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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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SALT , Salt is rightly included by ben-Sira among ‘the chief of all things necessary for the life of man’ ( Sir 39:26 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). The Hebrews of the Southern Kingdom, at least, had access to inexhaustible stores of salt both in the waters of the Dead Sea, hence named in OT ‘the Salt Sea’ ( Deuteronomy 3:17 etc.) whence it could easily be obtained by evaporation, and in the deposits of the Jebel Usdum at its south-western extremity. References to saltpits or saltpans, or to both, are found in Zephaniah 2:9 , 1Ma 11:25 . One hundred pounds of water from the Dead Sea are said to yield 24 1 / 2 lbs. of salt, compared with 6 lbs. obtained from the same quantity of water from the Atlantic.

In addition to its daily use as a condiment in the preparation of food (cf. Job 6:6 ), and its important place in the sacrificial ritual, salt was employed by the Hebrews in an even greater variety of ways than it is among ourselves. New-born infants, for example, were rubbed with salt ( Ezekiel 16:4 ) a practice in which a religious, rather than a hygienic, motive may be detected. A grain of salt placed in the hollow of a decayed tooth was considered a cure for the universal evil of toothache (Mishna, Shabbath , vi. 5). In other treatises of the Mishna we find frequent references to the use of salt for salting fish, for pickling olives, vegetables, etc. The salting of meat for preservation is referred to in the ‘Epistle of Jeremy’ ( Bar 6:28 ). The modern Jewish custom of laying all meat in salt for the purpose of more thoroughly draining it of the blood was doubtless observed in Bible times. In Palestine, under the Seleucids, salt formed a government monopoly ( 1Ma 10:29; 1Ma 11:35 ), as it did in Egypt under the Ptolemys.

As regards the presence of salt in the ritual of sacrifice, the words of Mark 9:40 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , every sacrifice shall be salted with salt,’ although omitted by RV [Note: Revised Version.] following the best authorities, are nevertheless true to fact. The legislation of the Priests’ Code, at least, expressly ordains: ‘with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt’ ( Leviticus 2:13 ) a passage which expressly specifies that the cereal or vegetable offerings (the ‘meal offerings’ of RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) had to be salted as well as the more important and more evident animal or flesh sacrifices (cf. Ezekiel 43:24 ). A special ‘salt chamber’ is mentioned among the chambers adjoining the Priests’ Court in the description of Herod’s Temple given in the Mishna. The sacred incense, also, had to be ‘seasoned with salt’ ( Exodus 30:35 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), as was also the case with the shewbread, according to the better Gr. text of Leviticus 24:7 . The original idea in this extended ritual use of salt was doubtless this that just as salt was an indispensable accompaniment of man’s dally food, so it could not be absent from the ‘food of God,’ as the sacrifices are termed in Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 21:17 .

In the developed priestly legislation, however, there can be little doubt that the presence of salt had a symbolical significance. From its use as a preservative, reflected in our Lord’s figure, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5:13 ), and as an antidote to decay, it is natural that salt should become a symbol of permanence, and even of life as opposed to decay and death. ‘Salt,’ it has been said, ‘seems to stand for life in many a form of primitive speech and in the world’s symbolism’ (Trumbull, Covenant of Salt ). From this symbolical standpoint we probably reach the true explanation of the striking expression ‘ a convenant of salt ’ ( Numbers 18:19 , 2 Chronicles 13:5 ), which denotes a covenant that is inviolable and valid in perpetuity. The presence of salt, therefore, with every sacrifice may have come to symbolize the irrevocable character of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s covenant with Israel (cf. G. B. Gray’s Com . on Numbers 18:19 ).

This seems preferable to the usual explanation which connects the expression in question with the well-known code of Arab [Note: Arabic.] hospitality, by which a traveller in the desert, and even an enemy, if he has once partaken of an Arab’s hospitality, has a right to his host’s protection; since this ‘ordinance of salt’ as it is termed, is valid only for a limited period (see Jaussen. Coutumes des Arabes [1908], 87 f.). On the other hand, the obligations which the partaking of one’s hospitality imposes on a guest are emphasized in the words of Ezra 4:14 ‘because we eat the salt of the palace’ (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ).

In marked contrast to the above-mentioned employment of salt as a symbol of life, stands its parallel occurrence as a symbol of barrenness, desolation, or death (Deuteronomy 29:23 and elsewhere). By this aspect of the symbolism of salt it has been usual to explain the treatment meted out by Abimelech to the city of Shechem in the early narrative, Judges 9:45 : ‘He beat down the city and sowed it with salt .’ It is more in harmony, however, with the fundamental conception of the han (see Ban) to regard the strewing of the site of the city with salt as symbolizing its complete dedication to J″ [Note: Jahweh.] (see the parallels adduced in EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iv. col. 4249 f.).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Salt'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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