16th Century Christmas Hymn

By an anonymous author, possibly of Finnish origin

Translator’s Preface

One of my favorite Christmas hymn settings is Michael Praetorius’ 1609 4-voice arrangement of “Parvulus nobis nascitur” from Part 6 of his Musae Sioniae (The Muses of Zion). According to John Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology, this Latin hymn first appeared in the 1579 edition of Lucas Lossius’ Psalmodia.

The now dissolved Chorus Cantans Latine of Martin Luther College, consisting of 12 male voices at its height, performed this arrangement several times, and its memory has stuck with me. I recently had an opportunity to translate it so that it could be sung by an American Lutheran church choir.

First, I pulled up my literal translation from years ago:

1. A little child is born for us,
Given birth from a virgin.
Because of him the angels rejoice
And we [his] servants give thanks:
“To the Trinity be glory without end!”

2. We have the King of grace
And the Lion of victory—
The only Son of God
Who gives light to every age.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

3. He came to bring us, [God’s] dear children,
Back to God from death,
And to heal the severe wounds
Inflicted by the cunning of the serpent.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

4. To this sweet little infant
Sing you all with one accord,
[Who is] lying in a manger,
Humbled in a shabby bed.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

In undertaking a rhyming translation to fit Praetorius’ setting, I wanted to accomplish several things:

  1. The nobis (“for us“) of st. 1 was emphasized by being set to two ascended Ds (“no-bis”) after three G notes (“Par-vu-lus”). I wanted to retain that gospel emphasis on “for us” by having “us” occur with the first of the two Ds. In other words, “us” had to be the fourth syllable of the first line of st. 1.
  2. In the refrain (last line of each st.), Praetorius has the music match the concept of eternity, either by dragging out the syllables with multiple notes (soprano) or by repeating the lyrics (tenor and bass). I didn’t want my translation to get in the way of that feature; the refrain had to conclude with the concept of eternity and have lyrics that could be easily and pleasantly repeated.
  3. I wanted to have the same clear allusions to various Scripture references as the original. The “lion of victory” in st. 2 clearly alludes to Revelation 5:5, the second half of st. 2 to John 1:1-18, the second half of st. 3 to the fall into sin in Genesis 3, etc.
  4. It’s always nice if one can introduce a new theme or thread while being faithful to the original. In this case, after opening st. 1 with “See,” I thought about starting each stanza with “See” – to give the whole hymn a sort of “Behold!” or surprise-like character to match the wondrous miracle of the incarnation that is celebrated on Christmas. But when that didn’t work, I ended up going with a sort of sensory progression in the first three stanzas – sight (“See”) to hearing (“Hear”) to touch (“to snatch…From death’s firm clutches”). This also made st. 4 stand out more as a conclusion by the absence of any direct sensory reference in it.
  5. Without getting ridiculous, I like to repeat consonant and vowel sounds within stanzas and lines of stanzas. It helps to unify.

What I ended up with is the product below. You can also access the English choir score here. One suggestion is to have the choir sing “To the Trinity” in st. 4 in unison, before returning to 4 parts for the remainder of the stanza. This would audibly comply with the immediately preceding exhortation: “In unison let all rejoice.”

Unless I am mistaken, this is the first publication of a singable, rhyming translation of “Parvulus nobis nascitur” in English. May it serve to the eternal glory of the Trinity.

See, Born for Us a Precious Child

1. See, born for us a precious child,
Son of a virgin undefiled!
The angels praise him in the sky
And we on earth make glad reply:
“To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!”

2. Hear now the King from Judah roar!
With all our foes he shall wage war!
The Father’s Son, the God of grace!
The light of life beams from his face!
To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!

3. Sent down to snatch God’s children dear
From death’s firm clutches, and its fear,
He came to crush the serpent’s head
And heal our wounds of sin so red.
To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!

4. Though in a manger poor he cries,
Though on a bed of straw he lies,
To this sweet infant raise your voice!
In unison let all rejoice:
“To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!”

Michael Schulteis: Educational Setting in Torgau

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 10-13. This is the fourth in a series of posts on Michael Praetorius.

For more on the author, click here. For more on this particular work of the author, read the Translator’s Preface here.

This section picks up after Michael Schulteis, Michael Praetorius’ father, has either obtained his Bachelor’s degree from, or dropped out of, the University of Wittenberg and has been called to teach at the Latin grammar school in Torgau around 1534, at about age 19.

Gurlitt takes much of what follows from Section 2, Part 4 of Karl Pallas’ Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise (The Registries of the Church Visitations in Former Electoral Saxony) (Halle: Druck und Verlag von Otto Hendel, 1911), which is Volume 41 of the series Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete (Historical Sources from the Province of Saxony and Neighboring Regions), published by the Historical Commission for the Province of Saxony and the Duchy of Anhalt. I added a couple sentences from this source that Gurlitt did not include because, based on Endnote 10, the extra sentences perhaps lend further insight into Schulteis’ life in Torgau.

Michael Schulteis: Educational Setting in Torgau

In contrast to Wittenberg, which is regarded as the “mother of the Reformation,” Torgau is rightly called the “wet nurse of the Reformation.” More than anything else, the remarkable effectiveness of the Torgau grammar school1 seems to justify this reputation. After Wittenberg, it was the best and most sought-after school in electoral Saxony, and the Reformers took particular satisfaction in it. Luther became thoroughly acquainted with it on his first church visitation to Torgau in April, 1529, and afterwards praised it again and again as an ideal model school. He was also on friendly terms with many of its teachers. In August, 1531, Melanchthon reorganized it at the request of the Torgau council.2 Information about the setup of the school in which Michael Schulteis began his career can already be found in the visitation minutes of 1529. They essentially agree with the well-known model plan for a three-level Latin school which was appended as the final chapter to the Instructions for the Visitors of the Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (Wittenberg, 1528).3

Since we have no useable presentation of Torgau’s city history pertaining to the Reformation era, permit me to compile some excerpts from the “Special articles submitted to the council in Torgau” (March 22, 1534)4 that are significant for understanding Schulteis’ teaching years in Torgau. They are arranged according to the following areas:

1) Church: “The affairs of this place pertaining to the doctrine and life of the pastor [Gabriel Zwilling (Didymus)], the chaplain, and the other church and school officers – God be praised – have been found to be in order and absent of all dissension and discord.” The good relationship between the first Protestant clergymen and teachers in Torgau is also confirmed by a note in the diary of Summer, Torgau’s city physician and a contemporary of Luther: “There was utmost harmony among them; no disagreement was ever heard among them. They were each tolerant of each other and compliant with each other.”5

