The Dead Sea has played a significant role in the human cultures surrounding it throughout human history. It is mentioned many times in the Bible, and in modern times it is associated with the landmark archaeological discovery of the “Dead Sea Scrolls.”
The Dead Sea is a salt lake in the Middle East, bordered by Jordan, Israel, and the disputed West Bank area conquered by Israel on 1967. Very small for a “sea,” it is but 42 miles long and 11 miles wide at its widest point. The Jordan River flows into it; it has no outlet.
The Dead Sea’s most notable natural features are its elevation and its salinity. At 1,385 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea and the land around its banks are the lowest point on earth that is not beneath the surface of a body of water. Classified as “hypersaline,” the Dead Sea has a salinity of 33.7% (compared to 3%-4% for the world’s oceans, and about 12% for the Great Salt Lake). The high salt content means that there are no fish or other animals or plants in the Dead Sea, other than tiny organisms such as bacteria and microbial fungi. It is with good reason that the Dead Sea is also known as the Salt Sea.
On the north end of the Dead Sea is Jericho, which some historians identify as the oldest continuously inhabited place in the world, with evidence of a settlement there as long as 11,000 years ago.
Old Testament legends place Sodom and Gomorrah and other significant locations from Genesis in the area of the Dead Sea. In Ezekiel and Zechariah are prophecies that God will heal the Dead Sea and make it capable of sustaining marine life.
Those dwelling around it have long attributed beneficial medicinal and cosmetic properties to the water and mud of the Dead Sea. Aristotle made reference to the water’s remarkable healing power. Egyptians used bitumen from the Dead Sea in embalming their mummies. Cleopatra is said to have built cosmetic and pharmaceutical factories in the area.
Around the time of Christ, various sects of Jews populated the caves in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. The best known of these is the Essenes of Qumran, due to the discovery in the 1940s and 50s of 900 documents they left in the caves, known collectively as the “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The documents were a hugely important historical find, providing much insight into the people of the time that otherwise would have been unavailable.
The fortress of Masada in the 1st century on the western bank of the Dead Sea was the site of the Roman defeat of the radical Jewish sect called the “Zealots,” as well as where John the Baptist was imprisoned and died, according to Josephus.
Throughout Christian history, the remote Dead Sea area has been a place of pilgrimage for the devout, with many monasteries having been established there.
In modern times, the Dead Sea has been used as a source of potash and other minerals valuable for agriculture and industry. It continues to attract tourists, and people interested in its healing powers. The waters are used in the treatment of psoriasis and other conditions. There are a number of health spas and hot springs along its shores.
“The Dead Sea.” Maps of World.
“The Jordan Valley.” The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
“The History of the Dead Sea and Dead Sea Salts.” Wholesale Dead Sea Salt Guide.