Son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron (Ex. vi. 25; I Chron. v. 30, vi. 35 [A. V. vi. 4, 50]). His mother is said to have been one of Putiel's daughters; and it seems that he was the only child of his parents (Ex. l.c.). Phinehas came into prominence through his execution of Zimri, son of Salu, and Cozbi, daughter of Zur, a Midianite prince, at Shittim, where the Israelites worshiped Baal-peor. Through his zeal he also stayed the plague which had broken out among the Israelites as a punishment for their sin; and for this act he was approved by God and was rewarded with the divine promise that the priesthood should remain in his family forever (Num. xxv. 7-15). After this event Phinehas accompanied, as priest, the expedition sent against the Midianites, the result of which was the destruction of the latter (lb. xxxi. 6 et seq.). When the Israelites had settled in the land of Canaan, Phinehas headed the party which was sent to remonstrate with the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh because of the altar that had been built by them east of the Jordan (Josh. xxii. 13).
At the time of the distribution of the land, Phinehas received a hill in Mount Ephraim, where his father, Eleazar, was buried (ib. xxiv. 33). He is further mentioned as delivering the oracle to the Israelites in their war with the Benjamites (Judges xx. 28). In I Chron. ix. 20 he is said to have been the chief of the Korahites who guarded the entrance to the sacred tent.
The act of Phinehas in executing judgment and his reward are sung by the Psalmist (Ps. cvi. 30, 31). Phinehas is extolled in the Apocrypha also: "And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, is the third in glory" (Ecclus. [Sirach] xlv. 23); "And he was zealous for the law, even as Phinehas did unto Zimri, the son of Salu" (I Macc. ii. 26).
Phinehas is highly extolled by the Rabbis for his promptness and energy in executing the prince of the tribe of Simeon and the Midianitish woman. While even Moses himself knew not what to do, and all the Israelites were weeping at the door of the Tabernacle (Num. xxv. 6), Phinehas alone was self-possessed and decided. He first appealed to the brave men of Israel, asking who would be willing to kill the criminals at the risk of his own life; and, receiving no answer, he then undertook to accomplish the execution himself (Sifre, Num. 131; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Num. xxv. 7). According to Midr. Agada to Num. l.c., however, Phinehas thought that the punishment of Zimri was incumbent on him, saying: "Reuben himself having committed adultery [Gen. xxxv. 22], none of his descendants is qualified to punish the adulterers; nor can the punishment be inflicted by a descendant of Simeon, because the criminal is a Simeonite prince; but I, a descendant of Levi, who with Simeon destroyed the inhabitants of Shechem for having committed adultery, will kill the descendant of Simeon for not having followed his ancestor's example." Phinehas, having removed the iron point from his spear (according to Pirḳe R. El. xlvii., it was Moses' spear that Phinehas had snatched), leaned on the shaft as on a rod; otherwise the Simeonites would not have allowed him to enter the tent. Indeed, the people inquired his object in entering the tent, whereupon he answered that he was about to follow the example of Zimri, and was admitted unopposed. After having stabbed the man and the woman, Phinehas carried both of them on his spear out of the tent so that all the Israelites might see that they had been justly punished.The Twelve Miracles.
Twelve miracles were wrought for Phinehas at this time, among others the following: he was aided by divine providence in carrying the two bodies on his spear (comp. Josephus, "Ant." iv. 6, § 12); the wooden shaft of the spear supported the weight of two corpses; the lintel of the tent was raised by an angel so that Phinehas was not required to lower his spear; the blood of the victims was coagulated so that it might not drop on Phinehas and render him unclean. Still, when he came out the people of thetribe of Simeon gathered around him with the intention of killing him, upon which the angel of death began to mow down the Israelites with greater fury than before. Phinehas dashed the two corpses to the ground, saying: "Lord of the world, is it worth while that so many Israelites perish through these two?" and thereupon the plague was stayed. An allusion to this incident is made by the Psalmist: "Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment" (Ps. cvi. 30), the Rabbis explaining the word "wa-yefallel" as meaning "he disputed with God." The archangels were about to eject Phinehas from his place, but God said to them: "Leave him; he is a zealot, the son of a zealot [that is, Levi], one who, like his father [Aaron], appeases My anger" (Sanh. 82b; Sifre, l.c.; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Num. xxv. 7; Tan., Balaḳ, 30; Num. R. xx. 26). In Ber. 6b, however, the above-quoted passage from the Psalms is interpreted to mean that Phinehas prayed to God to check the plague. The people of all the other tribes, out of envy, mocked Phinehas, saying: "Have ye seen how a descendant of one who fattened ["piṭṭem"] calves for sacrifices to the idol [referring to his grandfather Putiel; comp. Jethro in Rabbinical Literature] killed the prince of a tribe?" God then pointed out that Phinehas was in reality the son of Eleazar and the grandson of Aaron (Sanh. l.c.; B. B. 109b; Sifre, l.c.).
