Hebrew Cryptography

You might infer (correctly) from the things i blog about that i spend a lot of time looking at Bible names, many of which are rather obscure. Today i looked at a name so obscure, it’s not quite a name at all: instead, it’s a codeword!

“Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon, against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai,” (Jeremiah 51:1, ESV)

You won’t find “Leb-kamai” in your Bible atlas: it’s a codeword using a substitution cipher called Atbash (in English: most Bible dictionaries have “athbash”). Atbash is a one-for-one substitution of letters, where the first letter of the alphabet becomes the last, the second becomes the second-to-last, and so on. So the Hebrew letters lbqmy become ksÌ“dym (Chaldeans). The name is derived from the first two pairs of substitutes: aleph for tau, beth for shin.
Scholars don’t really know why Jeremiah decided to use code words in just a few cases (25:26, 51:1, and 51:41): he names names in plenty of other instances.