the Fifth Week of Lent
Salt, Valley of
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. גֵּיא מֵלִח, Gey Melach, but twice with the article, גֵּ הִמֶּלִח; Sept. Γεβελέμ, Γεμελέδ, κοιλὰς [or φάραγξ ] τῶν ἁλῶν; v.r. Γημαλά, Γαιμελά; Vulg. Vallis Salinarum), a certain valley — or perhaps more accurately a "ravine," the Hebrew word gey appearing to bear that signification — in which occurred two memorable victories of the Israelitish arms.
1. That of David over the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:13; 1 Chronicles 18:12). It appears to have immediately followed his Syrian campaign, and was itself one of the incidents of the great Edomitish war of extermination. The battle in the Valley of Salt appears to have been conducted by Abishai (1 Chronicles 18:12), but David and Joab were both present in person at the battle and in the pursuit and campaign which followed; and Joab was left behind for six months to consummate the: doom of the conquered country (1 Kings 11:15-16; Psalms 60, title). The number of Edomites slain in the battle is uncertain: the narratives of Samuel and Chronicles both give it at 18,000, but this figure is lowered in the title of Psalm 55 to 12,000. (See DAVID).
2. That of Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25:11), who is related to have slain 10,000 Edomites in this valley, and then to have proceeded with 10,000 prisoners to the stronghold of the nation at has- Sela, the Cliff, i.e. Petra, and, after taking it, to have massacred them by hurling them down the precipice which gave its ancient name to the city. See EDOM.
Neither of these notices affords any clue to the situation of the Valley of Salt, nor does the cursory mention of the name ("Gemela" and "Mela") in the Onomasticon. By Josephus it is not named on either occasion. Seetzen (Reisen, 2, 356) was probably the first to suggest that it was the broad, open plain which lies at the lower end of the Dead Sea, and intervenes between the lake itself and the range of heights which crosses the valley at six or eight miles to the south. The same view is taken (more decisively) by Dr. Robinson (Bib. Res. 2, 109). The plain is in fact the termination of the Gh8r or valley through which the Jordan flows from the Lake of Tiberias to the Dead Sea. Its northwest corner is occupied by the Khashm Usdum, a mountain of rock salt, between which and the lake is an extensive salt marsh, while salt streams and brackish springs pervade, more or less, the entire western half of the plain. Without presuming to contradict this suggestion, which yet can hardly be affirmed with safety in the very imperfect condition of our knowledge of the inaccessible regions south and southeast of the Dead Sea, it may be well to call attention to some considerations which seem to stand in the way of the implicit reception which most writers have given it since the publication of Dr. Robinson's Researches. (So Van de Velde, Memoir, p. 346; also Keil on 2 Kings 14:7.) (See SODOM).
(a.) The word Gey (גֵּיא ), employed for the place in question, is not elsewhere applied to a broad valley or sunk plain of the nature of the lower Ghor. Such tracts are denoted in the Scripture by the word Emek or Bika'ah, while Gey appears to be reserved for clefts or ravines of a deeper and narrower character. (See VALLEY).
(b.) A priori, one would expect the tract in question to be called in. Scripture by the peculiar name uniformly applied to the more northern parts of the same valley, ha-Arabah, in the same manner that the Arabs now call it el-Ghor, "Ghor" being their equivalent for the Hebrew "Arabah." (See ARABAH).
(c.) The name "Salt," though at first sight conclusive, becomes less so on reflection. It does not follow, because the Hebrew word melach signifies salt, that therefore the valley was salt. A case exactly parallel exists at el- Milh, the representative of the ancient Moladah, some sixteen miles south of Hebron. Like melach, milh signifies salt; but there is no reason to believe that there is any salt present there, and Dr. Robinson (Bib. Res. 2, 201, note) himself justly adduces it as "an instance of the usual tendency of popular pronunciation to reduce foreign proper names to a significant form." Just as el-Milh is the Arabic representative of the Hebrew Moladah, so possibly was Gey Melach the Hebrew representative of some archaic Edomitish name.
(d.) What little can be inferred from the narrative as to the situation of the Gey Melach is in favor of its being nearer to Petra. Assuming Selah to be Petra (the chain of evidence for which is tolerably connected), it seems difficult to believe that a large body of prisoners should have been dragged for upwards of fifty miles through the heart of a hostile and most difficult country merely for massacre. (See PETRA).
It would seem probable from the above considerations that the sacred writers do not refer to the Arabah, or great plain south of the Dead Sea, but rather to one or other of the passes leading from it, either up into Judah, on the one side, or Edom, on the other. Wady Zuweireh, a well known pass at the northern end of the salt range of Usdum, might be the one meant, though the scope of the narrative would rather seem to locate it nearer Edom. Schwarz (Palest. p. 21, 22) fixes the valley at the same point, the southwest extremity of the Dead Sea, and thinks that Zoar is called the "City of Salt" in Joshua 15:62, because of the salt mountain near it. (See SALT, CITY OF).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Salt, Valley of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​s/salt-valley-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.