Feed on
Posts
Comments

A catchy line from this week’s gospel, perhaps one of the most memorable in all the New Testament is when Jesus shocks the crowd when he says:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

What in the world could this mean? I found the following at a site called Biblical Hebrew. Their explanation shatters a ‘myth’ I had been taught:

For the last two centuries it has been common teaching in Sunday School that there is a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle through which a camel could not pass unless it stooped and first had all its baggage first removed. After dark, when the main gates were shut, travellers or merchants would have to use this smaller gate, through which the camel could only enter unencumbered and crawling on its knees! Great sermon material, with the parallels of coming to God on our knees without all our baggage.

A lovely story and an excellent parable for preaching but unfortunately unfounded!

From at least the 15th century, and possibly as early as the 9th but not earlier, this story has been put forth, however, there is no evidence for such a gate, nor record of reprimand of the architect who may have forgotten to make a gate big enough for the camel and rider to pass through unhindered.

Variations on this theme include that of ancient inns having small entrances to thwart thieves, or the story of an old mountain pass known as the “eye of the needle”, so narrow that merchants would have to dismount from their camels and were thus easier prey for brigands lying in wait.

It looks like this could have been a ‘figure of speech’ used to express something that was difficult if not impossible. What is interesting is the reaction of the crowd to Jesus’ usage of this saying and applying it to the wealthy. The folks at Biblical Hebrew explain:

Jesus’ hearers believed that wealth and prosperity were a sign of God’s blessing (cf. Leviticus and Deuteronomy). So their incredulity is more along the lines that, “if the rich, who must be seen as righteous by God by dint of their evident blessing, can’t be saved, who can be?”. Later Christians have turned this around to portray wealth as a hindrance to salvation, which it can be – but no more so than many other things, when the message is that salvation is impossible for all men for it comes from God alone.

Comments are closed.