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Shibboleth

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

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    Shibboleth

    (“flowing stream” or “ear of grain”). In Judges 12.1–4, troops from Ephraim crossed the Jordan, angry with the east‐bank Gileadites for not including them in the Ammonite war reported in Judges 11 (ca. 1100 BCE). The Gileadites fought the Ephraimites, defeated them, and secured the fords by which the surviving Ephraimites would cross back to their own land. Ephraimites who wanted to escape would simply claim not to be Ephraimites; the Gileadites discovered these impostors by having them pronounce the word written in the Hebrew text as šibbolet. The Ephraimites could not pronounce the word properly; the Hebrew text represents their pronunciation as sibbolet (Judg. 12.6). The two dialects had different pronunciations for the same word, and the story might mean that the Ephraimites simply slipped and used their own pronunciation. The text implies, however, that the Ephraimites were not able to pronounce a consonant that existed in the Gileadite dialect (the initial sibilant of the word in question).

    Jo Ann Hackett

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