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THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN.
SOUNDINGS IN FATHOMS.
spot upon which they stood. Of this, however, we have no evidence in Scripture, and an examination 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, is remarkable for 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
MAP OF THE DEAD SEA.
1 It is impossible here to enter into a full discussion of this question. The student is reserred 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 El 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
31'0746 Sodium (common salt)
6.5860 Bromide of Potassium
1'3741 Sulphate of Lime
It will thus be seen that one fourth part of the water 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 four per cent. of salts, and more than ninety-six per cent. of pure water.
Dead Sea, we ride in a north-westerly
clumps of nubk, its thorns sharp as STATUT 20
prongs of steel, and thickets of Zisyphus Spina Christi, from which tradition says that the crown of thorns was made. The osher or apple of Sodom, its flowers resembling those of the potato, its fruit green or yellow, attracts the eye by its
deceitful beauty. Innumerable pools and rills of water, fed by the perennial fountains which spring up near the site of the ancient Jericho, nourish this rank and unprofitable vegetation. The climate is semi-tropical
, in consequence of the deep depression of this part of the Jordan valley below the sea-level. “Well watered," and with such a climate, the district once was, and might still be, an Eden of fertility and beauty.' Now its only settled inhabitants are a few wild and lawless, squalid and poverty-stricken Arabs.
Turning eastward, we soon reach the FORDS OF THE JORDAN, the traditional site of our Lord's baptism and the present bathing-place of the pilgrims. The river comes down from the Sea of Galilee in a turbid impetuous stream. It has cut its channel so deeply in the marly soil, that throughout the
1 Gen. xiii. 1o.
greater part of its course it is hidden from view. From any elevated point, however, it is easy to trace its course by the fringe of bright green which marks it. Innumerable willows, oleanders, and tamarisks grow upon its banks and overhang the river-bed. Hence the incident recorded of the sons of the prophets, who, in the days of Elisha, went down to the Jordan to cut timber, one of whom let the head of a borrowed axe fall into the river.'
As we contrast this muddy, turbulent torrent, rushing unprofitably along
its deep-cut channel, with the clear bright waters of Damascus, which spread fertility and prosperity wherever they come, it is easy to understand the scornful words of Naaman the Syrian : “ Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel ? . . . So he turned and went away in a rage."
Like the Dead Sea, the physical phenomena of the Jordan are absolutely unique. Emerging from the Sea of Galilee at a probable depression of six hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean, it rushes along a narrow
1 2 Kings vi. 2-5.
2 Ibid. y. 12,