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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(מֶלִח, melach; ἃλς ), the chloride of sodium of modern chemistry. Indispensable as salt is to ourselves, it was even more so to the Hebrews, being to them not only an appetizing condiment in the food both of man (Job 6:6) and beast (Isaiah 30:24; see margin), and a most valuable antidote to the effects of the heat of the climate on animal food, but also entering largely into their religious services as an accompaniment to the various offerings presented on the altar (Leviticus 2:13). They possessed an inexhaustible and ready supply of it on the southern shores of the Dead Sea. In the same manner the Arabs of the present day procure their supply of salt from the deposits of the Dead Sea, and carry on a considerable trade in that article throughout Syria. Here may have been situated the Valley of Salt (2 Samuel 8:13), in proximity to the mountain of fossil salt which Robinson (Researches, 2, 108) describes as five miles in length, and as the chief source of the salt in the sea itself. (See SALT, VALLEY OF). Here were the salt pits (Zephaniah 2:9), probably formed in the marshes at the southern end of the lake, which are completely coated with salt, deposited periodically by the rising of the waters; and here also were the successive pillars of salt which tradition has from time to time identified with Lot's wife (Wisdom of Solomon 10:7; Josephus, Ant. 1, 11, 4). (See DEAD SEA).

Salt might also be procured from the Mediterranean Sea, and from this source the Phoenicians would naturally obtain the supply necessary for salting fish (Nehemiah 13:16) and for other purposes. The Jews appear to have distinguished between rock-salt and that which was gained by evaporation, as the Talmudists particularize one species (probably the latter) as the "salt of Sodom" (Carpzov, Appar. p. 718). The notion that this expression means bitumen rests on no foundation. The salt pits formed an important source of revenue to the rulers of the country (Josephus, Ant. 13:4, 9), and Antiochus conferred a valuable boon on Jerusalem by presenting the city with 375 bushels of salt for the Temple service (ibid. 12:3, 3). In addition to the uses of salt already specified, the inferior sorts were applied as a manure to the soil, or to hasten the decomposition of dung (Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:35). Too large an admixture, however, was held to produce sterility, as exemplified on the shores of the Dead Sea (Deuteronomy 29:23; Zephaniah 2:9); hence a "salt" land was synonymous with barrenness (Job 39:6; see margin; Jeremiah 17:6; comp. Josephus, War, 4:8, 2, ἁλμυρωοης καὶ ἃγονος ); and hence also arose the custom of sowing with salt the foundations of a destroyed city (Judges 9:45), as a token of its irretrievable ruin. It was the belief of the Jews that salt would, by exposure to the air, lose its virtue (μωρανθῇ, Matthew 5:13), and become saltless (ἄναλον, Mark 9:50). The same fact is implied in the expressions of Pliny, sal iners (31, 39), sal tabescere (31, 44); and Maundrell (Early Travels [ed. Bohn], p. 512) asserts that he found the surface of a salt rock in this condition (see Hackett, Illustrat. of Script. p. 48 sq.).

The associations connected with salt in Eastern countries are important. As one of the most essential articles of diet, it symbolized hospitality; as an antiseptic, durability, fidelity, and purity. Hence the expression, "covenant of salt" (Leviticus 2:13; Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5), as betokening an indissoluble alliance between friends (see Gettysb. Evang. Rev. Oct. 1867); and again the expression, "salted with the salt of the palace" (Ezra 4:14), not necessarily meaning that they had "maintenance from the palace," as the A.V. has it, but that they were bound by sacred obligations of fidelity to the king. So in the present day, "to eat bread and salt together" is an expression for a league of mutual amity (Russell, Aleppo, 1, 232); and, on the other hand, the Persian term for traitor is nemekharam, "faithless to salt" (Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 790). The same force would be given by the preservative quality of salt (Bahrdt, De Federe Salis [Lips. 1761]; Hallervordt, id. [ibid. 1701]; Zeibich, id. [Ger. 1760]; Thomson, Land and Book, 2, 42 sq.). (See COVENANT). It was possibly with a view to keep this idea prominently before the minds of the Jews that the use of salt was enjoined on the Israelites in their offerings to God; for in the first instance it was specifically ordered for the meat offering (Leviticus 2:13), which consisted mainly of flour, and therefore was not liable to corruption (see Pontanus, De Sale Sacrific. [Traj. 1703]; Spencer, De Legis Rit. 1, 5, 1). The extension of its use to burned- sacrifices was a later addition (Ezra 43, 24; Josephus, Ant. 3, 9, 1), in the spirit of the general injunction at the close of Leviticus 2, 13. Similarly the heathens accompanied their sacrifices with salted barley meal, the Greeks with their οὐλοχύται (Homer, Il. 1, 449), the Romans with their mola salsa (Horace, Sat. 2, 3, 200) or their salsoe fruges (Virgil, Aen. 2, 133). Salt, therefore, became of great importance to Hebrew worshippers: it was sold accordingly in the Temple market, and a large quantity was kept in the Temple itself, in a chamber appropriated to the purpose (Maii Diss. de Usu Salis Symbol. in Rebus Sacris [Giess. 1692]; Wokenius, De Salitura Oblationum Deo Factar. [Lips. 1747]; Josephus, Ant. 12:3, 3; Middoth, 5, 3; Othon. Lex. Rabb. p. 668). It may, of course, be assumed that in all of these cases salt was added as a condiment; but the strictness with which the rule was adhered to no sacrifice being offered without salt (Pliny, 31, 41), and still more the probable, though perhaps doubtful, admixture of it in incense (Exodus 30:35, where the word rendered "tempered together" is by some understood as "salted" leads to the conclusion that there was a symbolical force attached to its use (Josephus, Ant. 3, 9, 1; Philo, 2, 255; Hottinger, Jur. Heb. Legg. p. 168); as was certainly the case with the Greeks and Romans (Pliny, Hist. Nat. 31, 44; Ovid, Fast. 1, 337; Spencer, De Leg. Rit. 3, 2, 2; Lukemacher, Antiq. Groec. Sacr. p. 350; Hottinger, De Usu Salis. etc. [Marburg, 1708]; Schickedanz, id. [Servest. 1758]; Maius, id. [Giess. 1692]; Mill, id. (Ult. 1734]). Our Lord refers to the sacrificial use of salt in Mark 9:49-50, though some of the other associations may also be implied. The purifying property of salt, as opposed to corruption, led to its selection as the outward sign in Elisha's miracle (2 Kings 2:20-21), and is also developed in the New Test. (Matthew 5:13; Colossians 4:6). The custom of rubbing infants with salt (Ezra 16:4) originated in sanitary considerations, but received also a symbolical meaning (Richter, De Usu Salis apud Priscos Profano et Sacro [Zittas, 1766]).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Salt'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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