Considered the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth century relating to the biblical world, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been digitized and made available online for the first time.
A global audience now has free access to the ancient texts at the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website.
This impressive project pictures an effective blend of collaborative partnership, 21st century digital technology and clear vision.
Israel’s national museum and the international web giant Google created the forward-thinking partnership to launch the project.
Google’s technology allows surfers to search the scrolls for words, phrases or verses and translate them into English.
For example, users can zoom in and out of the Great Isaiah Scroll, containing the oldest known written text of the Bible. Clicking on the Hebrew text pulls up English translations of every verse.
This type of interactive research with the text was impossible just a few years ago. Google is also working with Israel to make the first comprehensive and searchable database of the broader collection of scrolls.
The grand vision of this venture is to get engagement between people (today) and the people who wrote the scrolls over 2,000 years ago. And to offer the opportunity for people to really begin to understand what these amazing documents are all about.
For the museum, it is “to get the content to the widest possible audience world wide; to make the concepts in important texts more accessible.” They also want to attract more visitors to the museum.
For Google, it is “to make all existing knowledge in historical archives and collections available to all.”
Application to churches
What this project should make clear to every Christian church is that technology has improved communication of the Bible and access to its message of salvation.
It should inspire pastors and churches to take a closer look at how they are using technology.
Three questions to start:
- Has the church embraced digital technologies as tools to help get more things done, i.e. operating a church website, providing podcasts, maintaining a page on social network sites, or live streaming weekly services?
- Has the church embraced technology and the Internet as tools for supporting personal engagement with others, i.e. evangelism, discipleship, church involvement?
- Does the church have the measures and feedback loops in place to tell how it is doing with either approach?
Perfecting the use of technology tools for productivity is a good beginning for being the Church online, but it should not be the end.
The keyword from the Dead Sea Scrolls online project for pastors and churches to keep in mind is “engagement.”
If pastors are preaching the word online, using technology to foster engagement is the opportunity they have never head before.
Does your church have an overall technology plan for “engagement,” is another key question. That means helping the congregation engage the lost with Christ, for salvation. With Bible teachers, for rooting and grounding in the word. With the church or partner churches, for love and fulfilling God’s plans and purposes in their lives.
If your church is primarily using technology for productivity, then to do these other things will require revisiting your vision for what it means to be the Church in the digital world.
The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll. ‘Today this scripture is filled in your hearing,’ Jesus said.
Seeing the ancient Jewish library online can inspire you to view communication technologies differently, as a pathway for your people to engage the world for Christ. When you see the Internet as a mission field and not just a tool, it can change your priorities, your strategies, your use of resources, and even your prayers.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls website. Read Isaiah 61:1,2, which Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Nazareth. It was a goosebump moment for me.
What struck me clearly as I read the divinely inspired text, is the opportunity for churches online to systematically engage nonbelievers with the Bible, the very word of God, its objectives truths, free from errors and contradictions. The amazing privilege to interact with the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls online brings that home.
More importantly, it shows how churches can leverage technology for helping its people personally engage the unreached with the person the Dead Sea Scrolls are all about: Jesus Christ.
Perhaps some of these questions and thoughts will put new life in the way we all see and use technology for preaching the Good News online.
(Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)