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Our Camels


The New Testament is full of colorful semitc idioms and mistranslations that can’t be understood by reading them through the Greek fuchsia colored lenses worn by most Christians and all theologians. I want to examine two of them and anyone interested can find more.First I would like to look at Matthew 19:24.

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.

It is almost always given the explanation that there is a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle where a camel must stoop low and have it’s pack removed in order to fit through. The story continues that after dark the main gates of Jerusalem were closed and this one had to be used and of course a parallel was drawn with this saying we must come to god on our knees unencumbered by our baggage. Nice story but is it true? There is no record whatsoever of any small gate named eye of the needle anywhere in or near Jerusalem so we should look for another reason. This reason is quite easily found when one looks at the common language of the time Aramaic. The Aramaic word Gamla was used and it does in fact mean camel but as most Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic words, it has a secondary meaning supplied by the context.  The secondary meaning is large rope. Let’s read the verse again but substitute large rope for camel and see if it makes any sense. It is easier for a large rope to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Say goodbye to the nice spiritual parallel since this was either a bungled Greek translation based on ignorance or a deliberate mistranslation to give the parallel I wrote about above. Either reason points out that this isn’t teh word of god.

The second is also problematic again  easily seen in Aramaic. This does require a familiarity with with Old Testament law and a familiarity with written Aramaic.. The passage is Matthew 26:6-7.

6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table.

Doesn’t seem problematic. Seems pretty straight forward but remember the Old Testament law I mentioned? Let’s take a quick look at Leviticus 13:44-46.

44 He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean; his plague is in his head. 45 And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. 46 All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.

Somebody correct me if I misunderstand those verses but they seem to say a leper shall not live in the city. Last I checked Bethany was a city. That alone says this isn’t the word or god but let’s continue. The word used in Aramaic was Garba which does mean leper, this time there is no confusion about the meaning. The problem lies with the written word. Aramaic, as well as Hebrew and Arabic, was not written at that time with vowel points. In other words it would be as if we were to write in english the word ct, does that mean cat or cot or cut? Vowels are not only helpful for pronunciation but they are necessary if context does not clarify what the word is. Here, taking the context of the Old Testament law, no way was a leper living in a city. The Aramaic word Garaba means either jar maker or jar merchant [salesman]. Now I will ask you dear reader for an answer. Does the story make more sense that a leper [illegally living in a city] had a jar of expensive perfume in his house or does the story make more sense if a jar merchant or maker had a jar of expensive perfume in his house.

Once again let me say the bible is not the word of god.

[tweetmeme source=”noreligionblog” only_single=false https://noreligionblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/aramaic%5D



11 Responses

  1. Excellent! Wish I know about this earlier..

    • Your attempt to smear the Bible is sophomoric.


      YOU claim that Bethany was a “city”, but in fact it was a very small village or hamlet by our standards.

      YOU claim that Simon lived inside the city, when in fact his home could very well have been merely in the area.

      YOU claim that Simon had the jar, when in fact it was his sister Mary.

      YOU claim that it makes more sense for a jar-maker to have a jar than for a leper, when in fact this particular jar, worth 1 year of wages, was not likely to be in the home of anyone unless they were extremely wealthy.

      YOU claim that an Old Testament verse can be used to interpret a New Testament verse, when in fact the Oral Law of the Pharisees had already substantially replaced it. If you want to interpret Jewish law of the Roman period, you’re going to have to look up the Mishnah.

      YOU make an unfounded assumption that Simon “the leper” obeyed the law, but you don’t allow the text to evidence whether he did or not. You don’t have the means to make this assumption, therefore your conclusions are not intellectual, they’re merely automated to suit a personal prejudice (you need the Bible to say something, so you make the text say it).

      I don’t understand how you can pose yourself as a linguist or an historian when you make simple-minded mistakes like this. I believe you need to endeavor to raise your standards if you’d like to be taken seriously.

  2. Thanks for these beautiful examples. The Aramaic words, gamla and garba, are what the Aramaic Peshitta uses. The New Testament makes perfect sense in the Aramaic Peshitta, but the evidence is that the Greek New Testament is translated from it (not the other way round). But because most theologians in the west only study the Greek and ignore the Aramaic and Semitic background of the NT, they are unaware of just how rich in meaning and clear to understand, is the Aramaic Peshitta.
    Incidentally, gamla in Aramaic is not just any thick rope, it is a rope made from camel’s hair (hence the name gamla!) Looking at it, it is easy to see why Greek translators translated it as camel. But as you correctly say, there is absolutely no historical evidence of a small gate that a camel could barely go through. Who would build a gate like that? The story just gets more elaborate every time it is told!

  3. A simpler explanation would be that Simon, having contracted leprosy, had gone through the full stages of the disease to the point where he was no longer contagious and, according to Leviticus 13:13, would then be pronounced clean and allowed to live in his own house in the city.

    • Then it would be Simon the healed our ex-leper not Simon the LEPER. Cognitive dissonance is pretty uncomfortable isn’t it?

      • Good grief @noreligion, that is so lame. A name is a name, if you’re stuck with it you’re stuck with it. If the leprosy had run its full course he was still a leper, he just wasn’t unclean. And cognitive dissonance is only uncomfortable when you are the one desperately holding on to what you know to be wrong.

      • Good grief? Are you stupid or something. Wait, you are. A name is a name? Who is arguing that? His name is Simon not SIMON THE LEPER. You biblical literalists are sad excuses for humans. BTW, unless you can provide proof this story ever happened, then the version I used is the only possible one without biblical contradictions. If you don’t like it, that’s just too bad.

      • I don’t know your name, but your nom de plume is a misnomer, we all have a religion. A religion is that set of beliefs that guide our lives and actions whether or not it involves a god. So Mr or Mrs or Miss noreligion, I will leave the discussion now that way you can pretend that you have won the argument. Just make sure you’re 100% certain that what you believe is correct before you leave the planet.

      • We all have a religion. You really are an idiot.

  4. Thought it was the woman that brought the expensive perfume into the house of Simon the Leper? Didn’t think Simon already had it in his house. Also, there were several that went by the name of Simon, and “leper” could have been used to distinguish this Simon from others. Another thing to consider is that Bethany was not a walled city, which is why this “Leper” was “allowed” to live there. One of the definitions of Bethany is: “House of Misery”. Otherwise, this information was very helpful in studying about the camel thing.
    Thank you!

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