Over the last three decades, the USC project has produced thousands of crisp images of inscriptions and other artifacts from biblical Israel and other Near Eastern locales, making the pictures available to the public in an online archive, InscriptiFact.com.
Among the items shown in the online collection is a Dead Sea Scroll dating to the 1st century that describes finding a buried treasure in modern-day Israel. (It's impossible to pinpoint the precise location because landmarks mentioned in the text no longer exist.)
The database also features an Aramaic inscription on a sheet of papyrus written by a group of Jews in Egypt five centuries before the birth of Jesus. In the text -- whose image is so sharp it reveals the grain of the papyrus -- Jews petition distant Persian rulers for permission to rebuild a temple.
"A picture is worth a thousand words," said Bruce Zuckerman, a USC religion professor who founded the research project in the early 1980s. "Sometimes big issues in history can turn on the interpretation of a single letter."
Zuckerman's foray into the world of photography and ancient texts grew out of his frustration over the poor quality of archaeological photos.
Museum photographers, he recalled, often missed important details because they lacked scholarly expertise.
Biblical researchers, meanwhile, typically did not have enough experience with photography to produce compelling images.
Zuckerman wanted to bridge the gap. He turned to his older brother, Ken, a self-taught photographer and former Caltech engineer.
Together, the Zuckermans began taking -- and distributing -- pictures of ancient inscriptions.
Isn't it cool how whenever somebody mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls, they have to bring up the Copper Scroll?! At least this article admits it's impossible to actually find the "treasure." (Somebody should tell this guy. Oh wait, Bob Cargill did . . . repeatedly. I just realized that I'd failed to subcribe to Bob's blog. "For shame!" as Jim would say. Sorry about that. I like Bob's stuff. Maybe I'll get a chance to meet him at SBL.)