American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
The Hebrews give the name of sea to any large collection of water, Job 14:11; as to the lakes of Tiberias and Asphaltites, and also to the rivers Nile and Euphrates, Isaiah 11:15 18:2 21:1 Jeremiah 51:36,42 . The principal seas mentioned in Scripture are the following:
1. The GREAT SEA, the Mediterranean, called also the Hinder or Western Sea. Indeed, the Hebrew word for sea, meaning the Mediterranean, is often put for the west. The Great Sea Isaiah 2,200 miles long, and in the widest part 1,200 miles in width. In many places it is so deep as to give no soundings. It is little affected by tides, but is often agitated by violent winds. The prevailing direction of the wind in spring is from the southeast and southwest and from the northeast and northwest the rest of the year.
2. The Exodus 10:19 13:18 Psalm 106:7,9,22 , derived its name from Edom, which lay between it and Palestine; or from the hue of the mountains on its western coast, or of the animalcule which float in masses on its surface. It lies between Arabia on the east and northeast, and Abyssinia and Egypt on the west and southwest, and extends from the straits of Babelmandel to Suez, a distance of about 1,400 miles, with an average width of 150 miles, and a depth of 1,800 feet. At the northern end it is divided into the two gulfs Suez and Akaba, anciently called the Gulf of Heroopolis and the Elanitic Gulf. The first of these Isaiah 190 miles in length and the second Isaiah 100 miles. Between these gulfs lies the celebrated peninsula of Mount Sinai. That of Akaba is connected with the Dead Sea by the great sand valley El Arabah described under the article Zechariah 10:11 , both the Red Sea and the Nile appear to be mentioned.
3. The Genesis 14:3; The sea of the Plain, Deuteronomy 4:40; The Eastern sea, Zechariah 14:8; by the Greeks and Romans, lake Asphaltites; and by the modern Arabs, The sea of Lot. It lay at the southeast corner of the Holy Land, and receives the wastes of the Jordan from the north, and of the Arnon and several smaller streams from the east. It is over forty miles long, and eight or nine miles wide, and lies as in a chaldron between bare limestone cliffs, which rise on the west side 1,200 or 1,500 feet above its surface, and on the east side 2,000 feet or more. At the south end is a broad and low valley, overflowed after the annual rains. The general aspect of the region is dreary, sterile, and desolate; but at a few points there are brooks or fountains of fresh water, which in their way to the sea pass through spots of luxuriant verdure, the abode of birds in great numbers.
The waters of the Dead Sea are clear and limpid, but exceedingly salt and bitter. Their specific gravity exceeds that of all other waters known, being one-fifth or one-fourth greater than that of pure water. They are found by repeated analyses to contain one-fourth their weight of various salts, chiefly the chlorides of magnesium and sodium. Salt also is deposited by evaporation on the shore, or on garments wet in the sea. In the bed of the sea it is found in crystals and near the shore in incrustation deposited on the bottom. No fish can live in these acrid waters, and those which are brought down by the Jordan quickly die. Compare Ezekiel 47:8-10 , where the healing of this deadly sea, and its abounding in fish, as well as the new fertility and beauty of the dreary wilderness between it and Jerusalemby means of the healing power of the Kidron flowing from beside that altar of Godforcibly illustrate the healing and renovating power of gospel grace.
A person unacquainted with the art of swimming floats at ease upon the surface of lake Asphaltites, and it requires an effort to submerge the body. The boat of Lieutenant Lynch met with a gale on entering it from the Jordan; and "it seemed at if the bows, so dense was the water, were encountering the sledgehammers of the Titans, instead of the opposing waves of an angry sea."
At times, and especially after earthquakes, quantities of asphaltum are dislodged from the bottom, rise and float on the surface, and are driven to the shores, where the Arabs collect them for various uses. Sulphur is likewise found on the shores and a kind of stone or coal, called Musca by the Arabs, which on being rubbed exhales an intolerable odor. This stone, which also comes from the neighboring mountains, is black, and takes a fine polish. Maundrell saw pieces of it two feet square, in the convent of St. John in the Wilderness, carved in bas-relief, and polished to as great a lustre as black marble is capable of. The inhabitants of the country employ it in other places of public resort. In the polishing its disagreeable odor is lost. When placed by Mr. King upon hot coals, a strong stench of sulphur issued from it, and it soon began to blaze. The blaze rose four or five inches high, and continued about two minutes.
An uncommon love of exaggeration is observable in all the older narratives, and in some of modern date, respecting the nature and properties of the Dead Sea. Chateaubriand speaks of a "dismal sound proceeding from this lake of death, like the stifled clamors of the people ingulfed in its water," and says that its shores produce a fruit beautiful to the sight, but containing nothing but ashes; and that the heavy metals float on the surface of the sea. Others allege that black and sulphurous exhalations are constantly issuing from the water, and that birds attempting to fly across it are struck dead by its pestiferous fumes. These legends are corrected by more reliable accounts, which show that the birds fly over or float upon the sea uninjured; that no vapor is exhaled from its surface, except that caused by the rapid evaporation or its waters under the hot sun; and that the low level and excessive heat of the valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea account for the diseases prevailing there, without imagining any more fearful cause. The "apostle of Sodom" above referred to by Chateaubriand, and described by Josephus and others answer, with some exaggerations, to fruits now growing around the Dead Sea.
