Given the Dead Sea’s pivotal role in defining the human and physical geography of the Holy Land over the millennia, one might think that the Biblical writers and their audiences would have known this large mineral lake by a single name. In fact, the Bible gives at least three different names for the lake, each reflecting various ways the ancients understood and used this enduring feature of the landscape.
The lake was perhaps best known for its high salt and mineral content and is identified several times in the Hebrew Bible, either directly or indirectly, as Yam ha-Melach, or “Sea of Salt” (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:12; Deuteronomy 3:17). As today, the salts and minerals of the Dead Sea were highly prized commodities that were regularly exploited by local peoples. Indeed, outside of the Bible, both Josephus and Pliny the Elder refer to the Dead Sea as Lacus Asphaltitis, or Asphalt Lake, after the valuable blocks of black tar, or bitumen, that would occasionally seep out of the lake’s faulted floor and float to the surface.a
Equally significant for the Biblical writers, however, was the lake’s critical role as a physical, territorial boundary. The lake is several times named after the Arabah (“The Sea of the Arabah”: Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 3:16), the wide depression that includes the Dead Sea and separates the Judean hill country from the highlands of Transjordan to the east. In a similar vein, the lake was also occasionally called the “Eastern Sea” (Ezekiel 47:18; Joel 2:20; Zechariah 14:8), primarily to distinguish it from the large body of water that lay to the west of ancient Israel, called the “Western Sea” by the Biblical writers or, as it is known to us today, the Mediterranean.
What Is It?
Answer: C) Israelite potter’s wheel
This pair of stone objects dating to the Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.E.) functioned together as an Israelite potter’s wheel. The upper stone, with its conical projection, fit snuggly into the socket of the lower, heavier base stone. When both the pivot and socket were lubricated, the upper stone could be easily and quickly rotated on the base, thereby allowing a piece of pottery to be formed or “thrown” on the flat, smoothed face of the upper stone.
The potter’s wheel not only allowed ceramic vessels to be crafted more easily and quickly than when molded by hand, but it also meant that potters could fashion their wares in a far greater array of forms, sizes and thicknesses. In ancient Israel, a vivid awareness of the potter’s craft and the all-important wheel is found in Jeremiah, when Yahweh commands the prophet to go down to the potter’s house to receive his message. And so Jeremiah reports: “So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him” (Jeremiah 18:3–4).
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