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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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NEEDLE.—Although the needle is of prehistoric origin, having been made out of fish bones before the discovery of bronze, it is mentioned only in one passage in the Bible: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,’ etc. (Matthew 19:24 || Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25). The eye of a needle is, in Hebrew and Greek, called simply ‘the hole,’ but in later Arabic it is also called ‘the eye.’ Thus one modern Arab poet (Mcj. Ad. ii. 231) asks, ‘What animal has its hoof in its head, and its eye in its tail?’ and another (ib. iii. 273) speaks of ‘the eye which never tastes of sleep and is never filled with tears.’ The needle is often used as a symbol of self-neglect, in that it clothes all the world and itself remains naked (Burckhardt, 563).

The phrase cited above from the Gospels was used in the schools, with the substitution of an elephant for a camel, to express something which does not happen. Thus in Baba Meẓia, 38b, in the course of a discussion on dreams and their interpretation, R. Shesheth says to R. Amram, who had tried to convince him of something incredible: ‘Perhaps you are from Pumbeditha [where there flourished a famous academy of the Babylonian Rabbis], where they can drive an elephant through the eye of a needle’—that is, can prove that black is white. Similarly, Berakhoth, 55b: ‘No one ever saw a golden palm, nor an elephant entering the eye of a needle.’ For other occurrences of the phrase, see Buxtorf’s Lex. s.v. פילא.† [Note: The proposals that have been made to identify the ‘needle’s eye’ with the small door in a large city gate, or to substitute ‘cable’ (κάμιλος) for ‘camel’ (καμηλος), have nothing in their favour. See Hastings’ DB iii. 505a, and Expos. Times, ix. (1898) 388, 474; A. Wright, Some N.T. Problems, 125.]

T. H. Weir.

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

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