🔼The name Hepher: Summary
- Dig, Shame
- From the verb חפר (hapar), to dig, or חפר (haper), to be ashamed.
🔼The name Hepher in the Bible
There are three men and one city (and adjacent lands) named Hepher in the Bible. The city named Hepher was an ancient town of the Canaanites, located somewhere west of the Jordan, which was conquered by Israel under Joshua (Joshua 12:17). We hear of Hepher again when Ben-hesed, an official of king Solomon, is stationed in Arubboth to control all the land of Hepher (1 Kings 4:10). Ben-hesed is also to control the city of Socoh, which was also the name of two cities of Judah, on the east of the Jordan. It's not clear whether this Hepher is the same as the previous one. BDB Theological Dictionary thinks they're different, but many other scholars don't.
The men named Hepher are:
- A son of Gilead, son of Machir of Manasseh (Numbers 26:32, Joshua 17:2). This Hepher was the father of Zelophehad, who had five brave daughters and no sons. But somehow this Hepher nevertheless also became the patriarch of the חפרי (Hepherites).
- A son of Ashhur of Judah with his wife Naarah (1 Chronicles 4:6).
- A Mecherathite who became one of David's mighty-men (1 Chronicles 11:36).
🔼Etymology of the name Hepher
The name Hepher may be derived from either of the verbs חפר (hapar, haper):
The verb חפר (hapar) means to dig, both in order to unearth something and to burry something. Hence this verb may be used both to describe (1) a quest for something wanted, and (2) a quest to obscure something unwanted.
The latter usage appears to have evolved into its own verb, namely חפר (haper), to be ashamed, again both because (1) something secret was exposed or (2) something embarrassing is sought to be covered.
The noun חפרפרה (haparpara) describes a kind of animal, probably a mole.
For a meaning of the name Hepher, both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names take our name to be a noun derived from חפר (hapar) and read Well, Pit. BDB Theological Dictionary does not translate the name Hepher but does list it under the verb חפר (hapar), meaning to dig.
Note that there are words in the Hebrew language that mean pit and well, which are frequently used in the Bible and which are not related to either of the verbs חפר. If the name Hepher comes from חפר (hapar), it would mean Dig, but it may also come from חפר (haper) and mean Shame.
It's by no means inconceivable that parents or others named our Hephers in remembrance of something shameful (Biblical names often refer to something beyond the one who's named). But it's also possible that the Hephers of the Bible weren't really named Hepher but something else (perhaps Baal) and were renamed by editors. Something similar happened with the names Merib-baal and Eshbaal, which became Mephibosheth and Ish-bosheth.