[B-Greek] Matt 5:13 Can GH be the passive subject of hALISQHSETAI?

Paul Zellmer pzellmer at sc.rr.com
Thu Jul 26 06:32:09 EDT 2007

Thanks, Webb, Elizabeth, and Carl.

Webb, I noted that your translation is similar to the KJV, which actually
leaves open the question of what is to be salted.  Either hALAS or GH works
with that isolated clause in the translation.

Elizabeth, it was the lack of switch reference that led to my intuitive
evaluation of the possibility.

Carl, while I agree with you, I apparently am not the first to have some
problem with the image.  See the following quoted note from the NET:

"The difficulty of this saying is understanding how salt could lose its
flavor since its chemical properties cannot change. It is thus often assumed
that Jesus was referring to chemically impure salt, perhaps a natural salt
which, when exposed to the elements, had all the genuine salt leached out,
leaving only the sediment or impurities behind. Others have suggested that
the background of the saying is the use of salt blocks by Arab bakers to
line the floor of their ovens; under the intense heat these blocks would
eventually crystallize and undergo a change in chemical composition, finally
being thrown out as unserviceable. A saying in the Talmud (b. Bekorot 8b)
attributed to R. Joshua ben Chananja (ca. ad 90), when asked the question
"When salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again?" is said to
have replied, "By salting it with the afterbirth of a mule." He was then
asked, "Then does the mule (being sterile) bear young?" to which he replied:
"Can salt lose its flavor?" The point appears to be that both are
impossible. The saying, while admittedly late, suggests that culturally the
loss of flavor by salt was regarded as an impossibility. Genuine salt can
never lose its flavor. In this case the saying by Jesus here may be similar
to Matt 19:24, where it is likewise impossible for the camel to go through
the eye of a sewing needle."

I do not agree that the verse is presenting an impossibility, an implied
contrary-to-fact statement.  There is nothing in the discussion to support
that option.  And I recognize that the NET note implies that hALAS is the
subject of hALISQHSETAI.  But, if the unrealized form critic potentially
posited by Webb actually existed and had support to break up the verse into
two sources, I would see have less problem with GH being the subject of the
clause than with hALAS filling that role.  The question would be, why did
the second source (presumably a Greek speaker) *not* have a problem with the
lack of switch reference or assume that it was the salt being salted?

Based on the NET note, this phrase could well have been a common saying
during the period.  I'm going to investigate further offlist.  If someone
has a suggested avenue that may add to the investigation, please let me know
offlist.  I think we have exhausted the material in the verse that is
germane to b-greek.

Thanks again,

Paul Zellmer

-----Original Message-----
From: Carl W. Conrad [mailto:cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu] 
Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2007 5:51 AM
To: Paul Zellmer
Cc: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Matt 5:13 Can GH be the passive subject of

(reply, in part)

I think that Matthew 5:13 is in fact intelligible enough, even  
if it mixes metaphorically, as we might say, apples and oranges.

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