199 Kingdom and Riches
(1) Mark 10:23-27 = Matt 19:23-26 = Luke 18:24-27
(1b) GNaz. 16b
(2) Herm. Sim. 9. 20:1-4
Stratum: II (60-80 CE)
(1) Mark 10:23-27
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
Καὶ περιβλεψάμενος ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· πῶς δυσκόλως οἱ τὰ χρήματα ἔχοντες εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελεύσονται. οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐθαμβοῦντο ἐπὶ τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῦ. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτοῖς· τέκνα, πῶς δύσκολόν ἐστιν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν· εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ [τῆς] τρυμαλιᾶς [τῆς] ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν. οἱ δὲ περισσῶς ἐξεπλήσσοντο λέγοντες πρὸς ἑαυτούς· καὶ τίς δύναται σωθῆναι; ἐμβλέψας αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει· παρὰ ἀνθρώποις ἀδύνατον, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ παρὰ θεῷ· πάντα γὰρ δυνατὰ παρὰ τῷ θεῷ. (Mark 10:23–27 GNT-T)
= Matt 19:23-26
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."
Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πλούσιος δυσκόλως εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. πάλιν δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρυπήματος ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. ἀκούσαντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο σφόδρα λέγοντες· τίς ἄρα δύναται σωθῆναι; ἐμβλέψας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· παρὰ ἀνθρώποις τοῦτο ἀδύνατόν ἐστιν, παρὰ δὲ θεῷ πάντα δυνατά. (Matthew 19:23–26 GNT-T)
= Luke 18:24-27
Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" 27 He replied, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God."
Ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς [περίλυπον γενόμενον] εἶπεν· πῶς δυσκόλως οἱ τὰ χρήματα ἔχοντες εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσπορεύονται· εὐκοπώτερον γάρ ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρήματος βελόνης εἰσελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν. εἶπαν δὲ οἱ ἀκούσαντες· καὶ τίς δύναται σωθῆναι; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· τὰ ἀδύνατα παρὰ ἀνθρώποις δυνατὰ παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ἐστιν.n (Luke 18:24–27 GNT-T)
(1b) GNaz 16b
Quoted by Origen (3rd century), On Matthew 15
(commenting on Matt 19:16--30)
It is written in a certain gospel called the "Gospel of the Hebrews"---if anyone will accept it, not as authoritative,
but to shed light on the question at hand:
1 The second rich man said to him, "Teacher, what good do I have to do to live?"
2 He said to him, "Mister, follow the Law and the Prophets."5 Turning to his disciple Simon, who was sitting with him, he said, "Simon, son of Jonah, it's easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle's eye than for a wealthy person to get into heaven's domain." [Complete Gospels]
He answered, "I've done that."
He said to him, "Go sell everything you own and give it away to the poor and then come follow me."
3 But the rich man didn't want to hear this and began to scratch his head. And the Lord said to him, "How can you say that you follow the Law and the Prophets? In the Law it says: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' 4 Look around you: many of your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Abraham, are living in filth and dying of hunger. Your house is full of good things and not a thing of yours manages to get out to them."
Original language text is currently unavailable
(2) HermSim 9.20:1-4
From the third mountain that has thorns and thistles are believers like these. Among them are the wealthy, those embroiled in many business affairs. The thistles are the wealthy and the thorns are those embroiled in many business affairs. /2/ These [then, the ones embroiled in many business affairs, do not] adhere to the servants of God but wander in error, choked by their deeds. The wealthy with difficulty adhere to the servants of God, afraid lest they be asked for something by them. Such as these will with difficulty enter the kingdom of God. /3/ Just as it is difficult to walk among the thistles in naked feet, so it is difficult to such people to enter the kingdom of God. /4/ There is conversion for all of them, but quickly, so that they may now make up for those former times when they did nothing, and now do some good. [If they are converted and do some good] they will live to God. If they remain in their deeds, they will be turned over to these women, who will put them to death. Hermeneia
Original language text is currently unavailable
Acts of Peter and Andrew
The Christian apocryphal text takes up the saying about the eye of the needle and actually has Peter perform a miracle in which a camel passes back and forth through the eye of a needle in front of a pagan opponent:
