« PreviousContinue »
Bituminous matter often rises from the bottom of the lake, floats on the surface, and is thus thrown upon the shores, where it is gathered by the Arabs for medicinal and economical purposes. It is not known to contain any fish, or animals of any description, although the monks of St. Saba told Dr. Shaw, the traveller, that they had seen fish caught in it;"* and the credulous Chateaubriand states that when he heard a noise upon the lake at midnight, the Bethlemites told him “it proceeded from legions of small fish which come and leap about on the shore.”+ Pococke, when at Jerusalem,“ heard of a missionary who had seen fish in the lake," and Hasselquist, Maundrell, Seetzen and some others have discovered a few shells on the shore. These shells, however, it is nearly certain, are brought down by the river Jordan, and in all probability the fishes also ; which dying, are cast upon the shores, and thus beget the belief that the lake is inhabited. As to the tradition that no bird can fly over it and live, Mr. Stevens, our intelligent fellow-townsman, says that he “saw a flock of gulls quietly reposing on its bosom ; and when roused with a stone, they flew down the lake, skimming its surface, until they had carried themselves out of sight.”I
As the ancients appear to have been better acquainted with the Dead Sea, than the moderns, I quote the following account of it from Josephus, which comprises the substance of what is related by Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Tacitus, Pliny, Ammianus, Galen, Lucretius, Vitruvius, Aristotle, Julius Africanus, Pausanias, and the Arabian Geographer, Schrif Ibn Idris. “ The nature of the Lake Asphaltites is also worth describing. It is, as I have said already, bitter and unfruitful. It is so light (thick ?) that it bears up the heaviest things that are thrown into it ; nor is it easy for
any to make things sink therein to the bottom, if he had a mind so to do. Accordingly, when Vespasian went to see it, he commanded that some who could not swim, should have their hands tied behind them, and be thrown into the deep, when it so happened that they all swam, as if a wind had forced
* Dr. Shaw's Travels in Palestine.
+ Travels in Greece, Egypt, Palestine, &c., by F. A. De Chateaubriand, p. 263.
| Egypt, Arabia Petræa and the Holy Land, Vol. II. p. 271. them upwards. Moreover the change of the color of this lake is wonderful, for it changes its appearance thrice every day, and as the rays of the sun fall differently upon it, the light is variously reflected. However it casts up black clods of bitumen in many parts of it ; these swim at the top of the water, and resemble both in shape and bigness headless bulls ; and when the laborers that belong to the lake come to it, and catch hold of it as it hangs together, they draw it into their ships; but when the ship is full, it is not easy to cut off the rest, for it is so tenacious as to make the ship hang upon its clods till they set it loose with the menstrual blood of women, and with urine, to which alone it yields. This bitumen is not only useful for the caulking of ships, but for the cure of men's bodies; accordingly it is mixed in a great many medicines. The length of this lake is 580 furlongs where it is extended as far as Zoar in Arabia, and its breadth is 150. The country of Sodom borders upon it. It was of old a most happy land, both for the fruits it bore, and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related, how for the impiety of its inhabitants it was burnt by lightning ; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that divine fire, and the traces (or shadows) of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes, growing in their fruits, which have a color as if they were fit to be eaten ; but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes.” (Wars of the Jews, B. IV. c. viii. sec. 4.)
The only other features in the geology of this region, which seem worthy of particular note, are the frequent occurrence of sulphur and the ridge of fossil salt,* from 150 to 200 feet
* The ancients were obviously well acquainted with the existence of this salt bed, and employed it extensively for economical purposes. Galen, after describing the usual wonderful properties of the waters of this lake, which he said he had visited and tasted, (“ καθαπερ και ημεις εποιησαμεν,”) remarks, “ Vocant autem cum salem Sodemenum a montibus circumjacentibus lacum, qui Sodoma appellantur. Multi accolæ illo sale utuntur ad varios usus, ad quos nos alio sale utimur. Sed vis salis Sodomitici talis est, ut non modo plus exsicat quam alius sal, sed magis extenuet et digerat, quid majus tostus est."
high, covered with strata of lime-stone and marl," which runs along the western border of the sea, terminating near the extremity.” This bank of salt, was likewise seen by the servant of Mr. Costigan, the Irish gentleman who circumnavigated the Dead Sea, and soon afterwards fell a victim to his imprudence. Mrs. Haight, also, one of the most intelligent, enterprising and fearless travellers of her sex, bears her testimony to the existence of this saline deposit. It is also mentioned by Maundrell, Shaw, Volney, and oth
About ten miles south of the sea, are several saline springs, which overflow and form a marsh at the foot of a line of cliffs. The rocks in this whole region are bituminous, and beds of asphaltum, doubtless, exist in many places beneath the soil, and beneath the bed of the Dead Sea.* Hasselquist states that it is gathered on the shores, every autumn, in considerable quantities, by the Arabs, and carried to Damietta, where it is sold, and employed in dying wool. Melted asphaltum or bitumen was employed in the construction of Babel," they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar,"] in building Babylon, and probably most of the very ancient cities in that region.
