Henry Peacham (1638) The Valley of Varietie, Chapter II, pp. 9-17.
Of the Dead Sea.
The Sacred Scriptures so sufficiently shew us the fearfull punishment, and vengeance of God upon Sodome and Gomorrah, that wee need looke no farther. But what the estate of that place (where those famous and noble Cities stood) at this day is not commonly knowne, wherefore my intent is, to make Relation of what wee find, aswell in Monuments of venerable Antiquitie, as by the Report of Travellers, who in these last times have seene those places.
Then first know, that the whole Tract, or Countrie wherein those Cities stood, was called The valley of Siddim, which was exceedingly fruitfull and fertile, insomuch, that it was compared to the earthly Paradise; and to Egypt, of Countries the most delicate and plentifull. But this place, so beautified and adorned with such a wonderfull richness of Soile, and all pleasures whatsoever might make glad the heart of man; through the wickednesse of the sinfull Inhabitants, is so changed, that after those Cities and Fields about, were destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven, the whole Countrie (sometime the pleasantest, and most fertile place of the world) was turned into a most horrid, stinking, and infectious Lake, called even at this day, Mare mortuum, or The Dead Sea.
The Water hereof is thick, filthy, stinking, most bitter, and salt beyond any Sea water whatsoever, wherein no creature liveth, or can live; wherefore this Lake is called, The Dead Sea. The famous River Iordan runneth into this Lake, and is infected, or corrupted by it, insomuch as the Fish of that River shun this Lake as a deadly poison, and if through the swiftnesse of the streame, they are forcibly carried thereinto, they dye presently. No quicke or living thing can be drowned in the same; which Vespasian being desirous to make triall of, who came purposely in person to see this Lake, hee caused some, altogether unskilfull in swimming, to be bound with their hands behind them, and to be throwne into the Lake, but as it were, repulsed by a certaine Spirit of the water, like fishes, they floated aloft the superficies of the water.
Every faire and Sun-shinie day, it changeth the colour thrice, and that by meanes of the Sun-beames, falling either rightly, or obliquely upon the same, as at Morning, Noone, and Sunne-set, according to which, it varieth the colour.
It yeelds a certaine pitchie substance, called ἄσφαλτον, in Latine, Bitumen, (whence it is called, Lacus Asphaltites) which swimmes upon the top of the Lake in great abundance, some pieces being in bignesse, as great as the body of an Oxe; and it is of such a nature, as if any small Ships come neare the place to fetch part of it away, they are caught, and drawne away by the tenacitie, or limie catching hold thereof, and not to be loosened or freed againe, but by application of Urine. Cui menses muliebres permixti sunt, saith mine Author; and with this onely, the Bitumen is dissolved.
It sendeth up a most Pestilent Aire, in so much, you would thinke the steame of Hell-fire were underneath it, casting up most poisonous and harmfull vapours; hereupon the Bankes, and the neighbour Mountaines are quite barren: if but an Apple groweth thereby, it is by nature such, that it speakes the Anger of God, and the burning of the place; for without, it is beautifull and red; but within, nothing but dusty smoake and cinders. A thing to be admired at, whereof, not onely Christians, as Tertullian and Augustine, but also Heathen Authors make mention of; for thus writeth Solinus upon Polyb: (speaking of the place: There are, saith hee, two Townes, one called Sodom, another Gomorrah, where grow Apples, although they carry a shew of ripenesse, yet can they not be eaten, for the cover of the outermost rinde containeth within, an ashie sootie substance, which being touched, though but lightly, yeeld nothing but smoake and dust. Also Tacitus in his last booke, saith, Not farre from this place (or Lake) there are Fields, which they say in times past to have been wonderfully fruitfull, and inhabited with many Cities, but to have been burned by lightning from Heaven, the marks whereof still remaine, and the earth all scorched, to have utterly lost her naturall strength of yeelding fruit. For if any thing there groweth of the owne accord, or be set, or sowne with the hand, and they grow up into herbes or flowers, still keeping their owne formes, yet are they blacke, without sap and substance, turning presently, as into ashes. This saith Tacitus.
All which things are so to bee weighed and considered of us, that we have alwayes in remembrance the just judgements of God, and take heede of committing those sinnes which drew downe the vengeance of God upon Sodome and Gomorrha. Behold, (saith the Prophet Ezechiel)1 this was the sinne of Sodome thy sister, Pride, Fulnesse of Bread, Abundance of Idlenesse; beside, shee stretched not out her hand to the poore and needie. The like in Saint Peter,2 God condemned the Cities of Sodome and Gomorrha, and turned them into ashes, and hath set them up as an example to those who shall live wickedly. Let mee moreover adde how Iosephus testifieth,3 that in his time the Pillar of Salt, (into which Lots Wife was turned) was still remaining, and that hee saw the same himselfe. Reade the tenth Chapter of the Booke of Wisdome; and for a Conclusion, take this of Prudentius:
Nemo memor Sodomæ, quæ mundi forma cremandi est
Ut semel è muris gressum promoverit, ore
Post tergum verso, respectet funera rerum.
1. Ezec. 18.
2. 2 Pet 2.
3. Josephus Antiq. 6. 12.
This page is by James Eason.