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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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גמל . This animal is called in ancient Arabic, gimel; and in modern, diammel; in Greek, καμηλος . With very little variation, the name is retained in modern languages. The camel is very common in Arabia, Judea, and the neighbouring countries; and is often mentioned in Scripture, and reckoned among the most valuable property, 1 Chronicles 5:21 ; Job 1:3 , &c. "No creature," says Volney, "seems so peculiarly fitted to the climate in which he exists as the camel. Designing this animal to dwell in a country where he can find little nourishment, nature has been sparing of her materials in the whole of his formation. She has not bestowed upon him the fleshiness of the ox, horse, or elephant; but limiting herself to what is strictly necessary, has given him a long head, without ears, at the end of a long neck without flesh; has taken from his legs and thighs every muscle not immediately requisite for motion; and, in short, bestowed upon his withered body only the vessels and tendons necessary to connect its frame together. She has furnished him with a strong jaw, that he may grind the hardest aliments; but, lest he should consume too much, has straitened his stomach, and obliged him to chew the cud; has lined his foot with a lump of flesh, which sliding in the mud, and being no way adapted to climbing, fits him only for a dry, level, and sandy soil, like that of Arabia. So great, in short, is the importance of the camel to the desert, that, were it deprived of that useful animal, it must infallibly lose every inhabitant." The chief use of the camel has always been as a beast of burden, and for performing journeys across the deserts. They have sometimes been used in war, to carry the baggage of an oriental army, and mingle in the tumult of the battle. Many of the Amalekite warriors, who burnt Ziklag in the time of David, were mounted on camels; for the sacred historian remarks, that of the whole army not a man escaped the furious onset of that heroic and exasperated leader, "save four hundred young men, which rode upon camels, and fled," 1 Samuel 30:17 .

The passage of Scripture in which our Lord says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven," Matthew 19:24 , has been the occasion of much criticism. Some assert that near Jerusalem was a low gate called "the needle's eye," through which a camel could not pass unless his load was taken off. Others conjecture that καμιλος should be read καβιλος , a cable. But there are no ancient manuscripts to support the reading. In the Jewish Talmud, there is, however, a similar proverb respecting an elephant: "Rabbi Shesheth answered Rabbi Amram, who had advanced an absurdity, ‘Perhaps thou art one of the Pambidithians, who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle;'" that as, says the Aruch, "who speak things impossible." There is also a saying of the same kind in the Koran: "The impious, who in his arrogancy shall accuse our doctrine of falsity, shall find the gates of heaven shut; nor shall he enter there, till a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle. It is thus that we shall recompense the wicked," Surat. v. 37. Indeed, Grotius, Lightfoot, Wetstein, and Michaelis, join in opinion, that the comparison is so much in the figurative style of the oriental nations and of the rabbins, that the text is sufficiently authentic.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Camel'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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