The onset and evolution of the Dead Sea transform are re-evaluated based on new in situ U-Pb dating and strain analyses of mechanically twinned calcites. Direct dating of 30 syn-faulting calcites from 10 different inactive fault strands of the transform indicates that the oceanic-to-continental plate boundary initiated between 20.8 and 18.5 Ma within an ~10-km-wide distributed deformation zone in southern Israel. Ages from the northern Dead Sea transform (17.1-12.7 Ma) suggest northward propagation and the establishment of a welldeveloped > 500-km-long plate-bounding fault in 3 m.y. The dominant horizontal shortening direction recorded in the dated twinned calcites marks the onset of left-lateral motion along the evolving plate boundary. The observed changes in the strain field within individual fault strands cannot be simply explained by local "weakening effects" along strands of the Dead Sea transform or by gradual changes in the Euler pole through time.