Dec 3, 2009

Dead Sea Levels

The Dead Sea is one of the most interesting bodies of water particularly as it is the lowest point on earth along the Great Rift valley in Jordan. We are interested in the levels of the Dead Sea because it helps to understand the narrative of the ancient text. Recently an interactive map was brought to my attention that displays the history of how the Dead Sea level has changed over time. LINK.  What is particularly interesting for our research is that during the Byzantine period the levels were low and the Lisan (peninsula protruding halfway down the Dead sea on the eastern side) is non-existent just as it is portrayed on the Madaba map. This is significant because the Madaba map has Zoar situated at the bottom of the Dead Sea but does not show the Lisan. This means that during the Byzantine period when the Madaba map was created the southern tip of the Dead Sea was just around where the Lisan is today. There was not enough water in the Byzantine period according to the research done on this interactive map to create the Lisan so it is missing on the Madaba map. So what are the implications of this observation from the Madaba map? Often people refer to the Madaba map for the location of Zoar south of the Dead Sea when in fact the Dead Sea was only half full of water in the Byzantine period and Zoar was actually in the region of the Arnon wadi.

Dr. Steven Collins made this argument at the recent ETS meeting in New Orleans and argued that Zoar is on the boarder of Moab on the Arnon wadi right where the Madaba map places it. The water level from the following link would confirm his claim.  During the Byzantine period the Dead Sea was at its lowest point ever at about 400m. Today the level of the Dead Sea is -415 m below sea level.

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