The History of the Dead Sea

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The History of the Dead Sea
The History of the Dead Sea (Image: Joi: flickr.com)

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth, at 1,384 feet below sea level, and is rich in history. Going back thousands of years, people have flocked to the Dead Sea for a variety of reasons. The Dead Sea is even featured in the Torah, also known as the Old Testament of the Bible.

Geography

The Dead Sea is a large lake that sits between Jordan to the east and Israel to the west. Since the area is so low, many rivers empty into the Dead Sea, including the Jordan River. The water in the Dead Sea is six times as salty as sea water, which is why there is very little life to be found in it, though there are certain bacteria, algae and even one species of fish that survive the harsh conditions of the sea. Many caves surround the Dead Sea.

Formation

Millions of years ago, plates under the Earth's surface shifted, causing what is now known as the Great Rift Valley. The valley stretches from Syria to Mozambique in Africa, and the Dead Sea sits in the north of the valley. The Dead Sea formed because the earth around the sea was pulled too far apart, causing the land to sink. In fact, the land around the Dead Sea is still sinking today.

The Dead Sea, Jordanian side.
The Dead Sea, Jordanian side.

Etymology

In Hebrew, the Dead Sea is called "Yam Hamelach," which means "Sea of Salt." When Christian monks set their sights on the sea, they noticed that there were no life forms anywhere around, and called it the Dead Sea.

Cultural History

Many ancient cities were located around the Dead Sea. Both Jericho and Sodom and Gomorrah were supposed to have been nearby before they were destroyed. People have lived in the area around the Dead Sea for over 2,000 years. Qumran, an ancient settlement on the west bank of the Dead Sea, is where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, dating from 150 B.C. Many Jewish sects were said to have lived around the Dead Sea.

Dead Sea Scrolls

The scrolls were discovered around 1947 in caves around the Dead Sea area of Qumran. They are ancient texts written on parchment and papyrus. Most of them were written before the arrival of Jesus. 900 scrolls, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, were discovered. They highlight the differences in belief between the different sects of Judaism at the time while also containing many books of the Torah, some not included in the modern Torah, or the Hebrew Bible, today. The scrolls survived for so long because of the extremely dry environment surrounding the Dead Sea.

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