🔼The name Zaphenath-paneah in the Bible
The name Zaphenath-paneah occurs only once in the Bible. It's the name Pharaoh gave to Joseph when he promoted him to second in command after he was able to explain Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41:45). This promotion enabled Joseph to reunite with his family, and to save them from starvation.
This literary motif of the outcast member of Israel's society who subsequently saves the society is a rather powerful one in the Biblical narrative. It puts the literary character of Joseph obviously on a par with those of Daniel and Esther, and ultimately the Messiah.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Zaphenath-paneah
For centuries scholars have pondered the name Zaphenath-paneah, but finding its meaning is difficult because we have this Egyptian name only in a Hebrew transliteration. The Hebrews were notorious for adjusting foreign names to such extends that they started to mean something in Hebrew but were left with little resemblance to the original.
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) reports that ancient scholars thought it meant either Savior Of The Age or Revealer Of A Secret. BDB Theological Dictionary agrees with a long list of more recent scholars, who thought our name was a transliteration of Sapne-teph onh, which means The God Speaks And He Lives. Whoever was responsible for the footnotes in the New Open Bible Study Edition agreed with BDB and noted: Probably Egyptian for "god speaks; he lives," but whoever edited the NOBSE name list submitted a meaning of Revealer Of Secrets.
🔼Zaphenath-paneah in Hebrew
A Hebrew audience would not have understood Joseph's Egyptian name, and the scribes who wrote it down may have allowed themselves substantial liberties in transcribing it. As is, the name Zaphenath-paneah consists of two elements. The first part bears a striking resemblance to the root צפן (sapan), meaning to hide or store up:
The second part of our name is harder to place. There is no word פענח in the Hebrew of the Bible, but that doesn't mean it didn't exist. But perhaps it's a combination of two elements. The final part could be construed to be similar to the name Noah, meaning rest, and the first part shows similarities to the name Puah, which may mean bright or beautiful. Perhaps a very creative member of a Hebrew audience may have thought that the name Zaphenath-paneah meant Stored Beautiful Rest. Perhaps not.