« הקודםהמשך »
fountain. It runs out on the western side of the sea in the direction of Hebron. Fertilised by a rill of pure water, and having an almost tropical temperature, it forms a perfect garden. Even the Arabs, who are usually so insensible to natural beauty, speak of it with enthusiasm. My servant Mohammed, on one occasion gathered twenty-five different varieties of flowers in a few minutes. Solomon sums up his description of the charms of the Shunammitess by saying, “My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire on the vineyards of Engedi.” The vineyards, the palms and the balsam trees, which once abounded here, have disappeared, but traces of ancient cultivation remain to show what once it was and might be yet again.
Under its original name of Hazezon-Tamar (the pruning of the palm trees), it was the scene of the first pitched battle in an organized campaign which history records. Here, and in the adjoining Vale of Siddim, Chedorlaomer defeated his rebellous tributaries, the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar, carrying away Lot and his family amongst the captives.
Here amongst cliffs and precipices dwelt the Kenites when Balaam, looking across the valley from a height on the opposite side, uttered his impassioned prophecy, and said:
- “Strong is thy dwellingplace
Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted,
Here, too, David retired when hard pressed by Saul. He had to leave the neighbourhood of Ziph and Maon, just as many an Arab sheikh is accustomed to do at the present day, to escape from the tyranny, or the justice, of the government. In these inaccessible fastnesses he was safe from pursuit, almost from discovery. Behind him was the wilderness of Judea. Before him were the mountains of Moab in case further retreat should seem expedient. And here it was that heroic chief mercifully spared the life of his pitiless foe when the “Lord had delivered him into his hand.”
In more modern times the shores of the Dead Sea have been associated with two tragic events which add to the gloomy memories which enshroud it. Among the mountains on the eastern side, looking down upon the gorge of the Callirhoe, is Makaur, the ancient Machaerus, in which John the Baptist took his place among “the noble army of martyrs.” Dr. Tristram, the first European known to have visited it since the time of the Romans, says that he found amongst the ruins “two dungeons, one of them very deep, and its sides scarcely broken in. That these were dungeons, not cisterns, is evident from there being no traces of cement, which never perishes from the walls of ancient reservoirs, and from the small holes, still visible in the masonry, where staples of wood and iron had once been fixed. One of these must surely have been the prison-house of John the Baptist.” On the western shore stood
Masada, the palace-fortress of Herod, in which was enacted the last awful tragedy in the Jewish war of independence. Jerusalem had fallen. One fortress after another had surrendered to the Romans. This impregnable stronghold alone remained, held by a band of men who, with the courage of despair, determined to die rather than to yield. The fatal moment at length arrived at which further resistance was impossible. Eleazar, son of Judas the Galilean, called the garrison together and urged upon them that death was to be preferred to dishonour. Each man thereupon stabbed his wife and children to the heart, and lying down beside those whom he loved, bared his neck to the ten who were chosen by lot to consummate the slaughter. One of these last survivors then slew the other nine and, having set fire to the building, stabbed himself. When the Romans entered the breach on the morning of Easter Day A.D. 73, they found nothing but corpses and smouldering ruins. Two women and five children, who had hidden themselves in the vaults, alone survived to tell the tale, nearly a thousand persons having perished.
But all other historical associations with this district shrink into insignificance in comparison with that fearful catastrophe, when the Lord overwhelmed and destroyed the guilty cities with fire from heaven. When “Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, even as the garden of the Lord,” he not only failed to take account of the licentiousness and “filthy conversation of the wicked,” choosing temporal wealth at the peril of his soul's welfare; but he knew not or cared not that the soil was one vast arsenal filled with instruments of destruction. The cities rested upon a bed of sulphur and bitumen. They were built and cemented from “the slime-pits of Siddim.” When the longsuffering of God was exhausted and “the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah was very great and their sin very grievous,” the hour of judgment came. The destruction may have been altogether miraculous. Or it may have been brought about by miracle working through natural agencies. The whole region is volcanic. Lightnings flashing from heaven, and the bursting forth of the subterranean fires, may have turned the whole plain into “a burning fiery furnace,” in which not the cities only but the very soil on which they stood were turned into one vast sea of flame. Imagination shudders at
* Gen. xiii. Io. * 2 Peter ii. 8. * Gen. xiv. Io. Compare Gen. xi. 3.
the awful spectacle when “the smoke of the country went up like the smoke of a furnace.” The exact site of the cities thus destroyed cannot be decided with
certainty. It has been commonly supposed that the Dead Sea covers the
THE CITIES OF THE PLAAAW.
spot upon which they stood. Of this, however, we have no evi- dence in Scripture, and an ex#wres" **** amination of the geology of the district shows that it is impossible. Those who would locate them, on the plain to the south of the Sea, urge in proof of their view an early and continuous tradition to this effect, the presence of a vast mountain of rocksalt which breaks up into isolated columns, the most remarkable of which has been called Lot's wife, and the similarity of names, Usdum being identified with Sodom, Amrah with Gomorrah, and Zuweirah with Zoar. But the biblical narrative rather points to the conclusion that they stood on or near the northern shore where the “well-watered plain” of the Jordan, even to this day, attracts by its extraordinary fertility." It is only within the present generation that the physical conditions of the Dead Sea have been subjected to scientific investigation. Dean Stanley truly *-* says, “Viewed merely in a *:::. } \\". || scientific point of view, it is one * of the most remarkable spots of the world.” At some remote period beyond the range of history or tradition, the Jordan seems to have flowed onward over what is now the elevated
* It is impossible here to enter into a full discussion of this question. The student is referred to the works of Canon Tristram, and to the articles by Mr. Grove in Smith's ‘Bible Dictionary.'
valley of Arabah into the Red Sea. By geological action, the nature of which cannot as yet be ascertained, the whole Jordan valley has sunk, so that the Sea of Galilee is probably six hundred feet, and the Dead Sea about thirteen hundred feet, below the level of the Mediterranean—a phenomenon without parallel on the earth's surface. The sea itself is divided into two unequal parts by a projecting tongue of land, called by the Arabs Z/ Lisan (the tongue). The northern portion is very deep ; the greatest depth being given by Lieutenant Lynch at thirteen hundred and eight feet. Its bed, therefore, at this point would be twenty-six hundred feet below the level of the sea. The southern portion is much shallower, nowhere exceeding two fathoms. The depth, however, varies with the seasons. The total superficial area is about two hundred and fifty miles, which is nearly that of the Lake of Geneva. Its excessive density and saltness have been already referred to. Analysis gives the following results:
Chloride of Magnesium - - - - . 145 '897 I
35 Calcium . - • - . 31 o746
** Sodium (common salt) - - . 78' 5537
** Potassium - - - - - 6' 5860
Bromide of Potassium - - - - - I 374 I
Sulphate of Lime - - - - - - o 7 or 2
Water • . . . - - - - . 735: 81.33
It will thus be seen that one fourth part of the waters of the Dead Sea consists of various salts.' Hence its nauseous, bitter taste and its extraordinary density. My own experience was that I could not sink, however much I tried, and after bathing I found an acrid slime left upon the skin from which I could not rid myself for two or three days.
The full meaning of this statement will be perceived when it is remembered that sea-water contains less than foul per cent of salts, and more than ninety-six per cent of pure water.