Zaphnath-Paaneah (Biblical Hebrew: צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ Ṣāp̄naṯ Paʿnēaḥ, LXX: Ψονθομφανήχ Psonthomphanḗch) is the name given by Pharaoh to Joseph in the Genesis narrative (Genesis 41:45).

Joseph interpreting the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer, by Benjamin Cuyp, c. 1630

The name may be of Egyptian origins, but there is no straightforward etymology; some Egyptologists accept that the second element of the name may contain the word Ꜥnḫ "life".


Targum Onkelos (1st century CE) gives the meaning of the name as "the man to whom hidden things are revealed";[1] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, "the man who revealeth mysteries";[2] Josephus[3] (c. CE 94), "a finder of mysteries". Rashi (11th-12th century CE) in his commentary on the Torah gives the meaning "explainer of hidden things".[4] Nachmanides (13th century) gives “explainer of secrets”,[5] while Bahya ben Asher (13th-14th century) gives "the one who reveals secrets".[6] This would give us the literal translation of צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ (Ṣāp̄naṯ Paʿnēaḥ) from Hebrew as "He [who] deciphered the Hidden".

The Jewish interpretation is received in early Protestant translations: the Geneva Bible (1599) glosses "The expounder of secrets",[7] while the Authorised Version of 1611 has in the margin: "Which in the Coptic signifies, 'A revealer of secrets', or 'The man to whom secrets are revealed.'"

In his work on Genesis, and in the Vulgate, Jerome gives as the Latin translation salvator mundi "saviour of the world".[8] This Christian interpretation (reinforcing the ancient concept of Joseph as a type of Christ) is influenced by the Greek form of the name, Ψονθομφανήχ Psonthomphanḗkh and Ψομθομφανήχ Psomthomphanḗkh in the Septuagint and the Hexaplaric version, respectively. This, at least, is the suggestion made by Wilhelm Gesenius in his Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.[9] Early Egyptologists have interpreted the name as equivalent to Coptic ⲡⲥⲟⲧⲙⲫⲉⲛⲉϩ psotmpheneh or ⲡⲥⲱⲧⲙ ⲫⲉⲛⲉϩ psōtm pheneh meaning "the salvation of the age".[10]

*(ḏd pꜣ-nṯr jw.f ꜥnḫ)
"God speaks and he lives"
Egyptian hieroglyphs

After the decipherment of hieroglyphics, Egyptologists have interpreted the final element of the name (-ʿnêaḫ, -anḗkh) as containing the Egyptian word ꜥnḫ "life"; notably, Georg Steindorff in 1889 offered a full reconstruction of ḏd pꜣ nṯr iw.f ꜥnḫ "the god speaks [and] he lives" (Middle Egyptian pronunciation: ṣa pīr nata yuVf[n 1] anaḫ).[11] Egyptologist Patrick Clarke, however, has pointed out this interpretation's shortcomings; namely, this name-type is unattested prior to the 11th century BCE while Joseph lived much earlier, and this name type "always mentioned a specific deity, never ‘the god’".[12]

N23 Z1
(*ḏfꜣw n tꜣ pw ꜥnḫ)
"the sustenance of the land is he, the living one"
Egyptian hieroglyphs

Clarke's objections were already raised in 1929 by Abraham Yahuda, who also pointed out that this type of name makes sense only when it is given to a newborn, placing the baby under the god's protection; he suggested instead ḏfꜣ n tꜣ pꜣ ꜥnḫ "the living one is the sustenance of (the) land"[13] or ḏfꜣ n tꜣ pw ꜥnḫ "the sustenance of the land is he, the living one."[14]

G40G1z&A1&Z1 n
t Z4
(*pꜣ s nty ꜥm=f nꜣ iḫ.t)
"the man who knows the things"
Egyptian hieroglyphs

Jozef Vergote[15] agreed with Yahuda's criticism of Steindorff's hypothesis but in turn considered the expression "living one" in Yahuda's suggestion to be "tellement entortillée qu'elle enlève toute vraisemblance à l'hypothèse."[16] Instead, Vergote returns to the Septuagint version, explaining Ψονθομφανήχ as pꜣ s nty ꜥm=f nꜣ iḫ.t, "the man who knows the things,"[17] consistent with the traditional Jewish interpretation.


