solt (melach; halas, hals): Common salt is considered by most authorities as an essential ingredient of our food. Most people intentionally season their cooking with more or less salt for the sake of palatability. Others depend upon the small quantities which naturally exist in water and many foods to furnish the necessary amount of salt for the body. Either too much salt or the lack of it creates undesirable disturbance in the animal system. Men and animals alike instinctively seek for this substance to supplement or improve their regular diet. The ancients appreciated the value of salt for seasoning food (Job 6:6). So necessary was it that they dignified it by making it a requisite part of sacrifices (Le 2:13; Ezr 6:9; 7:22; Eze 43:24; Mr 9:49). In Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5, a "covenant of salt" is mentioned (compare Mr 9:49). This custom of pledging friendship or confirming a compact by eating food containing salt is still retained among Arabic-speaking people. The Arabic word for "salt" and for a "compact" or "treaty" is the same. Doughty in his travels in Arabia appealed more than once to the superstitious belief of the Arabs in the "salt covenant," to save his life. Once an Arab has received in his tent even his worst enemy and has eaten salt (food) with him, he is bound to protect his guest as long as he remains.
See COVENANT OF SALT.
The chief source of salt in Palestine is from the extensive deposits near the "sea of salt" (see DEAD SEA), where there are literally mountains and valleys of salt (2Sa 8:13; 2Ki 14:7; 1Ch 18:12; 2Ch 25:11). On the seacoast the inhabitants frequently gather the sea salt. They fill the rock crevices with sea water and leave it for the hot summer sun to evaporate. After evaporation the salt crystals can be collected. As salt-gathering is a government monopoly in Turkey, the government sends men to pollute the salt which is being surreptitiously crystallized, so as to make it unfit for eating. Another extensive supply comes from the salt lakes in the Syrian desert East of Damascus and toward Palmyra. All native salt is more or less bitter, due to the presence of other salts such as magnesium sulphate.
Salt was used not only as a food, but as an antiseptic in medicine. Newborn babes were bathed and salted (Eze 16:4), a custom still prevailing. The Arabs of the desert consider it so necessary, that in the absence of salt they batheir infants in camels' urine. Elisha is said to have healed the waters of Jericho by casting a cruse of salt into the spring (2Ki 2:20 f). Abimelech sowed the ruins of Shechem with salt to prevent a new city from arising in its place (Jg 9:45). Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt (Ge 19:26).
Salt is emblematic of loyalty and friendship (see above). A person who has once joined in a "salt covenant" with God and then breaks it is fit only to be cast out (compare Mt 5:13; Mr 9:50). Saltness typified barrenness (De 29:23; Jer 17:6). James compares the absurdity of the same mouth giving forth blessings and cursings to the impossibility of a fountain yielding both sweet and salt water (Jas 3:11 f).
James A. Patch