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stood in the southern part of the plain or valley now occupied by, or adjacent to the sea. We supposed too, that their catastrophe must have had some connexion with the pits of asphaltum (slime-pits, Gen. 14: 10,) which before existed in the valley; and ihat the southern part of the sea, beyond the peninsula, might probably have been in some way occasioned by this conflagration. But the main body of the sea, further north, we thought must have been already in existence ; since it exhibits no evidence of any later origin, than the Lake of Tiberias in the same great valley.
Our attention was soon engaged with other objects equally interesting ; and we left this subject without arriving further at any very definite conclusions. During the course of the last winter, Mr. Smith being then in Leipzig, had occasion again to take up the same inquiry : and pursuing it further arrived at a theory which may perhaps, in some of its points, be the true one.
Its main features were these : The sea anciently extended only so far south as to the peninsula ; south of this were the pits of asphaltum, around which extensive strata of the bitumen had spread themselves out over the surface of the valley ; upon this bitumen a stratum of soil had been formed, which was fertile and well watered, and on this stood the cities. The Lord, by means of lightning or fire from heaven, caused the strata of bitumen to be set on fire, which then burnt with a fury sufficient to destroy the cities, consume the strata forming the fertile surface of the valley, and thus in parts sink its level; so that a portion became covered by the waters of the sea rushing in, while
return from Palestine, in the diligent preparation of the researches of himself and Mr. Smith, in the Holy Land, for publication. The work has been principally written at Berlin, with the best advantages, and, as is expected, will be published in London, and in this country, under the superintendence of the author. In the mean time a Translation has been made into German, which will be simultaneously published in Halle, under the supervision of Prof. Roediger, a distinguished Oriental scholar. These publications will be accompanied with a new and improved map of Palestine prepared from the notes of Messrs. Robinson and Smith by a distinguished and scientific artist. Great interest is manifested in this work by men of the highest name and character for Biblical and Geographical learning in Germany and England. We trust its publication will not be long delayed. EDITOR. SECOND SERIES, VOL. III. NO, I.
the rest remained a salt and dreary desert, as it is at this day. Within the new portion thus occupied by the sea, the fountains of asphaltum may be supposed to be still at work beneath the water, producing the occasional phenomena of that substance for which the sea is famous.
My own impressions in respect to the above theory may be gathered from the following letter to M. de Buch. As I am no geologist, it seemed to me preferable, so far as I am concerned, to arrange the facts we had collected and lay them before scientific men, rather than build up theories in a department which is not my own. In this way, and out of these views, arose the correspondence which is here subjoined. It is hardly necessary for me to say, that M. de Buch, the distinguished geologist who was so good as to reply to my inquiries, holds the highest rank in this department on the continent of Europe ; and that he has paid more attention than any man living to the phenomena of volcanoes and volcanic action.
I wish it to be distinctly understood, that the question here, on my part, has reference solely to the means which the Almighty employed for the miraculous destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I propose no theory on the subject; nor does M. de Buch ; but my object is to present facts and materials, of which others may make use, in order to carry out the discussion further. For this reason I have subjoined an extract respecting the volcanic dyke' found near the island of Banda in A. D. 1820 ; and another containing an account of the very remarkable Pitch Lake in the island of Trinidad. This last presents an analogy to what may have been the ancient character of the asphaltum around the pits in the valley, before the destruction of the cities of the plain.
I should be highly gratified if Prof. Silliman, or Prof. Hitchcock, or others of our American geologists, would look at the subject, and lay the result of their reflections before the public.
Yours in Christian bonds, Berlin, July 25, 1839.
I. Prof. E. Robinson to M. Leopold von Buch.
Berlin, April 17th, 1839. Sir,
In accordance with your kind permission, I venture to throw together a few hints and notices respecting the region around the Dead Sea and its phenomena, in the hope of being able, through your suggestions, to arrive perhaps at some explanation founded on scientific principles, of the historical notices of this district contained in the Scriptures.
