BITUMEN (Heb. חֵמָר, hemar and כֹּפֶר, kofer; LXX), a black, flammable substance which becomes viscous and absorbent on heating. It occurs in almost every part of the world, including Mesopotamia, Iran, and Israel, and is found in various natural forms: in pure form, as in the Dead Sea, where it floats and collects along the coast; as an ore in sandstone; and in semi-solid and fluid forms. The "pits" in the Valley of Siddim referred to in Genesis 14:10 were probably bitumen quarries. In Mesopotamia bitumen was used in building as a mortar which at the same time soaked into the porous bricks, making them stronger. Bitumen was employed too for waterproofing boats, for constructing model boats for cultic purposes, and for sealing water ducts and irrigation canals. It was used in this way to caulk Noah's ark (Gen. 6:14) and the basket which carried Moses (Ex. 2:3). Whether used for strengthening bricks or for sealing against water, bitumen was mixed with sand, chalk, plaster, or with its own ore, since in its pure form it has a low melting point and will not harden unless amalgamated with another mineral. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: EM, 3 (1965), 187–90 (incl. bibl.); Staples, in: IDB, 1 (1962), 444. (Ze'ev Yeivin)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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