hALAS as fertilizer

James C. Williams williams at anatomy.iupui.edu
Mon Oct 5 10:00:29 EDT 1998

Steven Cox wrote:
> ...poor Yorick I knew him well :-)
>the question is re. BAGD which
> gives "fertilizer" as one possible meaning of ALAS.
> This is not supported by LSJ or as far as I can see
> any papyri. Or indeed by common sense.

Actually, common sense does support this, if you hear the word "salt" as it
was used in antiquity.  Many a student in introductory chemistry has balked
at finding substances such as potassium nitrate referred to as a "salt,"
but such usage goes back for centuries.

In antiquity, any substance that tasted salty was called "salt", and that
included the nitrates mined from the earth and used to put on fields as
fertilizer.  Such a salt also would be expected to increase the composting
rate of a manure pile.  Thus, the usage of hALAS in Luke 14:34-35 makes
sense, as the hALAS could be that salt used for fertilizer, rather than the
salt that we put on our food.

Again, from common sense, if a farmer had a pile of mineral fertilizer to
use on his fields, the rain would gradually leach out the fertilizer salts,
leaving behind insoluble residue.  Such a residue would no longer taste
salty, and also would be "neither fit for the land, nor yet for the

So, common sense supports such usage of hALAS.  As for a reference, I don't
know, but would be most interested in knowing about that, as well.

Jim Williams (son of a chemist)

/ James C. Williams                          williams at anatomy.iupui.edu   /
/ Department of Anatomy                                                   /
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