Kamel – B.2 Bibel und Bibelexegese

There are over 60 references to the camel in the Bible. Most of these are incidental mentions which merely reflect the fact that it was and is a domesticated animal in the Bible lands. Spiritual significance was seldom ascribed by patristic and later commentators to more than a few references: the classification of the camel as unclean in Lv 11, 4 and Dt 14, 7; the story of Rebekah watering Eliezar’s camels in Gn 24; the allusion to the young camels of Midian and Ephah in Is 60, 6; and, above all, Jesus’s two camel parables, in Mt 23, 24 and Mc 10, 25 (the latter also Mt 19, 24 and Lc 18, 25). In the former, Christ denounces the scribes and Pharisees as blind guides (to the Jews), who strain out a → gnat but swallow a camel. The Fathers established a strong tradition of interpreting the camel here as Christ, and the gnat as Barabbas (see Jerome PL 30, 695; Gregory PL 75, 536); though Augustine (PL 35, 1329f.) and Jerome (PL 26, 171) also associate the camel with »the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith« which Jesus accuses the Pharisees of having neglected. Meanwhile, his statement in Mc 10, 25 and its cognates that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven also gave rise to widespread comparisons between the camel and Christ (with the needle interpreted as his passion – see Jerome, PL 30, 555; Gregory, PL 76, 770 and 79, 319; Augustine PL, 35, 1329 and 36, 610). Whilst this reading predominated, the Fathers on occasion also identified the camel with the rich man (see Jerome PL 22, 982 and 25, 1324, Ambrose PL 17,681 and 20,973), with Zacchaeus (Jerome PL 22, 726) – or indeed with the Gentiles, perceived as likely to find it easier than the Jews to progress through the needle’s eye (Augustine PL 37, 1465, Jerome PL 30, 555, Ambrose PL 15, 1787). Further associations between the camel and Gentiles are made in interpretations of Gn 24 (see Gregory PL 76, 770 and 83, 252) and of Is 60, 6 (see Jerome PL 25, 259), whilst Gregory compares the unclean camel to the Samaritans (PL 75, 581).

Nigel Harris

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