|Sinkhole locations around the Dead Sea.|
© 2014 Dr. David E. Graves, ECM
First, we must identify what is meant by bitumen (Gen 14:10; Heb. ḥēmār. See Chapter One: “Biblical References to Sodom: Genesis 14:1-12”). Nissenbaum and Goldberg defined it as ozocerite (Gr. oze stench + kero wax; an odorous paraffin earthwax) “a natural mixture of predominantly high molecular weight paraffinic hydrocarbons.” However, it is often identified as asphalt, common in the Dead Sea. Josephus called it Lake Asphaltites (Ant. 1.9) and the Romans called it Asphalt Lake (Lat. Palus Asphaltites). Bitumen was also a major export from the Dead Sea region (Pliny the Elder Nat. Hist. 2.226; 5.72; 7.65; 28.80; 35.178).
Frumkin and Elitzur point out that:
Although most ancient and modern versions and commentaries translate h\eµmar as bitumen or asphalt, we believe, based on field evidence as well as etymological considerations, that the preferable translation might be “slime,” which is more commonly found in the Dead Sea pits.The etymology of the term justifies using the term “slime pits,” and is likely identified with the sink holes that form around the shores of the Dead Sea in dry periods. For this discussion, the term bitumen will be broadened to include all forms of petroleum products, including asphalt, oil, tar, and natural gas.
There is no question that the Dead Sea is full of bitumen that floats to the surface (Josephus J.W. 4.479-80; Strabo Geogr. 16.2.42; Diodorus Siculus Hist. Lib. 19:98.84-88; Tacitus Hist. 5.7), being pushed up through the fault lines to the surface by earthquakes or movements of the plates.
Bitumen and asphalt are also found in the region around the Dead Sea. Geikie testified that:
the whole region is full of the materials for such a catastrophe as overtook them [Cities of the Plain]. Wells of liquid bitumen, or, as we may call it, petroleum, abounded in the neighbourhood, and vast quantities of it ooze through the chalky rocks, while the bottom of the lake is bedded with it, vast masses rising to the surface after any convulsion, as in the case of the great earthquake of 1837. Indeed, huge cakes float up, at times, even when there is no seismal disturbance, and are seized by the Bedouins, who carry what they can gather to Jerusalem for sale. Sulfur abounds, in layers and fragments, over the plains and along the shores of the lake.See See FACT 57: "Bitumen is Found all Around the Dead Sea" for the various locations of Bitumen around the Dead Sea as illustrated in the map. David E. Graves, The Location of Sodom: Key Facts for Navigating the Maze of Arguments for the Location of the Cities of the Plain (Toronto, Ont.: Electronic Christian Media, 2016), 147-51.
 BDB states that bitumen was “used for cement in building Babel (Gen 11:3)”... and “used in coating Moses’ ‘ark’ of bulrushes (Exod 2:3).” Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Francis Brown, eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic. Based on the Lexicon of William Gessenius as Translated by Edward Robinson (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Milfflin, 1907), 330.
 Arie Nissenbaum and M. Goldberg, “Asphalts, Heavy Oils, Ozocerite and Gases in the Dead Sea Basin,” Organic Geochemistry 2, no. 3 (1975): 172
 In their research, Nissenbaum and Goldberg, decided that “The Dead Sea material has been so often referred to as asphalts, that for historical reasons it was decided to retain this term.” Ibid., 167.
 Amos Frumkin and Yoel Elitzur, “The Rise and Fall of the Dead Sea,” BAR 27, no. 6 (2001): 42 n.1.
 Michael Gardosh et al., “Hydrocarbon Exploration in the Southern Dead Sea Area,” in The Dead Sea: The Lake and Its Setting, ed. Zvi Ben-Avraham, Tina M. Niemi, and Joel R. Gat, Oxford Monographs on Geology and Geophysics 36 (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, USA, 1997), 69; Nissenbaum and Goldberg, “Asphalts, Heavy Oils, Ozocerite and Gases in the Dead Sea Basin,” 175.
 Diodorus Siculus, Library of History: Books 19.66-20, trans. Russel M. Geer, vol. 10, 12 vols., LCL 390 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954).
 Arie Nissenbaum, “Dead Sea asphalts—Historical Aspects,” Bulletin of the Association of Petrolum Geologists 62, no. 5 (1978): 840–45; Nissenbaum and Goldberg, “Asphalts, Heavy Oils, Ozocerite and Gases in the Dead Sea Basin,” 167.
 Frederick G. Clapp, “Geology and Bitumens of the Dead Sea Area, Palestine and TransJordan,” Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists 20, no. 7 (1936): 901–3; Nissenbaum, “Dead Sea asphalts—Historical Aspects,” 843.
 Nissenbaum, “Dead Sea asphalts—Historical Aspects,” 837–44.
 J. Cunningham Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible: A Book of Scripture Illustrations Gathered in Palestine (London, U.K.: Cassell & Company, 1887), 119; Hours with the Bible or The Scriptures in the Light of Modern Discovery and Knowledge: From Creation to the Patriarchs with Illustrations, vol. 1 (New York, N.Y.: Pott, 1882), 1:392.
© 2014 Dr. David E. Graves, Electronic Christian Media