The Dead Sea Scrolls are now online for all to see, thanks to Google and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The ancient texts have only been on the Internet for a few hours, and already biblical scholars and religious leaders are buzzing with excitement about the new possibilities offered by this technology.
"They are of paramount importance among the touchstones of monotheistic world heritage,” said James Snyder, the director of the Israel Museum.
Discovered in the mid-20th century in caves along the shore of the Dead Sea, the scrolls contain the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible, and other documents from the time surrounding the birth of Christianity.
Until now, the documents have been accessible only to a small number of scholars and specialists. Since the original authors of the scrolls have been highly debated, many are hoping that this new public resource will open up that conversation.
“Of course, this is still not like being in the room with the scrolls, but it is a huge step forward for making the scrolls more accessible,” wrote Associate Professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary at his blog, The Biblical World.
The Dead Sea Scrolls project is just the latest example of how religious leaders and scholars have put modern technology at the service of ancient texts and truths.
Today, the faithful have a host of new ways to access Scripture and spiritual wisdom. Comparing translations, viewing commentaries and studying the texts in the original languages are all now possible with software such as Logos and Accordance. There are even interactive digital versions of ancient maps for study. It’s not unusual for the new generation of religious teachers and preachers to bring an iPad to the pulpit.
Many have noted that technology opens up new avenues for religious leaders to engage their congregations. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, has urged priests to take full advantage of blogs and media engagement tools which “can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.” The pope sent out his first twitter message in June, announcing an updated Vatican news site. Evangelical pastor and theologian John Piper has written “ Six Reasons Pastors Should Blog.” The pastor of Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll, hosts text message question-and-answer sessions at his church in Seattle, Wash. Some churches even offer a staff position called “pastor of technology.”
The Bible app produced by LifeChurch.tv has been downloaded 18 million times, and a hugely popular Facebook page called Jesus Daily shows that Jesus has a dedicated fan base.
Is Google the 21st century Gutenberg, bringing spiritual resources to a global audience for free?