“The council has also consented that henceforth the pastor shall be the one to choose which chaplains, schoolmasters, schoolmaster’s assistants, sacristans, and students who have studied in Wittenberg for several years should be obtained for service in this city. He shall do so according to necessity, not choosing the ones to whom he is partial, but those who are the most qualified, always keeping in mind that the schoolmaster’s assistants should be people who will render due obedience to the schoolmaster. The pastor and council shall also have the authority to dismiss the deacons and other church and school officers if there is just cause, and to make other fitting Christian arrangements in religious matters… Since it has also been determined that another deacon is urgently needed on account of the large number of people [and the influx of nonresidents occasioned by the temporary residence of the court]6 and for many other pressing reasons, the Visitors have also prescribed another deacon at the request issued by the council and the congregation. He shall render the same obedience to the pastor that is required of the other two deacons, and shall serve by proclaiming God’s word clearly, purely, and without error, unmixed with the word of man or idle talk; by administering both sacraments in a Christian manner, in conformity with God’s word and the prescription of the visitation; by conducting services; and by visiting and comforting the sick on the basis of God’s word. In return his annual recompense shall be: 40 florins, 1 bucket of grain,* 5 cords of wood, and 1 bushel of salt – all from the general fund.” (Michael Schulteis took over this newly created position on November 19, 1539.)

“Also henceforth, on the evening of every high festival and on the actual festival day, a vesper service shall be held in which a Christian sermon about that particular festival shall be delivered in the presence of all the students, until such time in the future as the vesper service and sermon can also be prepared every Saturday at the convenience of the people. When the third deacon is taken on, an attempt may be made to see whether a short vesper service and sermon might be held every Saturday, and especially the Small Catechism for the youth and others. As for the evening sermon on workdays during the week, it is reasonable to discontinue it once again, considering that the morning sermon is sufficient, and so that the ministers of God’s word are not loaded down with too much. Also, the sermons, both on festivals and Sundays and on workdays and normal days, should not be drawn out for too long.”

2) School: “Henceforth there shall be four paid school officers, until further notice and amendment, namely the schoolmaster [Benedikt Flemming (served 1528-1539)]7 and three bachelors. In addition, there shall be a cantor [Johann Walther, beginning in 1534]8 and custodian for our dear women. Until the general fund has greater resources, the following bachelors and other church and school officers shall in the meantime be given the annual raise hereafter specified: Bachelor Markus [Crodel; became schoolmaster in the place of B. Flemming in 1539] – 10 florins; Bachelor Georg [Wachsrink] – 10 florins; Bachelor Michael [Schulteis]9 – 10 florins. Also in the meantime, until the general fund is healthier, 10 florins shall be bestowed and given to the organist every year as his honorarium, and 1 florin to the bellows operator every quarter… In return the aforementioned church and school officers shall also, in exchange for such improvement, attend to all the aspects of their ministry [Diensts] all the more diligently, considering that they have such an important ministry. … Since also the schoolmaster and his assistants have lived at the school up until now (some of them along with their wives), the Visitors have made provision, in order to prevent any sort of impropriety, that henceforth none of the school officers shall ever again live at the school along with his wife and children. However, one of these bachelors, if he has no wife, may have living space at the school, together with the nonresident students.10 And the bachelor who lives at the school shall take good care of the fire, the windows, and the boys who live with him at the school, so that the school does not fall into ruin. The bachelor who lives at the school shall also collect the wood money and purchase wood. … Also, when necessity demands that the students be punished, the schoolmaster and his assistants shall henceforth not carry out such punishment with knocking, shoving, and undue and excessive blows, but in good moderation… In return an honorable council shall also see to it that the students render all due obedience to the schoolmaster and the bachelors…for the youth, especially in these recent, dangerous times, are very quick to seize an opportunity to disobey. … Also, since the school in Torgau – God be praised – is invested with many and learned assistants, the school officers shall accordingly apply themselves diligently to the youth, so that the poor boys who are unable to be in universities, on account of their parents’ lack of means and the lack of other people’s patronage, may learn grammar and Latin thoroughly and well in the school at low cost… The schoolmaster and his assistants shall also see to it with all diligence that the instruction takes place in simplicity, as detailed in the Visitors’ printed instructions.”

“The youth and their abilities should be exercised by reciting the comedies. This suits us well, and we know of no better place where such a performance might be put on than our city hall in the summer, and at the drinking hall in the winter, which drinking hall we have hitherto lent them for this purpose as often as they have required it and have kept the doors closed to the rabble. We are also at liberty to give the boys 1 florin for refreshment for every comedy they put on, provided that the boys also derive benefit from such performances, and that a comedy shall be performed more than just on the last day before Lent.”11

3) Library: “The council in Torgau shall also take care that the library and books in the Franciscan monastery do not get torn up, but are maintained faithfully, well, and in such a way that those who want to study and read may go there to do so. They shall also take care that this library is augmented from year to year with the best and most useful books, to be furnished by the general fund.”

4) Choir [Kantorei]:12 “Since God the Almighty has favored this city of Torgau, more than many others, with a glorious ensemble of musicians and singers, the Visitors deem that, for the people who serve in this way, it is only reasonable that a publicly funded dinner be henceforth given to compensate them [what later became the convivum musicum generale or public musical banquet], as has been done in the past. They likewise make provision that, besides this, a council should also afford such persons an advantage over others in their respective trades, as much as ever possible and feasible, in order to make them all the more willing to exercise their abilities in this Christian and honorable way, and in order to encourage others all the better in that direction, until such time as a regular yearly honorarium can be made in return for their services.”

These content-packed primary source testimonies speak for themselves, and they offer deeper insights into the educational circumstances of Torgau at that time than the paltry collection of anecdotes that Grulich cites in an attempt to characterize this period.13 All that remains for us is to become more closely acquainted with the personalities with whom the young Schulteis came into contact, both by virtue of his office and in his day-to-day life.


1 Cf. Friedrich Joseph Grulich, Denkwürdigkeiten der altsächsischen kurfürstlichen Residenz Torgau aus der Zeit und zur Geschichte der Reformation, 2nd ed. by J. Chr. A. Bürger (Torgau: Verlag der Wienbrack’schen Buchhandlung, 1855), p. 167ff. The information imparted here requires careful verification, since the primary sources in the Grammar School Library [Gymnasialbibliothek], on which the work is based and from which also Otto Taubert confidently draws (Die Pflege der Musik in Torgau vom Ausgange des 15. Jahrhunderts bis auf unsere Tage [Torgau: Verlag von Friedr. Jacob, 1868]), are simply far too muddied.

2 Friedrich Lebrecht Koch, De scholae Torgaviensis constitutione ac forma (Wittenberg, 1815), p. 48f.

3 Karl Hartfelder, Ph. Melanchthon als Praeceptor Germaniae (Berlin, 1889), p. 419ff. Also cf. Fr. Paulsen, Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts, 2nd ed. (1896), part 2, and the ample examples of specialized literature recorded in both places.

