Discover the Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Explore the Great Isaiah Scroll and learn how it's still revealing secrets to this day

By Google Arts & Culture

The Great Isaiah Scroll MS A (1QIsa) (1st century BCE) by UnknownThe Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1946, buried deep within the Qumran Caves, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the second-oldest surviving manuscript of the Hebrew Bible and other sacred texts. The oldest of the scrolls may have been created around 2400 years ago.

This is the Great Isaiah Scroll, the longest and most well-preserved of all the Dead Sea fragments. 

The Isaiah Scroll alone is nearly 24 feet long, and includes the complete Book of Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible.

For many decades, it was thought that the scroll was the work of a single devoted scribe. But in 2021, the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls revealed another secret (with the help of cutting-edge technology).

AI analysis of the Hebrew letter 'aleph' (א), which appears over 5000 times in the Isaiah Scroll, revealed subtle differences in the ancient ink traces of two different, repeated forms of the glyph. This suggests there were two scribes, working closely with one another.

You can imagine the movements of the two scribes' wrists, copying each other exactly, but giving away their individual identities with tiny, muscular differences. Researchers suggest the closeness of the two styles of handwriting may even suggest a family relationship...

...perhaps even a father teaching his craft to his son.

Pottery lidded jar of the sort used to store the Dead Sea Scrolls (-4/68)British Museum

The Dead Sea texts were discovered, in jars such as this one which was found nearby, when Bedouin shepherds chased a runaway goat into the caves. They include all the books of the Old Testament Bible (except those known as Esther and the Apocrypha). 

They've proved invaluable in studying the history of Judeo-Christianity, and, now, Artificial Intelligence has helped us discover a little more about the real people behind them.

Click, drag, and use the arrows to explore the Great Isaiah Scroll, housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum. Or click here to zoom into the scroll and study it yourself.

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