Life in Ancient Israel
was always full of surprises
. If the Hebrew
tribes weren't under attack
by vicious Gentiles
, they were fighting amongst each other
for one reason or another. The Ephraim
ite Tribe in northern Israel, for reasons that seemed good
at the time, decided to wage war on the Gilead
ite Tribe in what is today northwest Jordan
. They were roundly repulsed
, and the Ephraimites soon found themselves attempting to flee
the Gilead territory by crossing the Jordan River
Jephthah, the Gilead General, didn't like the idea of letting men leave who could later come back to attack again, so he posted troops at Jordan crossings, and ordered them to slay all Ephraimites. However, Ephraim and Gilead were both Hebrew tribes, and it was difficult to tell a Gileadite from an Ephraimite when they weren't wearing armor. So Jephthah ordered his guards to ask those who would pass to prounounce the Hebrew word for an ear of corn. Gileads said 'Shib-bo-leth', while Ephraimites said it as 'Sib-bo-leth'. Any man who couldn't pronounce it correctly was killed on the spot.
This has always confused me, because there has never been a 'TH' sound in modern Hebrew. Maybe it was pronounced Shib-bo-let.
For many centuries, the term 'shibboleth' was used in a manner synonymous with (and somewhat more accurate than) the modern word 'buzzword'.