4 Karl Pallas, ed., Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise, in Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete, vol. 41, sect. 2, part 4 (Halle: Druck und Verlag von Otto Hendel, 1911), p. 19-24.

5 J. Grulich, op. cit., p. 56, note †.

6 K, Pallas, op. cit., p. 15.

* German: 1 mld. Korns. I have taken “mld.” to be an abbreviation for “Mulde.”

7 Grulich, op. cit., p. 172.

8 O. Taubert, op. cit., p. 4. Note that 1534 was only when Walther began his work as cantor in the school. See further down under “4) Choir,” where the work he had already accomplished is alluded to with the phrase “glorious ensemble of musicians and singers.” – trans.

9 Cf. the thorough study by C. Knabe, Die Torgauer Visitations-Ordnung von 1529 (Torgauer Schulprogramm, 1881), p. 9f, where indeed no distinction is made between the identity of “Schulteis” and “Michael from Bunzlau,” and his arrival in Torgau is erroneously given as 1536. Notwithstanding this small mistake, the work contains valuable reports on Torgau personalities, compiled on the basis of account ledgers and council minutes. “Donat Michael” as an identification for Schulteis can hardly be debated, since only the first names are mentioned for the other two bachelors. What probably happened was that the young Schulteis, by participating in an especially memorable way in the edition of the Donat that the Torgau faculty published for their school in 1533 (cf. Karl Hartfelder, Melanchthoniana Paedagogica [Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von B. G. Teubner, 1892], p. 49f), acquired a nickname that he could not shake – “Donat Michael.” This name does not seem to correspond to a separate individual.

10 After this, Schulteis, as the last-named (and thus probably the youngest and unmarried) bachelor, may have lived “at the school.”

11 Letter from the council to the school personnel from 1534, quoted by K. Pallas, op. cit., p. 16.

12 Cf. O. Taubert, op. cit., p. 3f.

13 Grulich, op. cit., p. 53ff.

Prayer for the Love of Christ

By Johann Arndt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Johann Arndt’s Paradies-Gärtlein Voller Christlicher Tugenden: Wie Dieselben durch Andächtige Lehr- und Trostreiche Gebete in die Seele zu Pflantzen Seyen (Little Garden of Paradise, Filled with Christian Virtues, Showing How They Should Be Planted in the Soul through Devotional Prayers That Are Rich in Doctrine and Comfort) (Nuremberg: Joh. Andreae Endters Seel. Sohn und Erben, 1710), p. 185-188. Arndt’s original work was published in Magdeburg in 1612.

The book is divided into three “registers” of prayers. The first register is divided into five “classes.” The first class contains prayers for virtues that follow the Ten Commandments. The second class comprises prayers of thanksgiving for the benefits shown to us by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The third class has prayers for comfort in time of cross and tribulation. The fourth class contains prayers that are a sort of companion to Luther’s Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. And the fifth and final class consists of prayers of praise and joy “to the honor and praise of God’s name.”

The particular prayer that follows is #5 from the second class in the first register. It is significant for the Lutheran Church because Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), her most famous poet, penned his originally-16-stanza hymn, “O Jesu Christ, mein schönstes Licht,” on the basis of this prayer. (In hymn 479 in Christian Worship, it is reduced to four stanzas under the title, “Jesus, Your Boundless Love to Me.”)

Gerhardt’s poem inspired Philip Friedrich Hiller to transform all the prayers in Arndt’s work into German hymns in the mid-1700s. More recently, Seminarian Kent Reeder set the words of the Christian Worship translation of Gerhardt’s poem to new music, and his arrangement was chosen as the class hymn by the 2013 graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

In what follows, I have retained Arndt’s original paragraph format, but have inserted numbers to correspond to the stanzas of Gerhardt’s hymn. Perhaps the right reader will stumble upon it, resulting in either a fresh translation of Gerhardt’s (entire) hymn or a new and completely original hymn.

Johann Arndt (1555-1621) is often considered to be the forerunner of the Pietistic movement, due to the extremely devotional nature of his works. Then again, a pious author of a dogmatic treatise is often labeled an orthodoxist simply because he deals in dogmas, while a doctrinally-sensitive devotional writer is often labeled a pietist simply because he deals in prayers and meditations. (There are some religious scholars who seem to think that the internal life of Johann Gerhard, who came under Arndt’s influence in his teens, was one huge contradiction, since he made considerable contributions to both dogmatics and devotional literature.) The fact is, even the title of Arndt’s work (“…Prayers that Are Rich in Doctrine and Comfort“) shows that you cannot be a true dogmatician without being devotional, and no devotional writer worth his salt is ignorant of biblical doctrine. True doctrine, rightly understood and taught, always leads to and fuels personal piety. Paul Gerhardt himself clearly appreciated and benefited from Arndt’s devotional writings, and yet this was the same Gerhardt who, while pastor in Berlin, refused to sign a promise not to preach against Reformed doctrine from the pulpit, and was consequently deposed from his office in 1666.

Having said that, the prayer below may strike the modern Lutheran reader as almost embarrassingly schmaltzy. If Gerhardt had not thought so highly of it, we might be tempted to dismiss it as emotional fluff. But such strong, poetic love language serves us well in three ways:

  1. It calls to mind the relationship between Christ and his Church, which the Bible portrays in terms of marriage.
  2. It vividly reminds us that Jesus should always be the Christian’s highest and greatest love. (If the prayer makes us uncomfortable, we do well to ask ourselves, “Am I uncomfortable simply because I don’t express my love the same way Arndt does, or is it because I don’t actually love Christ more than everything and everyone else?”)
  3. It shows us how profoundly the love of Christ can touch the emotions of certain Christian individuals. Even if we ourselves haven’t experienced that kind of emotional reaction, we can still appreciate the varied ways that the gospel affects humans.

To that end, I present what follows to the glory of the same God whom Arndt worshipped, out of love for the same Savior whom he so passionately loved.

