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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(נַּמְלִיאֵל, Γαμαλιήλ, ‘reward of God’)

1. Son of Simon and grandson of Hillel, a ‘pharisee, a doctor of the law, had in honour of all the people,’ and a member of the Sanhedrin, who intervened in the trial of St. Peter and the other apostles (Acts 5:33-39). He is also represented by the Apostle Paul as his early teacher (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel was a representative of a broader and more liberal school among the Pharisees, the school of Hillel as opposed to that of Shammai. He was interested in Greek literature and encouraged his students to study it. His teaching tended towards a broader and more spiritual interpretation of the Mosaic Law, and encouraged the Jews to friendly intercourse with foreigners, allowing poor strangers equal rights along with Jew’s to the gleanings of the corn, while he exerted himself for the relief of wives from the abuses of the law of divorce and for the protection of widows from the greed of children (Giṭṭin 32, 34). He was held in such esteem that it is related in the Mishna (Sota ix. 15), ‘with the death of Gamaliel the reverence for the law ceased and purity and abstinence died away.’

Gamaliel’s attitude towards the apostles has been variously estimated. His advice to let them alone is supported by the reason ‘if this counsel or work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God’ (Acts 5:38-39). Some see in this the mark of a humane, tolerant, generous, liberal-minded man (C. D. Ginsburg in Kitto’s Bibl. Cycl., s.v. ‘Gamaliel i.’); others regard it as the statement of a time-server without definite convictions, and incline to compare him unfavourably not only with the apostles, but with his colleagues in the council, who were consistent and convinced traditionalists. Perhaps the view of Milligan (in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 106) is the most satisfactory. He is of the opinion that Gamaliel’s conduct is to be attributed rather to a ‘prudential dread of violent measures than to a spirit of systematic tolerance.’ The persecuting zeal of his pupil Saul of Tarsus does not seem to indicate that universal tolerance was part of the systematic teaching of Gamaliel, though a pupil may depart from the views he has been taught.

The influence which Gamaliel on this occasion exercised in the Sanhedrin has been explained by the acceptance of a Rabbinic tradition to the effect that he was president of the Sanhedrin; but not until after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the priesthood had lost its importance, do we find a Rabbi occupying this position (cf. A. Edersheim, History of the Jewish Nation, 1896, Appendix iii., p. 522ff.; also Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4 ii. 257, 431). The influence of Gamaliel is better accounted for by the predominating influence of the Pharisaic party, which was represented in the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6; Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. xvii. 3, Vita, 38, 39), and also by the personal influence of the man himself. The importance of this latter factor is borne out by unanimous Rabbinic tradition and is attested by the fact that Gamaliel was the first among the seven teachers who received the title Rabban-a higher form of Rabbi, which in the form Rabboni is applied to the risen Jesus by Mary Magdalene (John 20:16). Another incident bearing upon his commanding position in the Sanhedrin is related in the Mishna (Edajoth vii. 7). The council bad recognized the need for appointing a leap-year, but, as Gamaliel was absent, resolved that their decision should take effect only if it received the subsequent sanction of their leading man.

The tradition that Gamaliel was a secret Christian and was baptized by St. Peter and St. Paul is purely legendary (cf. A. Neander, Hist. of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church, ed. Bohn, i. [1880] 46ff.). He died c. [Note: . circa, about.] a.d. 57-58.

The historical events referred to in the speech ascribed to Gamaliel in Acts 5:36 ff. have given rise to much discussion. According to St. Luke’s narrative, he speaks of a rising under Theudas as taking place before the rising of Judas of Galilee (a.d. 6). Josephus (Ant. xx. v. 1) refers to a rising under a certain Theudas which was put down by the procurator Cuspius Fadus (circa, about a.d. 46). Is the Theudas of St. Luke identical with the Theudas of Josephus? Has one or other historian erred as to his facts, or were there two risings under two men of the same name, one in a.d. 6 and the other in 46? Or are we to suppose that the whole speech of Gamaliel in Acts is unhistorical? For further discussion of these questions see article Theudas.

2. Gamaliel ii., grandson of the former and the third teacher to receive the title Rabban, the most outstanding Jewish scholar at the end of the 1st century. He presided over the court of Jabne, recognized as the highest Jewish authority of the day. He is often confused with 1 (Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4 ii. 35).

3. Gamaliel iii., son of R. Juda-ha-Nâsi (Aboth ii. 2), the fifth scholar to receive the title Rabban. He is credited with having expressly recommended the combining of the study of the Law with manual labour or business activity (Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4 ii. 379).

4. The last Ethnarch or Patriarch of the Jews, deposed by the Emperor Theodosian II. in the year 415 (Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4 iii. 121).

Literature.-G. Milligan, in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. [1889] 106; C. D. Ginsburg, in Kitto’s Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature3, ii. [1864] 60-61; E. Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4, 1901-11; R. J. Knowling, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Acts,’ 1900, p. 156.

W. F. Boyd.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gamaliel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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