is on display.
Now, though, in cooperation with Google, the museum has digitized five of those scrolls and today they were made available online.
The scrolls are searchable in English and they were digitized using a $250,000 high-resolution camera, so you can zoom in and get a feel for the animal skin they was written on.
Here's a video explaining the digitization and the importance of the scrolls:
And the AP provides further background:
The five scrolls are among those purchased by Israeli researchers between 1947 and 1967 from antiquities dealers, having first been found by Bedouin shepherds in the Judean Desert.
The scrolls, considered by many to be the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century, are thought to have been written or collected by an ascetic Jewish sect that fled Jerusalem for the desert 2,000 years ago and settled at Qumran, on the banks of the Dead Sea. The hundreds of manuscripts that survived, partially or in full, in caves near the site, have shed light on the development of the Hebrew Bible and the origins of Christianity.
The most complete scrolls are held by the Israel Museum, with more pieces and smaller fragments found in other institutions and private collections. Tens of thousands of fragments from 900 Dead Sea manuscripts are held by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which has separately begun its own project to put them online in conjunction with Google.