I received a question regarding etymology of Mitzraim. Is it of Hebraic origin?
Absolutely. (Bereishit 10:6) Son of Chem (Ham), Mitzraim is only used in Semitic languages. Egyptians have never referred to themselves by this name. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament links the name (with various spellings) with all the ancient Semitic languages: Ugarian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Arab...1
In Akkadian, Misru Metzer means "boundary". This is related to a word meaning "distress" or "narrow place". This is found in Eicha (Lamentations) 1:3. By the way, Metzer in Modern Hebrew means: strait. Therefore, the boundary from Egypt towards the Promised Land is comprised of some geographical site, and the name, Mitzrayim, reflects this.
Isaac Taylor, in Words and Places; or, Etymological illustrations of History, Ethnology, and Geography supports the above statement, declaring that the plural form of Mitzrayim reflects either Upper and Lower Egypt OR the East-West division of Egypt by the Nile River. Biblical scholar, F. V. Greifenhagen, also supports this theory. 2
Some say that singular "metzer" is NOT related to the plural/dual form Mitzrayim at all, instead comparable to Yerushalayim, simply another place name with the plural ending. See the Daat Miqra interpretation. 3
There is, of course, a possibility of understanding the Mem at the beginning to mean "from", as you may have learned: leaving זר or זרר. As an adjective, Tzar means strange, alien, foreign. As a noun it means border, ledge or edge. As a verb (adding the second resh) , is means “to sneeze” (geshundeit!) or is from the verb “to be pressed out” I think the noun/adjective meaning works here, rendering the translation either “from strange, foreign” OR “from border”. 4 After all, our people came out of Egypt, where strange, foreign gods were worshiped instead of the one, true G-d.
Finally, there is a Klezemer tune: Misirlou, which means "Egyptian Girl"...evidently this song has traveled across many genres of music. 5 Being the musician that I am, I could not resist including several little renditions of the song. I hope that this has been an interesting exploration of what is a Hebrew name, both of a person and a place.
Keren Yonkers, Morah Ivrit
1 Link to The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament Here:
2 Read Egypt on the Pentateuch's Ideological Map: Constructing Biblical Israel's Identity. Details and scriptural reference to the division of Egypt here:
3 I couldn't find an online read of Daat Miqra, but here is a link explaining what it is, if you don't know, and also look on my resource page for a link to the series on Amazon. http://www.balashon.com/2006/08/daat-mikra.html
4 For an in-depth article about the mem prefix origin, read this:
5 Read short article by NPR and listen to Misirlou here: