The Dead Sea in the Bible

dead-sea-dry-wood-with-saltThe Dead Sea is not referred to as the “Dead Sea” in either the old or new testaments, however many of the locations along the sea shore are referred to. In the Bible reference is made to the “Salt Sea” (the literal translation of the Hebrew name for the sea) and the “Sea of Arabah”.  There is reference to a sea which is in the southern region and particularly salty. Take for example Ezekiel who predicted that one day the sea would run with fresh waters: 47:8 “And he said to me: This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.” Zechariah also prophesized that “living” water would one day flow where today the water is salty. (Zechariah 14:8). This can be understood to be the Dead Sea.

 Many major Biblical events played out in the vicinity of the sea. The sea is referred to in Chapters II, 20 when an Ammonite and Moabite army crossed the Dead Sea to attack Jehoshaphat. The sea played the role of blocking invaders from the east attempting to reach Judah. The sea is also called a “healing spring” and indeed today we know that the Dead Sea waters have healing qualities. On the shores of the Dead Sea is Ein Gedi which today is a Kibbutz and a popular nature reserve but in Biblical time it is named as the place where David hid from King Saul(Samuel I 24:1). David uses images from the lush Ein Gedi spring in his Song of Songs.

Abraham fought a war here as recounted in Genesis 14:3: “All these were joined together in the Vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea“. Abraham fought to return his nephew, Lot, from captivity. Another clue that this war took place in the Dead Sea area is found in Genesis 14:10: “And the Vale of Siddim was full of slime pits…” the slim pits are thought to be tar or clay pits which are prevalent in the region.

dead-sea-girl-on-the-beach-The Dead Sea appears in the Bible under different names like in the Book of Joshua 3:16 the Dead Sea appears as the Plains Sea: “And those that came down towards the Sea of the Plain even the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.” Deuteronomy 3:17 also refers to the Sea of the Plain: “The plain also, and Jordan, and the coast thereof, from Chinnereth even unto the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, under Ashdothpisgah eastward.” In Kings II 14:25 it is again referred to as the Sea of the Plain.  And indeed Jericho is in close proximity to the Dead Sea. In Zechariah 14:8 the sea is referred to as the “former” sea meaning the ancient or earliest sea: “And it shall be in that day that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem half of them toward the Former Sea.

Geological research into the Dead Sea, where scientists have drilled down into the sea bed have revealed evidence of the sea’s ancient history. Geologists continue to investigate the changing regional climate and the extent to which the Dead Sea may have dried up thousands of years ago. The examination of sediment cores suggests that the Biblical account of droughts and earthquakes in the area were correct. Further investigation aims to uncover whether Sodom and Gomorrah, Biblical cities which stood on the sea shore, where destroyed by earthquakes. The research into the geological history of the sea will also shed light on the many times in the Bible when Israel had “fat years and lean years” and whether Joseph left Israel for Egypt because of a famine. So far drilling into the sea bed has reached levels corresponding with 120,000 years ago. Text from the Antiquities of the Jews (a historical account written by Flavius Josephus approximately 93AD) also recounts earthquakes in the region of the Dead Sea.

The Biblical references to the Dead Sea or Salt Sea present irrefutable evidence that the sea existed over 4,000 years ago and that certain Biblical events took place in this region.