Profile of the Dead Sea - Biblical History, Geography, Religion

The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea. SuperStock/Getty

What is the Dead Sea?

The Dead Sea is a lake which the Jordan River empties into and in ancient times it was known by many names: Salt Sea, Eastern Sea, and Sea of Sodom for example. Most of the names reference the fact that its salt and mineral content is over 30% (compare with the oceans having a salt content of 6%). This is because water only leaves by evaporation (about 1 inch a day) and there is no life in the Dead Sea except for simple organisms.


Where is the Dead Sea?

The Dead Sea is located in the Judean desert 80 km southeast from Jerusalem and 210 km south of the Sea of Galilee. Only about 2 inches of rain fall each year, but there are occasional and fierce thunderstorms. The Dead Sea is 50 km long and 16 km wide. The shore is 394 m below sea level and is 396 m deep. Around 50,000 years ago it was part of a long inlet that extended all of the way to the Red Sea in the south.


Why is the Dead Sea Important?

The Dead Sea plays an important role in both biblical history and biblical prophecy. Ezekiel and Zechariah, for example, say that "living water" would flow from the Temple in Jerusalem down into the Dead Sea to make it fresh and bountiful.

The Bible describes people living in caves near the Dead Sea even before the Israelites were supposed to have moved into Canaan. Most scholars believe that Sodom and Gomorra were probably located somewhere along the southeastern shore.

Genesis describes those two cities as having been destroyed during the time of Abraham.

The Dead Sea is also the location of the Qumran community which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient texts, preserved in sealed caves near the shore of the Dead Sea, provide remarkable insight on the religious and social beliefs of 1st-century Judaism.