Prayer for the Love of Christ

(1) Ah, my Lord Jesus Christ! Most noble Lover of my soul! Grant me your grace, that my love for you may ever be sincere and new, and that I may say to you: (2) Lord Jesus, my most cherished Love, let me feel nothing else in my heart but your love. Remove from my heart everything that is not your love, for I do not want to have anything else in my heart but your love. (3) Ah, how kind, how charming and sweet is your love! How it refreshes my soul! How it delights my heart! Ah, let me think of, see, desire, perceive, and feel nothing else but your love, for it is everything, it has everything, it touches everything, it surpasses everything. (4) Ah, how I desire to retain this noble treasure in me eternally! Let me keep watch over it day and night and diligently and actively guard this treasure, care for it, pray for it. For this love is the foretaste of eternal life, the portico of paradise. (5) Ah, my Lover! Out of love for me you were wounded; wound my soul with love for you. (6) Ah, your precious blood, poured out from such great love, is so noble, so penetrating, that it may well soften a stony heart. Oh, let it force its way into my heart! That way your love will permeate my heart, for your love is in your blood. (7) Oh, that my heart would open up! It would then receive and soak up your delicate and noble drops of blood, which fell upon the earth when you were in the throes of death [Luke 22:44]. Oh, that I would open the well of my eyes! I would then pour out ardent tears of love, (8) and I would follow after you crying for so long, like a child, until you came to me, took me in your arms, and united yourself with me in your spiritual, heavenly matrimony, so that I would be of one heart, one spirit, and one body with you. (9) Oh, draw me to yourself, so I may run [Psalm 119:32]. Oh, if only I could kiss you in my heart! If only I could perceive your sweet comfort from your mouth! (10) Oh, my Comfort! My Strength, my Life, my Light, my Treasure, my Salvation, my Highest Good, my Love! Unite me to yourself, for all that I have without you and apart from you is purely pain and gall, misery and sorrow, nothing but restlessness and worry. (11) You, however, are my soul’s only rest, peace, and joy.

Therefore, grant that your noble, tender love may always and eternally shine within me. Ah, let the holy fire of your charming love burn in me through and through. Let the fire of holiness, the fire of joy, the gentle, lovely little fiery flame which is without all toil, worry, and anxiety – let this fire refresh me. Let the noble fragrance of your love revive me. Let the precious balm of heaven soothe and heal my heart, that I may run after this noble fragrance of your ointment unobstructed.

(12) Ah, most beautiful Lover! What could there possibly be that I do not have in your love? It is indeed my pasture, my complete sufficiency, my food and drink, my heavenly bread, my sweet wine, my joy, my peace, my gentle rest, my life, my light, my salvation, my blessedness, my wealth, my desire, my honor, my adornment, my glory. (13) Ah, if I should lose your love, what would I have left? Would I not be naked and bare, poor and pitiful? Ah, then let me cry for you, and seek you with tears with Mary Magdalene [John 20:10-16], and never give up until I find you, (14) for you have loved me without fail. Therefore it is purely out of your goodness that you have drawn me to yourself. Ah, let your love guide me at all times! It will then remain with me (15) and bring me back when I go astray. Let it teach me in my ignorance. Let it be my wisdom in my foolishness. Let it call me back when I sin. Let it hold me steady when I stumble. Let it help me up when I fall. (16) Let it comfort me when I am troubled. Let it strengthen me when I am weak. Let it fan into flame the smoldering wick of my faith when it is about to go out. Let it take me to itself when I depart and keep me eternally at its side. Amen.

Commentary on Matthew 5:13-14

By Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (Commentary on the New Testament on the Basis of the Talmud and Midrash), vol. 1, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (The Gospel According to Matthew) (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1922), p. 232-238.

I translated it to help with sermon preparation for Epiphany 5, when the appointed Gospel is Matthew 5:13-20. It will also serve as the starting point for the February 2013 posts on my blog Jeshua at Bread for Beggars.

For more information on the authors, click herehere, or here.

If you would prefer a PDF version of this translation (especially for reading the Hebrew), you may download one here.

The numbered endnotes are original; the ones marked by symbols (*, †, etc.) are mine.

An acquaintance of mine, after hearing how much the ancients used and valued salt, said that a “preacher could spend the entire sermon just talking about how great salt is. Then, all he’d have to do is conclude by saying, ‘See, that’s how great Jesus thinks you are.'” May the translation that follows underscore this truth, which is only true through the purifying and preserving blood of Jesus.

Commentary on Matthew 5:13-14

5:13a. You are the salt of the earth.

1. Different types of salt

a. Sodomitic salt (מֶלַח סְדוֹמִית), produced by the evaporating saltwater of the Dead Sea, was considered to be especially sharp and was used for salting the offerings.1

Josephus mentions it only in passing in Antiquities 13, 4, 9. Here King Demetrius II includes the λίμνας τῶν ἁλῶν, i.e. the salt pools of the Dead Sea, in the inventory of revenue sources on whose earnings he was renouncing his claim as a favor to Jonathan the High Priest (161-143 bc); likewise in 1 Maccabees 11:35.

‘Erubin 17b: “Abaye [d. 338/339 ad] stated: This [i.e. the stipulation in ‘Erubin 1:10 (17a Mishnah) that the troops serving in the field were exempt from washing their hands at mealtime] was taught only in respect of the washing before a meal [lit.: the first water], but the washing after a meal [lit.: the second water] is obligatory. R. Hiyya b. Ashi [c. 270] stated: Why did the Rabbis rule that washing after a meal is obligatory? Because of the Sodomitic salt that [when it gets onto the hands from the food, and then from the hands into the eyes] causes blindness.”2 In Hullin 105b R. Hiyya b. Ashi’s question is instead asked by R. Judah b. Hiyya, c. 240.3

Sifre to Leviticus 2:13 (54a): “‘You shall salt all your grain offerings with salt’ (Lev 2:13). ‘With salt’ – One might think that he should just give it somewhat of a salty flavor [for which only a little salt would be necessary]; therefore it also says, ‘You shall salt’ [i.e. the combination במלח תמלח is meant to teach that the offering should be heavily salted]. If it only said, ‘You should salt’ [without the addition of ‘with salt’], then one might think that it should be done with brine; therefore it says, ‘with salt.’ ‘You shall not let salt be missing [תשבית]’ (Lev 2:13), that is, use salt that does not take a break [שובתת]. What kind of salt is that? That is Sodomitic salt [for the Dead Sea does not observe the Sabbath; it produces salt through evaporation day in and day out].” This is a Baraitha in Menahoth 21a;4 it appears in abridged form in Tosefta, Menahoth 9:15 (526).

b. Salt from Ostrakine (Ὀστρακίνη; Latin: Ostracena),5 a city on the Palestinian-Egyptian border (מֶלַח אִסְתְּרוֹקָנִית).

Sifre to Leviticus 2:13 (continuation from the citation in note a): “Why may one use salt from Ostrakine if he has no Sodomitic salt? Because it says at the end of the verse [Lev 2:13], ‘You shall offer salt’ – salt in the broadest sense of the word.” The same is found in Tosefta, Menahoth 9:15 and Menahoth 21a.6

The salt from Ostrakine is also contrasted with Sodomitic salt in other cases. Baba Bathra 20b: “Rab [d. 247] said: A partition may be made with anything save salt and grease. Samuel [d. 254] said: Even with salt. R. Papa [d. 376] said: There is no conflict between them [Rab and Samuel]; one speaks of Sodomitic salt and the other of the salt of Ostrakine.”7 Rashi remarks on this: “The Sodomitic salt was as firm and hard as a rock.” The same sentence is used to settle a different disagreement in Bezah 39a.8

c. Seasoned salt (מֶלַח סַלְקוֹנְטִית), probably = sal conditum (seasoned salt). For other spellings and definitions, see at Levy, Neuhebräisches und Chaldäisches Wörterbuch über die Talmudim und Midraschim 3:538a, and Krauss, Griechische und Lateinisch Lehnwörter im Talmud, Midrasch und Targum 2:396.

