History of the dead sea

Everything You Need To Know About The History Of The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most significant geological wonders in the world. Over the years, the Dead Sea has only evolved. The ancient names to the new ones and even the salinity content, the Dead Sea is one of those wonders that have seen massive changes. 

The Dead Sea history dates back to three to four million years. Being one of the most popular regions in the Middle East area and with an elevation of just 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is often regarded as the deepest point on Earth. But that’s not all; several factors have contributed to the Dead Sea’s rising popularity, such as its natural buoyancy, which makes you float in it.

Why is the Dead Sea historically important?

Is the Dead Sea historically important? It is one of the most common questions to have crossed your mind or not. Believe it or not, but since it was formed so many years ago, the Dead Sea happens to be one of the most historically important water bodies on the planet.

Fact Check: The Dead Sea is not a sea but a landlocked lake. The Dead Sea is called so because of its high saline and mineral content, which prevents any aquatic plant or animal life from sustaining. While the oceans have a salinity of only 4-6%, the Dead Sea salinity stands around 30-40%.

For more than 10,000 years, the Dead Sea has become one of the most important economic sources because of balsam. Hence, it has become an essential incense and medication center. Apart from that, the Dead Sea area has also been popular because of the dates and sugar. The Dead Sea minerals and muds are also said to have therapeutic and medicinal characteristics, which have been popular since ancient times. According to history, King Herod the Great, who existed some two thousand years ago, visited here to reap off the medicinal benefits.

Using the Dead Sea minerals, mud, and water for its medicinal properties is prevalent even in today’s generation. Apart from its medicinal properties, the Dead Sea also holds importance in terms of trade artery for more than 2300 years.

history about the dead sea

How the Dead Sea was created?

The Dead Sea is one of the most important endorheic lakes, being bordered by the Judea desert in Israel to the West and Jordan to the East. This lake is unique because of its only tributary Jordan River. The water flows into the Dead Sea but never out of it, which makes it so unique. 

The movement of the tectonic plates has played an important role in the formation of the Dead Sea. The region’s geology is often referred to as the Dead Sea graben, meaning ditch or depression. The movement of African and Arabian plates played a huge role in the formation of the Dead Sea.

The African plate’s movement is clockwise, while that of the Arabian plate is towards the north. As the plates moved away from each other, a graben or depression was formed, which paved the way for different things. The depression was filled with water some million years ago.

Back then, the Dead Sea used to be a part of the Mediterranean Sea. When millions of years later, the tectonic plates shifted away from the Mediterranean region, it led to the formation of the Dead Sea. With the Sea receding, it left behind several salt formations. The Dead Sea today has a few springs, which contributes to its replenishment.

When was the Dead Sea discovered?

The movement of tectonic plates has played an important role in Dead Sea history. The Dead Sea location has eventually brought about several seismic activities, so the place suffered several dramatic rise and fall in the water level. But it is only in recent times that the water levels have fallen at such a massive rate, with water levels going below one meter each year.  

The Dead Sea was discovered some million years ago. However, it is the Dead Sea scrolls that hold the most importance discovered sometime around the 1940s. There has been a constant debate about the Dead Sea. While some claim that the landlocked lake was formed three million years ago, some suggest it to be two million years old. But some people suggest that the Dead Sea is four million years old.

The receding rate of the Dead Sea is alarming. Hence, the geologists and scientists must work on protecting the Dead Sea to prevent any significant damages.

Why is it called the Dead Sea?

The name not only holds religious significance but scientific significance as well. One of the main reasons why the Dead Sea is called is because of its high saline content. 

The high salinity of the Dead Sea prevents the growth of any organisms around it. Since the Dead Sea salinity level is high, around 30-40%, it is necessary to understand that no organism can survive around it. Only small bacteria and algae grow around it. Since there is no life around the Dead Sea like in other water bodies, it is referred to as the Dead Sea. 

Another reason why the Dead Sea is called so is because of its natural buoyancy. Owing to the Dead Sea’s high density, people do not sink it but float on the surface of the Dead Sea. This makes it appear as if dead bodies are floating on the Dead Sea. Hence, the name, the Dead Sea.

The geographical history of the Dead Sea

Geographically, the Dead Sea was formed due to the shift of the tectonic plates. It is considered lying across the East African Rift Valley, which later shifted to the Jordanian Rift Valley.

