🔼The name Rephaim: Summary
- Faded Ones
- Healed Ones
- From the verb רפה (rapa), to sink.
- From the verb רפא (rapa'), to heal.
🔼The name Rephaim in the Bible
The Rephaim are a tall and numerous people, related to the enigmatic Nephilim, Anakim, Emim (Genesis 14:5) and Zamzummim (Deuteronomy 2:20). It is said that king Og of Bashan was the last of the Rephaim (Deuteronomy 3:11).
There is also mention of a Valley Of [The] Rephaim (Joshua 15:8, 1 Chronicles 14:9, Isaiah 17:5). At this valley the Philistines gathered to fight against the newly anointed king David (2 Samuel 5:18). According to Isaiah, this valley was the counterpart of Mount Perazim, at which YHWH had proverbially risen up (Isaiah 28:21), which draws the attention to the verb רפה (rapa), to sink.
The simultaneous rising on one side and sinking on the other obviously reminds of astronomical observations, as well as Biblical images such as the ascending and descending angels on Jacob's ladder (Genesis 28:12), or the assertion that Christ had to wax while the Baptist had to wane (John 3:30).
🔼Etymology of the name Rephaim
The name Rephaim is curious to say the least. It most likely has something to do with the verb רפה (rapa), sink down, let drop or be slack. Scholars insist that the name רפאים should be regarded as an other word than רפאים (repaim), meaning ghosts or shades, but we may wonder if the original audience of the Hebrew Bible was aware of that, or even cared about it. The name Nephilim, which seems to be either a synonym or else something close to one, comes from a verb that means to fall.
And while we're opposing scholarly convention, let's also point out the verb רפא (rapa'), meaning to heal. This verb is often used in the Bible to connote forgiveness and spiritual healing. See Isaiah 53:5, for instance.
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.
It's difficult to establish how a Hebrew audience would have understood the name Rephaim. It's identical to the word denoting ghosts but it also looks like it has to do with the verb that means to heal. The Rephaim are the Faded Ones but also the Remedied, or That What We've Been Healed From. The name Zamzummim appears to mean something similar: The Dealt With.