‘Abodah Zarah 2:6 (35b Mishnah): “The following articles of heathens are prohibited but the prohibition does not extend to all use of them [but only to the enjoyment of them]: milk which a heathen milked without an Israelites watching him; their bread and oil – Rabbi [Judah II Nesiah] and his court permitted the oil – stewed, and preserved foodstuffs into which they are accustomed to put wine or vinegar, pickled herring which has been been minced, brine in which there is no kalbith-fish floating,  helek [a sauce made from small fish], drops of asafetida, and sal-conditum [seasoned salt]. Behold, these are prohibited but the prohibition does not extend to all use of them.9 For the explanation, see at Strack, ‘Abodah Zarah (1909), p. 8f.

Tosefta, ‘Abodah Zarah 4:12 (467): “Black seasoned salt is permitted, but white is prohibited. Thus said R. Meir [c. 150]. R. Judah [c. 150] said black is prohibited, but white is permitted. R. Judah b. Gamaliel [c. 250] said in the name of R. Hananiah b. Gamaliel [c. 120] that both were prohibited.” This appears as a Baraitha in ‘Abodah Zarah 39b; here Rabbah b. Bar Hanah appends the remark in the name of R. Johanan (d. 279): “In the opinion of him who declared the white to be prohibited, the intestines of unclean white fish are mixed with it; in the opinion of him who declared the black to be prohibited, the intestines of unclean black fish are mixed with it; and in the opinion of him who declared both kinds to be prohibited, [the intestines of] both species of fish are mixed with them.”10 It also appears as a Baraitha in JT ‘Abodah Zarah 2:9 Gemara,11 but is established anonymously.

‘Abodah Zarah 39b: “What is sal-conditum [מלח סלקונדרית]? Rab Judah [d. 299] said in the name of Samuel [d. 254]: Salt of which all סַלְקוּנְדְּרֵי of Rome partake.”12 Rashi defines the foreign word as נַחְתּוֹמִין, “bakers, confectioners,” and so has sal conditum (seasoned salt) in mind. Levy, Neuhebräisches und Chaldäisches Wörterbuch 3:538, emends the word to סלוקתי: salt with which one enjoys all boiled foods in Rome. Fleischer, cited in Levy 3:724b, thinks the word is a derivative of σαλάκων and translates: a type of salt enjoyed by all the pompous people of Rome – probably because it is more rare and expensive than other salt.

d. Rock salt (?) (מִילְחָא גְלָלָנִיתָא) = salt formed in lumps, coarse salt.

Hullin 113a: “R. Dimi of Nehardea [c. 320] used to salt meat with coarse salt and then shake it off.”13

Kiddushin 62a: “What is the meaning of, ‘ye shall be fed with the sword’ [Isa 1:20]? — Said Raba [d. 352]: Coarse salt, hard baked barley bread, and onions; for a Master said: Stale bread baked in a large oven with salt and onions is as harmful to the body as swords.”14

2. Uses for salt

Joshua ben Sirach includes salt in the most basic necessities of life (Sirach 39:26): “water and fire and iron and salt, wheat flour, milk and honey, the blood of the grape, oil, and clothing.” If one disregards this use of salt for the preparation of human nourishment, then the rabbinic literature still mentions the following possible uses:

a. All offerings were salted; see at Mark 9:49.

b. Middoth 5:3 attests the curing of animal hides with salt: “There were six chambers in the azarah [outer court], three on the north and three on the south. On the north were the Salt Chamber, the Parwah Chamber [פַּרְוָה apparently was the name of the builder] and the Washers Chamber [for washing off the sacrificial meat]. In the Salt Chamber they used to keep the salt for the offerings. In the Parwah Chamber they used to salt the skins of the animal-offerings [these belonged to the priests]…”15 The Baraitha in Menahoth 21b is at variance: “And so you find that salt was used in three places: in the salt chamber, on the ascent [on the south side of the altar of burnt offering, 32 cubits long and 16 cubits wide, according to Middoth 3:316] and at the head of [or on top of] the altar. In the salt chamber…they used to salt the hides of animal-offerings; on the ascent…they used to salt the sacrificial meat; at the head of [or on] the altar…they used to salt the handful [the memorial portion taken from grain offering], the frankincense, the incense-offering, the meal-offering of the priests, the anointed [High] Priest’s meal-offering, the meal-offering that is offered with the drink-offerings, and the burnt-offering of a bird!”17 King Antiochus’ letter in Josephus, Antiquities 12, 3, 3, shows what amounts of salt were required for the temple supply. In the letter he orders that 375 medimni (Greek bushels)* of salt be delivered to the temple.

c. ‘Erubin 10:14 (104a Mishnah): “Salt may be scattered [on the Sabbath] on the altar’s ascent that the priests shall not slip.18

d. Shabbath 6:5 (64b Mishnah): “A woman may go out [on the Sabbath, without making herself guilty of desecrating the day]…with a peppercorn, with a globule of salt [in her mouth, for potential toothaches]…”19

e. Sotah 9:14 (49a Mishnah): “During the war with Vespasian they [the rabbis] decreed against [the use of] crowns worn by bridegrooms and against [the use of] the drum.20 The Gemara comments on this in 49b: “Rab [d. 247] said: [The decree against the use of a crown] applies only to one made of salt and brimstone, but if made of myrtle or roses it is permitted; and Samuel [d. 254] said: Also one made of myrtle or roses is prohibited, but if made of reeds or rushes it is permitted; and Levi [ben Sisi, c. 200, is meant] said: Also one made of reeds or rushes is prohibited. Similarly taught Levi in his [personal collection of] Mishnah: It is also prohibited if made of reeds or rushes.”21 Rashi comments on this passage: “They were made of salt because it is as clear as a gemstone… They were made of brimstone because they looked like crown made of gold and silver.”† Johann Christoph Wagenseil conveys the following tradition: “The crowns of bridegrooms were made from sulfur and salt in order that they might call to mind once again the sin of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were perversely yielding themselves entirely to adulteries and to the sexual love of males, and for that reason had to bear the penalty of having their land turned into salt and sulfur. Therefore those crowns of salt and sulfur were warning the bridegroom that he should cling to his wife and guard himself against the sins of the men of Sodom.”‡

