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Meaning and etymology of the name Phinehas

Phinehas Phinehas

There are three men named Phinehas in the Bible. The first Phinehas is the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron. This Phinehas is famous for staying the plague caused by Israel's sins with Baal Peor (Numbers 25). Just as God tells Moses to execute all the leaders of Israel and the people rise in agony and weeping, a Simeonite called Zimri decides to introduce his Midianite play mate Cozbi to his relatives. Phinehas sees this and runs after them and gores them both with his spear.
Another Phinehas is one of two wicked sons of Eli, the tutor of young Samuel (1 Samuel 2:34). One son of this Phinehas is called Ichabod, another one is Ahitub, whose grandson Abiathar is the last priest in the line of Eli. Phinehas number three is the father of a postexilic priest (Ezra 8:33), named Eleazar.

The etymology and original meaning of the name Phinehas is not clear. BDB Theological Dictionary suggests that it is a transliteration of the Egyptian name Pe-nehasi, meaning The Negro, or more specifically, The Bronze-Colored One, says HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (at once raising the question of why on earth anyone would mistake the tint of a Negroid skin with that of bronze).

A Hebrew audience may have seen in this name a compound of the words peh (peh) meaning mouth; and the root nhsh (nhsh -1350):

The assumed root nhsh (nhsh) yields derivation nhsh (nahash), meaning serpent, snake (as in Eden).
The verb nhsh (nahash) means learn by experience or by omen. Derivation nhsh (nahash) means divination.
The assumed root nhsh (nhsh) yields nehoshet (nehoshet), copper; nahush (nahush), bronze; and nehusha (nehusha), copper, bronze.
The assumed root nhsh (nhsh) yields derivation nehoshet (nehoshet), lust, harlotry.

Hence, to a Hebrew audience the name Phinehas may mean Mouth of Brass (Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names), or Oracle (NOBS Study Bible Name List). A related name is Nahash.

However, more related to the name may be the verb pana (pana), to turn, with derivation panim (panim), face (literally: turnings). Derivation penima (penima) means toward the inside, and penimi (penimi) means inner. Perhaps the face was seen as portal to the inside of a person.
And the verb hasa (hasa), seek refuge, flee for protection. The latter verb is used figuratively, to mean put trust in (God), confide, hope in.

This way the name Phinehas means Turn And Hide; or, slightly more daring, Trust Your Heart.



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