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Caphtor (Hebrew: כפתור‎) is a locality mentioned several times in the Bible.[1] It is named as the place of origin of the Caphtorites, said in Genesis 10:13-14 to descend from Ham's son Mizraim (Egypt).[2] Modern commentators and translators commonly identify Caphtor with Crete[3]. Cyprus and Crete together are by some accounts identified as "the island of the Caphtorim".[4] It has also been linked specifically to Cyprus or to the nearby coasts of Anatolia.

The Septuagint translates the name as "Kappadokias" and the Vulgate similarly renders it as "Cappadocia". The seventeenth-century scholar Samuel Bochart[5] understood this as a reference to Cappadocia in Anatolia but this was not the understanding of the Jewish targumists who rendered this name in Aramaic as "Caphutkia" meaning the town of Pelusium at the eastern edge of the Nile delta. This identification is also made by the tenth century commentator Saadia Gaon and Benjamin of Tudela, the twelfth-century Jewish traveller from Navarre, who both wrote that "Damiata" (Arabic Dumyat), the name for the region of Pelusium in their day, was the biblical Caphtor. [6] [7].

The name has been compared to Egyptian kftı͗w and Akkadian Kaptara (a term found in the Mari Tablets, dated to c. 1780 BC). The name kftı͗w is found written in hieroglyphics in the temple of Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt, on a stone base of a statue made during the time of Amenhotep III, and possibly in the Egyptian tomb of Rekhmire.

The Caphtorites (or Caphtorim) were a people first mentioned in Genesis 10:13-14 in the Table of Nations which lists them as a descendant of Mizraim thereby making them an Egyptian people.

Deuteronomy 2:23 records that the Caphtorites came from Caphtor, destroyed the Avvites and usurped their land. The Talmud (Chullin 60b) notes that the Avvites were the original Philistine people in the days of Abraham while the Philistines of later times were descended from the conquering Caphtorites. This accords with Genesis 10:13 which lists the Philistines as a distinct people to the Caphtorites while Jeremiah 47:4 and Amos 9:7, set in a much later period, speak instead of Philistines having come from Caphtor.

The name Caphtor is identical to the Biblical Hebrew word for a knob-like structure [8].

Comparison with Egyptian kftı͗w


Keftiu, personalised as captive enemy, at Ramses II's temple at Abydos

Egyptian kftı͗w (probably vocalized as *Kaftiu but rendered by E. A. Wallis Budge arbitrarily as Keftiu) is attested in numerous inscriptions.[9] The identity of Semitic Caphtor and Egyptian kftı͗w is of long standing and further supported by the comparison with Kaptara in Mari texts and Akkadian Kabturi[10], all of which must refer to Crete. The change of word-medial r to y was widespread in the Egyptian language and due to phonetic decay[11]. Since a stone base of a statue during the reign of Amenhotep III displays the name kftı͗w followed by several Cretan citynames such as Kydonia, Phaistos and Amnisos, the identification of kftı͗w with 'Crete' is certain.[12]

The original thesis, that Keftiu corresponded to Caphtor, and that Caphtor was to be identified with Cyprus or Syria,[13] shifted to an association with Crete under the influence of Sir Arthur Evans. It was criticised in 1931 by G. A. Wainwright, who located Keftiu in Cilicia, on the Mediterranean shore of Asia Minor,[14] and he drew together evidence from a wide variety of sources: in geographical lists and the inscription of Tutmose III's "Hymn of Victory",[15] where the place of Keftiu in lists appeared to exist among recognizable regions in the northeasternmost corner of the Mediterranean, in the text of the "Keftiuan spell" śntkppwymntrkkr, of ca 1200 BC,[16] in which Cilician and Syrian deities Sanda[17] Tarku and Kubaba were claimed,[18] in personal names associated in texts with Keftiu and in Tutmose's "silver shawabty vessel of the work of Keftiu" and vessels of iron, which were received as gifts from Tinay in northern Syria. In 1980 J. Strange drew together a comprehensive collection of documents that mentioned Caphtor or Keftiu. His examination attempted to show that Keftiu could not be identified with Crete, for crucial texts dissociate Keftiu from "the Islands in the Middle of the Sea", by which Egyptian scribes denoted Crete. Strange made a painstaking argument that Keftiu corresponds geographically with Cyprus.

