Did You Know?
Why did people in Bible times use bitumen as mortar?
▪ Regarding the builders of the tower of Babel, the Bible says that “brick served as stone for them, but bitumen served as mortar.”—Genesis 11:3.
Bitumen occurs naturally. It comes from petroleum, and it is readily found in Mesopotamia, where it wells up out of the earth and coagulates. Its efficiency as an adhesive was noted in Bible times. Bitumen was “suitable for buildings constructed of baked bricks,” says one reference work.
An article in the magazine Archaeology describes a recent visit to the remains of a ziggurat in the ancient city of Ur, in Mesopotamia. “The bitumen mortar—one of the first uses of southern Iraq’s vast oil fields—is still visible between the burnt bricks,” says the author. “The sticky black substance, today a source of the region’s instability and violence, once literally bound this civilization together. The use of bitumen as mortar and pavement has helped waterproof the otherwise fragile Sumerian mud-bricks, ensuring that the structures endured for millennia.”
What kind of “paper” was available in Bible times?
▪ The question naturally arises because of a remark made by the Bible writer John: “Although I have many things to write you, I do not desire to do so with paper and ink.”—2 John 12.
The Greek word kharʹtes, here rendered “paper,” refers to the paper made of papyrus, which is an aquatic plant. One reference work describes the technique used to make sheets of writing material from the stems of this plant as follows: “Stems, sometimes ten feet [3 m] long, were peeled and cut into narrow strips which in their turn were pasted to one another in layers, the grain in these layers going first one way and then the other; these sheets were then beaten with a wooden mallet and finally smoothed with a scraper.”
Archaeologists have recovered many ancient papyrus documents in Egypt and in the area around the Dead Sea. Some Scriptural papyri found in these areas date back to the time of Jesus or even earlier. It is quite possible that this was the material on which Biblical letters, such as those by the apostles, were originally written.
[Picture Credit Lines on page 11]
© FLPA/David Hosking/age fotostock