Part of a Samaritan scroll

Sacred Samaritan Texts

Building community and expanding access


brass scroll case

Detail of a brass scroll case inlaid with sliver dating from the 16th century. Photo by G.L. Kohuth.

From book to Web, some of the world’s rarest religious documents will soon be available to anyone, anywhere, thanks to work provided by a Michigan State University research center.

Using a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, MSU’s Writing in Digital Environments research center will digitize 20 pages from two of MSU Libraries’ three Israelite Samaritan Pentateuchs, written more than 500 years ago in Egypt and Syria.

A Pentateuch, known to Jews as the Torah or the first of three sections of the Hebrew Bible, is also known to Christians as the first five books of the Old Testament.

“Our project aims to provide an online space where two distinct groups of stakeholders in the Samaritan collection – biblical scholars and members of the Samaritan community – can both access and make use of these texts,” said William Hart-Davidson, co-director of the research center. “A digital archive has the potential to simultaneously preserve artifacts for posterity while broadening access.”

And the archive will build community, much like Facebook or MySpace.

“Beyond access, the system also makes use of the latest in social networking technology,” said WIDE research assistant Jim Ridolfo, who conceived the project. “It will allow users to collaborate with one another on translation or vowelization projects, history or study of the Samaritan language.”

Hart-Davidson and Ridolfo will be joined by Michael McLeod, head software developer for WIDE.

A prototype of the online archive should be complete by May. If the pilot is successful, WIDE hopes to receive additional funds to fully digitize the three Pentateuch.

“We hope to demonstrate a new and exciting way to make rare and unique archives available to students, the public, scholars and community stakeholders,” Ridolfo said.

The Pentateuchs are part of MSU’s Chamberlain Warren Collection, which is considered the largest collection of Samaritan material in the Western Hemisphere. The collection is housed in MSU Libraries Special Collections.


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