on Genesis 19 :25
And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain - This forms what is called the lake Asphaltites, Dead Sea, or Salt Sea, which, according to the most authentic accounts, is about seventy miles in length, and eighteen in breadth.
The most strange and incredible tales are told by many of the ancients, and by many of the moderns, concerning the place where these cities stood. Common fame says that the waters of this sea are so thick that a stone will not sink in them, so tough and clammy that the most boisterous wind cannot ruffle them, so deadly that no fish can live in them, and that if a bird happen to fly over the lake, it is killed by the poisonous effluvia proceeding from the waters; that scarcely any verdure can grow near the place, and that in the vicinity where there are any trees they bear a most beautiful fruit, but when you come to open it you find nothing but ashes! and that the place was burning long after the apostles' times. These and all similar tales may be safely pronounced great exaggerations of facts, or fictions of ignorant, stupid, and superstitious monks, or impositions of unprincipled travelers, who, knowing that the common people are delighted with the marvelous, have stuffed their narratives with such accounts merely to procure a better sale for their books.
The truth is, the waters are exceedingly salt, far beyond the usual saltiness of the sea, and hence it is called the Salt Sea. In consequence of this circumstance bodies will float in it that would sink in common salt water, and probably it is on this account that few fish can live in it. But the monks of St. Saba affirmed to Dr. Shaw, that they had seen fish caught in it; and as to the reports of any noxious quality in the air, or in the evaporations from its surface, the simple fact is, lumps of bitumen often rise from the bottom to its surface, and exhale a fetid odor which does not appear to have any thing poisonous in it. Dr. Pococke swam in it for nearly a quarter of an hour, and felt no kind of inconvenience; the water, he says, is very clear, and having brought away a bottle of it, he "had it analyzed, and found it to contain no substances besides salt and a little alum."
As there are frequent eruptions of a bituminous matter from the bottom of this lake, which seem to argue a subterraneous fire, hence the accounts that this place was burning even after the days of the apostles. And this phenomenon still continues, for "masses of bitumen," says Dr. Shaw, "in large hemispheres, are raised at certain times from the bottom, which, as soon as they touch the surface, and are thereby acted upon by the external air, burst at once, with great smoke and noise, like the pulvis fulminans of the chemists, and disperse themselves in a thousand pieces. But this only happens near the shore, for in greater depths the eruptions are supposed to discover themselves in such columns of smoke as are now and then observed to arise from the lake. And perhaps to such eruptions as these we may attribute that variety of pits and hollows, not unlike the traces of many of our ancient limekilns, which are found in the neighborhood of this lake. The bitumen is in all probability accompanied from the bottom with sulphur, as both of them are found promiscuously upon the shore, and the latter is precisely the same with common native sulphur; the other is friable, yielding upon friction, or by being put into the fire, a fetid smell." The bitumen, after having been some time exposed to the air, becomes indurated like a stone. I have some portions of it before me, brought by a friend of mine from the spot; it is very black, hard, and on friction yields a fetid odor.
For several curious particulars on this subject, see Dr. Pococke's Travels, vol. ii., part 1, chap. 9, and Dr. Shaw's Travels, 4th. edit., p. 346, etc.
on Genesis 19 :25
on Genesis 19 :25
19:25 And he overthrew the cities, and all the inhabitants of them, the plain, and all that grew upon the ground - It was an utter ruin, and irreparable; that fruitful valley remains to this day a great lake, or dead sea. Travelers say it is about thirty miles long, and ten miles broad. It has no living creature in it: it is not moved by the wind: the smell of it is offensive: things do not easily sink in it. The Greeks call it Asphaltis, from a sort of pitch which it casts up. Jordan falls into it, and is lost there. It was a punishment that answered their sin. Burning lusts against nature were justly punished with this preternatural burning.