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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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The term 'sea' was much more in use among the Hebrews than with us, being applied by them generally to all large collections of water, as they had not a set of terms such as we employ to discriminate the different kinds.

Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean, being on the west, and therefore behind a person facing the east, is called in Scripture the Hinder Sea (; ), that is, Western Sea; and also, 'the Sea of the Philistines' (), as that people possessed the largest proportion of its shore in Palestine. Being also the largest sea with which the Hebrews were acquainted, they called it by pre-eminence, 'the Great Sea' (; ; ; ; ; ); or simply 'the sea' ().

Red Sea

The Red Sea—How this gulf of the Indian Ocean came by the name of Red Sea is not agreed. Prideaux assumes (Connection, i. 14-15) that the ancient inhabitants of the bordering countries called it Yam Edom, or, 'the Sea of Edom' (it is never so called in Scripture), as its north-eastern part washed the country possessed by the Edomites. Now Edom means red (), and the Greeks, who borrowed the name from the Phoenicians, mistook it for an appellative instead of a proper name, and rendered by 'the Red Sea.' Others have conjectured that the Arabian Gulf derived its name from the coral rocks and reefs in which it abounds; but the coral of the Red Sea is white, not red. It is now in question whether the name originated from the singularly red appearance presented by some of the mountains along the western coast; or from the redness which the surface of the water sometimes assumes from its being covered to a great extent with a numberless multitude of very small mollusca.

The ancients applied the name of Erythraean Sea not only to the Arabian Gulf, but to that part of the Indian Ocean which is enclosed between the peninsulas of India and Arabia; but in modern usage the name of Red Sea is restricted to the Arabian Gulf, which enters into the land from the Indian Ocean in a westerly direction, and then, at the straits of Babel-Mandeb, turns N.N.W., maintaining that direction till it makes a near approach to the Mediterranean, from which its western arm is only separated by the isthmus of Suez. It thus separates the western coast of Arabia from the Eastern coast of the north-eastern part of Africa. It is about 1400 miles in length from Suez to the straits, and on an average 150 miles in breadth. On approaching its northern termination the gulf divides into two branches, which enclose between them the peninsula of Sinai. The western arm, which terminates a little above Suez, is far more extensive than the other, and is that which was crossed by the Israelites in their escape from Egypt. This arm, anciently called Heroopoliticus Sinus, and now the Gulf of Suez, is 190 miles long by an average breadth of 21 miles; but at one part (Birket el-Faroun) it is as wide as 32 miles. The eastern arm, which terminates at Aqabah, and bears the name of the Gulf of Aqabah, was anciently called Aelaniticus Sinus, from the port of Aelana, the Scriptural Elath, and is about 112 miles long by an average breadth of 15 miles. Towards its extremity were the ports of Elath and Eziongeber, celebrated in the history of the attempts made by the Hebrew kings to establish a maritime traffic with the East [ELATH; EZION-GEBER].

Sea of Chinnereth

The Sea of Chinnereth (), called in the New Testament 'the Sea of Galilee' (), the 'Sea of Tiberias' (), and 'the sea' or 'Lake of Gennesareth '(; ; ); which last is but a variation of the Hebrew name.

This lake lies very deep, among fruitful hills and mountains, from which, in the rainy season, many rivulets descend: its shape will be seen from the map. The Jordan enters it on the north, and quits it on the south; and it is said that the river passes through it without the waters mingling. Its extent has been greatly over-rated. Dr. Robinson considers that its length, in a straight line, does not exceed eleven or twelve geographical miles, and that its breadth is from five to six miles. From numerous indications it is inferred that the bed of this lake was formed by some ancient volcanic eruption, which history has not recorded: the waters are very clear and sweet, and contain various kinds of excellent fish in great abundance. It will be remembered that several of the apostles were fishermen of this lake, and that it was also the scene of several transactions in the life of Christ: it is thus frequently mentioned in the New Testament, but very rarely in the Old. The borders of the lake were in the time of Christ well peopled, being covered with numerous towns and villages; but now they are almost desolate, and the fish and water-fowl are but little disturbed.

Dead Sea

The Dead Sea, called in Scripture the Salt Sea (), the Sea of the Plain, or the Arabah (), and the Eastern Sea (; ; ). It is not named or alluded to in the New Testament. From its history and qualities, it is the most remarkable of all the lakes of Palestine; and is supposed either to have originated in, or at least to have been greatly enlarged by, the awful event which overwhelmed the cities of the plain.

It is about thirty-nine or forty geographical miles long from north to south, and nine or ten miles wide from east to west: it lies embedded very deep between lofty cliffs on the western side, which are about 1500 feet high, and mountains on the eastern shore, the highest ridges of which are reckoned to be from 2000 to 2500 feet above the water. The water of the lake is much Salter than that of the sea. From the quantity of salt which it holds in solution it is thick and heavy, and no fish can live or marine plants grow in it. The old stories about the pestiferous qualities of the Dead Sea and its waters are mere fables or delusions; the actual appearances being the natural and obvious effects of the confined and deep situation, the intense heat, and the uncommon saltness of the waters.

On the borders of this lake is found much sulfur, in pieces as large as walnuts, and even larger. There is also a black shining stone, which will partly burn in the fire, and which then emits a bituminous smell: this is the 'stink-stone' of Burckhardt. At Jerusalem it is made into rosaries and toys, of which great quantities are sold to the pilgrims who visit the sacred places. Another remarkable production, from which, indeed, the lake takes one of its names, is the asphaltum, or bitumen. Josephus says, that 'the sea in many places sends up black masses of asphaltum, which float upon the surface, having the size and shape of headless oxen.' From recent information it appears that large masses are rarely found, and then generally only after earthquakes. The substance is doubtless produced from the bottom of the sea, in which it coagulates, and rises to the surface; or possibly the coagulation may have been ancient, and the substance adheres to the bottom until detached by earthquakes and other convulsions, when its buoyancy brings it to the surface. We know that 'the vale of Siddim' () was anciently 'full of slime-pits,' or sources of bitumen; and these, now under the water, probably supply the asphaltum which is found on such occasions.

Lake Merom

The Lake Merom is named once only in Scripture, where it is called waters of Merom (; ). By Josephus it is called Semechonitis, and at present bears the name of Huleh: this is the uppermost and smallest of the three lakes on the Jordan. It serves as a kind of reservoir to collect the waters which form that river, and again to send them forth in a single stream. In the spring, when the waters are highest, the lake is seven miles long and three and a half broad; but in summer it becomes a mere marsh. In some parts it is sown with rice, and its reeds and rushes afford shelter to wild hogs.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Sea'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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