“IS THERE LIFE IN THE DEAD SEA?” A Look at The Jordan River and The Dead Sea Today.
The Jordan River, which forms the eastern boundary of Israel, is one of the most famous short rivers in the world. It runs through a deep canyon, the southern portion of which is well below sea level, and it never reaches the ocean; Instead the river water collects and forms a lake at the lowest portion of the canyon, a region surrounded on all sides by high ground that prevents the water from flowing out. The lake does not overflow because the climate is dry and hot and evaporation is rapid, balancing the inflow of water from the Jordan.
The Jordan also brings small traces of salt, dissolved out of its banks, into the lake. While water evaporates from the surface of the lake, the salt does not. The small traces of salt have accumulated steadily over thousands of years until the lake is now about 25% salt. It is the saltiest natural body of water in the world. By comparison, most of the oceans on earth are approximately 3% salt. Because it is salty, the lake is called a sea. And because there is so much salt in it, nothing can live in its waters. Therefore, it is called the Dead Sea. Because of its extreme salinity, it is impossible to sink in the water. One of the most exhilarating experiences for the modem traveler to Israel is a swim, or I should say, a float, in the Dead Sea. The waters of this “Dead” Sea, however, become waters of life to many. Every year thousands of Israelis and Europeans flock to the health spas on its shores to be treated for eczema and other skin disorders.
Like the Jordan River, the Dead Sea is famous because of its biblical associations. In Scripture it is termed “the Salt Sea” (Gen. 14:3; Num. 34:3; Josh. 3:16); the “sea of the plain” (Dt. 3:1 7; 2 Ki. 14:25); and “the eastern sea” (Ezek. 47:18; Joel 2:20). The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed in a rain of fire, existed near the southern end of the Dead Sea. The historian Josephus referred to it as Lake Asphaltites, due to the tar pits that existed at its southern end (cf. Gen. 14:10). The rabbis in the Talmud termed it “the Sea of Sodom.” In Israel today it is called Yarn Hamelach, i.e. the “Salt Sea.”
Despite its fame, however, the Dead Sea is quite small. In 1930 its area was only 370 square miles, which is less than that of Los Angeles. It was 50 miles long and 11 miles wide at its broadest point its depth, however, was more than 1,000 feet on the average, and it contained a total of 75 cubic miles of water. Its shore was 1,283 feet below sea level. There is no dry land anywhere in the world that is lower than the shore of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea is actually a puddle of water that is slowly drying up. The Jordan River, the main tributary of the Dead Sea, empties out of the beautiful Sea of Galilee for irrigation purposes so that less of the water ends up in the Dead Sea. Furthermore, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan uses the Yarmuk River which flows into the Jordan for the same purpose. When the irrigation projects are all done, the Jordan River will carry only 1/6 as much water into the Dead Sea as it did in 1930. The result of this is that the area of the Dead Sea has shrunk by 20%. It is now only 309 square miles in area—just about that of the five boroughs of New York City— largely because the water level has dropped by 36 feet The shallow southern end has actually completely dried up.
The Dead Sea is only about 60 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and the Israeli government is planning to set up a pumping station at the Mediterranean not far from its port of Ashdod. It will pump water to a height of 300 feet, and that water will then be allowed to flow eastward and down to its original level along a canal, and then through a long tunnel under the hills. The water will finally emerge on the hillside overlooking the southwestern tip of the Dead Sea. The popular term for this proposed waterway is “the Med-Dead Canal.” The cost of this project will be enormous, perhaps one and one-half billion dollars. Because of this great expense, no definite dates have been set for beginning the “canal.” Is replenishing the Dead Sea justification for such an expense? Well, the water will emerge from the hillside 1,300 feet above the surface of the Dead Sea and will be a natural waterfall. The falling water then would spin turbines and generate electricity. The energy generated in this way would be very useful for a nation forced to depend on oil imports.
The plan is to allow about fifty-five billion cubic feet of Mediterranean water to pour into the Dead Sea each year. In about twenty years it will have filled up to the level at which it stood in 1930. Once the Dead Sea is back to the 1930 level, the influx of water will be cut to about forty-two billion cubic feet per year which, together with water entering the Dead Sea from the Jordan River, would just balance evaporation and the puddle would neither dry nor flood, It is an ambitious project and, considering the tensions of the Middle East, there will probably be political complications that will be even more difficult to solve than the engineering problems.
Whatever be the future of the Dead Sea in the contemporary world, the Bible paints a wondrous picture of its prophetic future during the Kingdom Period. Both Ezekiel and Zechariah see a day when fresh waters of healing will flow from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea. In that day the once lifeless waters will swarm with an abundance of fish (Ezek. 47:9-10; Zech. 14:8).