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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Names


By Jeff A. Benner

In almost every case, a person or place name in the Bible which we know it by is a transliteration of the Hebrew. For instance the English Jerusalem is from the Hebrew Yerushalem, Israel from Yisrael, and Methuselah from Metushelach. This is not the case with Egypt. The Hebrew word for Egypt is מצרים (mitsrayim / meets-rah-yeem). The first occurrence of this name is in Genesis 10:6 - And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim (mitsrayim), and Phut, and Canaan. (KJV). Mizraim is the grandson of Noah and evidently settled in the land that came to be known as Mitsrayim to the Hebrews and Egypt to us today.

The root to this name is צר (tsar Strong's #6862) meaning "pressed in" and can be translated several different ways; "enemy" as one who presses in; "trouble" as a pressing in; "strait" as a canyon with the walls pressing. A common method of forming nouns is to add the letter "mem" to the front of a root. In this case the "mem" is placed before the root forming the noun מצר (metsar Strong's #4712). The prefixed "mem" can be understood as "what is...", hence metsar means "what is pressed in" and is usually translated as trouble or straits. The suffix of the name mitsrayim is the masculine plural suffix ים. The normal pronunciation for this suffix is eeym, usually a multiple plural, but can also be yeem and is the double plural as in the name mitsrayim.

The name mitsrayim can be interpreted many different ways; two straits (possibly referring to the two sides of the Nile river), double straits, two enemies, double pressing, or even double trouble. While we cannot determine for certain what this name original meant, we can see some interesting parallels between Egypt and their relationship with the nation of Israel.

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