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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Hebrew word: זכר
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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

זכר

The root-verb זכר (zakar) means to remember but with quite a range of nuance. Studies of cognate languages suggest that the core meaning of the verb זכר (zakar) has to do with the public announcement of whatever it is that one seeks to bring to remembrance (Nahum 2:6, 2 Samuel 14:11). Our verb seems to be endowed with a mild persuasive clause: it basically means to call to remember (Genesis 41:9, Isaiah 43:26). But secondarily, it's also used to describe contemplation without further outward activity; the act of meditation or reminiscing (Deuteronomy 5:15, Job 21:6, Psalm 137:1). That our verb describes a focusing on readily accessible information, specifically in order to take some (premeditated) form of action, in stead of a digging up a lost memory, is argued by its usage in describing God's "remembering" someone or something (Exodus 2:24, Psalm 89:47). God "remembers" — that is: reviews — Hezekiah's faithfulness and heals him; He "remembers" — that is: never forgot — Noah and dries up the flood (Genesis 8:1).

The verb זכר (zakar) yields the following derivations:

  • The masculine noun זכר (zeker), meaning remembrance or memory (Exodus 17:14, Psalm 34:17, Esther 9:28), memorial (Proverbs 10:7), or invocation (Exodus 3:15). This noun appears to be "a general verbal noun for the whole range of meanings of the verb zakar" (in the words of HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).
  • The masculine noun זכרון (zikkaron) or זכרן (zikkaron), which denotes an object or act by which the verb zakar is executed; a memorial or token: a memorial day (Exodus 12:14), altar-plates (Numbers 17:5), stones in the Jordan (Joshua 4:7), crowns (Zechariah 6:14), a record book (Exodus 17:14), proof or sign of citizenship (Nehemiah 2:20), spoils of war (Numbers 31:54), stones on the ephod (Exodus 28:12).
  • The feminine noun אזכרה ('azkara), which appears to be an Aramaic form, meaning memorial-offering. This noun is used for the cereal and frankincense offerings in the tabernacle (Leviticus 5:12, Leviticus 24:7, Numbers 5:26).
  • The masculine noun and adjective זכר (zakar), meaning male. This noun denotes the male of humans and animals (Genesis 7:3, Exodus 12:5, Numbers 31:18, Joshua 17:2).
  • The masculine noun זכור (zakur), meaning male. This particular noun occurs a mere four times, each time preceded by the suffix כל (kal), meaning all (Exodus 23:17, 34:23, Deuteronomy 16:16, 20:13).

To be male is to remember

Several theories have been forwarded to explain why the Bible's regular word for male comes from a verb that means to remember.

Some say it is because males are the active ones in religious services that were designed to "remember" the Lord. Others say it is because men held all public offices and were therefore more talked about more than women. Perhaps it is because even though man and woman were created in God's image, the relationship between God and humans is represented as a marriage in which the groom represents God and the bride represents mankind.

It's even noted that the Arabic word for the male organ comes from the Arabic equivalent of the verb zakar, and sure, perhaps at times the membrum virile may appear a bit like a monolith, but ultimately, even though these symmetries may help to understand to function of masculinity, they are probably not the reasons for the connection between the verb zakar and the word for male.

Things become clear when we look at the Hebrew word for female: נקבה (neqeba), from the verb נקב (naqab), meaning to pierce or bore. Ergo, where נקבה (naqab) denotes an entity equipped with a facility designed to receive something not of that entity, and incorporate it into the entity's self, זכר (zakar) denotes an entity with a facility designed to submit its own reflection into a נקבה (neqeba). And therefore God is male and mankind is female, and "remembering" one's wife is not expressed in erection but in ejaculation.

Ultimately, masculinity is the quality that allows the infusion of 'something to remember' into someone else. Judging from the other usages of this root, in the procreative process this 'something' would cover everything from a man's love to a conceived child. Note that the Biblical term for a female virgin is 'a woman who has not known a male', in which the operative verb is ידע (yada'), to know. In other words, to the Hebrews, sexuality was a mental exercise much rather than a physical one, and certain much-quoted verses on who can and who can not 'lie with a male' should always be understood as forming one's cognitive discipline.


Associated Biblical names

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