f. Sukkah 48b Baraitha: “It once happened that a certain Sadducee poured the water libation over his feet [on the Feast of Tabernacles, instead of into the silver basin on the altar] and all the people pelted him with their ethrogs [probably oranges, which were part of the makeup of the לוּלָב, the festive wreath or bundle for the Feast of Tabernacles]. On that day [as a result of the disturbance] the horn of the altar became damaged, and a handful of salt was brought and it [the damaged spot] was stopped up, not because the altar was thereby rendered valid for the service, but merely in order that it should not appear damaged, for an altar which has not the ascent, the horn [sharp corner], the base and the square shape is invalid for the service. R. Jose b. Judah [c. 180] adds, Also [it must have] the circuit [or ledge; סוֹבֵב corresponds to כַּרְכֹּב in Exodus 27:5].”22 The same is found in Zebahim 62a;23 the beginning comes from Sukkah 4:9 (48b Mishnah).24

g. Shabbath 67b Baraitha: “A lump of salt may be placed in a lamp in order that it should burn [more] brightly…”25

h. The custom of rubbing newborn children with salt, taken as a given in Ezekiel 16:4, is utilized as Halacha in Shabbath 129b: “R. Nahman [d. 320] also said in Rabbah b. Abbuha’s [c. 270] name in Rab’s [d. 247] name: All that is mentioned in the chapter of rebuke [namely Ezekiel 16] may be done for a new mother on the Sabbath. As it is said, And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, neither were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not salted at all, nor wrapped up at all [Eze 16:14]. ‘And as for your birth, on the day you were born’: hence a person may assist with the birth of a child on the Sabbath; ‘your cord was not cut’: hence the navel-cord may be cut on the Sabbath: ‘neither were you washed in water to cleanse you’: hence the infant may be washed on the Sabbath; ‘you were not salted at all’: hence the infant may be rubbed with salt on the Sabbath; ‘nor wrapped up at all’: hence the infant may be wrapped on the Sabbath.”26

3. Salt as a picture of utter devastation and destruction, as it is in Deuteronomy 29:23; Judges 9:45; Jeremiah 17:6; Zephaniah 2:9; and Job 39:6.

Midrash on Lamentations, Introduction 9 (31b): “R. Isaac [c. 300] opened his lecture with Jeremiah 51:51. — You will find that when the enemies penetrated into Jerusalem, the Ammonites and Moabites penetrated with them. ‘Heathens…who should not come into the assembly [= Ammonites and Moabites (Dt 23:3)] came into the sanctuary’ [Lam 1:10]. There they found the two cherubim. They took them, placed them in a basket, and carried them through the streets of Jerusalem calling out, ‘Have you not said that this nation worships no idols? Now see what we have found in their possession and what they have worshiped! Then all people are just like yourselves!’ For it says, ‘Because Moab and Seir say, “Look, the house of Judah is like all other nations,”’ etc. [Eze 25:8]. At that hour God swore that he would exterminate them from the world by the very roots. For it says, ‘Moab shall become like Sodom, and the Ammonites like Gomorrah…a salt pit and wasteland forever.’”

JT Qiddushin 4:1 Gemara: “‘These are they who came up from Tel-Melah, Tel-Harsha…and they were not able to show that their family and their seed were descended from Israel’ [Ezr 2:59]. R. Levi [c. 300] said in the name of R. Simeon b. Laqish [c. 250], ‘They were worthy of being turned into a hill of salt [Tel-Melah]; only the Divine Righteousness, the Hill of Silence [Tel-Harsha], kept silent in their favor.’”27

Yoma 54a: “R. Jose said: For seven years sulphur and salt [Dt 29:22] prevailed in the land of Israel.”28 Cf. Pesikta 114a besides the parallels.

4. Salt as a purifying, seasoning, and preservative agent (cf. Job 6:6).

Berakoth 5a (according to the unabridged text from Dikduke Soferim, cited in Wilhelm Bacher, Die Agada der Palästinensischen Amoräer 1:355): “R. Simeon b. Lakish [c. 250] said: The word ‘covenant’ is mentioned in connection with salt and with chastisements [sufferings]: In connection with salt, as it is written, ‘Neither shall you let the salt of the covenant to be lacking with your grain offering’ [Lev 2:13]. And in connection with chastisements, as it is written, ‘These are the words of the covenant’ [Dt 29:1]. [This passaged does not fit; using Dikduke Soferim, Bacher refers to Ezekiel 20:37: ‘I will bring you into the discipline of the covenant.’] As in the covenant mentioned in connection with salt, the salt makes the offering fit [for offering to God], so in the covenant mentioned in connection with chastisements, the chastisements make the sin fit [for forgiveness]. As the salt purifies the meat, so the chastisements purify the entire body of a man.”29

Niddah 31a Baraitha: “When his time to depart from the world approaches the Holy One, blessed be He, takes away his share [the soul] and the share of his parents [the body] remains lying before them. R. Papa [d. 376] observed: It is this that people have in mind when they say, ‘Shake off the salt and cast the flesh to the dog.’”30

Maseketh Soferim 15:8: “The Torah is like salt, the Mishnah like pepper, the Gemara like spices. The world cannot continue without salt, pepper, or spices, and the rich man enjoys all three in his sustenance. So too the world cannot continue without Scripture, the Mishnah, or the Gemara.”

Philo, De Sacrificantibus §6 (Mangey edition, 2:255): Μετὰ ταῦτά φησιν, Ἐπὶ παντὸς δώρου προσοίσετε ἅλας· δι᾽ οὗ, καθάπερ καὶ πρότερον εἶπον, τὴν εἰς ἅπαν διαμονὴν αἰνίττεται. Φυλακτήριον γὰρ οἱ ἅλες σωμάτων, τετιμημένοι ψυχῆς δευτερείοις. Ὡς γὰρ αἰτία τοῦ μὴ διαφθείρεσθαι τὰ σώματα ψυχὴ καὶ οἱ ἅλες ἐπὶ πλεῖστον αὐτὰ συνέχοντες καὶ τρόπον τινὰ ἀθανατίζοντες. “After this it says, ‘Add salt to every offering’ [Lev 2:13]. He thereby figuratively implies an absolute duration, just as I said before. For salts are a preservative for bodies, having been judged worthy of second place only to the soul. For as the soul is a cause of bodies not being destroyed, so are salts, since they keep bodies intact to the greatest extent and, in a way, make them immortal.”

