What is the…
Dead Sea

Hebrew: יָם הַמֶּלַח‎

also known as: Salt Sea, East Sea, Eastern Sea, Sea of the Plain, Sea of the Arabah, Bahr Lut (Sea of Lot), Al-Bahr al-Mayyit and Lake Asphaltites

The name “Dead Sea” does not appear in Scripture. This name was given by Greek writers of the 2nd century to that inland sea called in Scripture the “Salt Sea” (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:12), the “sea of the plain” (Deuteronomy 3:17), the “east sea” (Ezek. 47:18; Joel 2:20), and simply “the sea” (Ezek. 47:8)

Satellite view of the Dead Sea. Its “banks are more than 400 meters (1312 feet) below sea level,” the lowest point on Earth on dry land.

The Arabs called it Bahr Lut, i.e., the Sea of Lot. It lies about 16 miles in a straight line to the east of Jerusalem.

Biblical people associated with this area


In ancient times, this lake used to be much bigger and much less salty. Today, its surface has dropped to 1,407 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea. Its depth is 997 feet (304 meters), although this varies.

From various phenomena that have been observed, its bottom appears to be still subsiding. It is about 42 miles long (304 meters), and, at the widest point, is 11 miles wide (18 kilometers).

It has no outlet, the great heat of that region causes such rapid evaporation that before the State of Israel, its average depth, notwithstanding the rivers that ran into it (see JORDAN), was maintained with little variation. Before modern Israeli management of the Jordan, this river alone discharged into it no less than 6-million tons of water every 24 hours.

The waters were then about 1,400 feet above the present level of the Dead Sea, or slightly above that of the Mediterranean, and at that time were much less salty. Since the 1950s, when the State of Israel began conserving water for its people and agriculture by managing the rivers, the level of the Dead Sea has dropped more than 131 feet (40 meters).

Ancient terraces of alluvial deposits in the deep valley of the Jordan show that formerly one great lake extended from the waters of Merom to the foot of the watershed in the Arabah.

Concentrated salts and other minerals

The waters of the Dead Sea now contain 33.7% percent mineral salts, 9 times as much as in ordinary seawater (approximately 3.5%); thus the water is unusually buoyant, with a density of 1.24 kg/liter. Chloride of magnesium is most abundant; next to that chloride of sodium (common salt). The salt of the Dead Sea does not taste like table salt; it is bitter. However, these salts and minerals are very useful in treating skin diseases, are used in cosmetics and various health and pain relief aids. The lake also continually emits pieces of floating black asphalt (bitumen), sometimes in large masses after earthquakes.

Today, virtually nothing living can exist in this sea, except for tiny amounts of some types of bacteria, microbial fungi, and a single type of algae.

A late 19th century book reported…

“The fish carried down by the Jordan at once die, nor can even mussels or corals live in it; but it is a fable that no bird can fly over it, or that there are no living creatures on its banks.

Tristram found on the shores three kinds of kingfishers, gulls, ducks, and grebes, which he says live on the fish which enter the sea in shoals, and presently die. He collected one hundred and eighteen species of birds, some new to science, on the shores, or swimming or flying over the waters.

The cane-brakes which fringe it at some parts are the homes of about forty species of mammalia… and innumerable tropical or semi-tropical plants perfume the atmosphere wherever fresh water can reach. The climate is perfect and most delicious, and indeed there is perhaps no place in the world where a sanatorium could be established with so much prospect of benefit as at Ain Jidi (Engedi).” —John Cunningham Geikie, Hours with the Bible, or, the Scriptures in the Light of Modern Discovery and Knowledge (1896-97)

Article Version: April 23, 2020

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