🔼The name Zelophehad: Summary
- First Rupture
- Shadow Of The Fear
- From (1) the verb צלף (salap), to rupture, and (2) the adjective אחד ('ehad), first.
- From (1) the noun צל (sel), shadow, and (2) the verb פחד (pahad), to fear.
🔼The name Zelophehad in the Bible
There's only one Zelophehad in the Bible, but we know about him because of his famous five daughters, whose insistence on their inheritance changed Mosaic Law.
Zelophehad was a son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Manasseh, and he had no sons (Numbers 26:33, 1 Chronicles 7:15). His five daughters — Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah — came to Moses and Eleazar and the leaders of Israel and explained that their father had died in the wilderness and that it was unfair that without a male heir his name would die out. Hence the daughters asked for property rights among their uncles (Numbers 27:4).
Moses brought the case before YHWH and he responded by agreeing with the ladies, and made it a permanent statute that when a man with only female offspring dies, his daughters are to be given property rights (27:6-11).
In our modern day and age, this statute would probably be called something like one's "Zelophehad's daughters' rights" but in Old Testament times, scribes resorted to telling the same story over and over: Numbers 36:2-13, Joshua 17:3-6.
🔼Etymology of the name Zelophehad
It's not clear how the name Zelophehad is constructed, but it consists of multiple elements. One way to read this name is to see it as a combination of the words צלף (salaph), which is an unused root which occurs in Aramaic with the meaning of to break or wound (see the name Zalaph), and חד (had), which is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew word אחד ('ehad), meaning first:
The verb יחד (yahad) means to be united or join. Noun יחד (yahad) means union. Adverb יחדו (yahdaw) means together. Adjective יחיד (yahid) means only. Adjective and adverb אחד ('ehad) means one.
Another possible way to form our name is from the noun צל (sel) meaning shade or shadow:
There appear to be at least two verbs צלל (salal): one means to ring like a bell, and the other means to be or become dark. How or whether these two relate isn't clear and ultimately up to anyone's poetic palate.
Noun צלצל (silsal) means a whirring or buzzing. The exact same noun צלצל (silsal) describes a fish-spear or harpoon and the highly similar noun צלצל (selasal) denotes a whirring locust. Plural nouns צלצלים (selselim) and מצלתים (mesiltayim) denote musical percussion instruments such as cymbals. Noun מצלה (mesilla) means bell.
Frequently used noun צל (sel) means shade or shadow and is often employed to describe the transitoriness of life (a mere shadow). Noun צלמות (salmawet) literally means the shadow of death and denotes a distressful and deep darkness.
A possible third identical verb צלל (salal) means to sink or submerge, although it may very well derive from the previous.
The second part of our name would then be formed by an expression of the verb פחד (pahad), meaning to fear or tremble:
The verb פחד (pahad) means to fear or revere. Nouns פחד (pahad) and פחדה (pahda) mean dread or reverence.
For a meaning of the name Zelophehad, Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) goes with the first option and reads First Rupture, "i.e. Firstborn".
NOBSE Study Bible Name List sees more in the second possibility and translates our name as Shadow Of The Fear.
BDB Theological Dictionary does not offer an explanation of our name and lists it alphabetically and not under some specific root.