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    Why was he Pinchas?

    pinchasOne of the favourite hobbies of Biblical scholars is tracing the etymology of the names in the Bible. The Tanach itself starts the process when it explains the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and so many others. The Midrash continues and fills in many more details.

    It surprises us, however, that no-one seems certain about where Pinchas got his name.

    There is a suggestion in Alfred Jones’ book, “The Proper Names of the Old testament Scriptures” published as long ago as 1856, that “Pinchas” = “mouth of brass”, combining pi, mouth of, and nechoshet, brass.

    Maybe the reference to brass (i.e. a bronzed look) links the name with an Egyptian word for a Nubian, a coloured man, which allows rabbinic commentary to suggest that what disposed Pinchas to violence was his alien origin. Some even say that his ancestors had prepared calves for idol-worship.

    The Talmud (Sanh. 82b) quotes a view that Pinchas was descended from Jethro (Rashi to Ex. 6:25), though it is also said that he descended from Joseph. He was known as a kohen: he is called Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen.

    Perhaps the most we can say of the traditions that Pinchas’s lineage had non-Israelite elements is that he took to his Jewish identity with great zeal and would not allow anything to happen in the Israelite camp which brought dishonour on the Jewish God and His Torah.

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