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What is the Dead Sea?
        THE DEAD SEA
        a name not found in Scripture. Names. - This sea is called in the Scriptures the "sea of the plain," Deut 4:49; 2 Kgs 14:25; the "salt sea," Deut 3:17; Josh 3:16; 1 Chr 12:3; the "east sea," Joel 2:20; Eze 47:18; Zech 14:8; and "the sea." Eze 47:8. It also appears as the "vale of Siddim." The Salt or Dead Sea. (After Sketch by Major Wilson.) The figures denote the depression below the Mediterranean Sea. Gen 14:3. In 2 Esd. 5:7 it appears as the "Sodomitish sea;" in the Talmud as the "sea of Sodom" and the "sea of salt;" in Josephus as the "asphaltic" and "Sodomitic lake." The title "Dead Sea" was not found in Jewish writers, but was introduced at an early period by the Greek authors. The Arabs give it the same name, but more commonly call it the Bahr Lut, or "Lake of Lot." Situation and Extent. - The Salt or Dead Sea is situated only 16 miles from Jerusalem, in a straight line, and is plainly visible from the Mount of Olives. It occupies the deepest portion of the great depression which extends from the range of Lebanon on the north to the Gulf of Akabah on the south. It lies between 31? 6' and 31? 46' N. lat., and 35? 24' and 35? 37' E. long. The sea is 46 miles long, 10 1/2 miles in its greatest width, and covers an area of nearly 300 square miles, varying somewhat with the season of the year, as the flats are submerged by the rise of water from the winter floods and laid bare by the excessive evaporation of the summer. Physical Features. - The sea is of an oblong shape, and fills the lower end of an oblong depression. The enclosing mountains on each side run due north and south in parallel lines, and overhang the sea at a height of more than 1500 feet, coming on the east side close to the water's edge. At the southern end the shore, for some 2 or 3 miles, is flat as far as the base of Jebel Usdum, "the salt mountain." The oval contour is interrupted by the Lisan Peninsula, or "the tongue," a broad promontory extending northward from the southeast corner for a distance of 10 miles, and having a breadth of from 5 to 6 miles. It was visited by Lynch, but to Palmer and Drake is ascribed the credit of being the first thoroughly to explore this curious spot. It is described by Palmer as a plateau of soft chalk marl, encrusted with salt, and containing large quantities of sulphur in a very pure form. The surface is for the most part perfectly flat, but a few plateaus rise up here and there upon it. The strip of land which connects it with the shore is low, and the promontory appears to have been an island at some period when the level of the sea was higher than it is at present. The ruins of a tower built of solid masonry and of a small reservoir were discovered. On the site were some broken columns of considerable architectural pretensions, and many pieces of glass and pottery lying in the ash-heap contiguous to the ruins, but nothing could be found to indicate the date. Depth and Level. - The soundings of Lynch showed that the bottom of the lake was a comparatively level plain of blue mud and sand, with crystals of salt. The greatest depth is 1310 feet; the mean depth north of the Lisan Peninsula, 1080 feet; the greatest depth south of the peninsula, 11 feet. The level of the surface varies from 10 to 15 feet, according to the season of the year: the mean level below the Mediterranean Sea is 1293 feet (Lynch made it 1316 feet); below Jerusalem, 3697 feet. Tristram found the height of the crest of the beach to be 18' feet above the level of the water, and the line of driftwood somewhat less. A French geologist, M. Lartet, found the ancient deposits of the Dead Sea at least 300 feet above the present surface of the lake, so that the water must once have stood at that level. The bottom is still subsiding, as is shown by a curious fact. Drake says: "At the southern end the fords between the Lisan and the western shore are now impassable, owing to the depth of the water, though I have been told by men who used them that they were in no places more than 3 feet deep some fifteen or twenty years ago. Again, the causeway which connects the Rijm el-Bahr with the mainland has, according to the Arabs, been submerged for twelve or fifteen years, though before that time it was frequently dry." Earthquakes, as in 1834 and 1837, throw up large quantities of bitumen from the bottom of the lake at its southern end. It was formerly supposed that the lake was at some early historic period connected with the Red Sea. but recent geological researches have shown any such connection very improbable, since a hill of cretaceous formation, 781 feet above the sea, separates the waters of the Dead Sea from those of the Gulf of Akabah, and the streams north of the hill flow northward into the Dead Sea. Tributaries. - The river Jordan empties into the Dead Sea at its northern