🔼The name Caphtor: Summary
- Unknown but perhaps: Protected, Redeemed, Cup, Crown or Pomegranate.
- Or: Broad Sweeping Open Hand, Smoothly Worn Rock Dove.
- From כפר (kapar), to form a protective wall, כתר (katar), to protect or redeem, or a comparable word that means pomegranate.
- From (1) כף (kep), smooth rock, or כף (kap), open hand, and (2) תור (tur), to broadly sweep, or תור (tor), dove.
🔼The name Caphtor in the Bible
The name Caphtor appears to belong to an evolutionary stage of human culture between Mizraim (Egypt) and the Philistines. It's tempting to assume that the name Caphtor refers to a specific region, and many commentators have located Caphtor either in the Nile delta or on an eastern Mediterranean island such as Cyprus or Crete, but in Old Testament times, lands were named after the people in it and when the people moved on, the name moved with them or went away.
In ancient times, cultures could remain largely the same for very long times and hence stretch over vast areas. But that doesn't mean that all the people who lived within that cultural basin were biologically related. In fact, it's clear that when technology is relatively scarce and human tribes are nomadic, tribes would very often meet and assume each other's technology and form a very wide relatively homogeneous spread of the same culture. This wide-spread organic technology sharing among many different peoples and tribes gave rise to not centralized cultures such as that of the proto-Indo-Europeans and more recently the Celts, the Phoenicians and originally even the Huns.
The Torah explains that Caphtor is the land of the Caphtorim, who descended from Mizraim of Ham of Noah (Genesis 10:4), which is to say that the ancient culture of Egypt radiated its science and technology and ignited an independent derivative culture, on the north and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, long prior to the emergence of the Phoenicians (and note that that Luke places a harbor named Phoenix on Crete: Acts 27:12). These Caphtorim appear to have displaced several earlier cultures, among which the Avvim (Deuteronomy 2:23), but somewhere along the line the Caphtorim culture itself came under pressure of others. Through the prophet Amos, YHWH declared that he brought up the Philistines from Caphtor, and through Jeremiah that the Philistines emerged as a separate derivative culture from a remnant of Caphtor.
At that time this remnant of Caphtor appears to have been concentrated on an island (the noun אי, 'i refers to a coast region: coast, capes and islands off the coast). Most commentators seem to favor Crete as the last stronghold of the Caphtorim, which would make the Philistines displaced survivors of the Minoan culture. The Minoans had maintained a highly advanced civilization from the 4th millennium BCE, which had absorbed much of Egypt's culture and which in turn had radiated its own identity to the Greek and Canaan coasts. After a series of natural calamities and attacks by Hittites and probably others, the Minoan culture began to decline halfway the 2nd millennium BCE. Around 1200 BCE, the Minoan culture had been eradicated from the island.
It seems reasonable to expect that certain Minoan refugees began to seek refuge with their old business partners. Right around the time that the Minoan culture came to an end, Egyptian records begin to make mention of the Philistines in their realm, and the distinct Philistine identity may very well have come about when waves of late-Minoan refugees overwhelmed native Canaanite tribes.
🔼Etymology of the name Caphtor
The name Caphtor is most likely a loan word from the Minoan language to indicate Minoan Cretans. Consequentially, this word, כפתור (kaptor), came to indicate the capital on top of a pillar, named after Crete as the place from which they were first imported (Amos 9:1) or knob of bulb as seen on the Menorah in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:33 and on).
The verb כפר (kapar) describes the formation of any sort of protective perimeter around any sort of vulnerable interior.
Noun כפר (koper) describes the price of a human life, i.e. the purchasing price and maintenance costs of keeping a person out of slavery. This is not simply a single sum of money but rather an economic protective layer of all sorts of hedges and investments. The noun כפרים (kippurim) is in fact a plural of the previous and denotes a massive free-buying and free-keeping of many people at once. Noun כפרת (kapporet) is the technical term for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant; the Mercy Seat.
Nouns כפר (kapar) and כפר (koper) mean village, but emphasize not the mere huddling together of folks, but rather any rudimentary social stratification that mimics the natural formation of eukaryotic cells, with cell walls, organelles and a nucleus that hosts the wisdom tradition.
The problem with reading כפר into our name comes with the appearance of the dominant letter ת (taw), which is rarely inserted half-way a root.
