Name given by Pharaoh to Joseph (Gen. xli. 45). It seems to be an Egyptian name, but its etymology is in doubt. It is not plain on what (Hebrew ?) etymology the earliest explanations of Hebrew scholars were founded. Targum Onḳelos gives the meaning of the name as "the man to whom mysteries are revealed"; pseudo-Jonathan, "one who reveals mysteries"; Josephus ("Ant." ii. 6, § 1), "a finder of mysteries." Many other old writers offer similar definitions, and even the A. V. has in the margin: "Which in the Coptic signifies, 'A revealer of secrets,' or 'The man to whom secrets are revealed.'" There is, however, no Egyptian etymology by which these guesses can be supported. Jerome claims that his suggestion, "savior of the world," rests on the Egyptian, and possibly the reading of the Septuagint has been followed by the authors of this etymology; the Coptic "eneh" = Egyptian "nḥ" (= "eternity," "eternal"), seems to be discernible, to which erroneously the later meaning of the Hebrew "'olam" ("eternity," "age"; later, "world") has been given, overlooking the "'ayin." Thus this inadmissible interpretation, which is accepted even by Jablonski, clearly betrays rabbinical influence.
Modern Egyptologists have tried a great many untenable etymologies for the element "Zaphnath," but have mostly agreed that "paaneah" contains the Egyptian "p-ônḫ," meaning "the life" (thus first Lepsius, "Chronologie," i. 382). Steindorff's explanation (in "Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache," xxvii. 42; modifying Krall's etymology in "Trans. 7th Orientalist. Congr." p. 110) differs somewhat; it is "ṣe(d)-p-nute(r)-ef-onḫ" = "the god speaks, [and] he lives." This has become popular, and is philologicallypossible; however, it does not convey the allusion to Joseph's office or merits which we should expect. "P-ônḫ" (= "the life") would still answer better in this respect; only "Zaphnath" does not admit a quite convincing explanation. The Septuagint (Ψον[or Ψομ]θομφανήχ) and the Hexaplaric versions, however, differ so widely from the Hebrew in the first half of the name that it may have been disfigured by copyists.
- Marquardt, Philologus, vii. 676;
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. col. 5379 (where a disfigured Hebrew original is suspected);
- Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache, 1883, p. 59;
- Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch. xx. 208 (where the other theories have been collected).