The Dead Sea holds the title of being one of the four saltiest water bodies of the world. While initially it was hailed as the saltiest water body, it is not; it is just one of them. It is located at the heart of the Turkish-African Great Rift. Initially, the dead sea was divided into two parts- the North and Southern Lisan. The continents are constantly shifting, bringing about a movement and change in the Dead Sea galley.

The Dead Sea Valley is only a part of the Great Rift, which lies across 37000 miles and is formed 25 million years ago due to the shift of Asian and aggrecan shields. The rapid movement also brings about earthquakes. The floods have eventually filled up the cracks, thereby leading to the formation of the Dead Sea.

Ancient Times history of the Dead Sea

In Hebrew, the Dead Sea was also referred to as the Yam HaMelah or the Salt Sea. Being one of the most mysterious water bodies on the Earth, there’s still a lot to see across the Dead Sea. Every day, scientists and geologists find something new across this region.

In ancient times, the Dead Sea is also referred to as the Eastern Sea and the Sea of Sodom. It holds significance even in the Greek culture and is referred to as the Lake Asphaltites since asphalt floats on the Dead Sea surface. Furthermore, greats critics like Aristotle have also mentioned the Dead Sea’s pristine waters in his works.

The human history of the Dead Sea goes back thousands of years. To the north of the Dead Sea lies Jericho, which is considered one of the oldest settlements in the world. Already 11,500 years ago, a settlement took place in a walled village.

The Dead Sea also holds significance for the Qumran community because of the scrolls. All the ancient texts and scriptures are preserved across the Dead Sea, which provides insight into the people’s social and religious life across the Dead Sea shore. It also holds the social beliefs of the people of the 1st-century Jews.

King Herod the Great, established several palaces and fortresses across the Judea desert not far from the Dead Sea. Masada, a small group of rebellious Jewish people in the 66-70 AD, stood up against the Roman Legion. Another significant aspect is the Machaerus, where John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas and died.

history of dead sea scrolls

Is the Dead Sea mentioned in the Bible?

The Dead Sea is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible 13 times, not as the Dead sea but as the Salt sea. There is no significant story about the Dead Sea, and it has no special importance. It is always mentioned in the contexts of borders or places where wars took place, except for one place: the prophecy of Ezekiel. 

In the Book of Ezekiel, one of the prophecies describes a stream of fresh water coming out of the Temple and flowing into the Dead Sea (Jerusalem is much higher than the Dead Sea and not far). The prophecy stated that the high saline waters of the Dead Sea would change into freshwaters.

The place where no life would beam would turn into a place with sea life with several aquatic beings growing in it. According to the prophecy of Seer Ezekiel, “Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows.”

1 Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house [stood toward] the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south [side] of the altar.

2 Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.

3 And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters [were] to the ankles.

4 Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters [were] to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters [were] to the loins.

5 Afterward he measured a thousand; [and it was] a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.

6 And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen [this]? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river.

7 Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river [were] very many trees on the one side and on the other.

8 Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: [which being] brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.

9 And it shall come to pass, [that] every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.

10 And it shall come to pass, [that] the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a [place] to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many.

11 But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.

12 And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.

Ezekiel 47:1 – 47:12

Besides Ezekiel Prophecy, the Dead Sea locations are mentioned in Genesis, Deuteronomy, and other books. Here are some verses about the Salt Sea:

“All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.”

“That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.”

“Moreover Abishai the son of Zeruiah slew of the Edomites in the valley of salt eighteen thousand.”

The spiritual history of the Dead Sea sect

The Dead Sea Sect or the Qumran community belongs to the Jewish community, which existed around the Second Temple Period. This Jewish community followed a separate yet strict way of life, and the main sector of knowledge was the settlement across the Khirbet Qumran, across the Northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea scrolls were also found, which talked of the communities that lived across this region. The sect that lived at Qumran was referred to as yahads (together in Hebrew), and the Qumran scrolls talk about this Dead Sea sect’s beliefs and organizations. Although they were considered to be the parent movement, it is said that they soon separated, and the reason remains debatable.

The Qumran sect was a part of the Jewish movement also believed that Israel was a part of the divine judgment and will receive the imminent vindication at the ‘end of days.’ In their view, God had only preordained history and epochs.

“… all the ages of God will come at the right time, as he established for them in the mysteries of his prudence” (Pesher Habakkuk 7:13-14)

They stated that the evil ones with intent would eventually see a downfall and destruction while the ones under divine blessing will continue to live. The Qumran community’s views became a part of the yahad that believed God divided humans into two categories: truth and darkness, which is explained by the use of angelic figures: the Prince of Light and the Angel of Darkness or Belial.

