International Standard Bible EncyclopediaNEPHTHAR; NEPHTHAI
nef'-thar (Nephthar; Codex Alexandrinus and Swete, Nephthar, the King James Version and Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Naphthar), (Nephthai, al. Nephthaei, Fritzsche, Nepha, the King James Version and Vulgate, following Old Latin, Nephi; Swete, following Codex Alexandrinus, gives Nephthar twice): According to 2 Maccabees 1:19-36, at the time of the captivity the godly priests took of the altar fire of the temple and concealed it "privily in the hollow of a well that was without water," unknown to all. "After many years" (upon Return), before offering the sacrifices, Nehemiah sent the descendants of the godly priests to fetch the hidden fire. They reported they could find no fire but only "thick water" hudor pachu), which he commanded them to draw up and sprinkle upon the wood and the sacrifices. After an interval the sun shone forth from behind a cloud and the liquid ignited and consumed the sacrifices. Nehemiah then commanded them to pour (katachein, al. katechein, and kataschein) the rest of the liquid upon great stones. Another flame sprang up which soon spent itself, "whereas the light from the altar shone still" (Revised Version margin, the exact meaning being doubtful). When the king of Persia investigated it, he enclosed the spot as sacred. Nehemiah and his friends called the thick liquid "Nephthar," "which is by interpretation `cleansing' " (katharismos), "but most men call it Nephthai."
No satisfactory explanation is to hand of either name; one of which is probably a corruption of the other. And no word exists in the Hebrew like either of them with the meaning of "cleansing," "purification." The Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) applies the name to the spot (hunc locum), not the thing. The story probably originated in Persia, where naphtha was abundant. The ignition of the liquid by the hot rays of the sun and the appearance of the words render it highly probable that it was the inflammable rockoil naphtha, the combustible properties of which were quite familiar to the ancients (Pliny, NH, ii. 109; Plutarch, Alexander 35; Diosc., i0.101; Strabo, Geogr. xvi.1, 15); the words then are probably corruptions of what the Greeks termed naphtha. Ewald (History, V, 163) says: "This is but one of the many stories which sought in later times to enhance the very high sanctity of the Temple, with reference even to its origin."