The Covenant Use of Salt in the Old Testament
The ritual use of salt is attested to in the Old Testament book of Leviticus chapter 2 verse 13 which discusses the use of salt in making grain offerings (NRSV):
"13 You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt."
Likewise, the prophet-priest Ezekiel mentions salt in connection with offering animal sacrifice in Ezekiel 43:23-24 (KJV):
"23 When thou hast made an end of cleansing it [the altar], thou shalt offer a young bullock without blemish, and a ram out of the flock without blemish.
"24 And thou shalt offer them before the Lord, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up for a burnt offering unto the Lord."
Regarding Lev 2:13 the Harper Collins Study Bible (HCSB) makes the following comment:
"Since salt was the preservative par excellence in antiquity, it made the ideal symbol for the perdurability of a covenant, and it is likely that salt played a prominent role at the solemn meal that sealed a covenant in the ancient Near East" (155).
An allusion to this covenant meal is also mentioned in the book of Ezra:
After returning from Babylon the Jews set about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Hearing of this the Samaritans offered assistance but were rebuffed by the Jews who saw them as impure. Deeply offended the Samaritans endeavored to frustrate the plans of the Jews and wrote a letter to Artaxerxes I, the Persian king, claiming that the Jews intended to cease paying tribute upon completion of the city and temple. Their letter can be found in Ezra chapter 4 and in verse 14 the Samaritans say the following (NRSV):
"Now because we share the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king's dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king ... "
According to the HCSB the phrase "we share the salt of the palace" refers to this covenant meal:
"Share the salt, are partners in a covenant ratified by a meal seasoned with salt (cf. Lev 2.13; Num 18.19)" (707).
Another reference to salt as a token of covenant can be found in 2 Chronicles 13:5.
Salt as a Purifying Agent
|Elisha's Spring in Jericho|
5 September 1999
relates this very brief story beginning in verse 19:
"19 ¶And the men of the city [Jericho] said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren.
"20 And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him.
"21 And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.
"22 So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake."
Salt in Wisdom Literature
Ben Witherington III makes an interesting statement regarding salt in his book On the Road with Jesus: Teaching and Healing where he says the following:
"What we need to know is that the term salt in wisdom literature refers to 'wisdom' hence the verb that suggests the opposite of having salt in oneself means being foolish. There is probably a play on words here in the Aramaic - for tabel and tapel mean, respectively, 'salt' and 'foolish.' The point is that if a disciple ceases to function in the one capacity in which he is truly valuable, namely witnessing to the world in word and deed, then that disciple is worthless. Fit only to be cast out (noting the end-time judgement overtones here.)" (Link)