🔼The name Ziph: Summary
- Unknown but perhaps Pitch
- From the noun זפת (zepet), pitch.
🔼The name Ziph in the Bible
There are one man and two towns named Ziph mentioned in the Bible, and there is something peculiar about all of them. Ziph the man is a son of Jehallelel of Judah, whose brother is called Ziphah (זיפה), which is the same name but with a feminine termination.
The two towns called Ziph are both located in the territory of the tribe of Judah, one in the south, close to the border with Edom (Joshua 15:24), and the other in the hill country (Joshua 15:55). This latter Ziph was associated with a wilderness of some sort, where David hid from king Saul (1 Samuel 23:14). The people there, the Ziphites (spelled זיפים in Psalm 54:1 and זפים in 1 Samuel 23:19 and 26:1), were loyal to Saul and continuously ratted David out. This was so traumatic to David that he wrote a Maskil about it. This song became better known as Psalm 54.
The Chronicler also mentions a Ziph, of which Mesha, son of Caleb, was the "father," which probably means that Ziph was a town and Mesha was the founder or the chief. But it's not clear which of the Ziphs this is. Much later, king Rehoboam fortified several cities of Judah, among which Ziph, but again it's not clear which one that was.
🔼Etymology of the name Ziph
The peculiarities surrounding this name continue when we search for a possible etymology and meaning of it, because there is almost nothing in the Hebrew of the Bible that even remotely looks like it (no זיף, no זוף, no זפף, no זפה).
It's obviously possible that our name was constructed from a word that existed in Hebrew but simply never made it into the Bible, but it's also possible that Ziph isn't a normal word but something scrambled, perhaps by some cipher (as there is the Athbash cipher which gave us the names Leb-kamai and Sheshach).
The only word our name vaguely resembles is the noun זפת (zepet), meaning pitch. This noun is possibly a loan word, but it may also be a genuine Hebrew word, and it may even be the proper name of pitch (instead of a noun). In that case, the final letter ת (taw) may be the archaic equivalent of the modern (that is: styled according to Biblical Hebrew) word זפה (zepeh), which is similar to how the name Ziphah is spelled:
The noun זפת (zepet) means pitch; the proverbial black fuel. Its origins are unclear and it probably stems from a foreign language.
For a meaning of the name Ziph, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Refining Place but leaves no explanation (and reads Lent for the nearly identical name Ziphah). Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) maintains that our name comes from an unused root זוף (zup), which would have meant to borrow, and hence proposes Borrowed. BDB Theological Dictionary offers no interpretation of this name.
Here at Abarim Publications we guess that upon reading this name, a Hebrew audience would have had strongest associations with the noun זפת (zepet), and probably a root it was derived from. What that root might have meant is obviously unclear, but perhaps there is a narrative parallel between the hiding of Moses among the Nile's reeds in a pitch-covered basket and the hiding of David in the wilderness of Ziph.