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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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The sword hung at the hip from a sword-belt (1 Samuel 17:39; 25:13; 2 Samuel 20:8), probably on the left side, Judges 3:16,21, notwithstanding. It was kept in a sheath ("ta'ar," 1 Samuel 17:51; "nadan," 1 Chronicles 21:27; θέκη, John 18:11), whence the phrases "heriḳ," "shalaf," or "pataḥ ḥereb" (= "to draw the sword"). Some swords were double-edged (comp. "ḥereb welah shene piyot," Judges 3:16; Proverbs 5:4), and were used for cutting (1 Samuel 31:4; 2 Samuel 2:16; 1 Chronicles 10:4) and thrusting (comp. "hikkah ba-ḥereb" and 1 Kings 3:24). There are no detailed descriptions of the various kinds of swords used by the Israelites, but they probably resembled those of Assyria and Egypt, being sometimes straight and sometimes curved, and either long or dagger-shaped and short. The existence of the straight variety is proved by the fact that swords were used for thrusting; and is also implied in the phrase "nafal ba-ḥereb," used of those who commit suicide by this weapon (1 Samuel 31:4 et seq.). The story of Ehud, who thrust his sword, haft ("niẓẓab"), and all into Eglon's belly (Judges 3:16-22), shows that short, dagger-like swords were used.

The blade ("lahab") of the double-edged sword was probably straight, and this portion of the weapon seems generally to have been made of iron, sometimes (but rarely) of bronze (comp. 1 Samuel 13:19; Joel 3:10; Micah 4:3; Isaiah 2:4); this was also the custom among the Egyptians, as the blue blades in the paintings indicate. The hilt of the sword was made probably of a different material, in accordance with Egyptian and Assyrian usage; probably the hilt afforded, sometimes, an opportunity for artistic workmanship. The word "mekerah" in Genesis 49:5 has frequently been compared with μάχαιπα and rendered "sword," but this explanation is very doubtful. Originally μάχαιπα denoted the Lacedemonian, slightly curved sword used for cutting, having a knife-like blade, a blunt back, and a point turning up toward the latter. The same name was given to any curved saber, in contradistinction to ξίφος (the dagger-like sword).

In the Roman period the Jews adopted the short dirk ("sica") used by the Romans, and especially by the gladiators. This weapon, which was concealed in the garments, and which was especially affected by the SICARII, who derived their name from it (Josephus, "Ant." 20:8, § 10; "B. J." 2:13, § 3), was only a foot in length, and somewhat curved.

E. G. H.
W. N.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Sword'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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