Phinehas meaning | Phinehas etymology

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Phinehas in Biblical Hebrew
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The name Phinehas in the Bible

There are three men named Phinehas in the Bible:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The father of a postexilic priest named Eleazar (Ezra 8:33).

Etymology and meaning of the name Phinehas

The etymology and original meaning of the name Phinehas is not immediately 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 consisting of two elements, the first being the noun פה (peh), meaning mouth:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

The second element of the name Phinehas ends with the letter ס (samekh), but that letter sometimes alternates with the letter שׂ (sin). In the time that the Bible actually plays, the letter ש only existed without the dot and, judging from the sibboleth incident (Judges 12:6), was probably pronounced like a שׁ (shin), so it's not inconceivable that the second element of the name Phinehas has to do with the root group נחשׁ (nahash):

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Hence, to a Hebrew audience the name Phinehas may mean Mouth of Brass (which is the meaning Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes), or Oracle (which NOBSE Study Bible Name List gives).

However, more related to the first part of our name may be the verb פנה (pana), meaning to turn:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

And the second part of the name Phinehas could be construed to come from the verb חסה (hasa), meaning to seek refuge:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

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

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