Feedback archiveFeedback 2007

Serpents and dust; Christians and salt

This week we feature two enquiries. The first is from Alex L of Scotland who asks about snakes eating dust (Genesis 3:14), to which Carl Wieland responds. The second is from Fiona S of New South Wales, Australia, who asks about salt losing its saltiness (Matthew 5:13), to which Andrew Lamb responds.

Serpents and dust

Photo by Michael Studard, morguefile.com Snake with flickering tongue
Dear Brother Wieland.

I was doing a Bible study on the scripture below when I came across your article [Snakes do eat dust!]. Am I right in thinking that snakes sample the dust of the earth in order to guide them to their prey?

>Am I also right in thinking that dust itself has nothing to do with the animal’s diet?


>Alex L … Scotland UK

Genesis 3:14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

Dear Mr L / Dear Alex

Thanks for your enquiry about the item I wrote for Creation magazine many years ago. You wrote:

I was doing a Bible study on the scriptures below when I came across your article [Snakes do eat dust!]. Am I right in thinking that snakes sample the dust of the earth in order to guide them to their prey?

Absolutely. Just as the article indicated. And as the article also indicated, the dust particles are cleaned off the animal’s tongue. Most of the dust would therefore be swallowed and pass through the digestive tract. That is why it said that snakes really do eat dust. Of course, the dust mostly (though not exclusively) consists of inorganic components which are mostly not digested, and mostly (though not exclusively—minerals are a component of all animal diets) are not for nutrition—e.g. a sand particle will just pass straight through the digestive tract. So the article clearly points out the purpose of the dust being taken on board, i.e. not nutritional, but also points out that snakes really do eat dust—they take it in their mouth and it passes through the digestive tract. It is of course easy to see the word ‘eat’ as being strictly to do with nutrition, but that is not necessarily so. We talk of someone ‘eating glass’ in a performance, and certain human cultures (and some animal groups) habitually eat certain types of dirt, mostly clay soils (known as geophagy, and it does have a side benefit, it is believed, both in correcting certain mineral deficiencies and in protecting against some parasitic disease). [See box below for an account of hunger-induced geophagy. Ed.]

Am I also right in thinking that dust itself has nothing to do with the animal’s diet?

As above—the key is in the meaning attributed to the word diet—the dust does not significantly contribute to the animal’s nutrition, so the answer would be no, it has nothing to do with the diet in the sense of nutrition. But if one could say that certain humans incorporate clay as a part of their diet (and that is a common and a reasonable way of putting it, because someone’s diet can also be a description of the sum total of what they put in their mouth, swallow and pass through the digestive tract) then the answer is yes, it does. The key point though, was whether it was reasonable for the Bible to say that snakes eat dust, and given that the dust particles are put in their mouth, then later swallowed and passed through the digestive tract, I think it is. Having said that, the article itself pointed out that it would not be unreasonable for ‘eat dust’ to be seen as a metaphor for snakes having to live right down close to the ground. At the time, I recall that we thought it was interesting enough to pass on, though not earth-shattering.


Alex L … Scotland UK

Kind regards,

Carl W.

Managing Director

In response to this feedback, Jean L of USA, a veterinarian, wrote:

An interesting factoid related to Carl’s weekend feedback response: In the U.S. many hogs are raised ‘off the ground’. The pigs (babies) develop anemia if they are not given iron shots because the sows’ milk is low in iron and, unlike hogs raised on dirt, they do not get the necessary iron. So dirt can have a significant effect in some instances. (I have no idea if this is true for snakes.)

Christians and salt

Photo by M Disdero, wikipedia.org Dead Sea shoreline
Salt was a valuable commodity in biblical times, and Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. The Latin (Roman) word for salt was salarium, and this gave rise to the modern English words salary1 and soldier, soldier coming via the French solde meaning pay.2

Dear Sir /Madam,

>Re: Mark 9:50a “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltiness, wherewith will ye season it?”

I have often wondered about this statement, since the salt that we eat is just an inorganic chemical—sodium chloride, not an organic spice. How can salt lose its saltiness, please?

>(I ask because, at a friend’s home recently, I compared some old salt with some new salt, and the latter did seem to have more flavour. Was I imagining this?)

Thank you for answering, and God bless you.

from Fiona Smith

Dear Fiona

Thank you for your email of 31 August, submitted via our website.

In olden and ancient times, refined salt of the sort common today was rare. In many ancient cultures, most of their salt came from mines, in the form of solid stone blocks. (Incidentally, the massive deposits of rock salt found around the world are difficult to explain by uniformitarian processes, but can be accounted for by catastrophic models, consistent with the biblical Flood.3–9 ) Their salt was typically unrefined, containing a high proportion of impurities—silt, clays, and other minerals. If the sodium chloride had leached away, by being exposed to rain for example, then the remaining residue ‘salt’ could become worthless.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says the following about ‘salt losing its saltiness’ (Mark 9:50):

‘The Synoptics all record sayings in which Jesus compared His disciples to salt and refers to the uselessness of salt that has lost its salinity. Mt. 5:13 emphasizes that [like salt] Jesus’ disciples must be a blessing and preservative in the world; Mk. 9:50 emphasizes that they must be faithful to their covenant relationship with one another; and Lk. 14:34 emphasizes that they must maintain their allegiance to Christ.

