Hebrew: melach, salt powder. Genesis 14:3 and 33 other references.
Greek: halas, hals, salt. Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49-50; Luke 14:34; Colosssians 4:6; James 3:12.
Rock salt, the mineral halite or NaCl, forms cubic isometric crystals or skeletal crystals known as "hoppers" when it crystallizes freely from brine, but it usually occurs in interlocking, coarsely crystalline masses with cubic cleavage. Halite is clear with a vitreous luster when pure, but impurities and other evaporite minerals may color it white, grey, or even bright red. It has a hardness of 2.5 and a specific gravity of 2.16. Its salty taste, relative softness, and tendency to absorb atmospheric moisture on exposed surfaces make it easily recognized. Halite forms by evaporation of enclosed bodies of seawater and occurs in association with gypsum, anhydrite, calcite, dolomite, and occasionally sylvite. Halite of this origin crystallizes from Dead Sea brines today, and vast deposits occur at many other localities worldwide.
The Egyptian Pharaohs instituted a royal monopoly and tax on salt, a practice that persisted in many other cultures. Salt was so valuable in the ancient world that it often served as a medium of exchange, and the word “salary ” comes from the days when Roman soldiers received their pay in inflation-proof salt. The Egyptians used salt to cure meat and fish, brine to make olives edible, and natron-rich salt to embalm bodies.
The Israelites followed universal practice in using salt to preserve and flavor their food, and the Apostle Paul urged his friends to season their words with grace in the same manner (Colossians 4:6). All Temple offerings included a pinch of salt, and Jewish parents rubbed their newborn infants with salt (Ezekiel 16:4).
The fate of Lot's wife may be the origin of today’s superstition that spilling salt brings bad luck. Elisha's use of salt to purify water at Jericho (2 Kings 2:20-21) is the earliest record of drinking water treatment by ion exchange. In Matthew 5:13, salt symbolizes the salutary value of Christian witness and ministry in this world.
The Salt Sea, the Valley of Salt, and the City of Salt all evoke negative images of desolation, despair, and calamity (e.g., Deuteronomy 29:22-23). Sowing a defeated enemy’s land with salt brought the curses of infertility and desolation upon it (Judges 9:45). Jeremiah compares those who turn away from to a bush in the wastelands: “… he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives” (Jeremiah 17:6).
Jesus' remarks about salt losing its saltiness (Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:34, Luke 14:34) may elude modern readers who are accustomed to refined iodized salt. They are explained by the fact that salt obtained from the Dead Sea, rock salt, or evaporating pans was impure. Impurities such as anhydrite, organic matter, or clay made the salt hygroscopic or liable to absorbing water from the atmosphere in humid climates. Left alone, the salt would deliquesce, or dissolve in the absorbed moisture, leaving an unappetizing mess. In this context, saltiness is a disciple's commitment to Jesus Christ as shown in his witness. Time and circumstances will dilute this enthusiasm unless the disciple lives close to Jesus.
Dan, J., 1996. Structure of northern Mount Sedom salt diapir (Israel) from cave evidence and surface morphology. Israel Journal of Earth Sciences; 45: 73-80.
Frumkin, Amos, 1996. Structure of northern Mount Sedom salt diapir (Israel) from cave evidence and surface morphology. Israel Journal of Earth Sciences; 41:169-176.
Kemper, Steve, 1999. Salt of the earth. Smithsonian; 29-10: 70-78.
Kreiger, Barbara, 1988. Living Waters: Myth, History, and Politics of the Dead Sea. New York: Continuum Publishing.
Kurlansky, op. cit.
Hurlbut, 1952, op. cit.; 254-256.
Lucas & Harris, op. cit., 268-269.
Ralph, Jolyon, 1993-2004. http://www.mindat.org/min-1804.html
Yechieli, Yoseph, Ittai Gavrieli, Brian Berkowitz, & Daniel Ronen, 1998. Will the Dead Sea die? Geology; 28-8: 755-758.
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