Our journeyings led us twice to the borders of the Dead Sea. Once, passing down from near Hebron (el-Khûilîl), we struck it at 'Ain Jidy; and proceeded along its western side to Jericho. The second time, we went from Hebron to near the ford marked on most modern maps; and thence to the southern point; and so through the Ghôr and Wady el-'Arabah to Wady Mûsa. We found the Sea here occupying the whole breadth of the great valley, which extends from Jebel esh Sheikh and Banias to the Red Sea at al 'Akabah ; but the mountains do not open out into a circle or oval around it, as is usually represented; that, at both the northern and southern ends of the Sea, that and the valley are somewhat contracted by promontories running out obliquely from the western mountain ; and that at the southern extremity, is a long even ridge, unconnected with the western mountains and lying in front of them, running along the shore S. S. E. from near the said ford to the end of the sea. It then bends to the S. S. W. for about the same distance, where it terminates. The height of this ridge is 150 to 200 feet; and the mass of it is fossil salt, thinly covered with strata of limestone and marle. South of this ridge the Ghôr is again wider. But about eight or ten geographical miles (60 to a degree) distant from the sea in the same direction, is a line of cliffs apparently stretching across the whole Ghôr, as if cutting off all further progress southward. At the foot of these are many brackish springs, which at present form a marsh along their base. These cliffs, however, proved to be nothing more than an offset or step between the Ghôr below, and the higher level of the valley further south, which from that point takes the name of Wady el-'Arabah. Through these cliffs or offset, consisting of marle, the deep water-course of the great valley breaks its way down to the level of the Ghôr, between banks 150 to 200 feet high. It is called Wady el-'Jeib, a Wady within a Wady. This water-course was dry when we saw it in June; but in the rainy season it drains off the waters of el-'Arabah and of the adjacent mountains and high deserts on either side, and carries them northward to the Dead Sea. Its bed has a rapid descent, and bears marks of a large and powerful volume of water. It begins, as we learned from Arabs of that region, beyond Wady Ghûrûndel, or nearly three quarters of the distance towards ’Akabah ; the water-shed being so indistinct as not to have been remarked by travellers who have passed over it. The waters of Wady Ghûrûndel itself flow off northwards. The waters of the great western plateau, or the desert et-Tih, as far south at least as the point opposite ’Akabab, and probably much further, also flow northwards along the plateau, being drained off by the Wady Jerâfeh, which runs north and enters el-'Arabah nearly opposite to Wady Mûsa. The great valley as seen from 'Akabah looking northwards, appears to have only a slight acclivity, and exhibits scarcely a trace of a water-course. The whole conformation of this valley, thus presenting a much longer and greater ascent towards the south, seems of itself to indicate, that the Dead Sea must lie considerably lower than the Gulf of 'Akabah.
It has been generally assumed that the Dead Sea has existed only since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, recorded in the book of Genesis; and the favorite hypothesis of late years has been, that the Jordan before that time flowed through Wady el-'Arabah to the Gulf of 'Akabah, Jeaving the present bed of the Dead Sea a fertile plain. But this, as is now known, cannot have been the case ; at least not within the times to which history reaches back. Every circumstance goes to show, that a lake must have existed in this place, into which the Jordan poured its waters before the catastrophe of Sodom. It seems also a necessary conclusion, that these cities lay to the southward of the lake; for Lot fled to Zoar which was near to Sodom ; and Zoar lay almost at the southern end of the present sea, (the name having still existed in the time of Abulfeda in the 14th century,) apparently at the mouth of a Wady coming down from Kerak in the eastern mountain. The fertile plain, therefore, which Lot chose for himself, and which was well watered like the land of Egypt, lay also south of the lake and near to Zoar,(Gen, xiii. 10–12. And to the present day more living streams (not less than four or five) flow into the Ghôr at the south end of the Sea from the eastern mountain, than are to be found so near together in all Palestine ; and the tract is better watered still, than any other district throughout the whole country. In that plain too were wells or pits of asphaltum (en) the same word used in describing Babylon, and indicating the same substance as that with which the walls of that city were cemented, (Gen. xiv. 10, compared with Gen. xi. 3.) The valley indeed in which these pits were, is called Siddim ; but it is said to have been near the salt Sea and contained Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen. xiv. 3, 10, 11.)—The streams that watered the plain remain to test the accuracy of the historian; but the pits of asphaltum are no longer to be seen. Did they disappear in consequence of the catastrophe of the plain?
The southern part of the Dead Sea has a singular configuration. About three hours north of the southern extremity, the broad low neck of a peninsula runs out from the eastern shore terminated by a long bank at right angles to the neck, like a long narrow island or sand bank running from north to south. This bank is perhaps nearer to the western than to the eastern shore ; and the peninsula may be said almost to divide the sea. (There is a trace of this peninsula on the maps of Berghaus and others; though it is always too small, and has not by any means the true form.) At the southern point of this long bank, the Sea, which is here hardly wider than a broad river, sweeps round to the east and south-east, and forms a bay, which constitutes the southern part or end of the Sea, and is in general very shallow. The adjacent shore on the south is low and flat, and when the lake is swollen by winter rains, the water sets up over it two or three miles further south than when we saw it. The limit of this overflowing was very distinct; being marked by trunks of plam-trees and other drift-wood. Indeed the whole southern part of the Sea, as seen from the western mountains, resembled much a long winding bay, or the estuary of a large river, when the tide is out and the shores left dry.
We travelled with Arabs of different tribes, inhabiting both the northern and southern parts of the western coast; and our guides were the most intelligent Sheikhs of those tribes. We inquired often and particularly respecting the phenomena of asphaltumn in this Sea; and received a uniform answer from all, “ they had never known of its being found except in the Sea; nor there, except after earthquakes. After the earthquake of 1834, a considerable quantity was found floating in small pieces, which were driven on shore and gathered. After the great earthquake of Jan. 1, 1837, (in which Safed was destroyed,) a large mass of asphaltum was found