13 There was a rich man named Onesiphorus who said: If I believe, shall I be able to do wonders? Andrew said: Yes, if you forsake your wife and all your possessions. He was angry and put his garment about Andrew's neck and began to beat him, saying: You are a wizard, why should I do so? 14 Peter saw it and told him to leave off. He said: I see you are wiser than he. What do you say? Peter said: I tell you this: it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Onesiphorus was yet more angry and took his garment off Andrew's neck and cast it on Peter's and haled him along, saying: You are worse than the other. If you show me this sign, I and the whole city will believe but if not you shall be punished. 15 Peter was troubled and stood and prayed: Lord, help us at this hour, for thou hast entrapped us by thy words. 16 The Saviour appeared in the form of a boy of twelve years, wearing a linen garment 'smooth within and without', and said; Fear not: let the needle and the camel be brought. There was a huckster in the town who had been converted by Philip; and he heard of it, and looked for a needle with a large eye, but Peter said: Nothing is impossible with God rather bring a needle with a small eye. 17 When it was brought, Peter saw a camel coming and stuck the needle in the ground and cried: In the name of Jesus Christ crucified under Pontius Pilate I command thee, camel, to go through the eye of the needle. The eye opened like a gate and the camel passed through; and yet again, at Peter's bidding. 18 Onesiphorus said: You are a great sorcerer: but I shall not believe unless I may send for a needle and a camel. And he said secretly to a servant: Bring a camel and a needle, and find a defiled woman and some swine's flesh and bring them too. And Peter heard it in the spirit and said: O slow to believe, bring your camel and woman and needle and flesh. 19 When they were brought Peter stuck the needle in the ground, with the flesh, the woman was on the camel. He commanded it as before, and the camel went through, and back again. 20 Onesiphorus cried out, convinced and said: Listen. I have lands and vinevards and 27 litrae of gold and 50 of silver, and many slaves: I will give my goods to the poor and free my slaves if I may do a wonders like you. Peter said: If you believe, you shall. 21 Yet he was afraid he might not be able, because he was not baptized, but a voice came: Let him do what he will. So Onesiphorus stood before the needle and camel and commanded it to go through and it went as far as the neck and stopped. And he asked why. 'Because you are not yet baptized.' He was content, and the apostles went to his house, and 1,000 souls were baptized that night. 22 Next day the woman that was hung in the air said: Alas that I am not worthy to believe like the rest! I will give all my goods to the poor and my house for a monastery of virgins. Peter heard it and went out to her and at his word she was let down unhurt, and gave him for the poor 4 litrae of gold and much raiment and her house for a monastery of virgins. 23 And the apostles consecrated a church and ordained clergy and committed the people to God.
SOURCE: Comparative Religion web site
Samuel Lachs Rabbinic Commentary, (331f) mentions the following partial parallels:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, etc. This is an obvious folksaying to illustrate a nearly impossible task or something extraordinary. In the Talmud we find a similar expression, "an elephant passing through a needle's eye" [B. Ber. 55b, B. BM 38b], referring to an impossible dream or over-subtle dialectics.
See also Abrahams, Studies II, p. 208, where he cites a contrasting passage from a difficult text, PR 15(70a), "The Holy One said: Open for Me a door as big as a needle's eye and I will open for you a door through which you may enter tents and (?)." Cf. also Cant. R. 5.2. One suggestion is that it may be kirka'ot of Isa, 66.20, where the meaning is probably "dromedaries." "If this be so the parallel, or rather contrast is striking. The repentant sinner opens a needle's eye to God, and God opens a gate in which tents and camels might camp. The figure almost seems employed as a foil to the Gospel passage quoted." Others have explained that in Syriac/Aram., "camel" could be a misreading of "rope."
The following example of the saying is found in the Quran, and in this case the item that cannot pass through the eye of a needle is a rope rather than a camel:
To those who reject Our signs and treat them with arrogance, no opening will there be of the gates of heaven, nor will they enter the garden, until the rope can pass through the eye of the needle: Such is Our reward for those in sin. (Al-A'raf 7:40)
James G. Crossley
In his article—"The Damned Rich (Mark 10:17-31)" Expository Times 116, no 12 (2005): 397-401—Crossley argues for an interpretation of this passage that takes seriously the antipathy to the rich voiced by Jesus. He notes that the rich man is clearly observant of Torah, and indeed has a personal record without blemish. Further than that, he has not even defrauded anyone (10:19); an action not proscribed by the Decalogue, but included in the character checklist by Jesus in this episode. Unlike the typical wealthy person of the time, this rich man has both observed the commandments and avoided taking unfair advanatge of anyone else. His attitude towards property and wealth seems to be admirable. But Jesus advises that he is doomed unless he relinquishes all his wealth and distributes his property to the poor.
