Reference: Sea, The Salt
Now the "Dead Sea". Midway in the great valley stretching from Mount Hermon to the gulf of Akabah (Ge 14:3; Nu 34:3,12). "The sea of the plain" (Arabah): De 3:17; 4:49; Jos 3:16. "The East Sea" (Eze 47:8,10-11; Joe 2:20). "The former sea," in opposition to "the hinder sea," i.e. the Mediterranean, because in taking the four points of the sky the spectator faced the E., having it in front of him and the W. behind him (Zec 14:8). It is 40 geographical miles long by nine to nine and three quarters broad. Its surface is 1,292 ft. (or, according to Lynch, 1,316; it varies greatly at different seasons) below the Mediterranean level. Its greatest depth in the northern part is 1,308 ft. Its intense saltness, specific gravity, and buoyancy, are well known. The saltness is due to masses of fossil salt in a mountain on its S.W. border, and to rapid evaporation of the fresh water which flows into it. Neither animals nor vegetables live in it.
Its shores are encrusted with salt. Earthquakes (as in 1834 and 1837) throw up large quantities of bitumen, detached from the bottom, upon the southern shore. The great depth of the northern division does not extend to the southern. It was observed by Mr. Tyrwhitt Drake that the bottom is still subsiding. At the southern end the fords between Lisan and the western shore are now impassable, though but three feet deep some years ago; again the causeway between the Rijm el Bahr and the mainland has been submerged for 12 years, though previously often dry. Dr. Tristram's theory seems probable, that the valley was formed by a depression of the strata subsequent to the English chalk period. The area was filled by a chain of large lakes reaching to the sea. The depression continuing, the heat and the consequent evaporation increased, until there remained only the present three lakes, Merom, Galilee, and the Dead Sea which depends on evaporation alone for maintaining its level. Conder has traced the old shore lines of the ancient great lakes.
The southern bay is shallow, and the shores marshy. It occupies probably what was originally the plain of Jordan, the vale of Siddim. Possibly the Jordan originally flowed on through the Arabah into the gulf of Akabah. The southern part of the sea, abounding in salt, bitumen, sulphur, and nitre, was probably formed at a recent date, and answers to the description of the valley of Siddim, "full of slime pits" (Ge 14:10), and to the destruction of Sodom; etc., by fire and brimstone, and to the turning of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. Scripture, however, nowhere says that Sodom, etc., were immersed in the sea, but that they were overthrown by fire from heaven (De 29:23; Jer 49:18; 50:40; Zep 2:9; 2Pe 2:6). Josephus speaks of Sodomitis as burnt up, and as adjoining the lake Asphaltitis.
Ancient testimony, the recent formation of the sea, its bituminous, saline, volcanic aspect, the traditional names (Usdum), and the traditional site of Zoar (called by Josephus Zoar of Arabia), the hill of salt traditionally made Lot's wife, all favor the southern site for Sodom, etc. Ge 13:10 is not to be pressed further than to mean that Lot from between Bethel and Ai saw enough to arrive at the conclusion that the Ciccar ("circuit") of the Jordan, i.e. the whole valley N. and S., was fertile and well watered. The lake, comparatively small before, after Sodom's destruction enlarged itself so as to cover the low valley land. It forms an oval divided into two parts by a peninsula projecting from its eastern side, beyond which the southern lagoon, for ten miles (one fourth of the whole length) is shallow, varying from 12 feet in the middle to three at the edges. The northern bottom lies half a mile below the level of the coast at Jaffa, and more than two thirds of a mile below that of Jerusalem! the deepest depression on the earth.
The surrounding region is in many places fertile, and teeming with animal and vegetable life; but every living thing carried by the Jordan into the waters dies. Their specific gravity exceeds that of any other water. A gallon weighs over 12 1/2 lbs. instead of 10, the weight of distilled water. Dr. Robinson could never swim before, but here could sit, stand, lie, or swim. It holds in solution ingredients six times those contained in common salt water: one third common salt (chloride of sodium) and two thirds chloride of magnesium. Of the rest chloride of calcium is the chief ingredient, besides silica, bitumen, and bromine in small quantities. The greasy look attributed to it exists in imagination only; it is transparent and generally clear. The lime and earthy salts, with the perspiration of the skin, make the water feel greasy. Sulphur springs abound around, and sulphur lies over the plains in layers or in fragments. Only in the district near wady Zurka have igneous rocks been found; the lake basin's formation is mainly due to the action of water.
