🔼The name Rapha(h): Summary
- Sunken, Powerless One
- From the verb רפא (rapa'), to heal.
- From the verb רפה (rapa), to bring down.
🔼The name Rapha(h) in the Bible
The Hebrew names רפא (Rapha) and רפה (Raphah) are really two different names, but the verbs that these names are derived off yield words that can be spelled either way; with an א or with a ה. It is therefore not clear from which verb our respective names come, or what they would have specifically meant.
And to make matters worse: it's not clear how many different men named Rapha(h) there are in the Bible. Here are the candidates:
- Possibly the patriarch of the gigantic Rephaim. The Rephaim were a tall and numerous people, of which king Og of Bashan was the last one. Their name (רפאים) is a plural form of רפא, and that word may either describe their nature, or their patriarch. We don't know. But:
- In 1 Chronicles 20:4-8 we read about the battles of Israel against the Philistine giants of Gath, of whom it is said that they were נולדו להרפא; "born onto the rapha" (with an א).
- In 2 Samuel 21:15-22 we read the same story, and in this version we read that these giants of Gath were בילידי הרפה; "of the born-ones (=children) of the rapah" (with a ה).
- The fifth son of Benjamin (1 Chronicles 8:2 — spelled רפא). The Chronicler's Benjaminite son-list is very different from the one submitted in Genesis 46:21, and this is perhaps because the Chronicler listed the Benjaminite families that were still around at the time of writing, and listed them according to their prominence within the tribe.
- A son of Moza of Benjamin, who descended from king Saul's son Jonathan (1 Chronicles 8:37 — spelled רפה). In 1 Chronicles 9:43 this man is called רפיה (Rephaiah).
🔼Etymology of the name Rapha
The name Rapha(h) comes from either the verb רפא (rapa'), meaning to heal, or רפה (rapa), meaning to sink down:
The verb רפא (rapa') means to heal or rather to restore or even repair. Noun רפאה (repu'a) describes a remedy, and nouns רפאות (rip'ut), מרפא (marpe') and מרפה (marpe) mean a healing or a restoration.
The verb רפה (rapa) means to lower, sink down, let drop or be slack, whether literally or figuratively. Since healing often had to do with bringing a fever down, this verb and the previous are obviously akin. Adjective רפה (rapeh) means slack or weak.
The difficult noun רפאים (repai'm) refers to the "sunken ones," i.e. ghosts or shadows of people that are no longer alive. This is probably best understood as the waning legacy of foregone generations that still influence and shape our world today, even though the members of that generation are dead, inert and decomposing in the ground.
For a meaning of the name Rapha(h), NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads He (God) Has Healed (but note that God may be implied but is certainly not referred to in this name).
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names translates all three Rapha(h)'s with Giant, which a Hebrew audience certainly wouldn't have done.
BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't translate either of the two non-giant Rapha(h)'s but lists them both under רפא (rapa'), meaning to heal. The name of the giant (Ha)Rapha(h), BDB lists under רפה (rapa), meaning to sink down, and acknowledges that even though it seems a personal name, it may have to do with the ethnonym Rephaim, which in turn may mean Sunken, Powerless Ones.