The Community Rule’s presentation was focused on the eschatological expectation, but the future wasn’t observed. The Community had strict rules which predicted that the one belonging to the “darkness” would be punished while the ones belonging to the light will contribute to growth. There are mentions of the war scrolls as well as describing significant wars of Israel with other nations.

Dead Sea History in Christianity

The Dead Sea history in Christianity is mostly focused on the Dead Sea salinity. The Dead Sea locations are said to hold up importance in the Bible, only in one of Ezekiel’s prophecies. In the Bible, the Dead Sea has been mentioned in a few books, as mentioned earlier. The scripture further describes the Dead Sea as the Valley of Siddim or the Salt Sea.

Dead Sea History in Islam

The Dead Sea is mentioned in Islam in the Quran. Since the Dead Sea is located across the area of Sodom, it is often seen as a sign of destruction. According to the Quran, the people of the Sodom valley were considered to be evil. These people deserved punishment. Hence, the Dead Sea evolved in this region as a sign of punishment.

Since the Dead Sea water didn’t bear any aquatic life and didn’t have fresh water, the landlocked lake was no less than a punishment for people. The people of the Sodom Valley had to bear the wrath of the God living across the Dead Sea.

The Sodom valley people were immoral, murderers, thieves, and only involved themselves in immoral sexual behavior. Prophet Lut tried to preach God’s message, but no one believed, and eventually, he discovered his wife to be one of the non-believers. Hence, the Dead Sea region suffered huge downpour and rain across the baked clay with layers being marked on layers. Hence, it is observed as a sign of destruction in Islam, so devout Muslims work towards avoiding the Dead Sea.

The archaeological history of the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea has been a site of several discoveries. Several new scrolls have been discovered across the region, which only talks about history. The Qumran caves excavation began around the 1950s. Several scrolls have been discovered in the region over the years, with more than 11 caves being found during the excavation.

Every day discovery is made across the Dead Sea. The geologists and archaeologists find something new across this region every day.

The Dead Sea scrolls

The Dead Sea scrolls are the ancient Jewish religious manuscripts discovered around the 1940s to 1950s, in the Qumran caves situated across the Judean Desert, on the Dead Sea’s northern shores.

These scrolls are dated from the last three centuries BCE to the first century CE. These religious texts have been written in Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Nabataean-Aramaic text. Written on papyrus, bronze, and parchment, the texts were written sometime around 408 BCE to 318 CE.

The Dead Sea scrolls contain some parts from the Old Testament except the Book of Esther. They are a part of the sectarian regulations, containing details on the Community rules and religious writings, which are not usually a part of the Old Testament.

The Dead Sea scrolls are in the State of Israel in the Shrine of the Books and kept on the Israel Museum grounds. 

Business History of the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea has been used for trade for several years. It is a hub for businesses. The Dead Sea’s mud and minerals had been used for its replenishing characteristics for several cosmetic and healing purposes. In today’s time, the Dead Sea minerals and mud are used to develop medicine and cosmetic products. Several shampoos and soaps have also been developed. 

Furthermore, it is an essential resource of balsam, magnesium, potash, and bromine. The minerals obtained from the Dead Sea are further used for business purposes. The minerals obtained from the Dead Sea are transported to Egypt to boost the mummification process.

The Dead Sea has been a source of trade for around 2300 years. The salt obtained from the Dead Sea finds its mention in the Bible and the Talmud. The Dead sea salt was harvested till the 1930s. Potash was extracted from the Dead Sea in 1931, and today, it stands as the greatest source of bromine and potash.

The asphalt found floating on the Dead Sea surface has been used since the Pre-ceramic Neolithic period for waterproofing baskets and other decorative purposes. The asphalt from the Dead Sea was exported to Egypt during the Graeco-Roman period for mummification. Furthermore, the area was also a popular source for dates and sugar some thousand years ago.

The Dead Sea has hypersaline hot springs along the shore, which has been used for thousands of years for curing various diseases. It is believed King Herod, around 2000 years ago, visited the Dead Sea area to cure his diseases.

The area around the Dead Sea had been a major trade route. The ships were responsible for carrying asphalt, salt, and agricultural produce. What’s fascinating about the region is that the ships could anchor on both sides.

2 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About The History Of The Dead Sea”

  1. Thank you for developing this website, a real treasure, which is filled with tons of information about the Holy Lands. I visited Israel and Jordan in 2015 and have continued my research for my book and website, A Closer Walk with God.

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