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The Living Testimony of the Dead Sea

Cover Story

AISHA ALI presents the geographical and historical details of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of the people of Lut, as the living testimony of chastisement of God which destroyed them.

Sounds kind of creepy, doesn’t it? The name ‘Dead Sea’ is actually a kinder, gentler translation from the Hebrew name ‘Yam ha Maved’, which means, ‘Killer Sea’. It is one of the saltiest water anywhere in the world, almost six times as salty as the ocean! The Dead Sea is completely landlocked and it gets saltier with increasing depth. Down to about 130 feet (40 metres), the seawater comprises about 300 grams of salt per kilogram of sea water. That’s about ten times the salinity of oceans. Below 300 feet, though, the sea has 332 grams of salt per kilogram of seawater and is saturated. Salt precipitates out and piles up on the bottom of the sea.
There are no fish or any kind of swimming, squirming creatures living in or near the water. What you’ll see on the shores of the Sea is white, crystals of salt covering EVERYTHING. And this is no ordinary table salt, either. The salts found in the Dead Sea are mineral salts, just like you find in the oceans of the world, only in extreme concentrations. The water in the Dead Sea is deadly to living things. Fish accidentally swimming into the waters from one of the several freshwater streams that feed the Sea are killed instantly, their bodies quickly coated with a preserving layer of salt crystals and then tossed onto shore by the wind and waves. Brutal!
This lesson takes us back to the subject of plate tectonics. In this part of the world there is a rift forming where two crustal plates are spreading apart. The East Rift Valley runs through most of Africa, but it starts north of the Dead Sea and runs south along the eastern side of the continent. The Sea is located right along the Rift Valley where the earth’s crust is being stretched thin. Where the earth’s crust gets thin that part of the surface sinks downward. It is interesting to see how the rift forms, sinking downward where the crust is stretched thin. And guess what? The Dead Sea is still sinking lower, even today. Scientists figure that the Dead Sea lowers by as much as 13 inches per year. On a geological time scale that’s incredibly fast!
According to geological theory, approximately two million years ago the land between the Rift Valley and the Mediterranean Sea rose to such an extent that the ocean could no longer flood the area. Thus, the long bay became a long lake.
Mount Sodom, on the southwest side of the lake, is a giant mountain of halite. In prehistoric times great amounts of sediment collected on the floor of Lake Gomorrah. The sediment was heavier than the salt deposits and squeezed the salt deposits upwards into what are now the Lisan Peninsula and Mount Sodom (on the southwest side of the lake). Geologists explain the effect in terms of a bucket of mud into which a large flat stone is placed, forcing the mud to creep up the sides of the pail. When the floor of the Dead Sea dropped further due to tectonic forces the salt mounts of Lisan and Mount Sodom stayed in place as high cliffs.
The waters of this dead sea – The Dead Sea – are so salty that they can corrode iron and stainless steel. A curious attempt to taste the water brings a sensation that not even pure table salt can produce, leaving a residual painful sting on that too-curious tongue.
“We also (sent) Lut: He said to his people: ‘Do you commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For you practise your lusts on men in preference to women: you are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds’.”
And his people gave no answer but this: “Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!”
But we saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who lagged behind.
And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime! (Surat al-Araf: 80-84)
Prophet Lut lived at the same time as Prophet Ibrahim. Prophet Lut was sent as a messenger to one of Prophet Ibrahim’s neighbouring communities. These people, as the Qur'an tells us, practised a perversion unknown to the world up to then, namely sodomy. When Lut told them to give up this perversion and brought them Allah’s warning, they denied him, refused his prophethood, and carried on with their perversion. In the end, these people were destroyed by a dreadful disaster.
The city where Lut resided is referred to as Sodom in the Old Testament. Being situated at the north of the Red Sea, this community is understood to have been destroyed just as it is written in the Quran. Archaeological studies reveal that the city is located in the area of the Dead Sea which stretches along the Israel-Jordan border.
The 82nd verse of Surah Hud clearly stated the kind of disaster that befell the people of Lut. “When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer”
