Ancient Sources

The Peraea and the Dead Sea



22. The Salt Lake, or Lake of Asphalt,
also called Dead Sea -
(Dead Sea)

ORIGINAL TEXTS

Mare salinarum quod vocatur mortuum sive asfalti, id est bituminis, inter Iericho et Zoaram.
(Jerome 101:4-5)


ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Eusebius, Onomasticon 100:4-5 (ca. 295 A.D.); Jerome 101:4-5 (ca. 390 A.D.)
The Salt Sea (Jos 18:19), called Dead Sea or Sea of Asphalt, that is, bitumen, between Jericho and Zoar.

BIBLICAL BACKGROUND

Gen. 19:24-28 He saw the smoke of the land going up
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the Plain and saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace.

Josh. 18:18-20
The southern border of the tribe of Benjamin
Passing on to the north of the slope of Beth-arabah it goes down to the Arabah; then the boundary passes on to the north of the slope of Beth-hoglah; and the boundary ends at the northern bay of the Dead Sea, at the south end of the Jordan: this is the southern border. The Jordan forms its boundary on the eastern side. This is the inheritance of the tribe of Benjamin, according to its families, boundary by boundary all around.

Zech. 14:8 The eastern sea
On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter.

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.



ICONOGRAPHIC PARALLELS

Tabula Peutingeriana
(4th cent. A.D.)
Lacus Aspaltidis


Map Section 3 Place Discussion

logo logo

Created Saturday, December 16, 2000 at 11:57:16
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
Webmaster: John Abela ofm - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex
copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000