🔼The name Phinehas: Summary
- The Bronze-Colored One
- Mouth of Brass, Oracle
- Turn And Hide
- From the Egyptian Pe-nehasi.
- From (1) the noun פה (peh), mouth, and (2) the word נחש (nahash), bronze, snake or oracle.
- From (1) the verb פנה (pana), to turn, and (2) the verb חסה (hasa), to flee or seek refuge.
🔼The name Phinehas in the Bible
There are three men named Phinehas in the Bible:
- The son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron. This Phinehas is famous for staying the plague caused by Israel's sins with Baal-peor (Numbers 25). Just as God tells Moses to execute all the leaders of Israel and the people rise in agony and weeping, a Simeonite called Zimri decides to introduce his Midianite play mate Cozbi to his relatives. Phinehas sees this and runs after them and gores them both with his spear.
- One of two wicked sons of Eli, the tutor of young Samuel (1 Samuel 2:34, spelled פנחס only in 1 Samuel 1:3). One son of this Phinehas is called Ichabod, another one is Ahitub, whose grandson Abiathar is the last priest in the line of Eli.
- The father of a postexilic priest named Eleazar (Ezra 8:33).
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Phinehas
The etymology and original meaning of the name Phinehas is not immediately clear. BDB Theological Dictionary suggests that it is a transliteration of the Egyptian name Pe-nehasi, meaning The Negro, or more specifically, The Bronze-Colored One, says HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (at once raising the question of why on earth anyone would mistake the tint of a Negroid skin with that of bronze).
A Hebrew audience may have seen in this name a compound consisting of two elements, the first being the noun פה (peh), meaning mouth:
The verb פאה (pa'a) means to cleave or break apart (what one does with a sword) and the derived noun פאה (pe'a) means corner or side.
Apparently related to the above is the otherwise inexplicable noun פה (peh) or פו (po) or פי (pi), meaning mouth. This word has a somewhat greater compass than its English counterpart, and also includes the edge of a sword (hence the sword protruding from the white horseman's mouth; Revelation 19:15). This word may also be used to mean extremity or end, which brings it in close proximity to the noun פאה (pe'a), corner or side.
A second word of similar form is the adverb פה (poh), which means here or hither. This adverb is alternately spelled פו (po) and פא (pa').
The second element of the name Phinehas ends with the letter ס (samekh), but that letter sometimes alternates with the letter שׂ (sin). In the time that the Bible actually plays, the letter ש only existed without the dot and, judging from the sibboleth incident (Judges 12:6), was probably pronounced like a שׁ (shin), so it's not inconceivable that the second element of the name Phinehas has to do with the root group נחשׁ (nahash):
The most fundamental meaning of the root נחש (nahash) is that of intuitive knowledge and near-accidental skill. It describes an ability to achieve a great technological feat — particularly smelting bronze — but crucially without truly understanding what makes the magic happen: the fire or the prayer, the air blasted into the furnace or the zealous faith of the technicians.
Dictionaries commonly spread the following words out over four separate roots, but to the ancients, these words all expressed the same core meaning:
The noun נחש (nahash) is the Bible's most common word for snake. Snakes in the Bible always represent some kind of mental process, usually intuitive and usually impure or otherwise detrimental.
The identical verb נחש (nahash) means to divine or soothsay. Its derived noun, again identical, נחש (nahash) means divination or enchantment.
Either this same verb נחש (nahash), or an identical other one, also appears to have described the production of bronze. It's not used as such in the Bible but the following derivations are: Noun נחשת (nehoshet) refers to copper or bronze, or items made from bronze. Adjective נחוש (nahush) means bronze. And noun נחושה (nehusha) or נחשה (nehusha) means copper or bronze.
Hence, to a Hebrew audience the name Phinehas may mean Mouth of Brass (which is the meaning Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes), or Oracle (which NOBSE Study Bible Name List gives).
However, more related to the first part of our name may be the verb פנה (pana), meaning to turn:
The verb פנה (pana) means to turn toward. Adverb פנימה (penima) means toward the inside. Adjective פנימי (penimi) means inner.
This verb's primary derivation is the plural noun פנים (panim), literally turnings or inclinations. It's the common Biblical word for face and may also be used to mean scope, sight, surface, and so on.
The noun פנה (pinna) means corner, and is commonly used to describe where a wall makes a turn. This noun is thought to have derived from a by-form or parental form of the verb פנה (pana), namely פנן (panan), of similar meaning.
A second derivation of this form is the plural noun פנינים (peninim), which describes a red coral, probably with swirling branches or otherwise corrugated structure.
And the second part of the name Phinehas could be construed to come from the verb חסה (hasa), meaning to seek refuge:
The verb חסה (hasa) means to take or seek refuge. Noun חסות (hasut) means refuge of shelter, and noun מחסה (mahseh) means place of refuge or shelter.
This way the name Phinehas means Turn And Hide; or, slightly more daring, Trust Your Heart.