Saturday, April 27, 2024

“Aquae Sanctae Terrae”: The Spiritual Signification of the Waters of the Holy Land (Conclusion)

“Aquae Sanctae Terrae”: The Spiritual Signification of the Waters of the Holy Land

A Seminarian from the Midwest

Conclusion: The Devil and the Dead Sea

(Part 1 may be read here, Part 2 here.)

Aerial view of Dead Sea shore (source)

The Dead Sea

Now there is only one more lake in the Holy Land to discuss — the Dead Sea. Its name betrays where it represents on the spiritual map. The Dead Sea represents Hell. The geographic features alone make a strong case for this theory. The Dead Sea, at -1,411 feet below sea level, is the lowest place on earth. Scripture is filled with allusions to Hell being a place where the damned will go down to. The region around the sea can also be odorous due to the high sulfur concentration. The Dead Sea is about nine times saltier than the ocean, and is unable to support any life.[46] The average summer temperatures around the lake are about 105 F, but at times have been recorded over 120 F.

The Dead Sea is also an endorheic lake, which means it has no outlet. This accounts for its high salinity. Whatever minerals the Jordan pumps into it will never leave unless they are physically extracted, which means the lake will only get saltier over time. It is also worth noting that the only entrance into the Dead Sea is from the north, or the top of the lake. This is fitting, because the only way to get to Hell is to go down to it from earth. Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee, on the other hand, are exorheic lakes, which means they have both an entrance and an exit point. This mirrors how there are entrances at each end of earth and Purgatory. For earth, you can either go up to Purgatory or Heaven, or down to Hell. For Purgatory, there is an entrance coming from earth and an entrance going up to Heaven. Heaven only has a door at the bottom, which Saint Peter faithfully guards, for those coming up from earth or Purgatory.

The Dead Sea also features negatively in the scriptures. In Deuteronomy, the Dead Sea is referred to as the Salt Sea or the Sea of the Arabah, which means Sea of the Desert or Wasteland in Hebrew.[47] Scholars debate the exact locations of Sodom and Gomorrha, but there is a general consensus they were located somewhere on the shores of the Dead Sea. These cities are synonymous for immorality and are fitting symbols for Hell. We also read that God destroys Sodom and Gomorrha with fire and brimstone (which is the same thing as sulfur).[48] Lot’s wife is also turned into a pillar of salt.[49] The Dead Sea and the surrounding region abounds with these two hellish symbols — salt and sulfur. The wicked city Jericho is only seven miles from the Dead Sea.

Debris beside the Dead Sea (source)

Jerusalem is also only about fifteen miles from the Dead Sea which is striking. One may ask why the holy city of Jerusalem is so close to a place that represents Hell? The answer can once again be found in the topography/geography of the landscape. Although relatively close to the Dead Sea and Jericho, Jerusalem towers nearly 4,000 feet above the Dead Sea and sits about 3,200 feet higher than Jericho. Jerusalem is not part of Hell, but is almost its gate. This is fitting because Jerusalem is where Christ triumphed over Satan and Hell.

Through His passion and death, Christ tore down the gates of Hell and harrowed it. Jerusalem and the gates of Hell serve as a counterpoint to Caeserea Philippi and the gates of Heaven. This image of gates is referenced in Matthew’s gospel, “And I say to thee: Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”[50] The gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church because Christ has vanquished them through His passion and death just outside Jerusalem.

The devil’s hatred for water

The final point to note is the Devil’s hatred for water. Although this theory is more speculative, there is evidence to support it. The storm on the Sea of Galilee can be viewed as a challenge from the Devil. He uses water to try to frighten Christ and the Apostles. The Devil is threatened because Christ is on His way to exorcise the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5). Our Lord is encroaching on what the Devil thinks is his territory. The water in the symbolic Hell (the Dead Sea) is so polluted with salt, it is useless and cannot support life. Moreover, the Dead Sea itself is shrinking at a steady pace.

The real Hell is likely going to be a place without any water. We can deduce this from the story of the rich man in Saint Luke’s gospel. The rich man, languishing in Hell, begs for a single drop of water, “And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame.”[51] The Devil hates God and God’s creation and is constantly seeking to destroy it. His favorite way to do this is by stealing souls away from Heaven.

The waters of baptism are a painful reminder to him of souls who are escaping from his grasp and of God’s supreme power. Through baptism, God stamps an indelible mark on a man’s soul. The Devil does all he can to sully this mark, but he cannot erase it. Christ’s side during the passion also sprayed water alongside blood. Saint Thomas says this is appropriate because it signifies the purifying effect of the passion.[52] Water is also used at every Mass which is yet one more small reminder to Satan of his defeat at Calvary.

God is eternal wisdom; nothing He does is arbitrary. The geography of the Holy Land is no exception. Although the historical events that occurred in this region tell us it is important, the land and water themselves tell a story through their physical structure. The physical features of the Holy Land were designed in such a way that they would reflect spiritual places and realities:

  • The beautiful region around the Jordan’s headwaters with its fresh mountain air signifies Heaven.
  • The malarial swamp of Lake Hula and the scorched land around it, cleared of infidels, represents Purgatory as a place of penance and purgation.
  • The sometimes tranquil and sometimes turbulent waters of the Sea of Galilee reflect the many ups and downs we experience in our earthly lives. Christ’s abiding presence, however, always pervades the stormy world. Our Lord is always ready to extend a hand to save us or calm the storm when we call on Him.
  • The Jordan River, flowing from its heavenly heights, sanctified by Christ Himself, is a symbol of baptism and the grace which flows down to us on earth. It is a life-giving highway connecting Heaven with earth. It also washes the filth of our sins down to the dregs of Hell.
  • Finally, the lifeless Dead Sea, sitting at the lowest place on earth, represents Hell in all its hot and sulfurous misery.

The Jordan and its watershed, therefore, are more than just a sliver of Palestine; they also signify the whole physical and spiritual world.


[46] Learning Lesson: A Funny Taste — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

[47] Deuteronomy 3:17

[48] Genesis 19:24

[49] Genesis 19:26

[50] Matthew 16:18

[51] Luke 16:24

[52] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, q. 76, a. 6, corpus, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (New York, NY: Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1947), 2443.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: