7. asphalt, bitumen, pitch, slime
1. kâphar, to coat with pitch. Genesis 6:14.
2. kôphar, a coating of pitch. Genesis 6:14.
3. zepheth, derived from a root word that describes how asphalt softens in the sun. Exodus 2:3, Isaiah 34:9.
4. heimâr, derived from châmâr, to boil up or rise to the surface, which describes the origin of asphalt in and around the Dead Sea, known to the Romans as Lake Asphaltitis. Genesis 11:3, 14:10; Exodus 2:3.
Asphalt is not considered a mineral because it is a liquid to semi-solid, non-crystalline substance with a variable composition. Natural asphalt is a dark brown to black mixture of heavy hydrocarbon compounds combined with sulfur and oxygen. Blocks of solid asphalt float regularly to the surface of the Dead Sea. Semi-liquid to semi-solid asphalt occurs in seepages, vein fillings, and cavities in the west-central sector of the lake and to the south. Asphalt, heavy oil, and ozocerite occur in vein fillings on the east shore of the lake between the Lisan peninsula and the Arnon River. Natural asphalt also occurs widely in seeps associated with the oil fields of Mesopotamia and Azerbaijan.
Trade in asphalt, salt, and sulfur from the Dead Sea region dates at least as far back as the Pre-Pottery A level of Jericho, early in the eighth millennium BC. The Canaanites collected liquid asphalt from slime-pits in the vale of Siddim (Genesis 14:10), where asphalt accumulated by seepage.
The ruins of Babylon and Nineveh testify to the effectiveness of hot asphalt or bitumen as mortar. Hot asphalt penetrated the surfaces of the bricks or stones and bound them firmly together. Furthermore, asphalt prevented the upward movement of groundwater by capillary action into the brickwork.
The Mesopotamians also daubed valuable building timbers and bundles of reeds with bitumen to protect them from decay. The Egyptians occasionally used asphalt as mortar, but more commonly as a glue, waterproofing and sealant for roofs and boats, in mummification, and in medicines.
The bill of materials for the Holy City in Revelation 21 omits any mention of asphalt, mortar, or bricks, in pointed contrast to the aborted tower of Babel.
Bein, A., & O. Amit, 1980. The evolution of the Dead Sea floating asphalt blocks: simulation by pyrolysis. Journal of Petroleum Geology; 2-4:439-447.
Nissenbaum, Arie, 1978. Dead Sea asphalts: Historical aspects. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin; 62-5: 837-844.
Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006 by Richard S. Barnett, Virtual Curator of