For nearly 2,000 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls stayed hidden from view in ceramic
vessels deep in the Qumran caves before being brought out to the public for
display at the Israel Museum in 1965.
Ten days ago, Google and the Israel
Museum launched a website where they uploaded high-resolution photographs of
five scrolls. Since then, almost 1.2 million people have viewed the scrolls,
coming from 213 countries, including one day when the site attracted 400,000
“We didn’t know it would be so popular; we’ve had so many
visitors in such a short period of time,” said Dr. Susan Hazan, who, as the
curator of new media at the Israel Museum, is overseeing the
“Within the first year of the inaugural of the renewed museum,
we had 1 million visitors. I’m going to be very curious to see how long it takes
us to have 1 million individual users go into our site now to embrace the Dead
Sea Scrolls through this technology, though I have a feeling it’ll be a bit
shorter than one year,” said Israel Museum director James Snyder at the
website’s launch 10 days ago.
The site reached its 1 millionth visitor in
less than five days. An average of 20,000-30,000 visitors now access the site
each day, a tempo Hazan believes will remain steady.
Internet users from
all of Israel’s Arab neighbors have visited the site
(http://dss.collections.imj.org.il), except for Syria. The website was most
popular in the United States (nearly 500,000 visitors), followed by Japan
(63,000 visitors) and Canada (55,000 visitors). Visitors speaking 236 different
languages have viewed the scrolls, which is connected to the Google Translate
The partnership between Google and the Dead Sea Scrolls began just
six months ago, as part of Google’s ongoing projects with museums around the
world. Five of the eight Dead Sea Scrolls were photographed column by column in
a period of just six days, and then the photos were stitched together to make a
continuous scroll in a process that took several weeks. The high-resolution
photographs can be examined in greater detail than with just the human
At the website’s launch, Yossi Matias, the managing director of
Google Israel’s R&D center, cited Google’s goal of breaking down barriers
between information and people for their interest in facilitating online access
to historical documents.
“I can’t think of more important content for
users to have access to,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Hazan said that the
biggest referrals were from Facebook and Twitter, though Facebook users tended
to spend significantly less time on the sites than those who were referred by
other sites. The Post referred more than 3,000 visitors.
The five Dead
Sea Scrolls that have been digitized thus far include the Great Isaiah Scroll,
the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll,
and the War Scroll. The Great Isaiah Scroll, the most popular scroll, is
searchable by verse in English. A Hebrew version is also under
Snyder has called the scrolls “Israel’s Mona Lisa.”