Before the close of the eocene period the sea flowed the whole length of the Ghor and Arabah connecting them with the Red Sea; it is in fact a pool left by the retreating ocean. It receives the Jordan at the northern end; Zurka Main on its E. side (anciently Callirrhoe, and perhaps the older En Eglaim), also the Mojib (Arnon) and the Beni Hemad; on the S. the Kurahy or el Ahsy; on the W. Ain Jidy. Besides it receives torrents, full in winter though dried up in summer. The absence of any outlet is one of its peculiarities; evaporation through the great heat carries off the supply from without. Owing to this evaporation a haze broods over the water. The mountain walls on either side run nearly parallel; the eastern mountains are higher and more broken by ravines than the western. In color they are brown or red, whereas the western are greyish.
On the western side, opposite the peninsula separating the northern lake from the southern lagoon, stood Masada, now the rock Sebbeh, 1,300 ft. above the lake, where the Jewish zealots made their last stand against Sylva the Roman general, and slew themselves to escape capture, A.D. 71. On the western shore three parallel beaches exist, the highest about 50 ft. above the water. The Khasm Usdum or salt mount, a ridge five miles long, is at the S.W. corner. Its northern part runs S.S.E., then it bends to the right, then runs S.W.; 300 or 400 ft. high, of crystallized rock salt, capped with chalky limestone. The lower part, the salt rock, rises abruptly from the plain at its eastern base. It was probably the bed of an ancient salt lake, upheaved during the convulsion which depressed the bed of the present lake. Between the northern end of Usdum and the lake is a mound covered with stones, Um Zoghal, 60 ft. in diameter, 10 or 12 high, artificial; made by some a relic of Sodom or of Zoar.
The N. and S. ends are not enclosed by highlands as the E. and W. are; the Arabah between the S. of the Dead Sea and the Red Sea is higher than the Ghor or Jordan valley; the valley suddenly rises 100 ft. at the S. of the Dead Sea, and continues rising until it reaches 1,800 ft. above the Dead Sea, or 500 above the ocean, at a point 35 miles N. of Akabah. The peninsula separating the northern lake from the southern lagoon is called Ghor el Mezraah or el Lisan (the Tongue: so Jos 15:2 margin); it is ten geographical miles long by five or six broad. "The Tongue," Lisan, is probably restricted to the southern side of the peninsula. The peninsula is formed of post-tertiary aqueous deposits, consisting of friable carbonate of lime, mixed with sandy marl and sulphate of lime ("gypsum"); these were deposited when the water of the lake stood much higher than now, possibly by the action of a river from the quarter of wady Kerak forming an alluvial bank at its embouchure. It is now undergoing a process of disintegration.
The torrents of the Jeib, Ghurundel, and Fikreh on the S., El Ahsy, Numeirah, Humeir, and Ed Draah on the E., Zuweirah, Mubughghik, and Senin on the W., draining about 6,000 square miles, bring down the silt and shingle which have filled up the southern part of the estuary. The Stylophora pistillata coral in the Paris Cabinet d'Hist. Naturelle was brought from the lake in 1837. Polygasters, polythalamiae, and phytolitharia
Sea, The Salt,
the usual and perhaps the most ancient name for the remarkable lake which to the western world is now generally known as the Dead Sea. I. Names.-- (1) The Salt Sea,
(2) Sea of the Arabah (Authorized Version "sea of the plain," which is found in
); (3) The East Sea
(4) The sea,
(5) Sodomitish Sea, 2 Esdras; (6) Sea of Salt and Sea of Sodom, in the Talmud; (7) The Asphaltic Lake, in Josephus; (8) The name "Dead Sea" appears to have been first used in Greek by Pausanias and Galen, and in Latin (mare mortuum) by Justin xxxvi. 3,6, or rather by the older historian Trogus Pompeius (cir. B.C. 10), whose work he epitomized. (9) The Arabic name is Bahr Lut, the "Sea of Lot." II Description. --The so-called Dead Sea is the final receptacle of the river Jordan, the lowest and largest of the three lakes which interrupt the rush of its downward course. It is the deepest portion of that very deep natural fissure which runs like a furrow from the Gulf of Akabah to the range of Lebanon, and from the range of Lebanon to the extreme north of Syria. Viewed on the map, the lake is of an oblong form, of tolerably regular contour, interrupted only by a large and long peninsula which projects from the eastern shore near its southern end, and virtually divides the expanse of the water into two portions, connected by a long, narrow and somewhat devious passage. Its surface is from north to south as nearly as possible 40 geographical or 46 English miles long. Its greatest width is about 9 geographical or 10 1/2 English miles. Its area is about 250 geographical square miles. At its northern end the lake receives the stream of the Jordan; on its eastern side the Zurka Ma'in (the ancient Callirrhoe, and possibly the more ancient en-Eglaim), the Mojib (the Arnon of the Bible), and the Beni-Hemad; on the south the Kurahy or el-Ahsy; and on the west that of Ain Jidy. The depression of its surface, and the depth which it attains below that surface, combined with the absence of any outlet, render it one of the most remarkable spots on the globe. The surface of the lake in May, 1848, was 1316.7 feet below the level of the Mediterranean at Jaffa. Its depth, at about one third of its length from the north end, is 1308 feet. The water of the lake is not less remarkable than its other features. Its most obvious peculiarity is its great weight. Its specific gravity has been found to be as much as 12.28; that is to say, a gallon