🔼The name Zaphenath-paneah: Summary
- Unknown but perhaps Stored Beautiful Rest
- From (1) the verb צפן (sapan), to hide or store, and perhaps (2) the verb נוח (nuah), to come to rest, and (3) the verb יפע (yapa'), to shine or be beautiful.
🔼The name Zaphenath-paneah in the Bible
The name Zaphenath-paneah occurs only once in the Bible. It's the name Pharaoh gave to Joseph when he promoted him to second in command after he was able to explain Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41:45). This promotion enabled Joseph to reunite with his family, and to save them from starvation.
This literary motif of the outcast member of Israel's society who subsequently saves the society is a rather powerful one in the Biblical narrative. It puts the literary character of Joseph obviously on a par with those of Daniel and Esther, and ultimately the Messiah.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Zaphenath-paneah
For centuries scholars have pondered the name Zaphenath-paneah, but finding its meaning is difficult because we have this Egyptian name only in a Hebrew transliteration. The Hebrews were notorious for adjusting foreign names to such extends that they started to mean something in Hebrew but were left with little resemblance to the original.
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) reports that ancient scholars thought it meant either Savior Of The Age or Revealer Of A Secret. BDB Theological Dictionary agrees with a long list of more recent scholars, who thought our name was a transliteration of Sapne-teph onh, which means The God Speaks And He Lives. Whoever was responsible for the footnotes in the New Open Bible Study Edition agreed with BDB and noted: Probably Egyptian for "god speaks; he lives," but whoever edited the NOBSE name list submitted a meaning of Revealer Of Secrets.
🔼Zaphenath-paneah in Hebrew
A Hebrew audience would not have understood Joseph's Egyptian name, and the scribes who wrote it down may have allowed themselves substantial liberties in transcribing it. As is, the name Zaphenath-paneah consists of two elements. The first part bears a striking resemblance to the root צפן (sapan), meaning to hide or store up:
Verb צפה (sapa) speaks of covering, whether a literal covering of an item with an overlay like gold or the figurative covering of watchman's surroundings by his watchful gaze. In cognate languages this verb also means to hope.
Noun צפיה (sippiya) means lookout post and noun מצפה (mispeh) means watchtower. Noun צפוי (sippuy) means plating, noun צפית (sapit) means rug or carpet, and noun צפת (sepet) refers to the plated capital of a pillar.
Verb צוף (sup) means to flow or float on top of something else. Noun צוף (sup) describes a honeycomb, or rather the structure of hexagonal cells upon which honey floats. Verb צפה (sapa) means outflow.
Verb צפן (sapan) means to hide or store up. Nouns צפין (sapin) and מצפון (maspon) describe a mass of predominantly static wealth. Noun צפון (sapon) means north, as for unexplained reasons the Bible considers the north a place of gathering. Noun or adjective צפוני (seponi) means northern or northern one.
Verb שפן (shapan) isn't used in the Bible but in cognate languages it means to hide. Noun שפן (shapan) describes a kind of cud-chewing, rock-dwelling animal with no divided hoofs, commonly (rather oddly) interpreted as rock-badger or Coney (rabbit).
The second part of our name is harder to place. There is no word פענח in the Hebrew of the Bible, but that doesn't mean it didn't exist. But perhaps it's a combination of two elements. The final part could be construed to be similar to the name Noah, meaning rest:
The verb נוח (nuah) means to come to rest or to cease interference. Noun נחת (nahat) means quietness or a quiet attitude. Noun ניחח (nihoah) or ניחוח (nihoah) means a quieting or soothing. Noun הנחה (hanaha) means a giving of rest. Noun מנוח (manoah) describes a place or condition of rest. Noun מנוחה (menuha) or מנחה (menuha) means resting place, or quietness.
Verb נחת (nahet) means to descend or go down. Noun נחת (nahat) means descent, and is identical to the noun meaning quietness (see above). Adjective נחת (nahet) means descending.
Verb נחה (naha) means to lead or guide. This verb has no derivatives.
and the first part shows similarities to the name Puah, which may mean bright or beautiful:
The verb יפע (yapa') means to shine or radiate (specifically of theophanies). Noun יפעה (yip'a) means brightness or splendor.
The verb יפה (yapa) means to be beautiful. The adjective יפה (yapeh) means beautiful and the diminutive adjective יפה־פיה (yepeh-piya) means pretty. Noun יפי (yepi) means beauty.
Perhaps a very creative member of a Hebrew audience may have thought that the name Zaphenath-paneah meant Stored Beautiful Rest. Perhaps not.