More than three years ago, Languagehat had an entry on the Suidas On Line project. Suda (‘fortress’) is a huge 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedic lexicon of the Classical world. I browsed around it at the time, but had pretty much forgotten it until today, when on a logophiliac forum (Word Origins), a thread was started regarding rich people getting into heaven and camels threading through the eye of a needle (cf. Matth. XIX.24: et iterum dico vobis facilius est camelum per foramen acus transire quam divitem intrare in regnum caelorum). One of the standard interpretations (from rich hermeneuts, no doubt) is that kamēlon ‘camel’ is an error for kamilon ‘rope’. Others argue lectio difficilior lectio potior (‘the more difficult reading is the more probable one’). Others point out that a similar bit of hyperbole exists in the Talmud (Berachos 55b and Bava Metzia 38b) where it is an elephant going through the eye of a needle. (Interestingly, in the second citation, Rabbi Rava [ca.270–352 CE] asks
Are you from Pumbedita, where they make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle?; Pumbedita, a center of Babylonian Talmudic scholarship, is the modern-day Fallujah.) It is interesting to note that camel is associated with the letter ג (gimel or g) in Hebrew and eye of the needle with the letter ק (qoph or q), and that the former is a voiced velar stop and that the latter is a voiceless uvular one. Least you think it’s only of concern to theology students, let me point out that kamelos occurs in Aristophanes’ The Wasps (l.1035) where one reads of prōkton de kamēlou (‘the arse of a camel’), besides the stench of a seal and the unwashed balls of a Lamia.
Labels: folklore, language, religion