According to the Hebrew Bible, Phinehas or Phineas (//; Hebrew: פִּינְחָס, Modern Pinəḥas Tiberian Pinchas) was a High Priest of Israel during The Exodus, the grandson of Aaron and son of Eleazar the High Priest (Exodus 6:25), who distinguished himself as a youth at Shittim by his zeal against the Heresy of Peor. He was displeased with the immorality with which the Moabites and Midianites had successfully tempted the people (Numbers 25:1-9) to worship Baal-peor, so he personally executed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman while they were together in the man's tent, running a spear or lance through the man and the belly of the woman and thus ending a plague said to have been sent by God to punish the Israelites for sexually intermingling with the Midianites. Phineas is commended for having stopped Israel's fall to idolatrous practices brought in by Midianite women, as well as for stopping the desecration of God's sanctuary. He is commemorated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church on September 2.
The Oxford Guide to the Bible and Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew and English Lexicon identify it as a variant of the Egyptian name Pa-nehasi. According to the former, "The Bible also uses Egyptian and Nubian names for the land and its people... For the Egyptians used to these color variations, the term for their southern neighbors was Nehesi, "southerner", which eventually also came to mean "the black" or "the Nubian". This Egyptian root (nhsj, with the preformative p' as a definite article) appears in Exodus 6.25 as the personal name of Aaron's grandson Phinehas (=pa-nehas)" The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament interprets the name to mean "the bronze-colored one". Phinehas, like Moses and Nun lived in Egypt and their names were shared by the dominant culture there.
Hebrew audiences may have interpreted the meaning as a compound of Hebrew words: "peh" meaning mouth and "nhsh", a root which produces "nahash", which can mean "snake" or "omen". The root also yields "nehoshet" (copper), "nahush" (bronze) and "nehusha" (copper or bronze).
Heresy of Peor
The account appears immediately after the story of Balaam, who had been hired by the Moabite chieftain, Balak, to curse the Israelites. Balaam failed to do so, as God had literally put words in his mouth of blessing for Israel, instead (the first prayer said by Jews as part of their daily prayer service comes from this exact text). Having failed to curse them, Balaam left for his own country. The Book of Numbers asserts a direct connection between Balaam and the events at Peor, stating that the Moabites "caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor". (Numbers 31:16) Moses gave orders to kill all the idolaters, yet Zimri, the son of the Israelite prince Salu from the Tribe of Simeon, openly defied Moses and publicly showed his opinion to those standing at the Tabernacle entrance with Moses by going in to Cozbi, the daughter of the Midianite prince Sur. In a moment of great strength born of holy zeal, Phinehas went after them and ran them through with a spear simultaneously while they were apparently in coitus. He thus "stayed the plague" that had broken out among the people, and by which twenty-four thousand of them had already perished. (Numbers 25) God noticed that Phinehas showed loyalty and bravery for God. God decided not to destroy all of the children of Israel in anger because Phinehas had made atonement for their sins. God declared that Phinehas and his sons sons for all eternity, to receive divine recognition for this; a Covenant of Peace and the Covenant of an everlasting hereditary Priesthood.
The Christian book of Revelation mirrors this sentiment. (cf. Rev 2:14) Revelation describes Jesus as speaking to one of seven Christian churches: "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality."
Giving a more elaborated version of events, the 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus asserts that Balaam sent for Balak and the princes of Midian and told them that, if they wished to bring evil upon Israel, they would have to make the Israelites sin. Balaam advised that they send the most beautiful women to seduce the Israelites to idolatry. This strategy succeeded, and soon many of the Israelites had been seduced (see Flavius Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter VI, Paragraphs 6-12).
Phinehas also led the Israelite army against the Midianites to avenge this occasion. Among those slain in the expedition were five Midianite kings and Balaam, son of Beor. According to the Israelite roll-calls, the Israelites did not lose a man in the expedition. (Numbers 31)
Phinehas son of Eleazar appears again in the book of Joshua. When the tribes of Reuben and Gad, together with the half-tribe of Manasseh, depart to take possession of their lands beyond the Jordan, they build a great altar on the other side; the remainder of the Israelites mistake this for a separatist move to set up a new religious centre, and send Phinehas to investigate (Joshua 22:9-34).
According to Chronicles 6:4-8, his relation to Zadok is the following: Phinehas begat Abishua, Abishua begat Bukki, Bukki begat Uzzi, Uzzi begat Zerahiah, Zerahiah begat Meraioth, Meraioth begat Amariah, Amariah begat Ahitub, and Ahitub begat Zadok.
According to I Maccabees, he is an ancestor of Matitiyahu.
In Jewish culture
Pinchas is the name of the 41st weekly parshah or portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the eighth in the book of Numbers. The beginning of this parshah tells the judgement of Phinehas son of Eleazar; the end of the previous parshah tells of his zealous act.
The Hebrew expression "One who acts like Zimry and asks for a reward as if he were Phinehas" (עושה מעשה זמרי ומבקש שכר כפנחס ) refers to hypocrites who ask for undeserved rewards and honours. It derives from the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah, Ch.22, page 2), where it is attributed to the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus (see Hebrew Wikipedia he:עושה מעשה זמרי ומבקש שכר כפנחס).
- Metzger, Bruce M.; Coogan, Michael D. (1993). Oxford History of the Bible. p. 11.
- Archer, Gleason; Harris, R. Laird; Waltke, Bruce (2003). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago.
- Easton, Matthew George (1897). "Phinehas". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.