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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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RACA.—The word occurs only in Matthew 5:22, and offers one of the little riddles of the Gospels which have not found as yet a sufficient explanation. It had been spelt ‘Racha’ in the Authorized Version of 1611; so in Tindale and other earlier versions. It was replaced by ‘Raca’ in 1638, and explained ‘that is, Vain fellow, 2 Samuel 6:20,’ by one of the marginal notes added to the Authorized Version at various times, chiefly in 1762 (see the Introduction to Scrivener’s Paragraph Bible, p. xxx). The Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 confines itself to the marginal note, ‘an expression of contempt.’ The spelling of the Greek Manuscripts is ῥαχα in א*D, adopted by Tischendorf; ῥακα in אcBE, etc., with - in B, -ά in other Manuscripts , as 13, 124, 556 (see Scrivener, Adversaria); ῥακκα, ῥακκαν, ῥακαν in Apost. Const, ii. 32; racha in most Manuscripts of the Latin Versions; raccha in d; only f k Zc and the official Vulgate have raca; רקא in all Syriac Versions, vocalized רָקָא, רַקָא, רָקֵא, רַקָא (see the edition of the Tetraeuangelium by Pusey-Gwilliam, and the Thesaurus Syriacus; it is explained as = שׁיטא, i.e. ‘despised,’ by Bar-hebraeus).

The puzzle in the word is the a of the first syllable, which is not found in the corresponding Hebrew word. It is true, J. Lightfoot (Hor. Heb., new ed. by Rob. Gandell, Oxford, 1859, ii. 108) writes:

Raca: A word used by one that despiseth another in the highest scorn: very usual in the Hebrew writers, and very common in the mouth of the nation.’ Then he gives examples from Tanchum, fol. 5, Colossians 2; fol. 18, Colossians 4; fol. 38, Colossians 4; Midrash Tillin upon Psalms 138; Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Berak. fol. 32, 2, of which the following are worth quoting: ‘A heathen said to an Israelite, “Very suitable food is made ready for you at my house.” “What is it?” saith the other. To whom he replied, “Swine’s flesh.” “Raca,” saith the Jew, “I must not eat of clean beasts with you.” ’ A king’s daughter was married to a certain dirty fellow. He commanded her to stand by him as a mean servant, and to be his butler. To whom she said, “Raca, I am a king’s daughter.” ’ ‘One of the scholars of R. Jochanan made sport with the teaching of his master; but returning at last to a sober mind: “Teach thou, O master,” saith he, “for thou art worthy to teach, for I have found and seen that which thou hast taught.” To whom he replied, “דיקה Raca, thou hadst not believed unless thou hadst seen.” ‘A certain captain saluted a religious man praying in the way, but he saluted him not again: he waited till he had done his prayer, and saith to him, “ריקה Raca, it is written in your law,” ’ etc.

But in all these cases the Semitic word is spelt ריקה (with yod), which must be vocalized רֵיקְא, i.e. Reca; see Dalman, Aram. Aramaic -Neuheb. Wörterbuch, p. 384; Jastrow, Dictionary, ii. 1476. In the first edition of his Gram. d. Jüd.-Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] Aram. Aramaic (1896) Dalman assumed that in the form of the NT ai had been contracted to a, and that the spelling with χ in the Manuscripts אD was due to an aspirated pronunciation of the Hebrew qoph, by which it approached to the aspirated kaph. In the second (1905, p. 174) he suggested at last a more probable solution, that the word in Greek assumed its form through assimilation to Greek ῥάκος, ‘lump’ = rag (a tattered piece of cloth, and then used of a shabby, beggarly fellow). This is possible. But there is another strange and not yet corroborated statement about the use of the word, found in Chrysostom, who was acquainted with Syriac as spoken in the neighbourhood of Antioch. He says (p. 214) that it was not a word ‘of the highest scorn,’ as Lightfoot styled it:

