Monday, October 19, 2015

Rescued by Water and Salt?

There are a number of puzzles to resolve in 1 Peter 3.20 but I’ve come across a new one, at least with its transmission and reception. The Harklean Syriac of 1 Peter 3.20 tells of “eight souls rescued by (byad ܒܝܕ) water.” Notably, the Syriac translates the debatable δι’ ὕδατος as unambiguously instrumental. But this is not what’s odd. What’s odd is the marginal reading.

1 Peter 3.20 in New College 333 showing the marginal reading after ܡ̈ܝܐ (“water”)
Marked after the word “water,” the margin has kad metmalhān ܟܕ ܡܬܡܠܚܢ which is something like “when they [the souls] were salted.” In his 1799 edition, Joseph White admits ignorance as to what was meant by this, suggesting that maybe it should be read as kad metmalāyēn ܟܕ ܡܬܡܠܝܝܢ (“when they were filled”) instead.

It looks to me (and B. Aland) like the first reading is correct which leaves me to explain the presence of “when they were salted.” Typically, the marginal readings in the Harklean text provide an alternate reading for Thomas’s main text, but here this doesn’t appear to be the case since there isn’t anything which it would naturally replace, certainly not “by the water.” And there is nothing in the ECM that would show this to be a known reading in the rest of the textual tradition; it seems to be unique to the Harklean margin.

Elsewhere Thomas does use his margin for short interpretive comments and that seems to be the best way to understand it here. But if so, how does “being salted” explain “being rescued by water”?

The only parallel to “being salted” I can think of is Mark 9.49 where the Harklean has the longer reading: “every person will be salted with fire and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.” Like the water in 1 Peter 3.20, there is debate as to whether the salt in Mark 9 is a means of judgment or a means salvation (or perhaps both). I’m wondering whether there is any history of connecting the the imagery of the flood, the salting in Mark, and possibly baptism in the Syriac tradition that Thomas might be reflecting. Or maybe I am missing some simpler explanation. It is certainly curious.


  1. salted = preserved

  2. Anon, that must be it although it seems like an unnecessary explanation for being rescued.

  3. To me, the phrase "rescued by water" is much more unclear than "preserved". The eight souls were rescued by the ark, from the water. I think the phrase in the margin was trying to address this ambiguity.

    1. Could be but then why not put "by the ark" in the margin? As it is, the margin seems to clarify the part that's already clear.

    2. A more literal reading of the text וחיי במיא is "and they lived in the water". The margin text might be specifying that they lived in the water because they were preserved (saved).


  4. rescued from the salt water

  5. Jeremiah Coogan10/20/2015 5:24 pm

    Perhaps more plausibly, this has to do with the practice of using salt in the baptismal rite. As such, the gloss might be an exegetical comment indicating that not only water, but also salt, is necessary in baptism.
    Perhaps it's suggesting (with Anon above) that the water of the flood was salty, thus fulfilling the requirements of both water and salt, but that's more conjectural.

  6. I agree with Mr Coogan. In antiquity, salt played a role in the administration of baptism. Look at this: - it could be a good starting point.

  7. the word for salt is closely related to the word for sea-fairing. It could just be a reference to how they were on a boat, which isn't made explicit in the text.