their meat shall be yours: it shall be yours like the breast of elevation
offering and like the right thigh. All the sacred gifts that the Israelites
set aside for the Lord I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters
that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting
covenant of salt before the Lord for you and for your offspring as well.
you know that the Lord God of Israel gave David kingship over Israel
forever to him and his sons by a covenant of salt. (II
the food preservative par excellence in biblical times. According to
priestly law, all sacrifices were to be salted as well: "You shall season
your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering
the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer
It is easy to understand this law in the context of meat sacrifices, as salt
functioned to remove whatever blood remained after slaughter. What is surprising
and unexpected is the requirement to use salt in grain offerings as well:
Scholar Jacob Milgrom
notes that salt stands in contrast to leaven and other fermentatives, whose
use is forbidden on the altar. He thus perceives salt as a symbol of permanence,
as opposed to leaven which produces change. Therefore, a "salt covenant"
suggests an unbreakable covenant. Noting that it was very likely that salt
played a central role at the solemn meal which sealed a covenant, Milgrom
recalls the two biblical covenants in Genesis and Exodus.
"And they said: We now see plainly that the Lord has been with
you, and we thought: Let there be a sworn treaty between our two parties,
between you and us. Let us make a pact with you...Then he made for them
a feast, and they ate and drank. " (Genesis 26:28, 30)
Then he took the
record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said,
“All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!” ... Then
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended...
and they ate and drank. (Exodus
24:7, 9, 10).
Scholars have noted
references to salt in ancient Near Eastern treaty curses; according
to these, if a treaty were violated one's land would be sowed or plowed
with salt so as to impair its productivity. Similarly, the symbolic
role of salt in rituals of hospitality has been mentioned in support
of the notion that the use of salt in the sacrificial cult may have
had a covenantal function. Notes Milgrom: "A Neo-Babylonian letter
speaks of 'all who have tasted the salt of the Jakin tribe,' referring
to the tribe's covenanted allies. Loyalty to the Persian monarch is
claimed by having tasted the 'salt of the palace' in Ezra 4:14. And
Arabic milhat, a derivative of malaha, to salt, means
Baruch Levine takes a different view. Rather than associating the use
of salt in grain sacrifices with a covenantal role, he suggests that
its use was more likely a reflection of the overall tendency toward
uniformity in ritual. "The phrase melah berit eloheikha,"
("salt of your covenant with God," Lev.
2:13) he writes, "refers to the binding, God-ordained obligation,
or commitment to use salt. In Lev. 24:8-9, berit olam similarly
means a commitment for all time
Numbers 18:19, the requirement of salting sacrifices is repeated, although
in somewhat altered form, as berit melah olam (everlasting salt
covenant), but the sense is the same: 'an everlasting covenant of salt.'
[While an] extensive literature has arisen on the subject of the presumed
role of salt in the enactment of treaties and covenants on the assumption
that berit melah means "a covenant made binding by salt,"
it is doubtful, whether any of this explicitly concerns the Levitical
law requiring the salting of sacrifices. Berit in the [Leviticus]
text and in Numbers 18:19 should be understood to mean "binding
obligation, commitment," making the use of salt a duty, rather
than attributing any covenantal function to salt per se."
Lev. 2:11-13; also Ezekiel 43:24
"Offer them to the Lord; let the priests throw salt on them and
offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord." [back]
Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (Philadelphia:
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1990), p. 154.
The same general requirement is referred to in Numbers 18:19. In Ezra
6:9 and 7:22 we read that large quantities of salt were delivered to
the post-exilic Temple of Jerusalem for use in the sacrificial cult.
Baruch Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus (Philadelphia:
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989), p. 13. [back]
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