Computers & Texts No. 11
Table of Contents
March 1996

Review:The Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed

Michael Fraser

At the time of writing there are reports circulating on the Ioudaios-l email forum concerning the discovery of clay shards, inscribed with Hebrew, near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Readers will probably already be familiar with recent books which discuss the so-called conspiracy theories surrounding the (non) publication of the scrolls, as well as new translations of the scrolls which include recently released fragments (Geza Vermes' revised and extended translation was published last year). The Dead Sea Scrolls and the history of their discovery and interpretation have always held an attraction for the popular market. The very idea of a secretive sect living in the desert producing documents embedded with codes, around the same time as the gradual rise of primitive Christianity (perhaps sharing similar coded references), draws interest from the lovers of conspiracy, intrigue, and ancient mystique. On the Internet The Library of Congress exhibition on the discoveries at Qumran was one of the first serious (and popular) uses of the World Wide Web (

The CD-ROM, Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed, cuts a middle route between the extremes of conspiracy and difficult, dry academic scholarship. Scholars seeking a CD-ROM containing images of all the scrolls and fragments, transcriptions, and translations will be disappointed. Readers looking for the first century equivalent of a popular study of Kennedy's assassination will also, thankfully, be largely disappointed. The credits make impressive reading; there are video and text contributions from Geza Vermes, Philip Davies, Stefan Reif, and others; and images digitised from John Allegro's collection and from the Yadin estate. Original text has been contributed by Ronny Reich (Israel Antiquities Authority and an editor of The Architecture of Ancient Israel ,1992).

Revealing the scrolls

The manual advises that, 'The software is engaging and a bit challenging. Taking its cue from archaeology itself, the best results will come if you dig deeper into the program'. Indeed, but, one might ask, but do we really need the skills of an archaeologist to navigate and locate valuable artefacts within the CD-ROM? As with an archaeological investigation there is no overall map to guide one through the resources on the CD-ROM. The glossy exterior (including the rather ominous title music which suggests Indiana Jones rather than a Bedouin shepherd boy) is akin to the flora and fauna which gives pleasure to everyone except the archaeologist who has to dig through this agreeable exterior into the earth beneath. Thus, Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed can be a voyage of discovery. The user is encouraged to point and click (sometimes once, sometimes twice) uncovering perhaps a video clip, a window of text, or a further layer of icon options. If, however, one does not want to embark on an archaeological investigation then the interface can prove rather frustrating. Apart from a lack of an overall map or table of contents, there is no search function, and neither the set-up options nor the bookmarks are saved between sessions.

However, exploration can prove fruitful and many valuable artefacts are waiting to be unearthed. The opening screen displays five 'sites' to survey: 'History', 'Location', 'The Discovery', 'Scroll Work', 'The Debates', and 'The Scrolls'. Whilst uncovering each of these layers it is advisable to keep the 'links wall' open. The 'links wall' is a series of further links to relevant multimedia material and the list is specific to each particular section. Another series of hyperlinks is provided by the 'connections' window which provides links to appropriate material from other sections. The connections change, however, depending on the current section and also depending on where else one has been in the resource (the range of connections can be set using the 'memory' option). These further ways of accessing information on the CD-ROM are particularly necessary given that many of the menu icons lead only to video-clips and one might be led to believe that, for example, one video clip is all the CD-ROM has to say about Philo.


Under 'History' lies information on the time, people, languages, and sources of the scrolls. Under 'Location' however is one of the rare artefacts which one can only really find in a format of this sort. Under the section on Khirbet Qumran are three dimensional reconstructions and 'fly-through' of the Qumran buildings. There is a choice of five perspectives from which the reconstructions might be viewed and the animation is exceptionally fine.

[Screen Shot]

Animated reconstruction of Khirbet Qumran

As one might expect, given that this CD-ROM was published under licence from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the 'Debates' section has its own interesting perspectives. A video-clip espousing the scholarly view point presents Murphy O'Connor and his opinion concerning the accusations that the Vatican deliberately sought to conceal the 'real' contents of the scrolls, 'That is an absolutely ridiculous theory. The Vatican isn't interested in controlling historical research, first century or any other century, dogmatic theology, yes, but not, say, the background of the New Testament' (except, one is tempted to suppose, where historical research might impinge on dogmatic theology). The 'links wall' in this section would appear to contain more information than for many of the other sections. Scholars such as Geza Vermes and Philip Davies add their support to the words of Murphy O'Connor in video but there are also (short) offerings from Michael Wise and Robert Eisenman who closely identified the Qumran community with the first few years of Christianity (and campaigned for the Israel Antiquities Authority to release all the unpublished fragments of the scrolls). This section does provide a general yet helpful overview of the contemporary issues surrounding the scrolls (further examples can also be found in the section on the discoveries including the Shapiro affair and the purchase of the Temple scroll by Yigal Yadin).

Digitised scrolls

[Screen Shot]

Magnification and translation of a digitised scroll

Finally, the scrolls themselves are divided into biblical, sectarian, and apocryphal (Genesis Apocryphon and Ben Sira) and consist of images of the scrolls together with translations (mostly taken from Vermes or Yadin). The presentation of the digitised scrolls and translations in this form, whilst welcome, does not make for easy navigation. There are 54 columns of Isaiah on the CD-ROM but it is impossible to jump to a particular section except by moving from one image to another or by scrolling through the translation. It is difficult to get a sense of how much of any one scroll is available on the CD-ROM; a copy of the printed Vermes at hand would be a good supplement. The digitised scrolls are of good quality and the majority of images are accompanied by a close-up of a section of the scroll with the appropriate translation (good enough for a transcription exercise).


The Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed has already been used as a resource for teaching by Professor Robert Kraft (University of Pennsylvania). He would also appear to have concluded that the interface is more troublesome than it should be for accessing the contents. He provides his students with a different set of tools (Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word, etc.) and encourages them to dig for the raw data directly from the CD-ROM itself (using, for example, File Manager in Windows). To this end he has also compiled a short index to the non-descript filenames on the CD-ROM (see gopher://

The Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed is an impressive and reasonably balanced presentation of the scrolls and their Umwelt. It demonstrates admirably how multimedia can usefully illuminate the text and would provide a suitable introductory resource for first year undergraduate teaching. Numerous multimedia CD-ROMs are lacking in quality of content but provide an intelligent interface. The Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed has content but unfortunately rather than revealing it, the software interface has a tendency to hide it, which is somewhat unfortunate given the title of the production.

Logos Research Systems has a World Wide Web site at

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 11 (1996), 22. Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

HTML Author: Michael Fraser (
Document Created: 25 April 1996
Document Modified: 27 April 1996

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