🔼The name Sepharad: Summary
- Unclear but perhaps: The Record Rules, Counting Subdues
- From (1) the noun ספר (seper), a record, and (2) the verb רדד (radad), to subdue, or the verb רדה (rada), to rule.
🔼The name Sepharad in the Bible
The name Sepharad occurs only once in the Bible. It's the name of an otherwise unknown city or country to which the people of Jerusalem were deported (Obadiah 1:20). Obadiah promises that these exiles would one day return and possess the cities of the Negev.
In the Middle Ages, the name Sepharad became applied to Jews who had migrated from the Middle East to Muslim Spain (and who maintained that their name, the Sephardi, in fact came from Hispania). Together with the Ashkenazi Jews of Christian Italy, these Sephardic Jews guarded the Jewish traditions that eventually evolved into the modern Judaisms.
🔼Etymology of the name Sepharad
It's unclear what the name Sepharad is supposed to mean, or even from what language it stems. It's probably a foreign name, but transliterated into Hebrew it seems to have something to do with the noun ספר (seper), meaning a writing:
The root ספר (spr) has to do with information technology: the efficient storage, retrieval and sharing of data. Long before fiction and recreational reading was a thing, record keeping was mostly a mathematical and economical enterprise, mostly conducted by specialized priests. The invention of the alphabet made writing easy and elevated every common man to the priestly level, and allowed everybody to study whatever they wanted. This allowed a deluge of original thought to enter collective consciousness, which in turn raised the level of human diversity, and thus complexity and thus cultural bliss.
Noun ספר (seper) denotes any kind of record, historical records, legal documents, prophetic messages, and so on. Noun ספרה (sipra) means book or a bundled collection of records. Denominative verb ספר (sapar) means to write or produce a ספר (seper): to carefully observe, to recount, to record. Noun ספר (sopor) or ספור (sopor) means scribe; someone who produces a ספר (seper). Noun ספר (separ) means census. Noun ספרה (sepora) means number, sum or amount. And noun מספר (mispar) means number.
Perhaps a creative few among a Hebrew audience saw in our name's final letter ד (daleth) a remnant of either the verb רדד (radad), meaning to beat down and subdue, or the verb רדה (rada) meaning to have dominion, to rule:
The verb רדד (radad) describes the act of hammering a metal sheet into a protective cover, in order to extract wealth from what has been covered. Figuratively, this verb also describes the formation of a formal government. The noun רדיד (redid) describes a kind of cape or veil.
The obviously related verb רדה (rada) means to rule or have dominion, and is also used to describe the treading of grapes in a vat.
None of the source we usually consult dares to try a hand at interpreting this name, and that's because technically, it doesn't mean anything. But to a Hebrew audience the name Sepharad may have sounded like The Record Rules, or Writing Subdues. Who knows?