Springs of mineral oil, occur in many countries, as India, Calabria, Sicily, England and America, and generally in connection with coal beds, or rocks of the coal formation. Mr. Malcolm, in his travels, states that there are at least 400 wells of it in Burmah,which occupy a space of about 12 square miles. They are from 200 to 300 feet deep, and the oil, when first elevated to the surface, is of the temperature of 89o. It is exported in large quantities for lamps, and torches, for preserving wood, mat partitions, palm-leaf books, &c. from insects, and for paying boats. Each of these wells yields about 150 gallons of oil daily, which sells for about 40 cents per cwt.
Petroleum is found in several places in the State of New York, and particularly in the Mississippi
* Voyages and Travels in the Levant, p. 284.
. + We may here observe that "slime," or petroleum, is a tenacious, brown fluid, which, according to the length of its exposure to the air, or to heat, increases in thickness, and in darkness of color, until it acquires nearly the consistency of common tar; while asphaltum is the same substance in its highest degree of induration,
valley. In the valley of the Little Kenawha, it is found oozing up through a bed of gravel on the margin of Hew's River, for a distance of four or five miles, and is often seen floating on the surface of the water. From 50 to 100 barrels are here collected every year, and much more could be gathered, if the demand required. In the adjacent hills is a bed of coal, but Dr. Hildreth supposes that its source lies very deep in the earth. Dr. Mantell observes that “from a careful analysis of petroleum and certain turpentine oils, it is clear that their principal component parts are identical ; and it appears therefore evident that petroleum has originated from the coniferous trees, whose remains have contributed so largely to the formation of coal: and that the mineral oil is nothing more than the turpentine oil of the pines of former ages : not only the wood, but also large accumulations of the needle-like leaves of the pines may also have contributed to this process. We thus have the satisfaction of obtaining, , after the lapse of thousands of years, information as to the more intimate composition of those ancient destroyed forests of the period of the great coal formation, whose comparison with the present vegetation of our globe is the subject of so much interest and investigation. The mineral oil may be ranked with amber, succinite, and other similar bodies which occur in the strata of the earth. The occurrence of petroleum in springs does not seem to depend on combustion, as has been supposed, but is simply the result of subterranean heat. According to the information we now possess, it is not necessary that strata should be at very great depth beneath the surface to acquire a heat equal to the boiling point of water, or mineral oil. In such a position the oil must have suffered a slow distillation, and have found its way to the surface; or have so impregnated a portion of the earth, as to enable us to collect it from wells, as in various parts of Persia and India.”
Such is a brief abstract of the facts I have been able to gather, in relation to the geological features of Palestine. I am aware that it is far from being complete or satisfactory; but it must be recollected that most of the travellers through this interesting country were unacquainted with geological science, and the occasional observations they have recorded, have to be received with much caution, and only admitted when supported by the testimony of others. Enough, how. ever, has been ascertained to establish the fact, that all the formations, primitive, transition, secondary, volcanic, tertiary, diluvial and alluvial, are to be met with in this region, and that a space of a few thousand square miles, contains within its limits, an epitome of the geology of the globe. Here we behold the effects of all those natural agents, which are so constantly and efficiently at work to change the surface of this earth; rain, and foods, and frost, and volcanic fire, have here expended their fury, and striven, with the fiercer passions of man, and the wonderful events of which it has been the theatre, to render this country an astonishment and a marvel ! We are now prepared to investigate the nature of the causes employed by the Almighty for the destruction of the cities of the plain.
I believe it is now generally admitted that there are sufficient indications to render it highly probable, if not to warrant the belief, that the Jordan once flowed uninterruptedly, through Wady el Arabah, to the Gulf of Akabah. During this period, I suppose, no one can doubt that the present Dead Sea did not exist, for it is impossible that an inland lake should possess the properties of the waters of this sea, while it communicates with the ocean, by a river flowing through it. It is important then to ascertain, at what period the Jordan ceased to empty into the Red Sea, and we shall determine this point, if we can find when the Dead Sea was formed. We read, Gen. xiv., that the kings of Shinar, Elassar, Elam, &c. “ were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the Salt Sea," i. e., they were congregated in that part of the valley of the Jordan, which is now (at this time of writing) covered by the waters of the Salt Sea. Consequently it may safely be inferred, that, at that time, no such sea was in existence. In confirmation, it may be stated that this sea is not mentioned in any other place, till after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and then we frequently find references to it. We are likewise told, that “the vale of Siddim was full of slime pits,” (asphaltum,) and that "the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled and fell there." (Gen. 14: 10.) Prof. Robinson states that "every circumstance goes to show that a lake must have existed in this place, into which the Jordan poured its waters, before the destruction of Sodom." But what these “circumstances” are, he does not mention, and it is difficult to conceive ; moreover, M.