It is now normally argued however that Caphtor, Kaptara and Keftiu are identical and refer to none other than the island of Crete[19]. Even Strange capitulates: "Taken as a whole the material does not exclude Crete as a possible identification of Caphtor/Keftiu."[20]


  1. Book of Amos, 9.7: "Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?"
  2. Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. "Caphtor"
  3. Strange, Caphtor/Keftiu: A new investigation, 1980, Leiden:Brill, p.125; Hertz 1936
  4. Jeremiah xlvii. 4, refers to "the remnant of the country [in Hebrew, "island"] of Caphtor" (Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. "Caphtor").
  5. Geographia Sacra seu Phaleg et Canaan (Caen 1646) l. 4. c. 32. [1].
  6. Yosef Kapach trans., Saadia Gaon Al-Hatorah, Mossad HaRav Kook, 1963
  7. The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible, Amos 9:7
  8. Exodus 37:17
  9. J. Strange, Caphtor/Keftiu: A New Investigation (Leiden: Brill) 1980, has brought together all the attestations for Caphtor and Keftiu.
  10. Chaniotis, From Minoan farmers to Roman traders: sidelights on the economy of ancient Crete, 1999, Stuttgart Steiner, p.124; Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze age, 1994. Cambridge University Press, pp.243-4.; Matthews, Roemer, Ancient perspectives on Egypt, 2003, Routledge-Cavendish, p.10
  11. Bromiley, Geoffrey William. K - P. The international standard Bible encyclopedia / general ed.: Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1999, p.844.
  12. Ahlström, Gösta W., Gary O. Rollefson, and Diana Edelman. The History of Ancient Palestine. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993, p.315
  13. Steindorf 1893; W. Max Müller 1893; the history of the locating of Keftiu is set out briefly in Wainwright 1952:206f.
  14. Wainwight, "Keftiu: Crete or Cilicia?" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 51 (1931); in response to critics who shifted the locale to the mainland of Greece, Wainwright assembled his various interlocking published arguments and summarised them in "Asiatic Keftiu" American Journal of Archaeology 56.4 (October 1952), pp. 196-212.
  15. Text in Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt II, 659-60.
  16. The spell is a rosary of divine names according to Gordon (JEA 18 (1932) pp 67f.)
  17. A deity that occurs in Luwian contexts, in theophoric names in Hittite texts and at Ugarit and Alalakh, and later in Greek Sandos, in Lycian and Cilician contexts, according to Albrecht Goetze, "The Linguistic continuity of Anatolia as shown by its proper names" Journal of Cuneiform Studies 8.2 (1954, pp. 74-81) p. 78.
  18. Wainwight 1952:199.
  19. Chaniotis, From Minoan farmers to Roman traders: sidelights on the economy of ancient Crete, 1999, Stuttgart Steiner, p.124; Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze age, 1994. Cambridge University Press, pp.243-4.; Matthews, Roemer, Ancient perspectives on Egypt, 2003, Routledge-Cavendish, p.10; International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D
  20. Strange, Caphtor/Keftiu: A new investigation, 1980, Leiden:Brill, p.125


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Caphtor. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  • Hertz J.H. (1936) The Pentateuch and Haftoras. Deuteronomy. Oxford University Press, London.
  • Strange, J. Caphtor/Keftiu: A New Investigation (Leiden: Brill) 1980. Reviewed by J.T. Hooker, The Journal of Hellenic Studies 103 (1983), p. 216.
  • Deuteronomy 2:23
  • Book of Jeremiah 47:4
  • Book of Amos 9:7

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