  1. ^ "Onkelos Genesis 41:45". Sefaria.
  2. ^ "Targum Jonathan on Genesis 41:45". Sefaria.
  3. ^ Antiquities of the Jews ii.6.1
  4. ^ "Rashi on Genesis 41:45:1". Sefaria.
  5. ^ "Ramban on Genesis 41:45:1". Sefaria.
  6. ^ "Rabbeinu Bahya Bereshit 41:45:1". Sefaria.
  7. ^ "Genesis 41:45 GNV - And Pharaoh called Joseph's name". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  8. ^ Jerome, Liber Hebraicarum Quaestionum in Genesim, LXI:45. (Migne, J. P. (ed.) Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi Stridonensis presbyteri Opera omnia, Patrologia Latini vol. 23, Paris: 1845, pp. 998.)
  9. ^ "The genuine Egyptian form of the word appears to be more accurately given by the LXX."[1]
  10. ^ Here ⲡ- is the masculine singular definite article, ⲥⲱⲧ is taken as "salvation" or "savior" (loaned into Coptic from Greek, related to the word Soter, cf. ⲥⲱⲧⲉ "Coptic Dictionary Online (TLA lemma no. C3793)". Retrieved 2021-11-05.), is the genitive marker, ⲫ- is the masculine singular definite article, and ⲉⲛⲉϩ is "aion, an age or world". (cf. Gesenius, Wilhelm; Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux (1894). Gesenius's Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures.) This interpretation goes back to the Glossarium Aegyptiacum by Jablonski (published 1809). cf. The Asiatic Journal. Parbury, Allen, and Company. 1837-01-01.
  11. ^ "Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache," xxvii. 42, modifying Krall's etymology in "Trans. 7th Orientalist. Congr." p. 110
  12. ^ "One very popular idea that Joseph was some kind of ‘revealer of godly secrets’ (Dje(d)-Pa-Nute(r)-(‘e)f-ankh) was first postulated by Steindorff over a century ago. This name-type has been attested by scholarship as occurring between the 11th–6th centuries BC but not during the time of Joseph, which in both the conventional and the biblical chronology was considerably earlier. What Steindorff did not know at that time was that his Ḏdp3nṯrfanḫ 𓆓𓆑𓅮𓄿𓊹𓀭𓆑𓋹 always mentioned a specific deity, never ‘the god’."Patrick Clarke (2013-12-01). "Joseph's Zaphenath Paaneah—a chronological key" (PDF). Creation Ministries International.
  13. ^ Yahuda, A. S. (1929). Die Sprache des Pentateuch in ihren Beziehungen zum Aegyptischen. Leipzig: De Gruyter. pp. 32ff., cited by Vergote, p. 143.
  14. ^ Yahuda, A. S. (1930). Eine Erwiderung auf Wilhelm Spiegelbergs "Ägyptologische Bemerkungen" zu meinem Buche "Die Sprache des Pentateuch". Leipzig. p. 7., cited by Vergote, p. 144.
  15. ^ Vergote, Jozef (1959). Joseph en Égypte: Genèse chap. 37-50 à la lumière des études égyptologiques récentes. Orientalia et Biblica Lovaniensia. Vol. 3. Louvain: Publications Universitaires. pp. 141–151.
  16. ^ Ibid., p. 144.
  17. ^ Ibid., pp. 144-146.


  • Marquardt, Philologus, vii. 676;
  • Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. col. 5379 (where a disfigured Hebrew original is suspected);
  • Steindorff, G., Der Name Josephs Saphenat-Pa'neach: Genesis Kapitel 41, 45. ZÄS 27, 1889, 41–42.
  • Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch. xx. 208 (where the other theories have been collected). E. G.
  • "Zaphnath-Paaneah". Retrieved 2015-08-30.


  1. ^ V represents an unknown short vowel sound.