‘… [I]t should be noted that the salt from the Dead Sea region was generally contaminated with other minerals; thus the salt could be dissolved out of this mixture, leaving a tasteless substance. It was important to take rock salt from the inner layers of mines, since the outer layers could lose their salinity with exposure. Although its impurities made salt from the DEAD SEA inferior to most sea salts, its accessibility (it could simply be picked up along the shore) made it the main source of salt for Palestine.’10

And here’s what Henry Morris says in The New Defender’s Study Bible:

‘Luke 14:34 lost his savour. Pure salt cannot lose its savor (or “saltiness”), but the salt commonly used in the ancient world was rock salt, containing various impurities. As the true salt was leached away, or otherwise removed, the so-called “salt” could indeed lose its savor.’

(I ask because, at a friend’s home recently, I compared some old salt with some new salt, and the latter did seem to have more flavour. Was I imagining this?)

Fine-grained salt could potentially be perceived as saltier than coarser-grained salt due to the greater surface area, enabling more salt to dissolve in the saliva and reach the salt receptors on the tongue. Chemical processes go faster if a reactant is in powder or fine grain form than they do if it is in a solid block, due to the greater surface area enabling more of the reacting molecules to come in contact.

Jesus’ comment about salt has relevance for the church. Declining numbers in some denominations testify to their blandness. Removing the salt of pure biblical doctrines—Creation, the Fall, the Flood, etc.—can have a devastating effect, leaving a residue heavy with the impurities of extra-biblical doctrines and traditions of men, and lacking in palatability to those zealously seeking God.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Lamb

Information Officer

Sent to the salt mines

Image www.globalsecurity.org Satellite image of Korean peninsula by night
click for larger image

During the Soviet communist era, hundreds of thousands of Christians and other ‘enemies of the state’ were sent to slave labour camps (the GULág* Archipelago described by Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008)), with many prisoners being forced to mine salt at remote locations in Siberia. This is reflected in the darkly ominous idiom ‘sent to the salt mines’. Those who died in the GULág camps from starvation, disease, and torture constituted the bulk of the scores of millions of people murdered by Stalin. See Evolutionary genocide.

Mass murder of this sort continues today in the similar camps in communist North Korea, which were ‘built according to a Stalinist model’ and ‘continue to be run that way’, with forced labour, deliberate starvation, and other evils.11 Former prisoner Soon Ok Lee relates how, driven by hunger, she and fellow prisoners ate clay, with those who ate too much dying in pain as a result.12 One of the places she was imprisoned at was Kyo-hwa-so No. 1 camp at Kaechon (click to see spy satellite photo). Forgiveness and caring that Lee observed amongst Christian prisoners there in the face of cruel and brutal atrocities was a major factor in her later conversion to Christianity after escaping from North Korea.

The North Korean government regards Christians as the enemy, with North Korean leader Kim Il Sung declaring in the 1990’s that Christians must be annihilated. Anyone discovered to be a Christian in North Korea faces almost certain death in a concentration camp.13

Jesus told his followers they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13–14). The nighttime photo above constitutes a dramatic pictorial allegory of this, with predominantly Christian South Korea bathed in light while Stalinist North Korea languishes in physical and spiritual darkness.

* GULág (ГУЛаг) is an acronym of Главное Управление Лагерей (Glavnoye Upravleniye Lagerey), Chief Camp Administration, or in full, Главное Управление Исправительно-Трудовых Лагерей и колоний (Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitel'no-Trudovykh Lagerey i koloniy), The Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies. By metonymy, this original meaning of central administrative agency was transferred to the system of the prisons and labour camps it administered, then to the camps themselves. Return to text.
Published: 20 October 2007


