The descendants of Ephraim. They inhabited the center of Judea between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan. The character given to them in a certain degree of being a stiff necked and rebellious people, coincides with history which describes them as haughty, tenacious to a fault of their rights, and ever ready to resist the pretensions of the other tribes, and more especially that of Judah, of which they were peculiarly jealous. The circumstance in their history which has been appropriated for a symbolic purpose in the ceremonies of the Second Degree of Freemasonry, may be briefly related thus. The Ammonites, who were the descendants of the younger son of Lot, and inhabited a tract of country east of the river Jordan, had been always engaged in hostility against the Israelites. On the occasion referred to, they had commenced a war on the pretext that the Israelites had deprived them of a portion of their territory. Jephthah, having been called by the Israelites to the head of their army, defeated the Ammonites, but had not called upon the Ephraimites to assist in the victory.
Hence, that high-spirited people were incensed, and more especially as they had no share in the rich spoils obtained by Jephthah from the Ammonites.
They accordingly gave him battle, but were defeated with great slaughter by the Gileadites, or countrymen of Jephthah, with whom alone he resisted their attack. As the land of Gilead, the residence of Jephthah, was on the west side of the Jordan, and as the Ephraimites lived on the east side, in making their invasion it was necessary that they should cross the river, and after their defeat, in attempting to effect a retreat to their own country, they were compelled to recross the river. But Jephthah, aware of this, had placed forces at the different fords of the river, who intercepted the Ephraimites, and detected their nationality by a peculiar defect in their pronunciation. For although the Ephraimites did not speak a dialect different from that of the other tribes, they had a different pronunciation of some words and an inability to pronounce the letter r or sh, which they pronounced as if it were D or s. Thus, when called upon to say Shibboleth, they pronounced it Sibboleth, "which trifling defect," as we are told, "proved them to be enemies." The test to a Hebrew was a palpable one, for the two words have an entirely different signification; shibboleth meaning an ear of corn, and sibboleth, a burden. The biblical relation will be found in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Judges (see Shibboleth).
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