Has Faust’s Mephistopheles name originated in the Hebrew Bible?
“In a letter to Carl Zelter of November 30, 1829, Goethe admitted that he had no idea what the name Mephistopheles means nor where it came from.”
So starts a somewhat forgotten article by the late Professor Yehuda T. Radday (1913-2011), a research colleague and good friend of mine, who headed the Department of General Studies at Technion (Israel Institute of Technology). In his fascinating article of 1997*, attached herewith, Radday painstakingly demonstrates why both historically (via a thorough literature review), and by analysis of what the three figures represent in the respective literature (Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust; Mephiboshet and Achitophel in Second Book of Samuel), Mephistopheles is probably a combo of the names of the two biblical figures, both contemporaries of King David.
The idea of writing this post came to me at an intermission in a concert I attended that included Schoenberg music. A friend of mine reminded me of Schoenberg’s link to the well-known Goethe’s composition Faust (find details in The Doctor Faustus Dossier (Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, and Their Contemporaries, 1930-1951).
Recalling that my late research colleague and close friend, Y. T. Radday, had summarized his research about the possible (and intriguing) source of the name of Faust’s central figure, Mephistopheles, I have decided to write this post.
Radday’s article is attached below:
Radday Y.T._Mephistopheles – Biblical-Hebrew Name_1997
Comment: The letter S is added twice to Mephistopheles, not appearing in either Mephiboshet or Achitophel (in their Hebrew original). In Medieval Demonology, Mephistopheles is one of the seven chief devils (and the tempter of Faust). It is an interesting coincidence that the added letter, S, not appearing in the original biblical names, corresponds to the Hebrew letter Samech, which represents, in biblical Hebrew, evil forces!! See details in my post:
The Significance of the Hebrew Samech and Its Occurrence in Names of Enemies of the Jewish Nation
Personal comment: Yehuda Radday passed away concurrently with the victims of September, 11, 2011, while in Israel. Let this post be in honor of his memory.
* Radday, YT (1997). Mephistopheles — A Biblical Hebrew Name? . Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies / דברי הקונגרס העולמי למדעי היהדות , 243*-252*. Published by World Union of Jewish Studies.