Τὸ δὲ ῥακὰ τοῦτο οὐ μεγάλης ἐστὶν ὕβρεως ῥῆμα, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον καταφρονησεως καὶ ὁλιγωρὶας τινος τοῦ λὲγοντος. καθὰτερ γὰρ ἡμεῖς ἡ οἰκεταις, ἤ τισι τῶν καταδεεστὲρων ἐτιτάττοντες λέγομεν· ἄτελθε σύ, εἰτὲ τῷ δεῖνι σύ· οὔτω κκὶ οἱ τῇ Σύρων κεχρημένοι γλώττη ῥακὰ λέγουσιν, ἀντὶ τοῦ σύ, τοῦτο τιθέντες. ἀλλʼ ὁ φιλάνθρωτος θεὸς καὶ τὰ μικρότατα ἀναστᾷ, καθηκόντως ἡμὶν κεχρῆσθαι ἀλληλοις κελεύων, καὶ μετὰ τῆς προσηκούσης τιμῆς, καὶ ἴνα διὰ τούτων καὶ τὰ μείζονα ἀναιρῆται.

In contradistinction to ῥακά, Chrysostom considers μωρέ, as χαλεπώτερον, as ῥῆμα τῆς ὕβρεως πληκτικώτερον, for which διπλῆ γίνεται ἡ πυρά. The same statement by a later hand is also found on the margin of codex B, τὸ ῥακᾶ ἁντὶ τοῦ σύ being one of the few marginal notes of this MS; and a similar statement is made in the so-called Opus imperfectum, p. 62; but, at the same time, the common explanation is there given: ‘Racha quidem dicitur Hebraice vacuus.’ Euthymius Zigabenus is dependent on Chrysostom: Τὸ ῥακὰ δὲ ἑβραϊκή ἐστι φωνή, δηλοῦσα τὸ Σύ. Ἐπεί γὰρ ὀργιζόμενὸς τις κατά τινος οὐκ ἀξιοῖ καλέσαι τοῦτον ἐξ ὀνόματος, ὡς ἀνάξιον ὀνόματος ἀντὶ ὀνόματος δὲ τὸ Σὺ τίθησιν. Augustine speaks of having heard from a Jew, that Raca is vocum non significantem aliquid, sed indignantis animi motum exprimentem. No example, however, has been found as yet of this use in Syriac. It is interesting to note that Maclean’s Dictionary of the Dialects of Vernacular Syriac gives the vocalization ܪܩܵܐ rçca (or rica) for the present dialect of the Azerbaijani Jews. This want of examples may, however, be due to the fact that a word was avoided, the use of which was denounced in the Gospel. The expression ἄνθρωπε κενέ in James 2:20 may be considered its Greek equivalent, as St. Paul’s ἄφρων (1 Corinthians 15:36) is the parallel to μωρέ. It may be added that the εἰκῇ in the first part of the verse has been believed by some to be the Greek explanation of this Raca, and to have crept into the text at the wrong place. But this is not likely. The Onomastica sacra (ed. Lagarde) are unanimous in the explanation ‘κενέ, κενός, vacuus,’ and spell ῥακά, ῥακκά, Racha, Raca (cod. F). See also art. Fool.

Eb. Nestle.

RACHEL, the wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, is mentioned in Matthew 2:18, in a quotation from Jeremiah 31:15. The words of Jeremiah are understood in this passage as a prediction of the slaughter of the Innocents, but in their original connexion they refer to a historical incident in the prophet’s own life. He accompanied the exiles on their way to Babylon as far as Ramah, 5 miles north of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40:1), and the impression produced by his last sight of them took the form of a poetic picture of Rachel, the ancestral mother of the Israelites (who according to one tradition—1 Samuel 10:2—was buried in the neighbourhood), bewailing the fate of her descendants (Jeremiah 31:15). The application of this passage to the massacre at Bethlehem seems to have been suggested by the fact that another tradition placed Rachel’s tomb in the vicinity of that town (Genesis 35:19-20; Genesis 48:7). The supposed site of this sepulchre has been shown, at least since the 4th cent. a.d., about 4 miles south of Jerusalem, and one mile north of Bethlehem. See Ramah.

James Patrick.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Raca'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​r/raca.html. 1906-1918.