In 1848, Lieutenant Lynch of the United States' navy passed down the Jordan from the Sea of Tiberias, with two metallic boats, and spent three weeks in a survey of the Sea of Sodom. He found it nearly 1,300 feet deep and its surface more than 1,300 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. From the eastern side, some eight miles from the south end, a low promontory projects three-fourths of the way towards the western cliffs, and sends up a point five miles towards the north. Below this point the lake becomes suddenly shallow, the southern bay not averaging more than twelve or fifteen feet in depth, Joshua 15:2 .
This lower part is believed to cover the sites of the cities destroyed by fire from heaven, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim. The vale of Siddim was once a smiling plain, well-watered, and like a garden of the Lord, Genesis 13:10; it is now, and for all future ages, a monument of his just indignation, Deuteronomy 29:23 , and an awful warning to reckless sinners that the day of the Lord will come upon them also suddenly and without remedy, Matthew 10:15 11:22-24 2 Peter 2:4-9 Jude 1:7 . The bottom of the shallow bay is a deep slimy mud, Genesis 14:10 . On its southwest border lies a mountain or ridge composed chiefly of rock salt, and called Usdum or Sodom, between which and the sea stands a round pillar of salt forty feet high, reminding one of Lot's wife.
At present the Dead Sea has no perceptible outlet, and the waters poured into it by the Jordan are probably evaporated by the intense heat of the unclouded sun, or in part absorbed in the earth. It is thought by some that the northern and principal part of the sea was the product of some convulsion of nature, long before that which destroyed Sodom and formed the south bay; that the Jordan at first flowed into the Red Sea through the remarkable crevasse which extends from its sources to the Gulf of Akabah; and that at some period beyond the reach of history, its bed and valley sunk down to their present level and formed the Dead Sea. Lieutenant Lynch in sounding discovered a ravine in the bed of the sea, corresponding to the channel of the Jordan in its valley north of the sea. See JORDAN .
4. The SEA OF TIBERIAS or of Galilee; the lake of Gennesareth, or of Cimmereth, Numbers 34:11 , is so called from the adjacent country, or from some of the principal cities on its shores. It resembles, in its general appearance, the Lake of Geneva in Switzerland, though not so large. The Jordan passes through it from north to south. It is twelve or fourteen miles long, six or seven miles in breadth, and 165 feet deep. Its waters lie in a deep basin, surrounded on all sides by rounded and beautiful hills, from 500 to 1,000 feet high, except the narrow entrance and outlet of the Jordan at either end. Its sheltered location protects it in some degree from the wind, but it is liable to sudden squalls and whirlwinds, and many travellers on its shores have met with violent tempests-reminding them of those encountered by Christ and his disciples. A strong current marks the passage of the Jordan through the middle of the lake, on its way to the Dead Sea. The volcanic origin of the basin of this lake is strongly inferred from numerous indications, such as the black basaltic rocks which abound, frequent and violent earthquakes, and several hot springs. According to Lieutenant Symonds, it Isaiah 328 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. Lieutenant Lynch makes it 653 feet below. Its waters are clear and sweet, and contain various kinds of excellent fish in great abundance. The appearance of the sea from the hills on the western shore is far less grand and more beautiful than that of the Dead Sea. It should be seen in spring, when the hills around it are clothed with grain and festooned wit flowers. The towns that once crowed its shores with a teeming population, the groves and shrubbery that covered its hills, and the boats and galleys that studded its surface are gone. But the sea remains, hallowed by many scenes described in the gospels. The Saviour of mankind often looked upon its quiet beauty and crossed it in his journeys; he stilled its waves by a word, and hallowed its shores by his miracles and teachings. Here several of the apostles were called to become "fishers of men," Matthew 4:18 14:22 Luke 8:22 John 21:1 .
"How pleasant to me thy deep blue wave,
O sea of Galilee,
For the glorious One who came to save
Hath often stood by thee.
O Savior gone to God's right hand,
Yet the same Savior still,
Graved on thy heart is this lovely strand
And every fragrant hill."
The BRAZEN or MOLTEN SEA, made by Solomon for the temple, was
a circular vessel at least fifteen feet in diameter, which stood in
the court of the temple, and contained three thousand baths,
according to 2 Corinthians 4:5 , or two thousand baths according to 1Ki
7:26. Calmet supposes this may be reconciled by saying that the cup
or bowl contained two thousand baths, and the foot or basin a
thousand more. It was supported by twelve oxen of brass, and was
probably the largest brazen vessel ever made-an evidence of the skill
of the workers in metal at that period. It contained from 16,000 to
24,000 gallons, and was supplied with water either by the labor of
the Gibeonites, or as Jewish writers affirm, by a pipe from the well
of Etam, so that a constant flow was maintained. This water was used
for the various ablutions of the priests, 1 Chronicles 4:6; a perpetual
and impressive testimony from God of the necessity of moral
purification in the inexhaustible foundation of Christ's grace. The
preceding engraving must be chiefly imaginary.
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