That immense body of water separating Europe and Africa, with Asia to its E. While the Hebrews called it the Great Sea, today it is commonly called by its Latin name, Mediterranean, meaning ‘in the middle of the land,’ for it is practically landlocked. This circumstance, and the fact that hot winds off the Sahara Desert blow over it, result in a proportionately higher evaporation rate and this, in turn, gives the water a higher specific gravity. That is why the lighter water of the Atlantic flows in at the surface through the Straits of Gibraltar and the heavier Mediterranean water empties out at the bottom. Ocean shipping may pass in and out of this “inland” sea only through narrow gateways—through the Straits of Gibraltar to the W, through the Dardanelles and Bosporus to the NE and, during the past century, through the Suez Canal to the SE.
It is not amiss today to call the Mediterranean the Great Sea, as ancient people did from the time of Moses onward, for it certainly measures up to all this name implies. (Num. 34:6, 7) It is about 2,300 miles (c. 3,700 kilometers) long, over 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) wide at its greatest breadth, and it covers an area of more than 1,100,000 square miles (2,849,000 square kilometers). Its deepest point is over 14,000 feet (c. 4,270 meters).
The Italian and Greek peninsulas, jutting down from the N, create the Tyrrhenian, Ionian, Adriatic and Aegean Seas, thus adding to its irregular shape and greatly increasing the length of its coastline. About mid-distance E and W, it pinches down to a width of less than eighty miles (c. 129 kilometers) between Sicily and North Africa, and there the water is also comparatively shallow.
Ezekiel’s prophecy speaks of “very many” fish in the Great Sea. (Ezek. 47:10) Fine coral and an abundance of sponge are found in these waters, in addition to more than 400 varieties of fish.
Bible writers not only used the name “Great Sea” (Josh. 1:4; 9:1, 2; 15:12, 47; 23:4; Ezek. 47:15, 19, 20; 48:28), but they also referred to it by other comprehensive terms. To them this body of water was the “western sea,” forming as it did the western boundary of Palestine. (Deut. 11:24; 34:1, 2) From the location of Jerusalem it was viewed as the “western sea” in contrast with the “eastern sea,” that is, the Dead Sea. (Joel 2:20; Zech. 14:8) Or it was called “the sea of the Philistines” (Ex. 23:31) or simply “the Sea.”—Num. 34:5.
From time immemorial Phoenicians and other bold seafaring people traversed the Great Sea, discovered a number of its islands, and carried on trade between many of its port cities. The Bible mentions such islands as Arvad, Cauda, Chios, Cos, Crete, Cyprus, Malta, Patmos, Rhodes, Samos, and Samothrace. Also, some of the coastal cities and sites on these islands and along the continental shores of the eastern section of the Great Sea are listed in the Bible, namely: Acco (Ptolemais), Achzib, Adramyttium, Alexandria, Amphipolis, Ashkelon, Attalia, Cnidus, Dor, Fair Havens, Gebal, Lasea, Patara, Phoenix, Puteoli, Rhegium, Salamis, Salmone and Syracuse.
Jesus Christ visited the seaport regions of Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24, 31); Peter was in Joppa and Caesarea (Acts 10:5, 6, 24); Paul was in Paphos, Troas, Neapolis, Cenchreae, Ephesus, Assos, Mitylene and Miletus. (Acts 13:13; 16:11; 18:18, 19; 20:14, 15) The Great Sea is noted for its fierce storms that have resulted in numerous shipwrecks and much loss of life. Among the more fortunate were those who survived with Jonah and Paul on their famous voyages.—Jonah 1:3-16; Acts 27:14, 15, 39-44.
[Map on page 685]
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LOCATIONS ALONG THE GREAT SEA
GREAT SEA (MEDITERRANEAN)
Straits of Gibraltar
GULF OF SIDRA (SYRTIS)