Ge 6:14; Ex 2:3, translated "slime" in Ge 11:3; 14:10, is properly bitumen or asphaltum, anciently found on and near the Dead Sea, which was hence called the lake Asphaltities. It abounded in the vicinity of Babylon, and was used as fuel. The ark of Noah and that of Moses were rendered waterproof by it; and the bricks of the tower of Babel were cemented with it. It is commonly found in a solid state; but being liquefied by heat, and used as a mortar, it becomes as hard as the rocks it cements together. It is still thrown up by earthquakes from the bottom of the Dead Sea, and floats to the shore sometimes in large masses. See SEA 3.
(Ge 6:14), asphalt or bitumen in its soft state, called "slime" (Ge 11:3; 14:10; Ex 2:3), found in pits near the Dead Sea (q.v.). It was used for various purposes, as the coating of the outside of vessels and in building. Allusion is made in Isa 34:9 to its inflammable character. (See Slime.)
zepheth (from a root "to flow" ) in its liquid state; chemar (from a root "to bubble up") solid; kopher, as used in covering (from a root "to cover") woodwork, to make it watertight (Ge 6:14); asphalt, bitumen. The town Is (Hit), eight days' journey from Babylon, supplied from springs the bitumen which was used as mortar in building that city (Ge 11:3; Herodotus i. 179). Athenaeus (2:5) mentions a lake near Babylon abounding in bitumen which floated on the water. Bitumen pits are still found at Hit on the western bank of Euphrates; so tenacious is it "that it is almost impossible to detach one brick from another" (Layard, Nin. and Bab.). Asphalt is opaque, and inflammable, bubbling up liquid from subterranean fountains and hardening by exposure. Pitch or bitumen made the papyrus ark of Moses watertight (Ex 2:3).
The Dead Sea was called Lacus Asphaltites from the asphalt springs at its southern end, the vale of Siddim (Ge 14:3,10). The Salt Sea after Sodom's destruction spread over this vale. At the shallow southern end of the sea are the chief deposits of salt and bitumen. The asphalt crust on the bed of the lake is cast out by earthquakes and other causes (Josephus B. J. 4:8, section 4; Tac. Hist. 5:6). The inflammable pitch (Isa 34:9) on all the plain, ignited by the lightning, caused "the smoke of the country to go up as the smoke of a furnace" (Ge 19:28). Kopher means also a "ransom" or "atonement" (Job 33:21 margin). As the pitch covered the ark from the overwhelming waters, so the atonement covers the believer in Jesus from the blood of God's wrath. Kippurim, "atonement" (Ex 29:36; Le 23:27), and kapporeth, "mercy-seat," the covering of the ark and the law inside it (Ro 3:25; 10:4), are related.
A kind of bitumen. Noah covered the ark with pitch inside and outside. Ge 6:14. The ark in which the infant Moses was put, was likewise thus rendered waterproof. Ex 2:3. Among God's judgements on the earth the streams are turned into pitch, and the land into burning pitch. Isa 34:9. Different words are employed in the Hebrew of Ge 6:14 from the other passages. Noah was to pitch (kaphar, 'to cover,' often translated 'atonement') the ark with pitch (kopher, translated 'ransom') as if to teach that Noah and those with him could be saved only by being covered with a ransom, and which would introduce them to a new earth.
The three Hebrew words so translated all represent the same object, viz., mineral pitch or asphalt in its different aspects. Asphalt is an opaque, inflammable substance which bubbles up from subterranean fountains in a liquid state, and hardens by exposure to the air, but readily melts under the influence of heat. In the latter state it is very tenacious, and was used as a cement in lieu of mortar in Babylonia (
as well as for coating the outside of vessels,
and particularly for making the papyrus boats of the Egyptians water-tight.
The jews and Arabians got their supply in large quantities from the Dead Sea, which hence received its classical name of Lacus Asphaltites.
PITCH, ???, Ex 2:3; Isa 34:9; Septuagint ????????; a fat, combustible, oily matter, sometimes called asphaltos, from the lake Asphaltites, or Dead Sea, in Judea, on the surface of which it rises in the nature of liquid pitch, and floats like other oleaginous bodies; but is condensed by degrees, through the heat of the sun, and grows dry and hard. The word which our translators have rendered pitch in Ge 6:14, and ???, slime, Ge 11:3; 14:10, is generally supposed to be bitumen. In the first of these places it is mentioned as used for smearing the ark, and closing its interstices. It was peculiarly adapted to this purpose. Being at first soft, viscous, and pliable, it might be thrust into every chasm and crevice with the greatest ease; but would soon acquire a tenacity and hardness superior to those of our pitch. A coat of it spread over both the inside and outside of the ark would make it perfectly water proof. The longer it was kept in the water, the harder and stronger it would grow. The Arabs still use it for careening their vessels. In the second passage it is described as applied for cement in building the tower of Babel. It was much used in ancient buildings in that region; and, in the ruins of Babylon, large masses of brick work cemented with it are discovered. It is known that the plain of Shinar did abound with it, both in its liquid and solid state; that there was there a cave and fountain which was continually casting it out; and that the famous tower and no less famous walls of Babylon were built by this kind of cement, is confirmed by the testimony of several ancient authors. The slime pits of Siddim, Ge 14:10, were holes out of which issued this liquid bitumen, or naphtha. Bitumen was formerly much used by the Egyptians and Jews in the embalming the bodies of their dead.