Shabbath 31a: “Raba [d. 352] said, When man is led in for [divine] Judgment he is asked, Did  you buy and sell in honesty? Did you make time for study of the Torah? Did you engage in procreation? Did you watch for the [messianic] salvation? Did you debate [the Halacha] with wisdom? Did you explain one word on the basis of another? And even if he has, if ‘the fear of the Lord is his treasure’ [Isa 33:6], then it will go well; but if not, then not. It is like a man who instructed his agent, ‘Bring a cor of wheat to the loft for me,’ and he went and brought it up. He then said to the agent, ‘Did you mix in a cab of salt-sand [חוּמְטוֹן, in order to preserve the grain]?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘Then it would have been better if you had not brought it up,’ he retorted.”31

5. A proverb of Jerusalem (Kethuboth 66b Baraitha;32 Aboth of Rabbi Nathan 17), which stems already from the time of Jesus, very closely resembles the form of Jesus’ words here. It has been handed down in two versions:

a. “The salt of money is want” (מלח ממון חסר). The proverb could mean that only when a person has experienced want does he know how to value money. However, this sense does not fit in the context. The proverb is the answer to the question that Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai (d. c. 80) directed at the daughter of Nakdomon b. Gorion: “What has become of the wealth of your father’s house?” It must therefore contain an assertion about the spending of money. So Rashi probably hit upon the right sense: “Whoever wants to salt his money, i.e. wants to make it so that his wealth retains permanence, he should always let it get lost to alms. Its loss is its permanence.” If this interpretation hits upon the actual sense of the proverb, then the second version only appears to be a reading intended to make the meaning more easily understood:

b. “The salt of money is benevolence” (מלח ממון חסד): Riches only have worth and duration when they are used to practice mercy.

In the same way Jesus’ disciples are to be the salt of the earth. They should impart the value of eternity to humanity and thus make them to be of eternal worth.

What is new and, as far as we can tell, without analogy in ancient Jewish literature is the personal slant that Jesus has given to the picture: Humans are to be a salt.

5:13b. But if salt becomes insipid, with what shall it be salted (ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται)?

Bekoroth 8b: (R. Joshua b. Hanania, c. 90, is asked by the wise men of the Athenian school in Rome:) “‘Tell us some stories [fables].’ He said to them: ‘There was a [female] mule which gave birth, and round its neck was a document in which was written, “There is a claim against my father’s house of one hundred thousand zuz.”’ They asked him: ‘Can a mule give birth?’ He answered them: ‘This is one of those stories [you asked for].’ [Then they asked him:] ‘When salt becomes unsavory, wherewith is it salted [מילחא כי סריא במאי מלחי לה]?’ He replied: ‘With the after-birth of a mule.’ ‘And is there an after-birth of a mule [if a mule cannot give birth in the first place]?’ [He replied:] ‘And can salt become unsavory?’”33 The reference to Matthew 5:13 stands out so clearly that one cannot help but see in the entire passage a cynical mockery of Mary and Jesus. The implication is this: The salt of Israel never becomes insipid and thus does not need any freshening, least of all by a man like Jesus!**

5:13c. Except to be poured out.

Cf. the saying in Niddah 31a Baraitha above.

5:14a. You are the light of the world.

In rabbinical literature “light of the world” is expressed by נֵרוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם and אוֹרוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם. The original distinction between נר and אור – namely that the former designates that which produces the light, the lamp, and the latter the bright and shining light itself, the flame34 – has not been upheld in the combination above. Rf. 2 Samuel 21:17, where David is called נר ישראל already at that time.

The following are designated as “light” or “lamp of the world”:

a. God. Midrash Tanhuma בהעלותךi204a: “‘When you set up the lamps’ [Num 8:2]. This is also what Psalm 18:28 means: ‘You make my lamp bright.’ The Israelites spoke in God’s presence: ‘Lord of the world, you say that we should make bright [light up] before you, but it is you who are the lamp of the world [נרו של עולם], and light dwells with you [Dan 2:22], yet you say, “When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps should light the area in front of the lampstand” [Num 8:2]!’ God said to them: ‘It is not as though I have need of you. You should rather shine for me as I have shone for you [with the pillar of cloud during the wandering in the wilderness]. For what purpose? In order to exalt you [make you glorious] before all nations, so that they say, “See how Israel shines for the One who shines for all!”’” In the parallels, Midrash Tanhuma B בהעלותךi§5 (24a) and Numbers Rabbah 15:5, God is not called נרו של עולם, but אורו של עולם, “light of the world.”35 In Exodus Rabbah 36:2 there is no corresponding designation for God.36

b. Individual humans. JT Shabbat 2:6 Gemara: “The first man was the lamp of the world [נרו של עולם], as it is written, ‘The soul of Adam was a lamp of the Lord’ [Pr 20:27; thus probably the Midrash]. Since Eve caused him to die, therefore the requirement concerning the [kindling of the Sabbath] lamp [מצות הנר] was assigned to the woman.”37 In Genesis Rabbah 17:8 there is no designation of Adam as “lamp of the world.”38

Aboth of Rabbi Nathan 25: “When the time came for Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai [d. c. 80] to depart this world, he raised his voice and began to weep. His students said to him, ‘Rabbi, exalted pillar, lamp of the world [נר עולם], mighty hammer, why do you weep?’” The parallel passage in Berakoth 28b has נר ישראל instead of נר עולם, in keeping with 2 Samuel 21:17.39

c. Israel. Midrash on Song of Songs 1:3 (85a): “As the oil of the world produces light, so is Israel the light for the world [אורה לעולם], as it is written, ‘Nations will journey to your light’ [Isa 60:3].” Cf. Exodus Rabbah 36:1: “Our forefathers were accordingly called ‘a leafy olive tree’ [Jer 11:16] because they gave light to all.”40

Midrash on Song of Songs 1:15 (94a): “As the dove of the world brought light [rf. Gen 8:11], so you too [Israel] should bring light to the world, as it is written, ‘Nations will journey to your light’ [Isa 60:3].” According to the parallel passage in Midrash Tanhuma B תצוהi§1 (48b), R. Isaac, c. 300, is the author of this statement.

d. The Torah and the temple. Baba Bathra 4a: “[After Herod I had the rabbis killed, he asked Baba b. Buta:] Now tell me what amends I can make. He replied: As you have extinguished the light of the world [אורו של עולם], as it is written, For the commandment is a lamp and the Torah a light [Pr 6:23], go now and attend to the light of the world [אורו של עולם, namely the temple], of which it is written, All nations will journey to it [Isa 2:2].”41

e. Jerusalem. Genesis Rabbah 59:5: “Jerusalem is the light of the world [אורו של עולם], as it says, And nations shall journey to your light [Isa 60:3]; and who is the light of Jerusalem? God, as it is written, The Lord shall be your light [Isa 60:20].”42

Just as the rabbis speak of the lamp or light of the world, so they also speak of the lamp or light of Israel:

‘Arakin 10a: “[Rabbi] answered [his son Simeon]: Light of Israel [נר ישראל]! So it was!”43 For more, see Berakoth 28b above in note b.

Midrash on Psalm 22 §3 (91a): “As the scent of myrtle is pleasant but its taste is bitter, so Mordecai and Esther were a light for Israel [אור לישראל] but darkness for the peoples of the world.”

