🔼The name Memphis: Summary
- Perpetual Beauty
- From the Egyptians term men nefer, perpetual beauty.
🔼The name Memphis in the Bible
The Egyptian city of Memphis is mentioned eight times in the Bible (Isaiah 19:13, Jeremiah 2:16, 44:1, 46:14, 46:19, Ezekiel 30:13, 30:16, Hosea 9:6), and all but Hosea spell this name נף (Noph). Hosea speaks of מף (Moph).
Memphis had known periods of great honor and utter decline. It had been the capital city of Egypt for a millennium, from the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt to the decline of the Old Kingdom in the 22nd century BC. It briefly became again so in the 14th century, during the reign of Tutankhamen, and in the 8th century, just around the time of the prophets. Its signature religion — Memphite-theology, which emphasized the unification of Egypt, the supremacy of the creator Ptah and the divine triad — was restored as well.
Even when Memphis was not the capital or home of the government, it remained an important city, economically, artistically and theologically. Many of the waves of nationalism and liberation movements from various conquerors arose from Memphis, which helps to explain why today it is an uninhabited ruin.
The reputation of this city and the Greek version of the name, namely Μεμφις (Memphis), may have helped the formation of the verb μεμφομαι (memphomai), to find fault.
🔼Etymology of the name Memphis
The name Memphis is the English transliteration of the Greek version of the Egyptian term men nefer which means Perpetual Beauty (hence also the familiar name Nefertiti).
It's hard to say whether the Hebrew scribes who transliterated this name intended a pun or not because nothing in Hebrew looks like נף (noph) and מף (moph). The letters נ (nun) and מ (mem) also function as prefixes — the nun tends to create a passive or reflexive voice; the mem mostly indicates agency or origin — which leaves the letter פ (peh). But the name of this letter is the word פה (peh), meaning mouth or even speech. And that, to a very creative audience, might link our name מף (moph) to the word מדבר (midbar), meaning wilderness or "place of the word".