( Genesis 6:14 ), asphalt or bitumen in its soft state, called "slime" ( Genesis 11:3 ; 14:10 ; Exodus 2:3 ), found in pits near the Dead Sea (q.v.). It was used for various purposes, as the coating of the outside of vessels and in building. Allusion is made in Isaiah 34:9 to its inflammable character. (See SLIME .)
A thick, dark, sticky substance.
For it is the day of the LORD's vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into PITCH, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning PITCH. ( Isaiah 34:8-9 )
The three Hebrew words so translated all represent the same object, viz., mineral pitch or asphalt in its different aspects. Asphalt is an opaque, inflammable substance which bubbles up from subterranean fountains in a liquid state, and hardens by exposure to the air, but readily melts under the influence of heat. In the latter state it is very tenacious, and was used as a cement in lieu of mortar in Babylonia ( ( Genesis 11:3 ) as well as for coating the outside of vessels, ( Genesis 6:14 ) and particularly for making the papyrus boats of the Egyptians water-tight. ( Exodus 2:3 ) The jews and Arabians got their supply in large quantities from the Dead Sea, which hence received its classical name of Lacus Asphaltites .
The translation of the noun kopher, and the verb kaphar, in Genesis 6:14 and of the noun zepheth, in Exodus 2:3; Isaiah 34:9. In Genesis 6:14 the words are the ordinary forms for "covering," "cover," so that the translation "pitch" is largely guesswork, aided by the Septuagint, which reads asphaltos, "bitumen," here, and by the fact that pitch is a usual "covering" for vessels. The meaning of zepheth, however, is fixed by the obvious Dead Sea imagery of Isaiah 34:9-15--the streams and land of Edom are to become burning bitumen, like the sites of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Exodus 2:3 zepheth is combined with chemar, which also means bitumen (Genesis 14:10; see SLIME), and the distinction between the words (different consistencies of the same substance?) is not clear.
Burton Scott Easton
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