Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Asphalt and Moses

The Dead Sea is possibly the most unique place on Earth. Not only is it incredibly significant historically, but it is also unique in its chemistry: the high salt levels and low sea levels most people know about, but even more so it has large mats of strange microbes living in it, and it produces asphalt, of all things. In fact, there was a lively trade set up between Canaan and the surrounding countries for the stuff. The cool thing about asphalt is that we can date it and place it, and we can see that this trade is very old. We find asphalt went from the Dead Sea to Egypt in mummies dating back to 200 B.C. and may have be traded long before that. Did trade caravans passing through Canaan pick up asphalt as well as the occasional slave (say, one sold by his eleven brothers)?

Exodus describes how the baby Moses was set out on the river in a basket lined with "heimar," probably asphalt just like this. The Egyptians didn't use asphalt for bricks like the Babylonians did (they used stone, or evidently straw-based clay). In Egypt asphalt was used for waterproofing royal baths and making mummies. It would be just the thing for turning a basket into a tiny boat for a tiny boy. Did it require a royal connection to obtain? Did that royal connection also allow Moses' family to know when and where the princess of Egypt bathed? That would be just a conspiracy theory. The certain thing is that the future of Israel was saved with some special chemistry that could have come from near the Dead Sea, just like Israel itself.

(This story from the book Echoes of Life by Gaines, Eglinton, and Rullkotter, p. 261.)

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