  1. Neil Morris, Salt, Appleseed Editions, 2005; page 17. Return to Text.
  2. Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History, Jonathan Cape, 2002; page 63. Return to Text.
  3. Michael Oard, The Messinian salinity crisis questioned, Journal of Creation 19(1):11–13, 2005, <https://dl0.creation.com/articles/p053/c05393/j19_1_11-13.pdf>. Return to Text.
  4. Nutting, D.I., Origin of Bedded Salt Deposits: A Critique of Evaporative Models, Alpha Omega Institute, Institute for Creation Research (unpublished M.S. Thesis), 1984. Salt deposition explained as due to the Flood, rather than from evaporation of seas over long periods. Return to Text.
  5. Williams, E.L., The Evaporite Deposits of Saltville, Virginia, Creation Research Society Quarterly 40(2):72–84, September 2003, <http://www.CreationResearch.org/crsq/abstracts/
    >. Return to Text.
  6. Morris, J.D., Does Salt Come From Evaporated Sea Water? Back to Genesis 167:d, November 2002, <http://www.icr.org/article/532>, <http://static.icr.org/pdf/btg/btg-167.pdf>. Return to Text.
  7. Williams, E.L., Origin of bedded salt deposits (Nutting), Creation Research Society Quarterly 26(1):15–16, June 1989. Nutting (1984, Ref. 2) discusses the uniformitarian hypotheses of the origin of vast salt deposits (evaporites) in the crust of the earth. Basically all of the proposed models involve the evaporation of water (p. 4) which requires long periods of time which is usually preferred by naturalists. . . These models are discussed within the framework of the actual chemical, geological and physical evidence gathered at evaporite sites. Nutting proposes that all uniformitarian schemes fall far short in explaining the origin of the deposits. He offers a catastrophic model involving heated water which developed due to volcanic or igneous intrusive activity (pp. 52–70) to explain the deposits. Return to Text.
  8. Lammerts, W.E., On the recent origin of the Pacific Southwest Deserts, Creation Research Society Quarterly 8(1):50–54, June 1971. The history and migrations of the Pueblo Indian peoples are discussed in relationship to drying trends after the Noahic Flood. The decline of Lake Tulare, the Great Salt Lake, other surface reservoirs, artesian wells, and even glaciers are also correlated with flood geology. It is proposed that worldwide climate changes occurring after the Flood led to the migratory phases obvious in Pueblo Indian history. Finally, it is theorized that desert plants may have been catastrophically selected for survival in dry conditions when areas such as Lake Cahuilla became deserts. Return to Text.
  9. Wilcox, F.L. and Davidson, S.T., Experiments on precipitation brought about by mixing brines, Creation Research Society Quarterly 13(2):87–89, September 1976. The authors describe some experiments in which precipitation of sodium chloride is brought about by the mixing of originally saturated solutions of the materials concerned. Such precipitation might have played a part in the formation of great beds of evaporites which are found in rocks. This possibility is of interest to those who believe in a young Earth, for a biblical chronology may not leave time for beds of salt to have been formed by slow evaporation. Return to Text.
  10. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Volume Four Q–Z, pages 286–287, Eerdmans 1988. Return to Text.
  11. David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2003, <http://hrnk.org/hiddengulag/toc.html>. Return to Text.

    ‘From 1918, right up until the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Soviet leaders did everything possible to hide their prisons and labor camps from the outside world. … the North Korean camps were built according to a Stalinist model, and that they continue to be run that way. In the fullest possible sense, the contemporary leaders of North Korea are the intellectual and moral descendants of these Stalinists.’

    >‘The report outlines two distinct systems of repression: first, a North Korean gulag2 of forced-labor colonies, camps, and prisons where scores of thousands of prisoners — some political, some convicted felons — are worked, many to their deaths, in mining, logging, farming, and industrial enterprises, often in remote valleys located in the mountainous areas of North Korea; and second, a system of smaller, shorter-term detention facilities along the North Korea–China border used to brutally punish North Koreans who flee to China — usually in search of food during the North Korean famine crisis of the middle to late 1990s — but are arrested by Chinese police and forcibly repatriated to the DPRK.’

    ‘A major phenomenon of repression associated with the kyo-hwa-so is the shockingly large number of deaths in detention from slave labor under dangerous circumstances and from starvation-level food rations.’

    >‘…the prison facilities are characterized by very large numbers of deaths in detention from forced, hard labor accompanied by deliberate starvation-level food rations.’

    ‘The most salient feature of day-to-day prison-labor camp life is the combination of below-subsistence food rations and extremely hard labor. Prisoners are provided only enough food to be kept perpetually on the verge of starvation. And prisoners are compelled by their hunger to eat, if they can get away with it, the food of the labor-camp farm animals, plants, grasses, bark, rats, snakes — anything remotely edible.’

    ‘Semi-starvation yields large numbers of informants among the prisoners, leading to a prison culture of distrust and hostility. Prisoners fight each other over scraps of food or over the clothing of deceased inmates. The camps feature the gamut of abnormal and aberrant human behavior that results from treating people like animals.’

  12. Soon Ok Lee, Clay was tastier than rice, Chapter 11 in: Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman, Living Sacrifice Book Company, 1999; pages 98–100. Return to Text.
    ‘One Sunday in late February 1990, the prisoners were called out to carry soil. That day, we had been given only a child’s-fist-size ball of rice to eat. With all the hard work, we were exhausted and hungry. … That day, I ate about half a handful of clay. The clay filled my stomach, and I felt like it gave me energy. I melted the clay slowly in my mouth so I would not get caught by the officers. … After the female prisoners who worked outside returned to their cells, many began to cry because of stomach aches. … All the prisoners who had eaten a lot of clay screamed in pain and rolled over on the floor until they died. That night, about twenty women died from eating too much clay. But I was safe because I didn’t eat that much.’
  13. North Korea: A reign of barbarism and cruelty, The Voice of the Martyrs, June 2003, pages 2–5; page 3. Return to Text.