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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sat Oct 20 16:17:39 EDT 2007

Jim, although there are people on this list who are more expert on the 
lingiustics, since you addressed your post to me, I'll answer.

1. I agree that the Bible in general and the Patriarchal narratives in 
particular do use puns, and that these are often overlooked. Obviously, they 
are usually lost in translation.

2. However in this case - your suggestion does not work. Although the sounds 
of Het (X in the trasliteration used on this list) and Khaph seem similar to 
most western ears, and are in fact pronounced the same by many Israelis as 
well, historically they are not, and the two letters are NEVER 
interchangable. So there is no way in which anyone would use Melax (salt) 
and Melekh (king). As far as Mal)akh (messenger/angel), the Aleph is part of 
the root (Lamed-Aleph-Kaph), and not just a "vowel-like letter" that can be 
ignored, although a pun here might work.

3. Although you did not ask me to comment on the rest of your 
reconstruction, it is simply not based on anything. There is no indication 
in the text that Lot's wife was "guilty" of refusing her husband anything, 
nor of the story of the locked-up queen that she was supposed to remind the 
readers of. The text says that she was punnished for looking back after they 
were all told not to. That's all it says. One can speculate endlessly about 
why looking back was a capital crime (and in fact commentators have been 
speculating about it for centuries), but there is no justification to just 
make up stories that are not even hinted at.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2007 4:15 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] "Salt" Statue: Lot's Wife

> 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
> M-L-K.
> 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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