Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Myth Shattered

Sunday's text took us through Mark's account of the young man with many possessions who was challenged by Jesus to "sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow me." This story is followed immediately by Jesus' teaching that it is "harder for the wealthy to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle."

During the sermon, I mentioned as a side point that there are stories circulating about the discovery of a gate in Jerusalem known as the Eye of the Needle. According to the story, it was a low gate, and in order for camels to pass through, they had to get on their knees and crawl forward. The punch line of this story is that "getting on your knees" part. Jesus must be saying something about humbling ourselves and praying. This story is often told in Sunday School lessons and in sermons by well-meaning pastors.

I then mentioned that there is no evidence whatsoever for the truth of that story. Call it my little bit of Sunday Morning Myth Busters. As it stands, it is a popular little teaching that is unfounded in any reality, so it's time to lay it to rest.

I was gently "challenged" by some who weren't so sure that it's not true, and who wanted to know why I denied its veracity.

So, as a follow up, let me offer some sources:

"Imaginative interpreters have invented a small gate in the Jerusalem wall called the 'Needle's Eye' [in a] a misguided attempt to make something Jesus calls 'impossible' into something that might just be (barely) possible."
- Timothy J. Geddert: Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark (pg 247)

"Interpretations that try to reduce the size of the camel or enlarge the needle's eye are suspect. There is no basis for the widely circulated tradition that the eye of the needle was the name of a gate in Jerusalem."
- Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol. 1, Clinton E. Arnold, Ed. (pg. 265)

"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. . ."
- http://www.biblicalhebrew.com/nt/camelneedle.htm

"Many improbably interpretations have arisen that attempt to soften this phrase, e.g., that 'needle' referred to a tiny gate in the Jerusalem city wall that camels could only enter with difficulty (but there is no evidence such a gate ever existed. . .)"
-The MacArthur Study Bible, notes by John MacArthur (pg 1482)

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