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Etymology of Totafot

August 1, 2012

While I was researching Tefillin, I came across this interesting article about the etymology or origin of Totafot, which is translated as frontlets in the KJV.

The etymology of Totafot:

Some words, borrowed intact from another language, may be given an equivalent pronunciation. The Englishman speaks of Paris but the Frenchman pronounces the word as Paree. The dialect spoken in Lower Egypt differed from the way some words were pronounced in Upper Egypt, so that an Israelite living in the region of the Delta would hear a word pronounced in the Memphite dialect, which differed from that of Thebes. For example, the letter written as “p” would be pronounced as “f” in the Delta.(2)

[Totafot] is a coined word which had no prior existence before it appeared in Exodus. It is a dual-formed word known to grammarians as a reduplication — where the sound of the first syllable is duplicated in the corresponding syllable of the added word. An example in English would be “hocus-pocus.” The T word is Hebrew but the background is Egyptian. It would have been recognized at, or about, the time of the Exodus by anyone familiar with both languages and with the religion and gods of Lower Egypt. The two elements of the T word are Thoth and Ptah, the names of the primary gods in the Memphis cosmogony. Thoth was sounded without change, whether written in Hebrew or in Egyptian.

Ptah (Phot) was regarded by Egyptians as the creator of the world: all the other lesser gods, including Thoth, were products of his divine will. Thoth was the god of learning and wisdom: he invented writing — the “words of god.” He was the scribe of the gods and the judge of right and wrong in the afterlife.(9)

In ancient Egypt, the practices of medicine and of magic were closely related. Healing often called for incantations, such as the spell for exorcising migraine. That incantation ends with:

“I will make for you the magic amulet of the gods, their names being pronounced on this day inscribed on fine linen and placed on the forehead of the man.”

The God of the Hebrews had fulfilled His prediction that He would execute judgment on those gods. (Ex. 15:16; Num. 33:4). He had humiliated them by the plagues, and showed that they were powerless at the Red Sea. The compound T word presented the ultimate indignity to the chief god, Ptah; it relegated him, the so-called creator of all things, including the lesser gods, to second place, following the name of his scribe, Thoth.

Like Humpty-Dumpty, the gods named in the T word had a great fall from which all of Pharaoh’s horses and men could not rehabilitate them. As the Israelites emerged from the Red Sea and passed through Shur (wall:Egypt.), they carried with them the ironic T word by which the two primary gods of Memphis became, willy- nilly, an eternal symbol certifying to the supreme power and trueness of the God of Israel, and serving as a memorial of the Exodus. (Emphasis mine.)

I suggest that you read the whole article.


Edited to correct dead links.

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