Thursday, 2 April 2009

What goes through the needle's eye?

There's an old debate amongst Christians on should the camel or the cable1 force itself to go through the needle's eye in order to be able to enter rich men into Paradise. But let's see what says the Qur'an about it.

Jesus is considered to have said that „For it is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Luke, 18:25). However the camel in no way wants to go through the needle's eye. Hence some church fathers – who had more property than to be called poor men – must have felt inconvenience about it. Examining the Greek manuscripts one can see that they sometimes even tried to soften the edge of this phrase. Although the word camelos means camel in Greek, with an elegant maneuvre it can be easily tamed to mean cable, when man writes it with iota instead of eta. This way will turn camelon into camilon (καμηλον -> καμιλον), and likewise will be easier to enter rich men into Paradise. Providing that cable fits into the needle's eye.
Or you think it's impossible?
Well, the author of the text must have ment the same. Considering that the phrase even traced back to ancient times of Semitic languages, and means something like „when hell freezes over”.

While the Syriac Church (who claims that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic) also stick to the meaning '(thick) rope', the condition of the rich didn't really become less desperate. [Gamlo (ܓܡܠܐ) means in Aramaic tow-rope that used to tow ships as well as camel.]

White hope... (Illustration by Édua

A solution will appear while reading the Quran. While christians argue whether cable or camel should go through the needle's eye, the Quran reveals that doesn't matter which of them. Our key of salvation is not our material essentials, but something completely different.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآَيَاتِنَا وَاسْتَكْبَرُوا عَنْهَا لَا تُفَتَّحُ لَهُمْ أَبْوَابُ السَّمَاءِ وَلَا يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّى يَلِجَ الْجَمَلُ فِي سَمِّ الْخِيَاطِ وَكَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُجْرِمِينَ

„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 camel can pass through the eye of the needle: Such is Our reward for those in sin. ” [Quran 7:40]

The original text has „جمل” which can be read as jamal or jummal as well, meaning camel or thick rope respectively.
But it is camel or rope then?
The Quran generously lets the reader decide.

1 In the sense of thick rope.

Koranic Arabic in Clarke's Bible Commentary

Adam Clarke Biblical scholar in his authoritative work spoke in flattering terms about the language of the Qur'an.

Adam Clarke (1760-1832) was one of the most influential methodists, who followed John Wesley. His enormous commentary on the Bible was a standard reference for more than hundred years, and used by all protestant churches. Its thorough and authoritative scientific nature was accepted by Armenian and Calvinist churches as well.

Looking up his commentary at Exodus 20:26 we can find the following sentence: „Mohammed defied all the poets and literati of Arabia to match the language of the Koran; and for purity, elegance, and dignity it bore away the palm, and remained unrivalled.”1
In his work Adam Clarke has mentioned Arabic language several times, which – he wrote – means serious help interpreting the Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Bible. The scholar himself also set an example by mastering Arabic language, inspiring those who desire to apprehend the message of holy scriptures to do likewise.

1 Of course muslims credit this feature to Allah rather than Mohammed.