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The Dead Sea, Israel

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea Known in Hebrew as Yam Hamelach, the “Salt Sea,” this inland body of water is appropriately named, because its high mineral content allows nothing to live in its waters.

The Dead Sea is located in the Syrian-African Rift, a 4000-mile fault line in the earth’s crust, on the boarder between Israel and Jordan. Its shoreline, at 1371 feet below sea level, is the lowest point of dry land on earth. The Dead Sea is also the deepest salty lake in the world: it is 1,083 feet deep and sits 2,621 feet below sea level.

Nearly ten times as salty as the world’s oceans, the Dead Sea is rich with minerals. The Dead Sea Works Company on the southwest side of the lake employs 1600 people around the clock to harvest the valuable minerals from the water. Potash (potassium) is the most valuable mineral and is used in the manufacture of fertilizer.

The Dead Sea waters have long been known to have medicinal value and, as such, the Dead Sea area has become a major center for health research and treatment. Health treatments exploit the mineral content of the waters, the very low level of pollens and other allergens in the atmosphere, the reduced ultraviolet component of solar radiation, and the higher atmospheric pressure at this great depth. Each of the above has specific medicinal benefits.

Due to high temperatures all year round (Seven million tons of water evaporate daily!), very scant rainfall, and diversion of incoming water from the Jordan River, the level of water is dropping and the Dead Sea is shrinking. The southern end is no longer under water. Mineral extraction also contributes to the drying up of the Dead Sea; the shoreline is receding three feet a year.

One of the ideas for saving the Dead Sea is to channel water from the Red Sea, either through tunnels or canals. The plan is to pump water up the Arava Valley from Aqaba (in Jordan) or Eilat, tunnel it under the highest point of the Arava valley, and then canalize the water as it falls into the Dead Sea. On May 9, 2005, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to begin feasibility studies on the project, to be officially known as the “Two Seas Canal.”

A sage once observed the two seas in Israel, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead  Sea. The Sea of Galilee is full of life: fish, birds, vegetation. The Dead Sea contains no life at all. How could two seas, fed by a single source – the Jordan River – be so different?

His answer: the Sea of Galilee receives water at one end and gives out water at the other. The Dead Sea receives water but does not give, and if you only receive but do not give, you do not live. To give is to live.


The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea scrolls are comprised of roughly 1000 documents and document fragments, including texts from the Hebrew Bible. They were discovered in the past 50 years in caves around Wadi Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The texts are of great religious and historical significance, since they are practically the only known surviving biblical documents written before 100 CE.

In his book, The Message of the Scrolls, Yigael Yadin tells the story of how his father, Eliezer Sukenik, one of Israel‘s leading archeologists, obtained the first few scrolls.

The sequence of events begins when Sukenik received a fragment from one of the scrolls, followed soon thereafter by other fragments. Sukenik quickly recognized their importance, and he was the first to do so. At the time, the British had divided Jerusalem into Arab and Jewish areas. The scrolls were being kept by an antique dealer in Bethlehem, an Arab town south of Jerusalem.

At the same time in New York, the UN was debating a resolution recommending the end of the British Mandate and the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. If the resolution were to pass, the Jewish state would be born. However, according to Hagana intelligence, this would also cause a rise in Arab violence against Jews.

Should Sukenik go to Bethlehem to try to buy the scrolls. Yadin advised his father against it. Sukenik disregarded his son‘s advice. On November 29, 1947, Sukenik crossed over to Arab Jerusalem and took a bus to Bethlehem; he was the only Jewish rider. Later in the day, he returned unharmed, with three ancient scrolls. When he arrived in Jerusalem virtually trembling with excitement, he learned that the UN had passed the resolution that would create a Jewish state. “Joy and apprehension filled every Jewish heart,” said Yadin. Hostilities broke out the next day.


Yadin later wrote of this moment:
“I cannot avoid the feeling that there is something symbolic in the discovery of the scrolls and their acquisition at the moment of the creation of the State of Israel. It is as if these manuscripts had been waiting in caves for two thousand years . . . until the people of Israel had returned to their home and regained their freedom. This symbolism is heightened by the fact that the first three scrolls were bought by my father for Israel on November 29th, 1947, the very day on which the United Nations voted for the re-creation of the Jewish state in Israel after two thousand years.

It was a tremendously exciting experience, difficult to convey in words, to see the original scrolls and to study them, knowing that some of the Biblical manuscripts were copied only a few hundred years after their composition, and that these very scrolls were read and studied by our forefathers in the period of the Second Temple. They constitute a vital link – long lost and now regained – between those ancient times, so rich in civilized thought, and the present day . . . . An Israeli and a Jew can find nothing more deeply moving than the study of manuscripts written by the People of the Book in the Land of the Book more than two thousand years ago.”

Sukenik had obtained only three of the seven major scrolls. The other four found their way to America, where the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem‘s Old City had tried to sell them. When the monks were unable to sell them, they eventually placed a classified ad in the Wall Street Journal:

“The Four Dead Sea Scrolls‘ Biblical Manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BC are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group. Box E206 The Wall St. Journal.”

The year was 1953, and Yadin was in the United States on a lecture tour. The ad was brought to Yadin‘s attention. Through intermediaries, Yadin arranged to purchase the scrolls for the State of Israel, thus completing the task his father had started.

Today the seven scrolls are housed in the Shrine of the Book of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Yadin himself edited two of the seven scrolls, the War Scroll and the Genesis Apocryphal Scroll.

The Dead Sea Scroll
The following Dead Sea Scroll, found at Qumran, contains parts of 41 biblical psalms. This particular Psalm is entitled “The Apostrophe to Zion” and does not appear in the Bible that we have today. Had this scroll not been discovered, this beautiful alphabetical psalm would have been lost. The scroll is numbered 11Q5 (Cave no. 11 at Qumran, fragment 5. Below: Column 22, lines 1-11), and its Hebrew script dates to 30-50 CE.

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