Old Testament

Historical Books

Did Jephthah say “Po-tay-to” or “Po-tah-to”?

The Bible does not address Jephthah’s pronunciation of “potato.” However, the Bible does say how Jephthah pronounced another word—“shibboleth.” The pronunciation debacle came about when Jephthah and his men quarreled with a neighboring tribe, the Ephraimites. When the Ephraimites tried to get back across the river to their land, Jephthah and his men devised a test. Jephthah and his men stopped each Ephraimite as he came across, and asked him if he was an Ephraimite. Each Ephraimite wanted to save his hide, so he said “no.” Then Jephthah and his men asked each Ephraimite to pronounce “shibboleth”. If the Ephraimite said “sibboleth,” he was killed promptly. Evidently, leaving out the “h” sound was a dead (ooh, bad pun) giveaway that the Ephraimite was indeed an enemy. Leaving out the “h” sound was common—42,000 Ephraimites died as a result of failing Jephthah’s test. (Judges 12)


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