🔼The name Shephupham: Summary
- Burrowing Snake
- From the noun שפיפן (shepipon), a protruding and biting snake, from root ספף (sapap), to mark or reach through a border.
🔼The name Shephupham in the Bible
The name Shephupham occurs only once in the Bible. In Numbers 26:39 Shephupham (שפופם) is listed as one of the sons of Benjamin, and the progenitor of the Shephamites (שופמי, and note the shift of the letter ו, waw and omission of the second פ, pe). Because of the discrepancy between the name Shephupham and the ethnonym Shephamites, some modern translations (KJV, Young, NIV) speak of Shupham in this verse.
It's not quite clear how Shephupham fits into the direct family of Benjamin, and several clues suggests that Shephupham was not a single person but rather a combination of the posterity of two ancestors, namely Muppim and Huppim (מפים וחפים according to Genesis 46:21, but note that Numbers 26:39 mentions a Hupham) or Shuppim and Huppim (שפים וחפם according to 1 Chronicles 7:12, but note that 1 Chronicles 8:5 mentions a Shephuphan). Something similar happened in modern times with, for instance, Czechoslovakia (Czech lands plus Slovakia) and Budapest (Buda, Obuda and Pest).
🔼Etymology of the name Shephupham
The name Shephupham may have originated from combining two other names, but as it turned out, it came to look quite like the noun שפיפן (shepipon), which denotes a kind of snake, from the assumed root שפף (spp):
Root ספף (sapap) has to do with creating, marking or temporarily reaching through the border between two essentially distinct realms that nevertheless have a common origin; this border circles around the smaller of the two so that this smaller realm sits within the larger. It's the verb that describes any such formation from the palisade around a tribal territory to the fence around a single house, the skin of a person or even the cellular wall of a eukaryote.
Noun סף (sap) means threshold or sill (and is also the word for a kind of goblin or based bowl). Verb סוף (sup) means to come at an end. Noun סוף (sop) means end. Noun שפה (sapa) denotes the edge of things. Noun סופה (supa) describes a violent storm (perhaps a tornado, in form comparable to a goblin or based bowl).
Noun סוף (sup) refers to reed, which grows at, and thus marks the border between water and dry land. From reed comes papyrus, and books mark the border between the howling outer dark and the enlightened space within. The industrial production of papyrus, of course, was an absolute marvel and a milestone in information technology (easily comparable with the invention of floppies and dish drives in our age).
Verb ספה (sapa) means to sweep away (across the threshold, out the door) and so does verb שפה (shapa). The latter may also mean to skim, to shave or to border-mark by means of a protruding beacon or mark. From the latter comes the verb שפת (shapat), which describes some kind of setting or placing just outside the realm of civilization, and that usually by means of a ring of conspicuous, guiding and protecting fires. Proverbially, both the contagious and the extremely poor, and of course the shepherds, their flocks and wild animals abided on the dark side of these fires. The latter verb also yields noun שפי (shepi), which describes bones sticking through the skin of a emaciated man, or hills that likewise conspicuously mark some border, presumably in an otherwise flat landscape.
Verb שוף (shup) appears to mean to violate in the sense of illicitly entering one's personal space (or body). This verb became associated with the bite of a snake, and the noun שפיפן (shepipon) denotes some sort of snake, presumably one that attacks by darting from its burrow and then swiftly retreating.
For a meaning of the name Shephupham (or Shupham), Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Serpent. BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't interpret our name but does list it under the root שפף. NOBSE Study Bible Name List omits this name. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that this word for snake emphasized this creature's sudden dart out of its burrow.