Eye of a needle

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Eye of a needle
A dromedary camel passing through the eye of a needle, as a symbol of the improbable Peace of Westphalia. Engraving, Johann Vogel: Meditationes emblematicae de restaurata pace Germaniae, 1649.

The term "eye of a needle" is used as a metaphor for a very narrow opening. It occurs several times throughout the Talmud. The New Testament quotes Jesus as saying 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 God". It also appears in the Qur'an 7:40, "Indeed, those who deny Our verses and are arrogant toward them – the gates of Heaven will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Paradise until a camel enters into the eye of a needle. And thus do We recompense the criminals."[1]



The Babylonian Talmud applies the aphorism to unthinkable thoughts. To explain that dreams reveal the thoughts of a man's heart and are the product of reason rather than the absence of it, some rabbis say:

They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.[2]

A midrash on the Song of Songs uses the phrase to speak of God's willingness and ability beyond comparison to accomplish the salvation of a sinner:

The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle's eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and [camels?].[3]

Rav Sheishet of Nehardea applied the same aphorism to the convoluted reasoning for which the sages of Pumbedita were evidently famous: "Are you from Pumbedita, where they push an elephant through the eye of a needle?" (Baba Metzia, 38b).


A church portal relief in Dortmund referencing Jesus's use of "camel through the eye of a needle" aphorism.

"The eye of a needle" is a portion of a quotation attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels:

"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'[4]

The saying was a response to a young rich man who had asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied that he should keep the commandments, which the man replied that he had done so. Jesus responded, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." The young man became sad and was unwilling to do that. Jesus then spoke that response, leaving his disciples astonished.

Cyril of Alexandria (fragment 219) claimed that "camel" was a Greek scribal typo where kamêlos (κάμηλος, camel) was written in place of kamilos (κάμιλος, meaning "rope" or "cable").[3][5][6] More recently, George Lamsa, in his 1933 translation of the Bible into English from the Syriac, claimed the same.

Arthur Schopenhauer, in The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1, § 68, quoted Matthew 19:24: "It is easier for an anchor cable to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich person to come to God's kingdom."[a]

In modern times, the scripture has been used as a counterargument to the prosperity gospel, the belief that accruing wealth is a virtue favored by God.[7][8]


The "Eye of the Needle" has been claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could not pass through the smaller gate unless it was stooped and had its baggage removed. The story has been put forth since at least the 15th century and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no widely accepted evidence for the existence of such a gate.[9][10]

In addition to the lack of archeological evidence for a gate, there is no textual support for it. The three gospels that mention it (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18) and each author uses slightly different words for this phrase. Matthew calls the eye of a needle the “trypēmatos rhaphidos” (τρυπήματος ‘ῥαφίδος),[11] while Mark calls it the “trymalias tēs rhaphidos” (τρυμαλιᾶς τῆς ‘ῥαφίδος).[12] Both are using the same word for needle (referring specifically to a tailor’s needle), but they’re using different language to talk about the eye of that needle. Luke not only adds a third option for the eye, but uses the word for a surgeon’s needle rather than the word for a tailor’s needle: trēmatos belonēs (τρήματος βελόνης).[13] Had the gate existed, the apostles who knew the area at the time would have referred to it by name and not used different descriptions.


According to the English interpretation of the Quran:

To those who reject Our signs and treat them with arrogance, no opening will there be of the gates of heaven, nor will they enter the garden, until the camel can pass through the eye of the needle: Such is Our reward for those in sin.[14]

The camel, in Arabic jamal, can also be translated as "twisted rope".[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Original German: "Es ist leichter, daß ein Ankertau durch ein Nadelöhr gehe, denn daß ein Reicher ins Reich Gottes komme."


  1. ^ "Quran 7". Clear Quran. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  2. ^ B.T. Berakhot 55b
  3. ^ a b "'The camel and the eye of the needle', Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25". Hebrew New Testament Studies. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  4. ^ Matthew 19:23–26 Parallel versions appear in Mark 10:24–27, and Luke 18:24–27
  5. ^ Reuss, Joseph (1957). Matthäus-Kommentare aus der griechischen Kirche (in German). Berlin: Akademie-Verlag. p. 226.
  6. ^ Simonetti, Manlio (2002). Matthew 14-28. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-1469-5. OCLC 47443858. By “camel” here he means not the living thing, the beast of burden, but the thick rope to which sailors tie their anchors. He shows this comparison to be not entirely pointless (as a camel would be), but he makes it an exceedingly difficult matter; in fact, next to impossible.
  7. ^ Collins, Raymond F. (2017). Wealth, wages, and the wealthy: New testament insight for preachers and teachers. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-8146-8785-7. OCLC 983796136.
  8. ^ Bowler, Kate (2013). Blessed: A history of the American prosperity gospel. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-19-087673-9. OCLC 1005124050.
  9. ^ Егор Розенков, Верблюд и игольное ушко // Духовный вестник высшей школы, № 8 (24), 01.09.2007
  10. ^ Morris, Leon (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan Leicester, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Inter-Varsity Press. p. 493. ISBN 978-0-8511-1338-8.
  11. ^ "Matthew 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2022-01-22.
  12. ^ "Mark 10:25 It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2022-01-22.
  13. ^ "Luke 18:25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2022-01-22.
  14. ^ Al-Araf (The Heights) 7:40 , Quran Surah Al-A'raaf ( Verse 40 )
  15. ^ Asad, Muhammad (1980). The Message of The Qur'án. Gibraltar, Spain: Dar al-Andalus Limited. ISBN 1904510000. Footnote to the verse.

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