Jordan to prevent their escape. When any of the fugitives attempted to cross over, they were commanded to say "shibboleth, " but, as they could not frame to pronounce it right, and said "sibboleth," they were discovered and slain, to the number of forty-and-two thousand. This latter interpretation Dr. Oliver thinks to be the true one. He says,
Such is the historical account of the warfare of Jephthah with the Ephraimites, and the reputed origin of the symbol and its interpretation, because the battle took place in afield of corn near the river Jordan.
The interpretation which refers it to the passage of the river under Joshua has been generally discarded by masons, and is not countenanced by the masonic lecture as given in America. The other interpretation, which refers this emblem to the battle with the Ephraimites, is, however, also manifestly incorrect, for the following reasons:
1. There is no history of this battle outside of the Bible and Josephus, and neither account makes any mention of the battle having taken place "in a field of corn." Josephus does not even mention the use of the word "shibboleth." (See Judges xii, and "Antiquities," Book V, Chapter VI.) The truth is, the statement that the battle "took place in a field of corn" is purely imaginary, and was invented to make out the interpretation, which otherwise would not explain "the ears of corn," which constitute the leading and most expressive feature of the emblem. It is but another instance of an interpretation being invented to explain an emblem, the true meaning of which was lost.
2. This interpretation is also clearly incorrect, from the fact that it has no sort of connection with any other part of masonry, or any masonic event or person whatever. It refers to a period long before the building of Solomon's temple, and is utterly out of harmony with the entire system of Freemasonry and all its details.
The fact that the words "shibboleth" and "sibboleth" occur in the story told in Judges of the cruel and useless slaughter of the defeated and flying Ephraimites, was seized upon, and seems to have induced the attempt to thus explain the lost meaning of this peculiar and striking emblem; but even then it was necessary to invent an addition to the Scriptural narrative in order to account for the "ears of corn," which were otherwise not explained.
Q. What is the probable true meaning of the emblem of "ears of corn hanging by a water-ford," or "a sheaf of wheat suspended near the bank of a river?"
A. A reference to the Eleusinian Mysteries will go far to clear up the matter, and give us the true import of this symbol. The Eleusinian Mysteries were derived from those of Isis (see initial chapter), who was known to the Greeks by the name of Ceres, and also Cybele. Ceres, or Cybele, was the goddess of the harvest, and was represented, like the beautiful virgin of the zodiac, bearing spears of ripe corn. Isis was in like manner, with the Egyptians, emblematic of the harvest season. In the Egyptian zodiac Isis occupied the place of Virgo, and was represented with three ears of corn in her hand.
The Syrian word for an ear of corn is sibola, identical with shibboleth, which the Ephraimites pronounced, more nearly correct, "sibboleth." This word also means "a stream of water," and the emblem of ears of corn or a sheaf of wheat near a watercourse, or river, was one of the emblems of the Eleusinian and Tyrian (or Dionysiac) Mysteries. As the word had a double meaning, the picture formed a sort of rebus. The river is the river Nile, the overthrow of which enriched the soil and brought forth the abundant harvests of Egyptian corn, all of which was symbolically represented by the ears of corn hanging by a river. It is also worthy of remark that the name of the goddess Cybele, although differing in orthography, is almost identical in sound with sibola in some dialects. This mystic word is therefore a triple pun, and has a threefold signification:
b. A stream of water, referring to the Nile, upon the inundation of which the harvest depended;
c. It might be understood as one of the names of the goddess of the harvest.
Hutchinson, a masonic writer of note, admits that the use of the word sibboleth was equivalent to an avowal of a profession of the Mysteries, as it implies ears of corn. ("Spirit of Masonry.")
How much more perfect and beautiful is this interpretation of the emblem, and how much more in harmony with the moral teachings of our order! The one explanation recalls nothing to the mind but the bloody and brutal butchery of forty-two thousand of his fellow beings by Jephthah, the vile wretch who offered up his own innocent daughter as a burnt-offering (see Judges 11:29-40); the other reminds us of the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, and the benevolence of the GREAT Creator, who each year brings forth the harvest in due season, and rewards with "plenty" the industry of the husbandman. The improbability of the operative masons of the middle ages having invented this astronomical-agricultural emblem is so plain as to require no comment.
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