The renowned theologian Gesenius solved this by proposing that the name Caphtor could be seen as the superimposition of two three-letter roots, namely כפר (kapar) and כתר (katar), meaning to surround:
The verb כתר (katar) means to surround. Noun כתר (keter) means crown. Nouns כתרת (koteret) and כותרת (koteret) denote the capital of a pillar.
But whatever the proper pedigree of our name, a creative Hebrew poet would probably have recognized it as a combination of two familiar elements: the first one being כף (kep), smooth rock, or the much more applied noun כף (kap), hand or container:
The verb כפף (kapap) means to bend or curve, and most often speaks of curving around something, and particularly in order to contain something, or to apply pressure so that the contents come out. Noun כף (kap) describes an opened hollow hand, or a utility vessel, or anything that contains something in order to pour it out or otherwise produce it. Noun כף (kep) describes a smooth or rounded stone, particularly one that provides spaces to hide within (when positioned flat on bedrock or when stacked).
Of unclear relations to the former, verbs נקף (naqap) and קוף (qop) mean to go around and could refer to catching something in a net or wrapping a captured animal with rope. Noun קוף (qop) is thought to describe an ape, perhaps because of its round head, perhaps because it was caught with a net or snare, or perhaps because it was paraded around.
In Aramaic, verb כפף (kapap) and noun כף (kap) are also spelled כפיף (kpyp) and כפא (kp'). Participles כאיף (k'yp) and כיף (kyp) describe anything bent or curved. Noun כוף (kop), literally a "round one", describes a round basket.
Verbs כפה (kapa), כפא (kapa'), and כפי (kapay) mean to bend over or turn upside down. Nouns כף (kep), כיף (keyep), כיפא (keyepa') and כיפה (keyepa) refer to any sort of ball (or honey comb), and specifically to smoothly curved water-worn stones, or pearls and smoothly polished gems. Noun כיפא (keyepa') means pressure or necessity (something that bends or smooths one down over time). Noun כיפה (keyepa) means a bending, or an archway or arched doorway. Noun כפותא (kpota') describes a ball of excrement. Verb כפת (kapat) means to twist or tie together. Noun כפות (kapot) means bandage.
Noun קוף (qop), meaning ape or "round one", is also spelled קופא (qopa'), which could also describe an archway or a large round basket. Noun קופה (qoppa) means heap or pile, archway, or large basket. Noun קפה (quppa), a.k.a. קיפה (qayapa), a.k.a. קיפא (qayapa'), describes a residue or sediment that remains at the bottom of a cook pot, or a glob of coagulated fat floating in water.
The second part of our name is identical to the verb תור (tur), to explore or survey, and derivation תור (tor), dove:
The verb תור (tur) means to explore or survey and associates with a broad, circular or sweeping motion. Noun תור (tor) or תר (tor) appears to describe a circular braid of hair. Noun יתור (yetur), seems to mean a searching or range. Noun תר (tor) or תור (tor) means dove or turtledove.
Note that likewise the Greek word for dove, namely περιστερα (peristera), appears to be derived from the prefix περι (peri) meaning around or about. This suggests that to the ancients the dove stood symbol for abundance and being all around and everywhere, which explains the bodily form of the Holy Spirit.
Verb תאר (ta'ar) means to outline or trace. Noun תאר (to'ar), means shape or form. Verb תאר (ta'ar), meaning to draw an outline.
To Hebrew ears, the combination כף תור (kap tor) would have reminded of the act of sowing and mean Broadly Sweeping Hand. Or it brought to mind a dove-shaped stone that was worn smooth by water: Smoothly Worn Rock Dove. The Greek word for worn-smooth is τριβος (tribos), which is used in the familiar command to make smooth the Way of the Lord (Matthew 3:3).
For a meaning of the name Caphtor, NOBSE Study Bible Name List probably goes with the noun כפור that derives from verb כפר (kapar), meaning bowl (overlaid with leaf gold, perhaps?), and reads Cup.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names goes with the noun כפתור (kaptor), meaning knob or top of a pillar, and reads Crown, but that word derives from our name rather than that it explains it.
BDB reports that there may be links to words in other Semitic languages that are similar to our noun and which may mean pear or pomegranate, which would make our name Caphtor comparable to name Rimmon.
Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that to a Hebrew audience, the name Caphtor would have reminded of sowing seed with broad sweeps over a global acre: Broadly Sweeping Hand. And in New Testament times, this would certainly have translated to the Holy Spirit's form of the abundant dove, and the worn-smooth Highway (οδος, hodos) of the Lord.