To Mark the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is to provide online access to the full collection of 900 scrolls.
A pilot project currently is under way to photograph and image the thousands of scroll fragments in colour and infra-red by using cutting-edge technologies.
The scroll fragments have been photographed in their entirety only once, in the 1950s. Eight of the scrolls are exhibited at Jerusalem's Shrine of the Book and the rest are deposited at the IAA, where there are constant requests to study them. Pnina Shor, head of the Department for the Treatment and Conservation of Artifacts at the IAA, told the JC that the project's first stage - photographing the scrolls - will take between a year and a year-and-a-half, provided that the required multi-million-shekel budget could be raised.
However, "we might start to present samples online, even prior to the completion of the photographing phase, because of the great demand."
The second stage would be to combine the photographed material in a comprehensive database, which might take another five years.
The team of experts recruited to take part in the project include a former Nasa chief scientist.
The scrolls were first found by Bedouin shepherds some 2,000 years after being buried in the caves near the Dead Sea.
They are the most ancient Hebrew record of the Old Testament found to date.
Based on radiocarbon dating and paleographic analysis, the earliest of the scrolls can be dated to the end of the third century BCE.
But the overwhelming majority of the manuscripts are dated to the first century BCE to first century CE, covering the period of the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties.