MORE ANCIENT SOURCES
Josephus, War 4.8.4 (1st cent. A.D.)
(476) The nature of the lake Asphaltitis is also worth describing. It is, as I have said already, bitter and unfruitful. [It is so light or thick] that it bears up the heaviest things that are thrown into it; nor is it easy for anyone to make things sink therein to the bottom, if he had a mind so to do. (477) Accordingly, when Vespasian went to see it, he commanded that some who could not swim, should have their hands tied behind them, and be thrown into the deep, when it so happened that they all swam as if a wind had forced them upwards. (478) Moreover, the change of the color of this lake is wonderful, for it changes its appearance thrice every day; and as the rays of the sun fall differently upon it, the light is variously reflected. (479) However, it casts up black clods of bitumen in many parts of it; these swim at the top of the water, and resemble both in shape and bigness headless bulls; (480) and when the laborers that belong to the lake come to it, and catch hold of it as it hangs together, they draw it into their ships; but when the ship if full, it is not easy to cut off the rest, for it is so tenacious as to make the ship hang upon its clods till they set it loose with the menstrual blood of women, and with urine, to which alone it yields. (481) This bitumen it not only useful for the caulking of ships, but for the cure of men's bodies: accordingly it is mixed in a great many medicines. (482) The length of this lake is five hundred and eighty furlongs, where it is extended as far as Zoar, in Arabia; and its breadth is a hundred and fifty. (483) The country of Sodom borders upon it.4 It was of old a most happy land both for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. (484) It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that divine fire; and the traces [or shadows] of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits, which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten; but if you pluck them with your hands, they will dissolve into smoke and ashes. (485) And thus what is related of this land of Sodom hath these marks of credibility which our very sight affords us.
Itinerarium Burdigalense 596 (333 A.D.)
It is nine miles from Jericho to the Dead Sea. Its water is extremely bitter, fish are nowhere to be found in it, and no ships sail there. If anyone goes to swim in it, the water turns him upside down.
Anonymus Placentinus, Itinerarium 10 (ca. 570 A.D.)
This (Livias) is not far from the Salt Sea, into which the Jordan flows, below Sodom and Gomorrha. Sulphur and pitch are collected on that shore. Lepers lie in the sea there all through the day in July, August, and the early part of September. In the evening they wash in these Baths of Moses. From time to time by the will of God one of them is cleansed, but for most of them it brings some relief. Nothing living is to be found in this sea. No even straw and wood will float on it, and human beings cannot swim, but anything thrown into it sinks to the bottom. Form the Jordan it is eight miles to the place where Moses departed from this life, and a little further on is Segor. There are many hermits in the neighbourhood, and we saw too the tomb of Absalom.