🔼The name Mizraim (= Egypt): Summary
- Double Siege
- Double Distress
- From מצור (masor), siege, from the verb צור (sur), to bind, besiege.
- From מצר (mesar), distress, from the verb צרר (sarar), to bind.
🔼The name Mizraim in the Bible
🔼Etymology of the name Mizraim
Egypt was known by the names Musuru, Musru, Misir or Masri in other languages, and Mizraim is probably simply a phonetic transliteration into Hebrew of any of them. The word מצרים, nevertheless, looks identical to what a dual form of מצר would look like (see below). This duality possibly helped to denote Upper and Lower Egypt. The word for Egyptian is מצרי.
The similar מצור (masor), a poetic nickname for Egypt that is used on three different occasions (Isaiah 19:6, 2 Kings 19:24 = Isaiah 37:25, Micah 7:12), may shed some understanding on how a Hebrew audience might have interpreted the name Mizraim.
The noun מצור (masor) means siege, entrenchment, and it derives from the verb צור (sur), bind, besiege. Another derivation of this same verb is the noun מצורה, stronghold. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that a stronghold or walled city may be an instrument of protection during the first stages of a war, but will turn into a lethal trap if a siege last long. A beautiful figurative use of this word occurs in Psalm 31:21, where the author compares himself under siege by his troubles.
The verb צור from which the noun מצור derives, is part of a group of five different roots:
- Verb צור (sur I) probably means to lean or incline. Noun צואר (sawwa'r) means neck and צורון (sawwaron) means necklace.
- Verb צור (sur II) means to confine, secure or besiege. Noun מצור (masor) means siege and מצורה (mesura) means stronghold. This verb relates to verb צרר (sarar I).
- Verb צור (sur III) means to be an adversary. It relates to צרר (sarar II).
- Verb צור (sur IV) means to form or fashion. Noun צורה (sura) means form and noun ציר (sir) means image. This verb relates to יצר (yasar).
- Verb צור (sur V) probably relates to verb צרר (sarar III) and probably means to be sharp. The important noun צור (sur) means rock, and is equivalent to the Greek noun πετρα (petra), from which comes the name Peter.
- Verb צרר (sarar I) means to bind and relates to צור (sur II). Adjective צר (sar) means narrow. Nouns צר (sar) and צרה (sara) mean distress and yield denominative verb צרה (sara), meaning to suffer distress. Noun צרור (seror) means bundle or parcel. Noun מצר (mesar) means distress.
- Verb צרר (sarar II) means to show hostility and relates to verb צור (sur III). Noun צר (sar) means adversary. Noun צרה (sara) means vexer or rival-wife. Denominative verb צרר (sarar) means to create a rival wife.
- Verb צרר (sarar III) probably means to be sharp and relates to צור (sur V). Nouns צר (sar), צר (sor) and צרור (seror) mean flint or pebble.
Verb יצר (yasar) means to fashion or form and relates to צור (sur IV). Noun יצר (yeser) denotes that what is formed, and noun יצרים (yesurim) means forms or members.
Verb צרה (srh) probably describes the bleeding of an odoriferous tree. Noun צרי (sari) denotes a kind of costly balsam.
The word מצר (mesar), meaning straights or distress, written in a dual form would yield the name מצרים, Mizraim. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names assumes that this is what Mizraim would have meant to a Hebrew audience and reads Double Distress. But it should be noted that the name Mizraim means also Double Stronghold and would have reminded of any of the above.
The word מצרים occurs with the meaning of 'distress[es]' in Lamentations 1:3.