Threading a Hawser Through the Eye of a Needle

“Those who know Arabic are jinn among humans, they can see what nobody else can.
Imam Shafii

“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.”

— Matthew 19:24 (NIV)

You know this Bible quote. I am certain you’ve seen it countless times. It might be your favorite chapter and verse. But why a camel? Well, ‘camel’ is a misnomer — a mistranslation immortal. The intended object was ‘rope’, specifically a thick twisted rope: a hawser.

camel

Which is the more eloquent simile:
  1. it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…
  2. it is easier to thread a hawser through the eye of a needle…
Why is this obviousity never mentioned?
The Bible Hub, an online resource for Bible scholars, provides English language variants for every chapter and verse, among them Matthew 19:24. Click that link to compare 28 translations regarding a rich guy’s odds of entering the Kingdom of God.
Mistranslations are the coin of many a realm, perhaps this one most appropriately so. I am hardly the first to learn, two millennia after the coin was struck, that the writer intended something comparable to a thread.
What is the camel doing in the sewing kit with the needles and threads anyway? The original metaphor roots in Aramaic language, one of the Semitic languages that use consonantal roots to convey meaning:

 

Gamla-Peshitta bible
Source

https://billziegler1947.com/2017/02/04/arabic-what-gives/#lemon

I also discuss the root system in A Safari into the Sahara

An alternative scripture, The Qur’an, provides just such a footnote. Here is one from the well-respected translator  M.A.S. Abdel Haleem:

The gates of Heaven will not be open to those who rejected Our revelations and arrogantly spurned them; even if a thick rope a were to pass through the eye of a needle they would not enter the Garden.

— Quran “The Garden” 7:40 M.A.S. Abdel Haleem translation 2004

Haleem inserts this footnote for 7:40:

Not ‘camel’. The roots of the words for ‘camel’ and ‘thick twisted rope’ are the same in Arabic and ‘rope’ makes more sense here (Razi).

 

Thanks for reading.

Author: Bill Ziegler

Master of Arts Degree: Germanic Languages and Literatures. Master of Arts Degree: Geography. Certified Teacher of German Language. Functional specification writer for databases Logistics Chain for Automotive Concern: Technical Specification for a Filtering System: Translated a German patent for a steel-drum facility Translated terms and conditions (Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen) Taught German language and culture kindergarten to advanced. Designed curricula Cincinnati Waldorf School Created programs using PL/SQL, Oracle, Unix, Visual Basic, Cleaned data for the P&G Commercial Products Group. Developed program to establish optimal vendor routes Designed IVR call-in for field agents to detect scheduling problems and determine their location. Designed programs to maintain a vendor database in an SAP application for product supply from a single pilot plant with 1,300 records to 40 plant locations with 45,000 records. Developed programs to identify specifically critical data errors and potentially duplicated records.

3 thoughts on “Threading a Hawser Through the Eye of a Needle”

  1. There is also a miss translation of the 6th commandment. In the original it is Thou Shalt not Murder yet in the English translation it is written Thou Shalt not kill.

    Liked by 1 person

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