🔼The name Suph: Summary
- Reeds, Border Marker
- From the noun סוף (sup), reed, from the verb שפף (sapap), to mark a border or reach across it.
🔼The name Suph in the Bible
The name Suph occurs only once in the Bible, although some interpreters (and notably those behind the King James version) believe that Suph is short for Yam-sup, which is the Hebrew name for Sea of Reeds (which in turn is often misinterpreted as the Red Sea).
But on its own, the name Suph occurs only in Deuteronomy 1:1, where Moses is said to have addressed Israel across the Jordan, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.
🔼Etymology of the name Suph
The name Suph is identical to the collective noun סוף (sup), which denotes the vegetation on the border between dry land and water; reeds:
Root ספף (sapap) has to do with creating, marking or temporarily reaching through the border between two essentially distinct realms that nevertheless have a common origin; this border circles around the smaller of the two so that this smaller realm sits within the larger. It's the verb that describes any such formation from the palisade around a tribal territory to the fence around a single house, the skin of a person or even the cellular wall of a eukaryote.
Noun סף (sap) means threshold or sill (and is also the word for a kind of goblin or based bowl). Verb סוף (sup) means to come at an end. Noun סוף (sop) means end. Noun שפה (sapa) denotes the edge of things. Noun סופה (supa) describes a violent storm (perhaps a tornado, in form comparable to a goblin or based bowl).
Noun סוף (sup) refers to reed, which grows at, and thus marks the border between water and dry land. From reed comes papyrus, and books mark the border between the howling outer dark and the enlightened space within. The industrial production of papyrus, of course, was an absolute marvel and a milestone in information technology (easily comparable with the invention of floppies and dish drives in our age).
Verb ספה (sapa) means to sweep away (across the threshold, out the door) and so does verb שפה (shapa). The latter may also mean to skim, to shave or to border-mark by means of a protruding beacon or mark. From the latter comes the verb שפת (shapat), which describes some kind of setting or placing just outside the realm of civilization, and that usually by means of a ring of conspicuous, guiding and protecting fires. Proverbially, both the contagious and the extremely poor, and of course the shepherds, their flocks and wild animals abided on the dark side of these fires. The latter verb also yields noun שפי (shepi), which describes bones sticking through the skin of a emaciated man, or hills that likewise conspicuously mark some border, presumably in an otherwise flat landscape.
Verb שוף (shup) appears to mean to violate in the sense of illicitly entering one's personal space (or body). This verb became associated with the bite of a snake, and the noun שפיפן (shepipon) denotes some sort of snake, presumably one that attacks by darting from its burrow and then swiftly retreating.
Since Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names works off the King James, it omits the name Suph. NOBSE Study Bible Name List, however, omits Suph for no good reason. BDB Theological Dictionary does not translate our name but does confirm that it is identical to the noun סוף (sup), meaning Reeds.