The Eye of The Needle

The picture of the camel going through the eye of the needle is one of those endearing memories from childhood Sunday School that has made the verse famous even in secular society. The question arises however, is this picture really supposed to be as absurd as it sounds or is there a deeper meaning that could become clear if we had a better understanding of biblical culture and archeology? Some have even ventured that this picture is caused by an accidental emendation of the Greek text at that actually it was rope or cable passing through the needles eye.

Regrettably, at least from my perspective, this seeming mystery now appears to be solved; at least to the satisfaction of most of the internet writers. The conclusion they reached after years of research was the same we probably did when we first read the verse "well, that's just silly".

To find the controversy whilst it was still raging I had to delve back to some messages that were current in the early 1990s.

Is the concluding message but if you click on 'Thread' at the top of the page and follow up the list to kamelios vs. kamilios, that embodies the 9 or 10 messages it took for people to reach consensus.

The following gives a fairly good account of the breadth of opinions on this subject:

and this link gives similar information in bullet point form and an overview of the hazards of riches for good measure.

They all pretty much agree on the same thing. The notion started in the 15th Century that the 'eye of the needle' was a reference to the small door or gate beside the main door is simply fanciful. The interpretation used to go that a camel could squeeze through but it had to unload its' baggage first. Unfortunately, we just don't have the archeological evidence to show that was in widespread use at the time.

More damning however is that the Babylonian Talmud uses 'elephant' instead of camel in the same phrase. Now clearly that text is not the Bible however it shows that people at the time did not interpret this expression as a reference to a known ability to squeeze a camel in late at night provided you unloaded it first. Whilst the interpretation of parables was supposed to be hard, the physical picture was supposed to be simple. If the Lord was using 'camel squeezing' as a parable then He would have done so on the basis that His hearers understood the picture (if not the interpretation).

They also all agree that the alteration of the Greek for camel to mean rope is not adequately supported (although some manuscripts do support the change). The shamgar article also discusses the possibility of 'camel' being a substitute for rope as much rope was made of camel hair; but again it dismisses it as unlikely.

The bottom line of these articles, and I tend to agree with them, is that the Lord was using a deliberately ludicrous and humorous picture it order to drive across His point that riches and Christianity are so antithetic that they simply should not be considered at the same time.


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