The statement of “turning (the cities) upside down” implies that the region was totally destroyed by a violent earthquake. Accordingly, The Lake of Lut, where the destruction took place, bears “obvious” evidence of such a disaster.
As a matter of fact, the Lake of Lut, or the Dead Sea as it is otherwise known, is located right on the top of an active seismic region, that is, an earthquake zone:
The base of the Dead Sea is located with a tectonic rooted downfall. This valley is located in a tension stretching between the Taberiye Lake in the north, and mid of Arabah Valley in the south.
The event was expressed as “we rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer” in the last part of the verse. This is in all probability meant to be the volcanic explosion that took place on the banks of the Lake of Lut, and because of which the rocks and stones that erupted were in a “baked form”. (The same event is related in the 173rd verse of Surat ash-Shuara as “We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): and evil was the shower on those who were admonished (but heeded not)!”)
The “obvious signs” conveyed by the Lake of Lut are indeed very interesting. In general, the events which are related in the Quran take place in the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Right in the middle of these lands, is the Lake of Lut. The Lake of Lut, as well as the incidents that have taken place around it, deserve attention geologically. This is the lowest point on the earth. In other areas which are lower than sea level, the depth is at most 100 metres. Another property of the Lake of Lut is that the salt content of its water is very high, the density being nearly 30%. Because of this, no living organism, such as fish or moss, can survive in this lake. This is why the Lake of Lut is called the “Dead Sea” in Western literature.
The incident of Prophet Lut’s people, which is recounted in the Quran, occurred around 1800 BC according to estimates. Based on his archaeological and geological researches, the German researcher Werner Keller noted that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were in fact located in the Siddim Valley which was the region at the furthest and lowest end of the Lake of Lut, and that there were once big and widely inhabited sites in those regions.
Werner Keller noted that this shallow part, which was discovered to have formed subsequently, was the outcome of the aforementioned earthquake and the massive collapse this earthquake had caused. This was the place where Sodom and Gomorrah were situated, that is, where Lut’s people lived.
The mechanical aspect of the disaster that befell people of Lut is revealed by the researches of the geologists. These reveal that the earthquake which destroyed the people of Lut came about in consequence of quite a long crack in the earth (a fault line), along the 190 kilometres distance making up the bed of the River Sheri’at. River Sheri’at makes a fall of 180 metres in total. Both this and the fact that the Lake of Lut is about 400 metres below sea level are two important pieces of evidence showing that an enormous geological event has taken place here.
All these remains and geographical evidences show that a catastrophic geological event took place in the Lake of Lut. Werner Keller writes,
Together with the base of this mighty fissure, which runs precisely through this area, the Valley of Siddim, including Sodom and Gomorrah, plunged one day into the abyss. Their destruction came about through a great earthquake which was probably accompanied by explosions, lightning, issue of natural gas and general conflagration. The subsidence released volcanic forces that had been lying dormant deep down along the whole length of the fracture. In the upper valley of the Jordan near Bashan there are still towering craters of extinct volcanoes; great stretches of lava and deep layers of basalt have been deposited on the limestone surface.
The stories of the prophets which are told to us in the Qur’an are not just tales of devout and God-fearing people. They are meant to serve as a warning to us of what happens to people who do not follow in the way of Allah.
The society in which Lut lived must have been very much like the society in which we live, where natural laws governing the behaviour of men and women towards each other are not any longer respected. What is naturally right has become wrong and what is naturally wrong has become right, and all types of dishonesty and wickedness abound. Somehow, people who try to live in the way of Allah, who try to be clean and pure, honest and trustworthy, who are fearful of Allah are scorned upon and disliked and made fun of.
From these passages we learn that God saved Lut and the righteous ones of his family, and rained on the rest a shower of brimstone, so they were utterly destroyed. This is mentioned in the Qur'an not only for the sake of information, but mainly to serve as a warning to anyone who dares to repeat such acts.

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