end. There are numerous wadies upon The Dead Sea at 'Ain Feshkah : North-west Side. (After Tristram.) The Dead Sea from Jebel Usdum (Mountain of Salt) : South end. (After Tristram.) the east, south, and west sides, the most of which are winter-torrents, completely dry in summer. The principal streams, mostly perennial, are, beginning at the north-east and following southward: the Zerka Main (the ancient Callirrhoe, and Grove suggests possibly the more ancient En-eglaim), the Mojib (Arnon of the Bible), Kerak, Sidliyeh (brook Zered), Sufieh, and, on the west, the 'Ain Jidy (Engedi). The water has a clearness and purity - in color, at least - unequalled. The turbid flood of the Jordan in times of freshet can be distinctly traced by its coffee-brown color for a mile and a half into the lake. It has been estimated that 6,000,000 tons of water fall into the Dead Sea daily, the whole of which enormous quantity must be carried off by evaporation, as the lake has no outlet. Hence the water is impregnated with mineral substances containing on an average twenty-five per cent, of solid substances, one-half of which is chloride of sodium (common salt). Among the other substances are chloride of magnesium, which gives the water its bitter taste, and chloride of calcium, which makes it smooth and oily to the touch. There is also a large amount of bromine, and many other mineral substances exist in smaller quantities. The quantity of solid matter is more than eight times as great as in sea-water. The specific gravity varies from 1.021 to 1.256 - that is, if a gallon of distilled water weighs 10 pounds, a gallon of water from the Dead Sea would sometimes weigh 12 1/4 pounds. From its density it seemed, in the storm encountered by the boats of Lynch's party, "as if their bows were encountering the sledge-hammers of the Titans instead of the opposing waves of an angry sea." But when the wind abated the sea as rapidly fell. "Within twenty minutes from the time we bore away from a sea which threatened to engulf us, we were pulling away at a rapid rate over a placid sheet of water that scarcely rippled beneath us." Tristram also noted the rapid subsidence of the surface after a storm: "Such a mass of water, so absolutely stagnant, I never saw before. In the morning it had been lashed by the gale; now it at once suggested, as its appropriate description, 'a sea of molten lead.'" The spray leaves incrustations of salt upon clothes, hands, and faces, conveying a prickly sensation wherever it touches the skin, and exceedingly painful to the eyes, lips, and nostrils, which smart excessively. Bathing. - Most visitors try a bath in the waters of the Dead Sea. Bathers can float with equal ease upon their backs or breasts, sit upon the water as one would upon a feather-bed, and place themselves in any attitude they please without fear of sinking. Swimming is made difficult by the tendency of the feet to rise to the surface with a suddenness that produces an unpleasant and sometimes painful effect upon the back, and there is a constant tendency to roll over. Josephus says that when Vespasian went to see the Dead Sea, "he commanded that some who could not swim I should have their hands tied behind them and be thrown into the deep; when it so happened that they all swam as if wind had forced them upward." A salt crust is soon formed over the body by the rapid evaporation, and the water leaves a greasy feeling on the skin. Asphalt lies in large masses at the bottom of the sea, and sometimes large fragments, loosened by storms and earthquakes, rise to the surface. Animal and Vegetable Life. - Tristram observed that among the rounded pebbles of the beach dead land-shells were thickly strewn. Quantities of very small dead fish lay on the gravel, killed by the salt water and thrown up by the flood, and on these various birds were feeding. Among the birds noticed were the partridge, raven, thrush, bulbul, sparrow, wild duck, brown-necked raven, kingfisher, gull, dunlin, teal, redshank, wagtail, pochard, duck, cormorant, heron, golden eagle, plover, stork, crane, grakle, snipe, catbird, hawk, and quail, and Lynch saw a duck upon the water about a mile from the shore. So the report that a bird trying to fly over the sea would fall dead, is without foundation. Among the wild beasts are the jackal, fox, coney, hare, ibex, porcupine, leopard, wild boar, and hyaena. These facts are enough to show how absurd are the stories about the shores of this sea being destitute of birds and animals. At the same time, it is quite certain that no form of either vertebrate or molluscous life can exist for more than a very short time in the sea itself, and that all that enter it from the Jordan are almost immediately poisoned. Various experiments have been made by putting sea-fish into the waters, and it was found that they invariably died very speedily. Plants. - Among the trees and plants are the pistachio (the terebinth of Scripture), spina Christi (Christ thorn), tamarisk, osher, oleander, lily, yellow henbane, nightshade, mallow, mignonette, and a species of kale resembling that on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. About the springs are clumps of tamarisk trees, canebrakes 20 feet high, and dense bushes, through which the wild boar beats paths. Wherever there is fresh water the climate stimulates a luxuriant vegetation. Warm springs are numerous. The 'Ain Ghuweir shows a temperature of 96? in January. Another sulphur spring, within 6 inches of the sea, had a temperature of 95?, and its heated water extended out for 200 yards into the lake. Climate. - The climate, owing to the great depression of the valley, is semitropical. On the 14th of January, Tristram noted that the thermometer reached 84? during the day, and at 1 a.m. stood at 62? Fahrenheit. Warren found the heat at 'Ain Jidy (En-gedi), in July, to be 110? after sunset. See Climate, under Palestine. Present Appearance. - Lynch describes the scene near Ras es-Fechka as "one of unmixed desolation. Except the canebrakes clustering along the marshy stream, . . . there was no vegetation whatever; barren mountains, fragments of rocks blackened by sulphureous deposits, and an unnatural sea, with low dead trees upon its margin, all within the scope of vision, bore a sad and sombre aspect. We had never before beheld such desolate hills, such calcined barrenness." When the members of the British Ordnance Survey found themselves on the shores of the Dead Sea, "the sky was overcast with clouds, and a dense haze, obscuring the mountains, made the landscape as dreary and monotonous as it could be. In an aspect such as this the Dead Sea seemed more than ever to deserve its name. Not a sign of life was there - not even any motion save a dull mechanical surging of the water. The barren shore was covered with a thick incrustation of salt, relieved only by occasional patches of black, rotting mud or by stagnant pools of brine. All along the dismal beach large quantities of driftwood are thickly strewn, and amongst them might be detected the blackened trunks of palms." See Deut 34:3. Tristram describes the appearance at the north end of the sea as follows: "The beach is composed of a pebble gravel, rising steeply and covered for a breadth of 160 yards from the shore with driftwood. Trunks of trees lay tossed about in every possible position, utterly devoid of bark, grim and gaunt, a long and disorderly array of skeleton forms. There was a great variety in the species of timber, but a very large proportion of the trees were palms, many with their roots entire. These must have been tossed for many years before they were washed up along this north shore. The whole of the timber is indeed so saturated with brine that it will scarcely burn, and when it is ignited emits only a pale blue flame. It is difficult to conceive whence such vast numbers of palms can have been brought, unless we imagine them to be the collected wrecks of many centuries, . . . accumulating here from the days when the city of palm trees extended its groves to the edge of the river." - Land of Israel p. 247. Below 'Ain Feshkah, on the west shore, the lake is fringed with canebrake, separated from the water by a narrow strip of shingle and conglomerate. Farther south are huge boulders, rolled down on the narrowing beach from the hills above. The coast-line shows many indentations and irregularities. Bible History. - The earliest mention of this body of water is in Gen 14:3, where we read that the confederate kings were joined together in "the vale of Siddim, which is the Salt Sea." Most writers have identified this vale of Siddim with the portion of the Dead Sea south of the Lisan Peninsula, which is very shallow, but some recent explorers incline to a northern location, in the Ghor of the Jordan. The Salt Sea is mentioned as one of the boundaries of the land of Canaan and of the tribes. Num 34:3, Jud 4:12; Deut 3:17; Deut 4:49; Josh 15:2, 1 Chr 6:5; Josh 18:19 2 Kgs 14:25. In Eze 47:18 and Joel 2:20 it is mentioned as "the east sea," in distinction from "the west sea," which was the Mediterranean. The cities of the plain, which were destroyed by "brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven," were near the Dead Sea. Gen 19:24. The supposition formerly most common was that these cities were submerged by the waters of the sea at the time of the great catastrophe - a theory which appears to be inconsistent with the geological and physical character of the region. For the disputed question respecting the sites of the cities of the plain, see Sodom and Gomorrah. The Salt or Dead Sea is not mentioned in the N.T. See Salt Sea.

Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip, Dr. "Biblical Definition for 'dead sea' in Schaffs Bible Dictionary". - Schaff's

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