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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Names


By Jeff A. Benner

After the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt they camped at the "Red Sea". When the chariots of Pharaoh arrived the waters of the "Red Sea" were parted and the Israelites crossed over into safety on the other side.

The "Red Sea" is actually a misnomer from the translation of the Hebrew. The Hebrew is ים סוף (yam suph). The Hebrew word ים (yam) means "sea" and when used alone refers to the Mediterranean Sea. Another Hebrew word is derived from this word; it is the word יום (yom) meaning day. In the Hebrew reckoning of time, the day begins at sunset. At sunset the sun sets in the west and into the Mediterranean Sea.

The word סוף (suph) literally means "edge". This can be the edge of a country (border), the lips as the edge of the mouth, or an outline of something. In the Biblical text this word is used for "reeds" which line the banks, or edge, of rivers. Hence, the yam suph is the "Sea of Reeds" or "Reed Sea". Somewhere in time the "Reed Sea" became the "Red Sea".

This same word, suph, is used in Jewish theology in the term eyen soph (with just a vowel change). The word eyn means "without" and soph means "edge" or "definition" (as an outline). The phrase eyn soph means "without definition" and is used for God, the one who has no definition, outline or form.

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