« PreviousContinue »
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 his. torical 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 Jiddi ; and proceeded along its western side to Jericho. The second time, we went from Hebron to near the ford inarked 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 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 all 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-'Jeill, 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 el-Tih, as far south at least as the point opposite 'Akabah, 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 descent 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, leaving 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 wellwatered 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 fuund 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 (nan) 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 attest 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 Lead Sea has a singular configu. ration. 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 farther south than when we saw it. The limit of this overflowing was very distinct ; being marked by trunks of palm-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 asphaltum 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 floating in the water,—one said “like a house," another,“ like an island,"—to which the Arabs swam off, and cut it up with axes, and gathered enough to sell for more than 500 Spanish dollars. In both cases, the asphaltum was found in the southern part of the Sea. One Sheikh, a man fifty years old, who had spent his life here, said he had never seen asphaltum, or known of its being found, at any other time. The Arabs all supposed, that it collects upon the rocks of the eastern shore, and being broken off, falls into the Sea; but they did not agree as to the place where this was supposed to occur.
In view of these facts, which were observed or collected by ourselves upon the spot, I would respectfully suggest the following inquiries:
1. May we perhaps regard the lake as having anciently extended no farther south than the peninsula ; near which there were the asphaltum-pits, and further south the fertile well-watered plain ?
2. Is it allowable to suppose, that either by a conflagration of the asphaltum in the pits, or by some volcanic action, the soil of this plain (with ihe cities) might be destroyed, and its level lowered ; so that the waters of the lake would rush in, and thus form the present southern bay? Might perhaps the asphaltum have previously collected into a mass or stratum round about the pits, and have become so covered or mixed with soil, as to form a fertile tract, which was then destroyed by conflagration? Or further, might we perhaps conceive, that in combination with some such cause, the bottom of the sea might be heaved up by volcanic action, so as to raise the level of the waters, and cause them to overflow a large tract?
3. Is there perhaps good reason for supposing, that these pits or fountains of asphaltum may still exist under the waters of the lake; and that the asphaltum, becoming hard through the action or contact of the water, remains fixed in the orifices of the fountains until dislodged by some shock like that of an earthquake? If, as is reported, asphaltum were anciently more abundant in the lake than at present, this might perhaps be accounted for, by supposing it not to have been usually gathered and carried away.
I might go on and suggest many other inquiries; but these perhaps are sufficient for the purpose in view. For any suggestions which you may make relative to these or other kindred topics, I shall feel myself under the most grateful obligations. With high consideration
Yours, etc. (Signed)
E. ROBINSON. P. S. I forgot to say that small lumps of sulphur are found in many places along the shores of the sea.
II. M. Von Buch to Prof. E. Robinson.*
Berlin, 20th April, 1839. MONSIEUR,
C'est plutôt pour répondre à l'honorable confiance que vous voulez avoir en moi, que dans l'espérance de pouvoir vous faire une observation digne de vous être répresentée, que je vous adresse ces lignes.
La vallée du Jourdain est une crévasse, qui s'étend depuis le Liban jusqu'à la Mer Rouge sans interruption. Voilà, à ce qui me semble, le resultat de vos récherches comme de celles de M. le Comte Bertou et M. Callier, qui malgré ce fait en veulent à M. Ritter pour avoir dit la même chose. Ces longues crévasses, fréquentes surtout dans les montagnes calcaires, donnent la configuration à nos continents. Si elles sont très larges et profondes, elles donnent
For the convenience of such of our readers as may not understand the French language, we give below a translation of this letter of M. de Buch. (Ed.
It is rather with a view of responding to the confidence with which you are pleased to honor me, than under the expectation of being able to present you any observations worthy of your attention, that I transmit you these lines.
The valley of the Jordan is a fissure, extending uninterruptedly from the Libanus to the Red Sea. This is the result to which your own investigations lead, as do also those of Count Bertou and Mr. Ritter, who notwithstanding found fault with Mr. Callier for having affirmed the same thing. These long fissures, which are of frequent occurrence, especially amongst calcareous mountains, give rise to the configuration of our continents. When of great size and depth, they afford