Although the priesthood had been previously given to Aaron and his offspring, Phinehas became a priest only after he had executed Zimri, or, according to R. Ashi, after he had reconciled the tribes in the affair of the altar (Zeb. 101b; comp. Phinehas, Biblical Data). The priestly portions of every slaughtered animal—the shoulder, the two checks, and the maw (Deut. xviii. 3)—were assigned by God to the priests solely because of the merit of Phinehas in killing Zimri and Cozbi: the shoulder as a reward for carrying on his shoulder the two corpses; the two cheeks, for having pleaded with his month in favor of the Israelites; and the maw, for having stabbed the two adulterers in that part (Sifre, Deut. 165; Ḥul. 134b; Midr. Agada to Num. xxv. 13). Owing to the sad consequences attending the Israelites' lapse into idolatry, Phinehas pronounced an anathema, under the authority of the Unutterable Name and of the writing of the tables, and in the name of the celestial and terrestrial courts of justice, against any Israelite who should drink the wine of a heathen (Pirḳe R. El. xlvii.).Other Exploits.
Phinehas accompanied, in the capacity of a priest specially anointed ("meshuaḥ milḥamah") for such purposes (comp. Deut. xx. 2), the expedition sent by Moses against Midian. The question why Phinehas was sent instead of his father is answered by the Rabbis in two different ways: (1) Phinehas went to avenge his maternal grandfather, Joseph (with whom certain rabbis identify Putiel), upon the Midianites who had sold him into Egypt (comp. Gen. xxxvii. 28-36). (2) He went simply because Moses said that he who began a good deed ought to finish it; and as Phinehas had been the first to avenge the Isralites upon the Midianites, it was proper that he should take part in the war against the latter (Sifre, Num. 157; Soṭah 43a; Num. R. xxii. 4). Phinehas was one of the two spies sent by Joshua to explore Jericho, as mentioned in Josh. ii. 1 et seq., Caleb being the other. This idea is based on the Masoretie text of verse 4 of the same chapter, which reads "wa-tiẓpeno" = "and she hid him," that is to say, one spy only; for Phinehas, being a priest, was invisible like an angel (Num. R. xvi. 1). This is apparently the origin of the Rabbis' identification of Phinehas with the angel of God sent to Bochim (Judges ii. 1; Seder 'Olam, xx.; Num. R. l.c.; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Num. xxv. 12). On the identification of Phinehas with Elijah see Elijah in Rabbinical Literature.
According to B. B. 15a, the last verse of the Book of Joshua was written by Phinehas. The Rabbis, however, hold that the hill where Eleazar was buried (see Phinehas, Biblical Data) was not apportioned to Phinehas as a special lot, but was inherited by him from his wife, and was therefore called by his name (B. B. 111b), Apart from his identification with Elijah, Phinehas is considered by the Rabbis to have attained a very great age, since according to them he was still living in the time of Jephthah, 340 years after the Exodus (comp. Judges xi. 26). In the matter of Jephthah's vow, Phinehas is represented in a rather unfavorable light (see Jephthah in Rabbinical Literature). For him who sees Phinehas in a dream a miracle will be wrought (Ber. 56b).
2. Son of Eli, the high priest and judge of Israel; younger brother of Hophni. According to I Sam. ii. 12-17, the two brothers broke the law given in Lev. vii. 34 (whence they were termed "sons of Belial") by striking the flesh-hook in the pot and taking for themselves whatever meat it brought up, even against the wish of the sacrificer. As judges they sinned through licentious conduct with the women who went to Shiloh (I Sam. ii. 22). In punishment for these sins it was announced to Eli that his sons should perish on the same day (ib. ii. 34); and in the ensuing battle between Israel and the Philistines both fell beside the Ark (ib. iv. 11).
A posthumous son was born to the wife of Phinehas, whom she called Ichabod (I Sam. iv. 19); and in continuation of the priestly genealogy a grandnephew of Phinehas, named Ahijab, is mentioned in connection with the battle of Jonathan against the Philistines (ib. xiv. 3).
3. Father of Eleazar, a priest who returned from captivity with Ezra (Ezra viii. 33).