By Camille Tanner
A BYU interactive database that gives the public access to the Dead Seas Scrolls has recently earned accolades from a leading academic library magazine.
Choice magazine awarded BYU”s Dead Sea Scrolls electronic library the Outstanding Academic Title award. The database, produced in 2006 by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, contains searchable texts of all the non-biblical scrolls that have been published. Each Hebrew word in the text comes with a grammatical tag explaining which part of speech it is along with its English equivalent.
“It is the only database with the complete texts and images of the Scrolls,” said Kristian Heal, director of the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts.
Heal explained that most of the scrolls are damaged and scholars try to reconstruct them and fill in the gaps. In the electronic database, the text has been formatted to show where the missing pieces are, and is accompanied by the exact images from the actual scrolls, making the process of reconstruction a little easier.
The project took an enormous collaborative effort, Heal said. The Neal A. Maxwell Institute has been working on the project for the last 10 years, and hundreds of other scholars have been researching and translating the texts for more than 50 years.
“The thing we are most pleased about,” Heal said, “is that students have access to it, and all the work and research we”ve invested has come back to benefit those on campus.”
The Outstanding Academic Titles are awarded based on six different criteria including academic excellence and value to undergraduate students.
David Nielsen, a senior majoring in ancient Near Eastern studies, said the database is easy to use and has features that allow for quick access to the material and in-depth study.
“I”ve come to understand the utter immensity of the scrolls in a way that I couldn”t have just reading about them.” Neilsen said. “There are over 1,000 fragments that make up more than 900 different documents.”
Donald W. Parry, a member of BYU”s Near Eastern Languages Department and an expert in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, will edit a new version of the database, which will include biblical manuscripts discovered in Qumran.
The Maxwell Institute is distributing copies of the database to BYU students and faculty at little or no cost.
“Normally it would cost thousands to travel to Israel or anywhere else they are held to study them,” Nielsen said. “The importance of the BYU database is put into perspective when we realize that the texts of the scrolls were not made public until 1991. Thanks to our professors and other support staff now both the scholar and layman and anyone in between can access the most important cache of Hebrew texts ever discovered.”