of it would weigh over 12 1/4 lbs., instead of 10 lbs., the weight of distilled water. Water so heavy must not only be extremely buoyant, but must possess great inertia. Its buoyancy is a common theme of remark by the travellers who have been upon it or in it. Dr. Robinson "could never swim before, either in fresh or salt water," yet here he "could sit, stand, lie or swim without difficulty." (B.R.i.506.) The remarkable weight of the water is due to the very large quantity of mineral salts which it holds in solution. Each gallon of the water, weighing 12 1/4 lbs., contains nearly 3 1/3 lbs. of matter in solution --an immense quantity when we recollect that seawater, weighing 10 1/4 lbs. per gallon, contains less than 1/2 a lb. Of this 3 1/2 lbs. nearly 1 lb. is common salt (chloride of sodium), about 2 lbs. chloride of magnesium, and less than 3 a lb. chloride of calcium (or muriate of lime). The most usual ingredient is bromide of magnesium, which exists in truly extraordinary quantity. It has been long supposed that no life whatever existed in the lake; but recent facts show that some inferior organizations do find a home even in these salt and acrid waters. The statements of ancient travellers and geographers to the effect that no living creature could exist on the shores of the lake, or bird fly across its surface, are amply disproved by later travellers. The springs on the margin of the lake harbor snipe, partridges, ducks, nightingales and other birds as well as frogs; and hawks, doves and hares are found along the shore. The appearance of the lake does not fulfill the idea conveyed by its popular name. "The Dead Sea," says a recent traveller, "did not strike me with that sense of desolation and dreariness which I suppose it ought. I thought it a pretty, smiling lake --a nice ripple on its surface." The truth lies, as usual, somewhere between these two extremes. On the one hand, the lake certainly is not a gloomy, deadly, smoking gulf. In this respect it does not at all fulfill the promise of its name. At sunrise and sunset the scene must be astonishingly beautiful. But on the other hand, there is something in the prevalent sterility and the dry, burnt look of the shores, the overpowering heat, the occasional smell of sulphur, the dreary salt marsh at the southern end, and the fringe of dead driftwood round the margin, which must go far to excuse the title which so many ages have attached to the lake, and which we may be sure it will never lose. The connection between this singular lake and the biblical history is very slight. In the topographical records of the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua it forms one among the landmarks of the boundaries of the whole country, as well as of the inferior divisions of Judah and Benjamin. As a landmark it is once named in what to be a quotation from a lost work of the prophet Jonah,
itself apparently a reminiscence of the old Mosaic statement.
Besides this the name occurs once twice in the imagery of the prophets the New Testament there is not even an allusion to it. There is however, one passage in which the "Salt Sea" is mentioned in a manner different from any of those already quoted viz. as having been in the time of Abraham the vale of Siddim.
In consequence of this passage it has been believed that the present lake covered a district which in historic times had been permanently habitable dry land. But it must not he overlooked that the passage in question is the only one in the whole Bible to countenance the notion that the cities of the plain were submerged; a notion which does not date earlier than the Christian era. [SODOM; ZOAR] The belief which prompted the idea of some modern writers that the Dead Sea was formed by the catastrophe which overthrew the "cities of the plain" is a mere assumption. It is not only unsupported by Scripture, but is directly in the teeth of the evidence of the ground itself of the situation of those cities, we only know that, being in the "plain of the Jordan, they must have been to the north of the lake. Of the catastrophe which destroyed them we only know that it is described as a shower of ignited sulphur descending from the skies. Its date is uncertain, but we shall be safe in placing it within the Limit of 2000 years before Christ. (It is supposed that only the southern bay of the Dead Sea was formed by the submergence of the cities of the plain, and is still probable. If Hugh Miller's theory of the flood in correct --and it is the most reasonable theory yet propounded --then the Dead Sea was formed by the depression of that part of the valley through which the Jordan once flowed to the Red Sea. But this great depression caused all the waters of the Jordan to remain without outlet, and the size of the Dead Sea must be such that the evaporation from its surface just balances the amount of water which flows in through the river. This accounts in part for the amount of matter held in solution by the Dead Sea waters; for the evaporation is of pure water only, while the inflow contains more or less of salts and other matter in solution. This theory also renders it probable that the lake was at first considerably larger than at present, for in earlier times the Jordan had probably a larger flow of water. --ED.) The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah may have been by volcanic action, but it may be safely asserted that no traces of it have yet been discovered, and that, whatever it was, it can have had no connection with that far vaster and far more ancient event which opened the great valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, and at some subsequent time cut it off from communication with the Red Sea by forcing up b