Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb δερω (dero) means to skin, or more elaborate: to do something to skin. In the classics this verb often comes down to flaying (removing the skin), but equally often to hitting or hurting someone's skin, either by slapping, pounding or lashing.
Since clothes were people's primary means to indicate what profession they engaged in or which social rank they held, a person's nakedness — that is: γυμνοτης (gumnotes) — reduced him to his animal self, separated from whatever cultural or intellectual insights he might have to offer. Correcting someone, or forcing someone in some direction, by striking his naked skin rather than engaging him in a reasonable discussion equaled treating him as an unreasonable animal (Mark 13:9). Hence Jesus' harrowing words: "If I have said something wrong, say what was wrong: but if correctly, why do you beat me?" (John 18:23).
This verb is used 15 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The familiar noun δερμα (derma), meaning skin or hide, both of man and animal (Hebrews 11:37 only). From this noun in turn comes:
The noun βυρσευς (burseus) describes a man who works with hides, a tanner or someone who converts hides into leather (Acts 9:43, 10:6 and 10:32 only). It stems from the unused noun βυρσα (bursa), meaning hide, which is of unclear origin, but which made its way from Greek into Latin as bursa (around the 4th century AD), meaning ox-hide or a leather purse, which explains subsequent English words like purse and reimburse.
A group of somewhat comparable words appear in several Semitic languages with meanings of (wine)-skin or any such a flexible, leather container, but these words all start with a K instead of a B — in Aramaic we have כרס (keras), meaning [fat] stomach, belly, or even womb, which are all items with obvious similarity to filled wineskins — and the hilarity is that to a novice, the Hebrew letters K (namely כ) and B (namely ב) are alike enough to cause confusion (as much as someone new to our Latin script might confuse the letters O, D and Q, particularly when trying to interpret an unfamiliar word).
Our English word tanner comes from the chemical compound called tannin, with which a perishable animal hide is transformed into lasting leather. Where this word comes from is also a mystery (some say it's Celtic; hence the German Tannenbaum, Christmas tree), but in Hebrew there is the noun תנין (tannin), which denotes some kind of aquatic, primeval or serpentine creature (Genesis 1:21, Exodus 7:9, Psalm 74:13).
As we discuss more elaborately in our article on the name Hellas, the Greek alphabet is an adaptation of the Hebrew one, and the Hebrew alphabet was imported into Greek along with a hardy helping of key words (possibly including the quintessential Greek names Hellas and Helen, but possibly also Colossae and some others). Our noun βυρσα (bursa), skin or hide, may thus very well have been imported into Greek, but in written form (in a bill of lading, tagged onto a bundle of hides), for a blundering neophyte to decipher.
Better yet, also since the formation of script was back then as hot as the computer business is today, and very little happened by accident, and very few accidents didn't eventually get straightened out, our noun βυρσα (bursa) may very well have been a deliberate Greek variation of some original Semitic noun κυρσα (kursa). That in turn suggests that our noun means hide only to the poetically challenged, whereas to the poetically gifted our noun had to do with the synthetic formation of Greek script. Texts would commonly be wrapped in leather sheaths or kept in leather pouches, but perhaps to some vinolent poets, words and texts were like wineskins in which the wine of meaning sloshed around (see our article on οινος, oinos, meaning wine; the Greek word for wineskin is ασκος, askos).
It would certainly explain why Simon Peter would take up lodging with Simon the "tanner", if Simon wasn't a tanner of animal skins but rather of Semitic texts that had to be converted to Greek ones. Not wholly dissimilar is the prophet Amos' enigmatic "growing of sycamores" (Amos 7:17), which may very well refer to the introduction of writing to the Italian peninsula (see our article on the noun συκον, sukon, fig).
Note that Peter's vision of the Great Sheet (Acts 10:11) brings to mind the Hebrew verb שלח (shalah), to stretch out (particularly of animal hides). It's identical to a verb that means to send (hence the name Siloam). The proverbial four corners of the Great Sheet not only remind of the four winds of heaven (Daniel 7:2, 8:8, 11:4, Zechariah 2:6, 6:5, Matthew 24:31, Revelation 7:1), and the four rivers of Eden (Genesis 2:10), but also of the corresponding tabernacle's great altar (Exodus 27:2 and see the Eleventh Commandment: Exodus 20:24, also see Isaiah 11:12), which were equipped with horns (Exodus 38:2), which corresponds to the name Cornelius (means Little Horn; rather obviously after Daniel 7:8 and 8:9).