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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Dead Sea

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DEAD SEA . An inland lake 47 miles long and from 2¾ to 9 miles in breadth, which receives the waters of the Jordan. Its level is 1293 ft. below that of the Mediterranean, being the lowest body of water on the surface of the earth. It has no outlet, and the water received by it is all carried off by evaporation. In consequence, the waters of the Lake are impregnated with mineral substances to a remarkable degree; they yield 25 per cent. of salt, whereas the ocean yields but 4 to 6 per cent.

The modern name is of late origin (first used apparently by Pausanias) and refers to the total absence of life in its waters. It has no Scripture warrant; Hebrew writers speak of it as the ‘Salt Sea’ (Genesis 14:8 , Numbers 34:3 , Joshua 15:5 etc.), the ‘sea of the Arabah’ ( Deuteronomy 3:17 ; Deuteronomy 4:49 ), the ‘east or eastern sea’ ( Ezekiel 47:18 , Joel 2:20 ). In Arabic it is known as Bahr Lut , ‘the sea of Lot,’ a name which, however, is more probably due to the direct influence of the history as related in the Koran than to a survival of local tradition. Somewhere near the sea were Sodom and Gomorrah , but whether north or south of it is not settled; the one certain fact about their sites is that the popular belief that they are covered by the waters of the Lake is quite inadmissible.

The Dead Sea owes its origin to a fault or fracture produced in the surface of the region by the earth-movements whereby the land was here raised above the sea-level. This fault took place towards the end of the Eocene period; it extends along the whole Jordan valley from the Gulf of Akabah to Hermon; and it may be taken as fairly certain that the general appearance of the Lake has not radically altered during the whole time that the human race has existed in the world.

Round the border of the Lake are numerous small springs, some bursting actually under its waters, others forming lagoons of comparatively brackish water (as at ‘Ain Feshkhah on the western side). In these lagoons various specimens of small fish are to be found; but in the main body of the water itself life of any kind is impossible.

Recent observations tend to show that the surface of the Lake is slowly rising. An island that was a conspicuous feature at the N. end disappeared under the surface in 1892, and has never been seen since.

R. A. S. Macalister.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dead Sea'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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