When did the Salt Sea come into existence?
The Salt Sea, known as the Dead Sea, was not in existence in the times of the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitschak and Ya’akov, as seen in the Genesis account. So, when did the Salt Sea come into being, because the Yarden (the Jordan River) was in existence before the Salt Sea (Dead Sea)?
The Book of Genesis depicts the time before the patriarchs as time of great changes in nature. i.e. the Flood, but nothing in the narrative is said about an event in which the Yarden Valley (now occupied by the Salt Sea) underwent such drastic geological changes that must have led to the formation of the see.
In the place now called the Dead Sea, there was once a fertile plain, known as the Valley of Siddim. The first time we encounter the term “Salt Sea” is in Gen 14:3 which reads,
All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim, that is the Salt Sea. (Gen 14:3)
That was the time of Avraham. However, this first reference does not prove that the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) had been in existence at his time, because we are told that that was the Valley of Siddim supported by the gloss “that is the Salt Sea”, i.e. at the time of speaking it was known as the Salt Sea (Dead Sea), but formerly it was as the Valley of Siddim.
Such glosses are not uncommon in Genesis, and as we discussed in the article “The Revelation of the Messenger of YHVH“, they come to tell us that that was a narrative by the Messenger of YHVH.
From the context of the Biblical record up to this moment in verse 3, the Valley of Siddim has been described like the garden of YHVH. We read thus,
And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of the Yarden, that it was well watered everywhere – before Yehovah destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah – like the garden of Yehovah, like the land of Egypt, as you go toward Tso’ar. (Gen 13:10)
Here the Valley of Siddim is called by the general name the plain of the Yarden River. It was so fertile and beautiful that it was rightfully called the garden of YHVH.
We should notice something in the narrative and more particularly the person who is speaking here. So, who is speaking here, because judging by the context, it is not a direct speech of Avraham but a narrative?
As said above, the speaking one is the Messenger, but who is you in this narrative, because if the speaker is not Avraham you is not Lot, either. And if the speaking one was the Messenger of YHVH, you must have been Mosheh, and therefore, we encounter another gloss into the text, proving again the whole story in Genesis until Mosheh’s birth in Exodus was a narrative by the Messenger. And indeed, Mosheh could not have known the history of mankind from the formation of the world, unless it was revealed to him.
What caused the formation of the Salt Sea?
The story of such drastic changes that occurred in the plain of the Yarden, in which Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed and turned into ashes by the incinerating fires from heavens, does not mention that the Valley of Siddim, where the sin-cities were located, became a sea.
However, when Israel came to the borders of the Promised Land, they found the water body which Mosheh called the Salt Sea (Dead Sea). It seems like the Salt Sea must have appeared after an event later than the one that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
At any rate, this can only mean one thing: the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) had not been in existence in the time of Avraham, but came to be sometime after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and definitely before the setting of the borders of the land, because in Numbers we see that the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) has already been in existence. There are no glosses of the Messenger any longer in the narrative; Mosheh is speaking here.
And the border shall go down along the Yarden, and it shall end at the Salt Sea. This is your land with its surrounding boundaries. (Num 34:12)
So, when did the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) come into existence?
There are two possibilities: either it came into existence at the dividing of Yam Suph, that is the Red Sea, or at the giving the Covenant at Mount Sinai (Exo 19:18).
It is a traditional understanding that the Egyptian army and the Pharaoh were drowned and died on the bottom of the sea as the waters closed up on them, as we read in the Red Sea story, thus …
You did blow with Your wind, the sea covered them, they sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who is like You, O Yehovah, among the gods? Who is like You, great in set-apartness, awesome in praises, working wonders?
