Word Study: Remember Your Obligation



Mark 14:68: “But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out on the porch; and the cock crew.”

General Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of the Battle of Little Roundtop during the Civil War, told the story of an event near the end of the Civil War. His men had captured some Confederate soldiers who were from the very deep south. He sent his aide to interrogate them and also to find out why they were continuing to fight. These men were simple mountain men who knew nothing of slavery or politics and he was curious as to why they were fighting. The aide returned and reported to General Chamberlain. When the General asked what their reasons were for fighting the aide reported: “They are fighting for their rats, sir.” General Chamberlain decided to interrogate these men himself, if it were rats they wanted they had plenty in the North to give them. When he spoke with the prisoners he heard their very thick Southern accents and being a language professor in civilian life himself he understood what they were saying when they said: “We all are a fitin fer er rots sir.” They were fighting for their rights.

There were three major Aramaic dialects in Jesus’s day. There was the Northern or Galilean dialect which Jesus and his disciples spoke. This was the more common dialect used by the Assyrians and came into wide use during the rise of the Assyrian Empire in 1100 BC. It became a trade language and continued with the rise of the Babylonian Empire. The Jews of Israel spoke a Southern or Chaldean Aramaic but when the Northern Kingdom was taken into captivity, the Jews of the Northern kingdom assimilated their Southern dialect or Chaldean dialect into the Northern or Galilean dialect.

The Jews in the Southern Kingdom, Judea, who were taken into captivity by the Babylonians also spoke a Southern or Chaldean Aramaic which they retained while in captivity. This is the language that the Book of Daniel and Ezra was written in. There was a third dialect, the Western Aramaic which was the language of the Syrian kingdom and dates back to the days of Abraham. Syria’s original name was really Aram. However, the Northern or Galilean dialect displaced the Western dialect after the Assyrians conquered Syria in 722 BC.

What is interesting is that this Galilean dialect or Northern dialect became the dialect used by the Northern ten tribes who were first carried away by Assyria and then with large Assyrian colonies were transplanted back into Galilee and Samaria and hence the Galilean dialect became the dialect used by the Samaritians and the Galileans. However, when the Jews returned to Judea, they continued to speak the Northern dialect.

A very basic understanding of Biblical Geography is needed here. There were really three sections of Israel during Jesus day. There was the Northern most section known as Galilee where the largest city was Nazareth. Then below that was Samaria where the largest city was, oddly, Sarmaria. Then the Southern portion was Judea where the largest city was Jerusalem. Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which was in the Southern portion of Israel or Judea, he grew up in the North or Galilee. His disciples were also from Galilee. This is why Jesus had to pass through Samaria to reach Jerusalem on his journey to the cross. This was quite an adventure for the disciples in that day to journey all the way from the North down to the South, through Samaria and into the holy city of Jerusalem where the temple stood.

The Northern portion of Israel, Galilee and Samaria, spoke the Northern or Galilean dialect. The Southern portion spoke a Southern dialect. There is not only a difference in pronounciation like General Chamberlain found, but there was also a difference in colloquial expression. When Jesus spoke to Nichodemus, there was that misunderstanding in the colloquial expression of being “born again.” In the Southern dialect spoken by Nichodemus, he would have taken the words “born again” literally, where Jesus, speaking the Galilean dialect, would have been using the term figuratively.

In the case of poor old Peter his Northern accent made him dead meat. When he spoke up he would have sounded like a Yankee Methodist in a Southern Baptist convention. Galileans were a rare bird in Jerusalem and even a young maid servant could tell this old boy was one of those following the Galilean being held prisoner simply by his “Yankee” accent.

I attended a church service yesterday where communion was being given. I was greatly troubled when the worship leader quoted the words of Jesus to eat his body and drink his blood and to do it in remembrance of Jesus. I had just been studying the colloquial expressions of the old Galilean or Northern Aramaic verses the Southern Aramaic. The speaker and those around me were most likely thinking in terms of the Southern Aramaic which would express the idea of taking this communion as a memorial to the death of Jesus. Yet, in the Old Galilean dialect Jesus would have used the word, as recorded in the Aramaic text, dacar, which is equivalent to the Hebrew word zacar. Only the old Galilean dialect has a bonus feature. It is not just to remember but to remember that you have an obligation. In the Old Galilean the expression, eat my body and drink my blood is a colloquial expression for enduring many hardships and sacrifices for someone. Jesus was reminding his disciples that they would face many hardships and sacrifices when following Him. In fact all the disciples eventually died a martyr’s death. Then not more than a few hours after the last supper where Jesus asked his disciples to remember his sacrifice with sacrifices of their own did Peter bail out of his commitment.

Now let’s not jump to the conclusion that Peter and the disciples were all cowards and took off in different directions after Jesus’s arrest. That was what members of a group was expected to do if their leader was taken prisoner. By scattering they were protecting their leader for if they got caught they would be forced to testify against their leader. Peter’s mistake was not to hide but to go to the temple area where he ran the risk of being captured, whipped and tortured until he testified against Jesus.

Going to the temple area was a brave move on Peter’s part but when he was confronted about his accent, he panic. The idea of being tortured for the sake of Jesus suddenly became a reality and that is when he turned the coward. He wasn’t that sure he could stand up and not deny Jesus under the persecution

My point in all this is that the Aramaic word dacar which means not just to remember but to remember that you have an obligation. When you take communion you need to stop and consider just what you are doing and think of this word dacar, “This you do in remembrance (dacar – to remember an obligation) of Me.” Our obligation is the same that was given to the disciples and to Peter and that is to not deny Him when the chips are down, but to proudly proclaim you are His follower and lead others to also follow Him.

2 thoughts on “Word Study: Remember Your Obligation

  1. I suspect that if many knew about what you wrote here, there would be far fewer attending communion. I only did it in the early days as a believer. I got to a point that it didn’t make sense. I’ve never been a ritualistic one anyway. I came to see the flesh and blood as His truth and love. I still see it that way 50 years later. Thanks for the good words. They are needed.

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