Crossley reads this scene in the context of the rapacious economic context of Galilee in the 20s of the first century. The usual "parasitic" relationship of the cities to the rural territories was exacerbated by a process of commercialization in the early Roman period and, in particular, by the costs of rebuilding Sepphoris and then (shortly afterwards, beginning c. 20 CE) building Tiberias by the lake as a new capital for Herod Antipas. Crosley observes:
The emergence of Tiberias and Sepphoris so close to the time of Jesus ought to be regarded as one of the most important reasons for the emergence of the Jesus movement in 20s Galilee, and specifically Jesus' hostility to wealth. (p. 400)
Crossley suggests numerous grounds for considering the episode to preserve the authentic teaching of Jesus on wealth, although he does not indicate an opinion on the historicity of the event involving a rich man coming to Jesus with a request for spiritual instruction. He dismisses the suggestion that the eye of the needle aphorism may be a confused form of an Aramaic saying about a rope/cable not passing through the eye of needle, although it seems that he adopts this position mostly on the basis of the Babylonian Talmud (c. 500 CE) parallel cited above.
The theme of wealth is a mixed one in the biblical tradition. While we may project feelings of envy onto the ancients, it is also the case that divine favour was expected to be manifested in wealth - land, animals, slaves and lovers. Under the Deuteronomistic theology faithfulness to the covenant would lead to exactly such an outcome, and the absence (or loss) of same was seen as a mark of divine displeasure. Health was seen through a similar lens.
Poverty was not seen as a positive state of life, hence the radical challenge in the beatitude for the poor: 043 Blessed the Poor
The prosperity gospel is an ancient dimension of religion. After all, religion can presumably offer just four or five rewards:
- protection from danger of various sorts, including sickness and one's enemies (the divine as talisman)
- fertility and virility (the divine as aphrodisiac)
- prosperity (the divine as power)
- wisdom/integration (the divine as truth/meaning)
- life after death (the divine as remedy for mortality)
It seems improbable that the ancient were universally opposed to wealth and power. We may not like them in the hands of others, but few of us are adverse to having a good grip on these blessings ourselves.
At the same time the Wisdom texts, an intrinsically universalist tradition, know of the risk that wealth (and other forms of power, including sexuality) can corrupt the retainer class and cause harm to the wider community. Justice is perverted, careers damaged, etc. For example, and even outside the Wisdom tradition, see:
You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
(Deut 16:19-20 NRSV)
Presumably Jesus was no less aware of these issues than other spiritual masters of various times, so there is no real justification for attributing so much of his sayings to anonymous sources or the generally undistinguished Gospel writers who show themselves to be such lesser souls in these matters.
In this particular case, there is the added consideration that the saying about the eye of the needle seems only to make sense as an aphorism created in Aramaic - not the language of Mark the gospel writer. The present Greek is possibly a garbled version of an Aramaic proverb (which may or may not have been created by Jesus) as follows:
It is easier for a [camel] rope to be put through the eye of a needle,
than for a wealthy person to enter God's domain.
Rather than elaborate on the confusion of the Aramaic gemla (meaning camel, but also rope [made of camel hair]) and the Greek kamelon (camel), let me just point to one web site that discusses this in more detail.
The possible Aramaic origins of the saying argue against creation by Mark, while the implicit critique of traditional assumptions of wealth as a sign of divine favour also suggests a more insightful creator than canonical Mark.
The preachers' false tale of a small gate can be traced back to the ninth century, but has no basis in fact despite the reports of Victorian visitors to the Holy Land who claimed to have seen such a small doorway. It is possible they were misinterpreting the exceptionally small door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (see photo below). The original large door has been reduced in dimensions on a number of occasions to prevent people driving carts into the church and filling them with treasures. The remaining very small entrance is sometimes known as the "Door of Humility."
The voting of the Seminar can be represented as follows:
- Mark 10:25
- Matt 19:24
- Luke 18:25
- GNaz 16
The deliberately reduced entrance to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem may be the source of the apocryphal story about a very small gate, supposedly known as the "Eye of the Needle," that allowed access to a walled city when the main gates were shut. In the case of the Church of the Nativity, the repeated reduction in the dimensions of the main doors was presumably to increase security, with the ultimate reduction to the present size having the effect of preventing looters using carts to remove material from the building.
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: This image is from BiblePlaces.com and is used within the limited permission provided on their site. For a higher resolution version of this picture as well as other resources, see the original page on their site.
Work to be Done