🔼The name Suphah: Summary
- Tornado, Reed Store
- From סופה (supa), tornado, or סוף (sup), reed, from the verb שפף (sapap), to mark a border or reach across it.
🔼The name Suphah in the Bible
It's not clear whether the name Suphah actually exists in the Bible. The authors of the Septuagint didn't think so, and neither did those behind the Vulgate and even the King James, and read for Numbers 21:14, "...What he did in the Red Sea, and in the brooks of Arnon".
Younger translations of the Bible, however, tend to speak of "Waheb in Suphah, and the wadies/ravines of Arnon". For a closer look at this conundrum, see our article on the name Waheb.
🔼Etymology of the name Suphah
The name Suphah is identical to the feminine noun סופה (supa), meaning storm-wind, but would also be identical to a feminine form of the masculine noun סוף (sup), meaning reeds:
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 an 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.
None of the sources we commonly consult translates the name Suphah, although BDB Theological Dictionary does acknowledge it as a location other than the Red Sea (or rather the Sea of Reeds) and confirms that it is identical to the noun סופה (supa), meaning Storm Wind.
If this name was meant as a feminine version of the noun סוף (sup), it would probably mean something like Place Of Reeds, which in turn could be construed as a technical term for a place of learning; a library full of papyri.