The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, in collaboration with other institutions, has developed a computerized library of the Dead Sea Scrolls called the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library. It includes eight hundred photographs of nearly all of the nonbiblical scrolls, the texts of those scrolls written in Hebrew characters, an English translation, a catalog of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and related materials such as the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). This state-of-the-art research tool on CD-ROM enables scholars, researchers, students, and other interested persons to gain access to and study the scrolls on their personal computers. Among other features, the sophisticated software links the scroll fragments and images with their corresponding texts, and the user can display, enlarge, and scroll this material in separate windows, as well as conduct word or phrase searches.
Scott R. Woodward, a geneticist in the Department of Microbiology at Brigham Young University, is assisting the international team of translators by using DNA analysis to determine which parchment scroll fragments came from the same animal and therefore belong together.
Woodward, with the cooperation of Gila Kahila, Patricia Smith, Charles Greenblatt, Joe Zias, and Magen Broshi, began DNA testing on the scrolls and fragments there during the summer of 1994. He explains how DNA analysis works:
Because [the Dead Sea Scrolls] parchments were produced from animal skins it is possible that they would contain remnant DNA molecules. Within the last decade new techniques in molecular biology have been developed that have made it possible to recover DNA from ancient sources. The molecular analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA) from the Judean desert parchment fragments would enable us to establish a genetic signature unique for each manuscript. The precision of the DNA analysis will allow us to identify at least three levels of hierarchy: the species, population, and individual animal from which the parchment was produced.34
DNA analysis has already identified the animal species from which the leather used to create the scrolls was produced: at least two parchments were created from either an ibex or gazelle; other parchments came from wild or domestic goats. DNA analysis will also assist scholars in determining whether the library of scrolls came from the immediate region of Qumran and the Dead Sea or from other areas of ancient Palestine.
34. Scott R. Woodward et al., "Analysis of Parchment Fragments from the Judean Desert Using DNA Techniques," in Current Research and Technological Developments on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Conference on the Texts from the Judean Desert, Jerusalem, 30 April 1995, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996), 216.