The same black or brownish mineral asphalt is referred to by three Hebrew words. Two of these describe the difference in hardness: pitch (zeʹpheth), its liquid form; bitumen (che·marʹ), its solid state. The third word, tar (koʹpher), describes its usage: how it is applied in overlaying woodwork. (See PITCH.) Because of its waterproofing qualities, bitumen’s usefulness to man predates the Flood, for Noah, on being instructed to build the ark, was told to “cover it inside and outside with tar.”—Ge 6:14.
The papyrus ark in which the baby Moses floated among the Nile reeds was watertight because it had been impregnated with both “bitumen and pitch.” (Ex 2:3) The city builders of Babylon learned that bitumen’s waterproof characteristics were combined with adhesive qualities that made it a most useful mortar for their kiln-dried bricks.—Ge 11:3.
At one time the Valley of Siddim, located near Sodom and Gomorrah in the Dead Sea area, was noted for its “pits upon pits of bitumen” (“slimepits,” KJ). (Ge 14:10) Even today bitumen is occasionally washed ashore, suggesting that Siddim is presently located beneath the waters of the Dead Sea. Bitumen is also a flammable material and is so described by Isaiah, who prophesied that the land of Edom would “become as burning pitch.”—Isa 34:9.