The mighty Elohim of Israel did indeed blow the strong winds and parted the waters of the Red Sea, however, as often we do, we miss some details of the Bible stories. Mosheh continues to tell us that …
You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them. (Exo 15:10-12)
We also read from Psalms where we find the same but this time more graphic description of the dividing of Yam Suph (the Red Sea) evoking lifelike images within the mind,
The waters saw You, O Elohim; The waters saw You, they were afraid; The depths also trembled. The clouds poured out water; The heavens rumbled; Also, Your arrows flashed back and forth. The voice of Your thunder rolled along; Lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea, And Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known. You did lead Your people like a flock By the hand of Mosheh and Aharon. (Psa 77:16-20)
Mosheh and the psalmist are telling us that there was no just a dividing of the waters of the sea, but a pouring of torrential rains by storms as the heavens trembled; thunders and awesome lightnings lit up the whole earth, and what is often missed which will lead us to the answer of our question — the depths of the earth trembled and shook.
There was an earthquake at the dividing of Yam Suph (the Red Sea). That earthquake was so strong that it was felt in the land of Canaan. As a result of the earthquake, the Philistines, the Edomites, and the Moabites, heard and trembled, all the inhabitants of Canaan melted (see Exo 15:14-15). And indeed, how could they all have been troubled in terror unless they felt the earthquake that night (Exo 15:12)?
Flavious Josephus asserts this in his reading of the Scripture,
As soon, therefore, as ever the whole Egyptian army was within it, the sea flowed to its own place, and came down with a torrent raised by storms of wind and encompassed the Egyptians. Showers of rain also came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire. Thunderbolts also were darted upon them. Nor was there any thing which used to be sent by God upon men, as indications of his wrath, which did not happen at this time, for a dark and dismal night oppressed them. And thus, did all these men perish, so that there was not one man left to be a messenger of this calamity to the rest of the Egyptians. (Antiquities of the Jews 2:16:3)
The second logical possibility is that the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) was formed after the earthquake Israel experienced at the giving of the Covenant at Mount Sinai. We read thus,
And Mosheh brought the people out of the camp to meet with Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was in smoke, all of it, because Yehovah descended upon it in fire. And its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and all the mountain trembled exceedingly. And when a voice of the shophar sounded long and became very strong, Mosheh spoke, and Elohim answered him by voice. (Exo 19:17-19)
This is simply how He answers our calls–the whole mountain Horev not just Mount Sinai trembled exceedingly. (For the difference between Mount Horev and Mount Sinai read here)
And indeed, the origin of a sea occurs in a great land movement with collapse and dislocation of land masses. The rift in which the Lake of Galilee, the Jordan, and the Dead Sea lie is the deepest depression ever known below the sea level; the Salt Sea is the lowest point on the face of the earth. The high walls of the surrounding mountains prove that there must have been some kind of great and instantaneous earth movement.
Which of those horrible events of earthquakes of great magnitude was the one that caused the formation of the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) we do not know, but one thing is sure — it must have been either the earthquake at the Exodus or the one at Mount Sinai? Which one?
The Jordan River holds the answer
Is there any hint in the Scripture about the Yarden River changing its flow? There are, in Psalms, a reference to the reversal of the flow of Jordan (Psa 114:1-8):
When Israel went out of Egypt. . . The sea saw and fled: Yarden was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, the little hills like lambs. Why was it, O sea, that you fled? O Yarden that you turned back? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Master, from the face of the Eloah of Ya’akov; who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.
The foundation of the new beginning of Israel, when YHVH’s people went out of Egypt, was laid amidst majestic wonders of the dividing of the sea and the giving the Covenant. The sea saw and fled, the Yarden turned back.
And in the middle, between these great wonders of the Exodus from Egypt and the entrance into the Promised Land, arises the not less mighty experience of the giving of the Covenant and the Torah of YHVH at His mountain.
The rise of the mountains which skipped like rams and the hills like lambs might have given us the hint we need to say with a certain degree of confidence that the quaking of Sinai and the whole Horev at the appearance of YHVH before His people might have been the awesome event that has led to the formation of the Salt Sea.
The Almighty Elohim turned the rock into a pool of water, which may well give us the answer as to how the Salt Sea was formed: an earthquake of a great magnitude turned the mountain into the Salt Sea (Dead Sea).
The Dead Sea (the Salt Sea) for many centuries has been proclaimed to be dead and capable of giving life to nothing. Nothing can live in the Dead Sea. But as the prophecy tells, one day it will become a sea of living water before the return of the Messiah.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.