[b-hebrew] "Salt" Statue: Lot's Wife

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Oct 19 10:15:45 EDT 2007

Yigal Levin: 
As an expert in Biblical Hebrew, could you tell us whether the reference  to 
Lot's wife being turned into a "salt" statue at Genesis 19: 26 could possibly  
be clever Hebrew wordplay, involving puns on the Hebrew words for "king",  
"queen" and "messenger"/"message"? 
In order to allow people who do not know Hebrew to follow my argument,  (i) I 
will refer to Strong's, and (ii) I will use my own way of transliterating  
Hebrew letters into English letters. 
1.  Here are the possible  puns.  We are looking at Biblical Hebrew, before 
any pointing was  added. 
(a)  In Hebrew, "salt" is  M-L-Kh.  (Mem-lamed-het;  Strong's #4417.) 
(b)    "King" is  M-L-K.  (Mem-lamed-kaf;  Strong's #4428.) 
(c)  "Queen" is M-L-K-H.  (Mem-lamed-kaf-he;  Strong's #4436.) 
(d)  And "messenger" (which  can sometimes in context mean "angel"), and by 
slight extension "message", is  M-L-a-K.  (Mem-lamed-aleph-kaf;  Strong's 
#4397.)  If we ignore the vowel-type sound aleph,  "messenger"/"message" becomes 
2.  We can tell how the  author of the Patriarchal narratives does puns by 
looking at the multiple puns  on the names of Jacob's 12 sons, and the puns on 
the wells named by Isaac in  chapter 26 of Genesis.  Based on  those models, in 
punning in Biblical Hebrew (i) the true consonants must be  either identical 
or similar, but (ii) the vowel-type sounds, including aleph and  ayin, do not 
need to match at all. 
3.  Could a Hebrew in  Biblical times, such as the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives, see M-L-Kh  (salt) as being a possible pun on M-L-K (king) and 
M-L-K-H (queen) and M-L-K  (messenger/message)? 
4.  One possible  interpretation of the real reason why Lot's wife dies 
during the destruction of  Sodom, though not expressly so stated in the text, would 
be as follows.  Lot's wife bore Lot four daughters (the  oldest two of whom 
marry men of Sodom).  Lot's wife then unrighteously refused to try to get 
pregnant again, even  though Lot had no son, on the selfish grounds that having a 
fifth child might be  prejudicial to her own health.  For  this unrighteous 
behavior (which contrasts so sharply with the righteous  behavior of Sarah, who 
is buried with full honors at Hebron), Lot's wife does  not escape the fiery 
destruction of Sodom. 
Instead of perishing in the same way as the other people of Sodom,  however, 
Lot's wife dies a special way.  Lot's wife is turned into a "salt" statue.  In 
my controversial view, that unusual  mode of death involves clever Hebrew 
wordplay, and is a deliberate attempt by  the author to portray Lot's wife as 
being analogous to a famous historical  queen.  This queen (M-L-K-H) was in  
effect turned into a statue (in that she was confined to her quarters and never  
seen in public again, yet all her iconography remained intact) by her husband,  
the king (M-L-K), in order to send a message (M-L-K) that the most 
unrighteous  thing a woman can do is to fail to try to bear her man a son.  The fact 
that the woman bears four  daughters who grow to be teenagers is no excuse.  In 
the view of the author of the  Patriarchal narratives, a woman must go on 
trying to bear her husband a son, or  else she deserves to be turned into a "salt" 
(M-L-Kh) statue:  a statue of a queen (M-L-K-H) created by  a king (M-L-K) in 
order to send a message (M-L-K) that the queen (M-L-K-H) had  been unrighteous 
in failing to continue trying to bear her husband, the king  (M-L-K), a son, 
after the queen (M-L-K-H) had borne the king (M-L-K) only  daughters. 
5.  I am not asking you to  agree to my overall theory of the case, which 
admittedly is very  controversial.  Rather, I am only  asking a Hebrew language 
question here. 
Is the foregoing a possible series of Hebrew puns at Genesis 19: 26,  
constituting clever Hebrew wordplay in the Patriarchal narratives? 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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