The synonym בוֹצִינָא can also substitute for נר and אור:

JT Shabbat 6:9 Gemara: “R. Jonah [c. 350] and R. Yosé [c. 350] went up to visit R. Aha [c. 320], who was failing. They said, ‘We shall follow the counsel of an echo [here = omen].’ They [then] heard a woman saying to her friend, ‘Has the light [בוצינה] gone out?’ The other said to her, ‘It will not go out!’ And the light of Israel [בוציניהון דישראל = R. Aha] did not go out.”44

Genesis Rabbah 85:4: “‘And Judah saw there the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua’ [Gen 38:2]. She was the daughter [read בת with the Targum Onkelos instead of בר] of a merchant who was the lamp of that place [בוצינא דאתרא].”i45

It is said of the righteous in general, in Pesahim 8a: “To what are the righteous comparable in the presence of the Shechinah [Divine Being]? To a lamp [נר] in the presence of a torch [אַבוּקָה].”i46

The expression “sun of a righteous man” (שמשו של צדיק), which has been cited more than once, does not belong in this discussion. It occurs, for example, in Genesis Rabbah 58:2: “[R. Abba b. Kahana, c. 310, said]: [B]efore the Holy One, blessed be He, causes the sun of one righteous man to set, he causes the sun of another righteous man to rise. Thus, on the day that R. Akiba died [d. c. 135], our Teacher [namely, Rabbi] was born…”47

5:14b. A city on a mountain cannot be hidden.

In Megillah 3b, a city “situated on the top of a mountain” (דיתבה בראש ההר) is contrasted with another which “is situated in a valley” (שיושבת בנחל). The passage reads: “R. Joshua b. Levi [c. 250] said: A [fortified] city [כָּרָךְ] and all that adjoins it and all that is taken in by the eye with it is treated as [a fortified] city. [The suburbs are reckoned as the city.] A Tanna commented: Adjoining, even if it is not visible, and visible even if it is not adjoining [is treated as a city]. Now we understand what is meant by ‘visible even though not adjoining’: this can occur for instance with a city situated on the top of a mountain. But how can there be ‘adjoining but not visible’? R. Jeremiah [c. 320] replied: If [the city] is situated in a valley.”48

One example of a city situated on a mountain was Sepphoris. Megillah 6a: “Zeira [c. 250] said: Kitron [Jdg 1:30] is Sepphoris. And why is it called Sepphoris? Because it is perched on the top of a mountain like a bird [שיושבת בראש ההר כצפור].”i49

Pesikta Rabbati 8 (29a): “‘I am making a thorough search of Jerusalem with lamps’ [Zph 1:12]. The Israelites said, ‘Lord of the world, when will you do this?’ He replied, ‘When I have done what was written first: “On that day, declares the Lord, a loud cry will go up from the Fish Gate,” and so on [Zph 1:10f].’ ‘A loud cry from the Fish Gate’ – that applies to Akko, which lies in the lap of the fish. ‘Wailing from the second city [i.e. the new quarter of the city]’ – that applies to Lydda, which was second to Jerusalem. ‘A loud crash from the hills’ – that applies to Sepphoris, which is situated on hills [שנתונה בגבעות]. ‘Mourn, you inhabitants of the mortar’ – that applies to Tiberias, which is deep like a mortar. God said, ‘When I have carried out my judgement on those four places for what the idolaters have done in them, in that hour I will make a thorough search of Jerusalem with lamps.’” This interpretation is also familiar to Rashi in his commentary on Zephaniah 1:10f. Heinrich Graetz, in Geschichte der Juden (2nd ed.) 4, 490f, applies it to the destruction of the aforenamed cities by Gallus.


1 Krauss, Talmudische Archäologie 1:119, thinks that the Sodomite salt was “salt mined from the salt mountains near the Dead Sea.”

2 Soncino, 117, alt.

3 Ibid., 584.

4 Ibid., 135-136.

5 Thus Krauss, Griechische und Lateinisch Lehnwörter im Talmud, Midrasch und Targum 2:99 and Talmudische Archäologie 1:500. Dalman has Istrian (?) salt (Istrisches [?] Salz).

6 Soncino, 136.

7 Ibid., 102, alt.

8 Ibid., 195.

9 Ibid., 171-172.

10 Ibid., 195.

11 Neusner, 92.

12 Soncino, 195, alt.

13 Ibid., 620.

14 Ibid., 310-311.

15 Ibid., 21-22.

16 Ibid., 12.

17 Ibid., 137.

* In Attic medimni, this would be about 559 US bushels.

18 Soncino, 723.

19 Ibid., 306. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, said that the popular wisdom of his day maintained “that teeth neither rot nor decay if one daily while fasting in the morning keeps a piece of salt under the tongue until it melts” (Book 31, Chapter 45). The context of this mishnaic quote makes clear that this wouldn’t be taking place in the morning, since the peppercorn or salt globule had to be placed in the woman’s mouth before the Sabbath, which commenced at 6 p.m. on Friday. However, the practice of placing salt in the mouth to help one’s teeth could have been a more general one among the Jews. – trans.

20 Ibid., 265.

21 Ibid., 267-268.

† The Soncino edition also includes this note: “Rashi explains that it was a crown cut out of a block of salt upon which figures were traced with brimstone” (ibid., 267, fn. 9).

‡ The particular work of Wagenseil in which he conveys this tradition is not given.

22 Ibid., 229.

23 Ibid., 306.

24 Ibid., 226-227.

25 Ibid., 322.

26 Ibid., 647-648, alt.

27 Cf. Neusner, 188,189.

28 Soncino, 253.

29 Cf. ibid., 19. The Hebrew of the Soncino only has one comparison, which reads: “As in the convenant mentioned in connection with salt, the salt makes the meat more palatable, so in the covenant mentioned in connection with sufferings, the sufferings wash away all the sins of a man.”

30 Ibid., 214, alt.

31 Cf. ibid., 141-142.

32 Ibid., 405.

33 Ibid., 53, alt.

** The mockery of Jesus seems more perceptible here than the mockery of Mary by comparing her to a mule. But since neither is explicit, the reader must be careful not to make absolute assumptions.

34 Midrash on Psalm 22 §3 (91a): “According to common custom, a man lights the lamp [הנר] in his palace. Is it possible for him to say, ‘So and so, who is my friend, may enjoy [avail himself of] the light of the lamp [לאור הנר], but my enemy may not enjoy the light of the lamp’? No, all enjoy it at the same time.”

35 Sonc. MR, 645.

36 Ibid., 439.

37 Cf. Neusner, 93.

38 Sonc. MR, 139.

39 Soncino, 173.

40 Sonc. MR, 438.

41 Soncino, 11, alt.

42 Sonc. MR, 519, alt.

43 Soncino, 53.

44 Neusner, 180, alt.

45 Sonc. MR, 791, alt.

46 Soncino, 32.

47 Sonc. MR, 509.

48 Soncino, 14.

49 Ibid., 27.