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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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This name occurs in the narrative of St. Peter’s sojourn in the plain of Western Palestine after the dispersion of the Jerusalem Church on the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 9:36-42). It is given as a translation of the Aramaic proper name Tabitha (‘Tabitha which is by interpretation Dorcas,’ Acts 9:35). The word ṭʿbîthâ’ (טְבִיתָא) is Aramaic corresponding to the Heb. ṣʿbî (צְבִי), and is either the term applied to an animal of the deer species, ‘roebuck’ or ‘roe’ in Authorized Version , ‘gazelle’ in Revised Version , or a proper name borne by women. The word is translated in the Septuagint by the term δορκάςδέρκομαι, ‘see’-a reference to the large eyes of the animal). Both the Aramaic and the Greek terms were used as proper names for women, and the writer of the Acts gives the translation for the benefit of his Greek readers, though the woman was probably known as Tabitha.

The bearer of the name was a dweller in Joppa, a female disciple who had devoted herself to ‘good works’ and to ‘almsgiving.’ One feature or her benevolent activity was the making of garments which she distributed among the poor, a circumstance which is regarded as indicating special goodness, as a woman with means adequate to provide such benefactions might have been content with merely giving her money. This circumstance has in later Christianity given the inspiration and the name to the so-called Dorcas societies devoted to providing garments for the poor. There is no ground for concluding that Tabitha was a deaconess, nor can we tell whether she was one of the widows or married.

This disciple fell ill and died when St. Peter was in the neighbouring town of Lydda, nine miles distant. The believers in Joppa at once sent for the Apostle. Their motive for so doing is not apparent, but it is unlikely that they expected him to work a miracle. More likely the sorrowing friends turned to St. Peter for comfort in their bereavement, and his proximity led them to send for him. On his arrival the mourners showed the Apostle the garments Dorcas had made and spoke of her alms. The narrative then tells how St. Peter put them all out of the room, knelt down and prayed, and turning to the woman said, ‘Tabitha, arise!’ when she opened her eyes, sat up, and was handed over to the widows. This raising of Tabitha is reported to have become widely known and to have led large numbers to attach themselves to the Church.

The account of the raising of Dorcas has obvious points of similarity to that of the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:25, Mark 5:40-41, Luke 8:54), but there is sufficient dissimilarity in details to cause us at once to dismiss the notion that the one is a mere imitation of the other. It is natural that St. Peter, who was present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, should follow the method of his Master, while we see how, with the humility of Elijah or Elisha (1 Kings 17:20, 2 Kings 4:33), he does not at first speak the word of power but kneels down in prayer. Holtzmann and Pfleiderer regard the raising of Tabitha as parallel to the restoration of Eutychus by St. Paul (Acts 20:9-12), but beyond the fact that these commentators suppose both Tabitha and Eutychus to have been only apparently dead, there is no similarity between the two cases.

Literature.-R. J. Knowling, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Acts,’ 1900, p. 247f.; A. Edersheim, Jewish Social Life, 1908, p. 78; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article ‘Dorcas’; Comm. at Holtzmann, Zeller, Meyer-Wendt, in loco.

W. F. Boyd.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dorcas'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​d/dorcas.html. 1906-1918.
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