Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Was 'Camel Through the Eye of a Needle' a Third Century Church Reaction Against Itacisms in the Heretical Gospel?

25. easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. A hyperbolic comparison sums up the matter; again Jesus uses a grotesque figure. See 6:41–42; cf. Matt 23:24. The largest of Palestinian animals is compared with the tiniest of commonly known openings. Both “camel” and “eye of a needle” are to be understood literally. See O. Michel, TDNT 3. 592–594; S. Pedersen, EWNT 2. 609–611. In its own way, the comparison makes the same point as Jesus’ saying about the “narrow door” (13:24).

To avoid the grotesque in the comparison, some commentators have suggested other explanations of the saying—both of them improbable: (1) Some would understand the “eye of a needle” as the name for a small entrance in a city wall through which a camel might squeeze only with the greatest difficulty. See G. Aicher, Kamel und Nadelöhr, 16–21, for a list of those who have proposed such an explanation. Plausible as it might seem, no one knows of the existence of such a named tiny entrance. (2) Ever since the patristic period others have suggested that kámēlos, which in Roman and Byzantine times would have been pronounced káh-mee-los (by itacism, according to which an ēta was pronounced as an iōta), should be understood as kámilos, which means “rope, hawser, ship’s cable.” Indeed, a few mss., undoubtedly affected by this interpretation, even read kamilon (S, f13, 1010, etc.). This explanation was used by Origen, Catena, frgs. in Matt. 19.24 (GCS 41.166); Cyril of Alexandria, Comm. in Matt. 19.24 (PG 72.429D); Theophylact, Enarr. in Matt. 19 (PG 123.356D). See further J. Denk, “Camelus: 1. Kamel, 2. Schiffstau,” ZNW 5 (1904) 256–257; “Suum cuique,” BZ 3 (1905) 367; F. Herklotz, “Miszelle zu Mt 19,24 und Parall.,” BZ 2 (1904) 176–177; “Nachtrag,” BZ 3 (1905) 39. Again, plausible as it might seem, it takes something off the edge of Jesus’ words. Note that the rabbinic saying about an elephant passing through the eye of a needle (Str-B 1. 828) dates from the fourth century and may well be dependent on this gospel saying. Fitzmyer, J. A., S.J. (2008). The Gospel according to Luke X-XXIV: Introduction, translation, and notes (1204). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

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