The Northern Shin and Min

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

In Numbers 9, the Bible discusses those who are at distance and incapable of bringing a Passover offering, being given leeway in celebrating the Passover. “Then the Lord said to Moses, tell the Israelites, when any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight.”

In 1 Kings, Jeroboam, in one of his first acts as a leader of the secession of the northern tribes from Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s southern kingdom, ordered the creation of rival temples to drive a wedge between the two kingdoms and create distance. “Jeroboam thought to himself, the kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam. After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.”

The linguistic landscape of ancient Israel mirrored this division. Languages naturally evolve over time, developing distinct dialects and potentially new languages, especially when geographic or social barriers limit interaction between speakers. The Semitic language family, which includes Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew, indicate common roots.

The Indo-European language family, which includes languages as disparate as Hindi, Persian, German, French, Greek and English all share common structures despite significant diversity. Within the Hebrew Bible, evidence of such linguistic divergence between northern Israel and southern Judah can be discerned.

The Song of Deborah in Judges 5 is recognized as a composition of the northern kingdom. It not only celebrates a northern victory but also displays linguistic features that differentiate it from southern writings. Variations in terminology, such as the northern use of a “shin” prefix for “that” compared to the southern “asher,” and the northern “min” for “from” against the southern “may” or “mi,” signify more than mere regional preferences. They reflect a deeper linguistic divide that complements the religious and political separations of this early period.

The image above is of Jerusalem, capital of the southern kingdom, looking south from north of the city.