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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This week, an ancient and largely inaccessible treasure was opened to everyone. Anyone with access to a computer can look at the oldest Bible we know about. Thousands of high-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls were posted online in a partnership between Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority. The online archive includes portions of the Ten Commandments and the Book of Genesis dating from the 1st century B.C. Using imaging techniques developed by NASA, you can zoom in close enough to examine the texture of the skins made into parchment. Risa Levitt Kohn is a professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University. She joins us. Welcome.

RISA LEVITT KOHN: Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, as a scholar, what is exciting to you about this?

KOHN: This really gives us access to actually see the fragments themselves. So, most of these fragments are not on display anywhere. In fact, even if you were to go to Israel to the Shrine of the Book, you would not be able to see the 5,000 pieces that are online here.

WERTHEIMER: Could we look at one of the images together? You've sent me a link. What are we looking at?

KOHN: You're actually looking at several columns from the Biblical book of Psalms. So, why don't you go all the way over to the right-hand side, because, of course, if you're reading Hebrew, you're moving from right to left.

WERTHEIMER: OK.

KOHN: So, you want to start with the first column.

WERTHEIMER: All right.

KOHN: And if you zoom in close, towards the bottom of that column on the left-hand side, you should notice that there's a letter that's sort of written on top of the line.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, yes. I do. I see it.

KOHN: So, that's a great example of a scribe who obviously wrote this word and then at some point realized that they forgot a letter. And so, parchment being very, very valuable, you know, you couldn't just kind of scrap it and throw it in the trash. In the absence of a delete button, I guess you could say, they had to go and write the additional letter that was missing. And the only place they could actually do that is on top of the line.

WERTHEIMER: You have curated several Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions over the years. Why do you think that people are so fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls?

KOHN: I find people, especially in North America, are very interested in the Bible. And at least when it comes to Judaism and the early Biblical period, this is pretty much all we have in terms of ancient Hebrew text. This is really it. And I think that's incredibly powerful.

WERTHEIMER: Risa Levitt Kohn is a professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University. Professor Kohn, thank you very much.

KOHN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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