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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Oct 22 10:45:40 EDT 2007

Yigal  Levin: 
1.  You wrote:  "[Y]our  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)." 
I agree that a Het and a Khaph did not have  the same sound in Biblical 
Hebrew and were not interchangeable.  My question, though, is whether they are  
similar enough in sound to support a pun in Biblical Hebrew.  Can M-L-Kh (salt) 
be a pun on M-L-K  (king)? 
(a)  Consider Ezra 4: 14.  Isn't  there clever Hebrew wordplay there, based 
on this pun?  M-L-Kh/M-L-Kh/M-L-K/M-L-K;  salt/salt/king/king.  The clever 
Hebrew wordplay vanishes in  the English translation, but isn't it there in the 
Biblical Hebrew?  If Ezra 4: 14 can be playing off  "salt"/M-L-Kh and 
"king"/M-L-K, why can't Genesis 19: 26 be similarly engaged in  clever Hebrew wordplay 
on those two words?  Lot's wife is stated to be turned into a "salt"/M-L-Kh 
statue, but cannot  the possible implication be that she was turned into a 
"king's"/M-L-K statue of  his famous, but ill-fated, "queen"/M-L-K-H? 
(b)  In the Patriarchal narratives, isn't punning routinely done on the basis 
 of similar sounds, rather than identical sounds?  Consider the comments of 
Gerhard von Rad  at p. 294 of "Genesis" (1972) as to the controversial and 
non-obvious pun in the  text on the name of Jacob's very first son:  Reuben.   
"The interpretation of the name of her  [Leah's] first-born is particularly 
hair-raising….  The narrator strangely bypasses the  obvious explanation 
(re'-u-ben, 'Behold a son!') and speaks of looking upon  affliction {'oni), in which 
one can find a distant suggestion of the consonants  in the name Reuben." 
Isn't that proof that punning in the  Patriarchal narratives does not proceed 
on the basis of identical sounds?  Isn't M-L-Kh close enough to M-L-K to  
support a pun in the Patriarchal narratives, even though the final consonantal  
sounds are not identical? 
(c)  Finally, consider the rare case of where in the English translation, an  
apparent pun cannot be avoided.  In  English, the name of Abraham's oldest 
brother, "Haran", is often spelled the  same as the city where Abraham's father 
ends up dying, "Harran".  (I myself spell the latter with two Rs  to try to 
avoid confusion in English.)  In Hebrew, the first letter for brother Haran is 
Heh, whereas the first  letter in the city Harran is Het (Cheth).  In Biblical 
Hebrew, the sounds were not the same, but were they  similar?  Is this a pun 
in Biblical  Hebrew?  Or in your view, is it the  English translation that is 
falsely suggesting a pun  here? 
If the name of brother "Haran" is a  deliberate Hebrew pun on "Harran", that 
might suggest that Haran was born "on  the road", since "Harran" can mean 
"road".  Moreover, it seems unlikely that a boy born in Ur would be named "Haran", 
 if "Haran" is an obvious pun on far-away "Harran".  Without trying to 
resolve the  substantive issues here, I am rather asking a linguistic question.  In 
Biblical Hebrew, are "Haran" with a  Heh and "Harran" with a Het (Cheth) 
similar enough in sound to be a pun, even  though the sounds are not identical?  
Isn't that a similar issue to whether M-L-Kh and M-L-K are similar enough  in 
sound to be a pun? 
2.  You wrote:  "There is no  indication in the text that Lot's wife was 
"guilty" of refusing her husband  anything…." 
Really?  Every woman with whom we become  acquainted personally in the 
Patriarchal narratives, except one, bears a  son.  The one and only exception is  
Lot's wife.  No woman with whom we  become acquainted personally in the 
Patriarchal narratives, except one, is truly  punished.  Although Hagar is treated  
harshly by Sarah and is exiled by Abraham, Hagar nevertheless comes out well, as 
 her son Ishmael sires 12 sons, each of whom becomes the leader of a tribe.  
The one and only woman who is truly  punished in the text is Lot's wife.  Do 
you really think that those two issues are unrelated?  Isn't the importance of 
a woman bearing  her man a son stressed over and over and over again 
throughout the Patriarchal  narratives?  Can it be a mere  "coincidence" that the only 
woman who is truly punished in the text is the only  woman who never bears her 
man a son?  And that immediately after she is turned into a type of "statue", 
then  just as happened in secular history after the famous Queen was turned 
into a  type of statue, the still son-less husband promptly began impregnating 
their  young teenage daughters? 
The Queen and Lot's wife each bore four  daughters who grew up to be 
teenagers, and no son.  Each is strangely turned into a type of  "statue".  The 
husband of each woman  then impregnates their very young teenage daughters.  Isn't 
that enough to make one ask  whether chapter 19 of Genesis is deliberately 
modeled on that secular historical  situation?  The sin of Lot's wife in  not 
heeding the angel's admonition not to look back at Sodom was a technical  
violation, and not as bad as Lot's earlier failure to heed the angels'  admonition to 
hurry up.  The real  sin of Lot's wife was not so much that she failed to heed 
the angels' admonition  not to look back at Sodom, as it was that she failed 
to honor YHWH's insistence  that a woman must not stop trying to bear children 
for her husband until she has  born him a healthy son.    
Lot's wife is the only woman in the  Patriarchal narratives who does not bear 
a son, and she is the only woman who is  punished, as she stopped trying to 
bear children after bearing four daughters  who grew up to be teenagers.  Just  
like that famous Queen in the same historical epoch.  Same story.  Same 
moral.  Same historical time  period. 
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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