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THE DEAD SEA.
Though their outline is somewhat monotonous and unbroken, their marvellous colouring, which varies from a delicate pink to a rich crimson, invests them 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 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.
Some of the wadies of this sterile and desolate region are oases of the utmost sertility and beauty. Chief among these is that of En-gedi or the Kid's 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 in the vineyards of En-gedi.” The vineyards, the palms and the balsam trees, which once abounded here, have disappeared, but traces of ancient cultivation remain to show what the valley once 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
Here, and in the adjoining Vale of Siddim, Chedorlaomer defeated his rebellious 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 dwelling-place,
Until Asshur shall carry thee away captive."} 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 sase from pursuit, almost from discovery. Behind him was the wilderness of Judæa. Before him were the mountains of Moab, in case further retreat should seem expedient. And here it was that the heroic chief mercifully spared the life of his pitiless foe when the “Lord had delivered him into his hand.” 4
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 Machærus, 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 Song of Sol. i. 14.
+ 1 Sam. xxiii, 29; xxiv.
2 Gen. xiv.
3 Num, xxiv. 21, 22.
SIEGE OF MASADA.
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 when 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
When “Lot listed 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.”3 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
? 2 Peter ii. 8.
3 Gen. xiv. 10. Compare Gen. xi. 3.
I Gen. xiii. 1o.
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
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