Have you ever been to the Dead Sea? If not, put it on your wish list – it is well worth the travel. At 430.5 meters (1412 feet) below sea level, it is the lowest spot on Earth; and its 34.2% salinity makes it one of the world saltiest bodies of water. The Dead Sea depth is 304 meters (997 feet), which makes it the deepest hyper-saline lake in the world.
The special features of the Dead Sea don’t end there: the lake’s waters are a light turquoise-blue color and it is surrounded by golden brown hills; here and there, bright white salt crystals jut out of the water. The mineral-rich water and mud of the Dead Sea are believed to have numerous benefits for the body, especially for skin, respiratory and arthritic conditions. For this reason, many people visit the Dead Sea every year to get special treatments at the spas surrounding it; they are joined by tourists who visit the area for its beauty, uniqueness, and luxurious spa resorts .
But the lowest place on Earth also holds many secrets and has played an important role throughout the history of the peoples of the area. If you are curious to learn more about the mysteries and legends the Dead Sea has become famous for, read on.
The Dead Sea in Biblical times
The Dead Sea is mentioned in the Bible – it was famous even during that period. Several different sects of Jews used to lives in the caves near the Dead Sea. The most famous of these were the Essenes, who have left us the original Bible scrolls – but more on them later. The area of Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea, which is a nature reserve today, is believed to be the area where the Biblical David, king to be, hid from King Saul when the latter came after him with the purpose of killing him.
A very well-known Biblical story which took place in the vicinity of the Dead Sea is the story of Lot’s wife. Lot, nephew of Abraham, chose to settle in a stretch of land near the kingdom of Sodom, just north of the Dead Sea. Sodom and neighboring kingdom Gomorrah were notorious for being places of wickedness and vice. Over the years, Lot became a respectable member of Sodom, married a Sodomite and was appointed mayor of the city; his daughters, too, married men of Sodom. However, God was angry with the people of Sodom, and, wishing to destroy this place of sin, sent Lot two angels to warn him of his plan. Lot and his family planned to flee and were cautioned by the angels not to look back on the city. However, Lot’s wife couldn’t resist and cast back one last look – upon which she was turned into a pillar of salt. To this day, a tall pillar standing near the Mount of Sodom is known as “Lot’s Wife”.
But the salty lake at the lowest elevation on Earth is probably best known for the story of Masada. Masada was a fortress King Herod built on a hill overlooking the Dead Sea, the remains of which can still be seen today. In 70 AD, a group of Jewish zealots fled to Masada following the destruction of the Second Temple. Unfortunately, in 73 AD, the Roman X Legion came after them; but rather than surrender, they collectively decided to commit suicide. Since then, this story has become a symbol of resistance against oppression, and Masada has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Last but not least, a true mystery of the Dead Sea is the Dead Sea Scrolls. As mentioned previously, these scrolls are believed to be had been written by the Essenes (although some researchers argue other Jewish groups, or even ancient priests, might have created them). The scrolls are a collection of 981 manuscripts, written between 150 BC and 70 AD, some of which were later included in the Hebrew Bible canon as well as in extra-biblical and deuterocanonical manuscripts.
Where were the Dead Sea Scrolls found? They were discovered in the Qumran Caves, 1.6 km from the Dead Sea, by Bedouin shepherds in 1946-47. In the 1950s the caves were excavated by a team of researchers, and the scrolls have been studied ever since. Today the scrolls are housed in the Shrine of the Book, an impressive edifice at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.