Known in the Bible as the “Salt Sea” or the “Sea of the Arabah,” this inland body of water is appropriately named because its high mineral content allows nothing to live in its waters. Other post-biblical names for the Dead Sea include the “Sea of Sodom,” the “Sea of Lot,” the “Sea of Asphalt” and the “Stinking Sea.” In the Crusader period, it was sometimes called the “Devil’s Sea.” All of these names reflect something of the nature of this lake.
Names of the Sea
The Dead Sea, unlike the Sea of Galilee to the north, does not figure prominently in the biblical narratives. Its most important role was as a barrier, blocking traffic to Judah from the east. An advancing army of Ammonites and Moabites apparently crossed a shallow part of the Dead Sea on their way to attack King Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20). Ezekiel has prophesied that one day the Dead Sea will be fresh water and fishermen will spread their nets along the shore.
The Dead Sea is located in the Syro-African Rift, a 4000-mile fault line in the earth’s crust. The lowest point of dry land on earth is the shoreline of the Dead Sea at 1300 feet below sea level. That the lake is at the lowest point means that water does not drain from this lake. Daily 7 million tons of water evaporate but the minerals remain, causing the salt content to increase. Figures for the Dead Sea’s salinity today range from 26-35%.
Nearly ten times as salty as the world’s oceans and twice as saline as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the Dead Sea is rich with minerals. The Dead Sea Works company on the southwest side of the lake employs 1600 people around the clock to harvest the valuable minerals from the water. Potash is the most valuable of those extracted today and is used in the manufacture of fertilizer. The best article on the minerals in the Dead Sea is in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The unique concentration of the Dead Sea waters has long been known to have medicinal value. Aristotle, Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and Cleopatra were all familiar with this and modern doctors as well often prescribe patients with skin ailments to soak in the waters of the Dead Sea. Because of the dropping level of the Dead Sea, the southern end is no longer under water, except for that which is channeled by aqueducts for the purpose of extracting minerals.
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Dead Sea (Dead Sea Tourist Board and Dead Sea Hotel Association) The official site for Dead Sea Tourism. Hosts categories such as “Fast Facts and History,” “Sights and Sites,” “Medicine/Research,” “Photogallery,” and even “Travel Themes.”
Dead Sea (Walking in Their Sandals) Gives easy-to-read information on the location, biblical significance, etc. Features links to photographs and on-line scripture references.
Dead Sea and Wilderness of Judea (Christian Travel Study Program) Discusses the barrenness of the Judean Wilderness as a place of solitude, even refuge, in both biblical and modern times. Gives a brief description of the Dead Sea in this context.
Dead Sea (Catholic Encyclopedia) Highlights the biblical significance of the site while clearly describing geographical and physical properties of the sea and surrounding area.
The Dead Sea Research Center The home page for the Dead Sea Research Center. A great resource for studying the medical potential of the Dead Sea area. Includes a “News & Research link,” a “Publications” bibliography, and an “Ask the Doctor” feature.
Dead Sea (Extreme Science) An upbeat, scientific description of the Sea, answering common question such as, “why is the Dead Sea so salty?” Reflects an evolutionary bias.
Dead Sea keeps falling (BBC News) An interesting news story reporting on the findings of the European Space Agency in their survey of the region.
Dead Sea ‘to disappear by 2050’ (BBC News) “Environmentalists in Jordan are warning that the Dead Sea will disappear by the year 2050 if its level continues to drop at the current rate.” Presents the problem and proposed solutions.
Dead Sea (Dead Sea Scrolls Home Page, Personal Page) Observes the Dead Sea in its geographical context, including references to nearby sites and insight into how the climate of the region affected the preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Welcome to the Dead Sea (inisrael.com) A site for tourists with basic information about the area and links to hotels, cars, and other travelers resources.
For Dead Sea, a Slow and Seemingly Inexorable Death (Washington Post) Fascinating article on the steady decline of the water level of the Dead Sea, with numerous useful facts and at least one stupid quote.
The Dead Sea: A dramatic look at Israel’s endangered natural wonder (Haaretz) A remarkable photo and video essay describing the dangers of sinkholes and the future of Israel’s shoreline.