A Camel Through the Needle's Eye

Mark 10.24–27

‘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.’


Jesus’ parables are usually pretty coherent, ‘realistic’, so the image of a camel being shoved through a needle’s eye is pretty off the wall even for him.

There’s a popular explanation for this. One of the gates into Jerusalem was a tiny gate called the Needle’s Eye, and — for whatever reason — camels were required to enter this gate, and had to crawl on their knees to fit through. Hence, Jesus was using this gate as an analogy to describe the utter impossibility of rich people following God. The problem is, this explanation is completely untrue. It’s a popular explanation, but it has no historical basis. There was no gate to Jerusalem called the Needle’s Eye. But even if there was, it would mean it was a common occurrence, so it hardly makes sense as an ‘impossible’ situation.

There is another theory, though, that I think makes more sense.

The Greek word for ‘camel’ was κάμηλος (kamēlos). Which looked similar to, and sounded identical, to the word κάμιλος (kamilos). An early copyist could have misread or misheard κάμιλος as κάμηλος, and wrote the wrong word down, which was then written into every copy of the Gospel after that. The word κάμιλος actually means ‘rope’.

‘It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

To me, this makes far more sense. Jesus wasn’t using a completely arbitrary analogy, but taking a simple situation and exaggerating it to an absurd degree in order to stress his point: anyone can thread a needle, but no one can thread it with a rope.