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THE DEA D SEA1.
The strange unique conformation of the country which we noticed as we approached Mar Saba becomes even more extraordinary as we continue our journey eastward. The soil consists of a soft chalk or white marl, furrowed in every direction by a labyrinth of valleys and pits from fifty to a hundred feet deep, cut, ages ago, by torrents long since dried up, leaving fantastic flat-topped mounds of every conceivable shape, which Maundrell aptly compares to gigantic lime kilns.
In a little more than three hours we find ourselves descending into the VALLEY OF THE JORDAN and the DEAD SEA. Reaching the plain, we ride
through an extensive cane brake where the reeds are higher than our heads, and which is the haunt of wild boars, wolves, jackals, and leopards, and from which lions were driven out “from the swelling of Jordan." From this point all vegetation ceases, for the bitter, acrid waters are fatal alike to animal and vegetable life. Even sea-fish turned into the lake die immediately. The beach is strewn with trunks of trees, bones of animals. and shells of fish brought down by the Jordan or by the winter torrents which Jer. xlix. 19; l. 44. * In a few rare and exceptional cases living organisms are alleged to have been found in the Dead Sea. In every come from the mountain-sides. After tossing, perhaps for centuries, in the bitter brine, they are cast ashore so saturated with salt that the wood will scarcely ignite, and if it burn at all, only gives a feeble blue flame. Those gaunt skeletons of ancient trees are all the more ghastly from the fact that they are covered by a saline deposit of which the fine glittering crystals are found efflorescing all along the beach. It is caused by the evaporation either of the receding waters after the winter floods, or of the spray which is flung ashore by the winds, which rush with extraordinary violence between the rocky walls which hem in the valley.
case, however, it has been near the mouth of Jordan, the impetuous torrent of which, after heavy rains, penetrates into the sea for some distance without mingling with its waters.
Whilst the northern shore is thus a flat desolate waste, the view down the sea, looking southward, is not wanting in a solemn grandeur and beauty. The water, clear as crystal, is of a deep blue, almost purple; its waves are crested with foam of a dazzling whiteness. Along the eastern shore the mountains of Moab stand like a mighty wall, the ridges and precipices of which slope down “in wild confusion to the shore, terminating in a series of perpendicular cliffs, from twelve hundred to two thousand feet above the water." Though their outline is somewhat monotonous and unbroken, their marvellous
colouring, which varies from a delicate pink to a rich crimson, invests them
THE DEA D SEA,
with a magical beauty. Seen, especially in the morning or the evening light, their tints are quite unearthly. The mountains of the western side, though lower than those of the eastern, seldom rising above fifteen hundred feet, are more irregular and broken, at least as seen from the northern end, and assume forms of striking grandeur. The most characteristic feature of the southern shore is a vast ridge of fossil salt, called Jebel Usdum, which is cut into ravines and hollows by the action of winter torrents. Canon Tristram describes many of these in terms which recall the glacier caves of the Alps. The light gleaming through the roof produces an exquisite play of colour—green and blue and white of various shades. Columns of rock salt are constantly
APPROACH TO ENGEDI.
left standing, detached from the general mass. Travellers—forgetful of the fact that these isolated fragments are but of short duration, and are, in the course of a few years, washed away by the same agency which produced them—have often identified one or another with the pillar of salt referred to in Genesis xix. 26. Sulphur and bitumen, which are found throughout the whole region, are very abundant, and traces of ancient igneous action are more obvious here than elsewhere. Whilst the general character of the scenery is one of sterility and desolation, some of the wadies which run down to the sea are oases of the utmost