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There is a great set of answers that covers some of my question regarding the interpretation of this passage over on the Biblical Hermeneutics site, but it didn't answer all of my questions.

Today I heard an old pastor speak about when he saw one of those gates for himself in Jerusalem. If I understand it right, the gate he saw was even labeled with "The eye of the needle" or something similar (though his interpretation was not the classic, because he was sure of that there was no way a camel could get through the gate he saw).

  1. What gate (which obviously exists today) is this pastor speaking about?

  2. Is there really any part of the Jerusalem walls left since Jesus time? Weren't all of the walls destroyed after the siege of Jerusalem 70 A.D?

Update 1

Even since before asking this question, I never doubted that Jesus was speaking about a real "eye of the needle", and not a gate. Even though I marked one answer (which was really clarifying) as accepted, it would be really interesting to nail this myth and go down to the details. According to the New Bible Dictionary, third Edition, p. 562, there is one remaining ancient wall "at the present-day Damascus Gate". What does "ancient" mean in this context? Could it have survived since the days of Jesus? In that case, how big is this part? Are there other ancient walls that could be from the days of Jesus? And are there any "gates" in these ancient walls that have been suggested as the "needle eye gate"?

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  • Hey Niclas and welcome to Christianity.SE. Per our discussion while this was on the hermeneutics site, I have migrated it here for you. I hope we have some modern geography buffs here that can put that knowledge together with how a few modern tour outfits try to tie this together with Christian doctrine and whether that is legitimate or not.
    – Caleb
    Apr 30, 2012 at 9:51
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    I've heard (although I forget the sources) many very compelling arguments agreeing with your edit: I.e. nothing to with the gate, but really the eye of a needle. If that is correct, one can only infer that it is more... pleasing for those with resources to use the "gate" interpretation than the "I'm damned" interpretation. May 3, 2012 at 20:09
  • Yeah. But that makes it kind of strange to hear this hybrid theory where this pastor says that there is no way a camel could get through that gate. So in the end his interpretation is the same as mine. May 7, 2012 at 10:49
  • From what I'd heard on the topic, "the eye of a needle" was a type of gate, not any one specific gate.
    – Rob K
    Sep 13, 2017 at 15:17
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    Sad to say but a lot of pastors and radio preachers pass along unverified "facts" that they themselves hear or read somewhere. Oct 26, 2021 at 11:46

5 Answers 5

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Minor clarification. While the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD, the city of Jerusalem retained its general street plan until 135 AD. In 135 AD, after the Bar Jakova Revolt, the already damaged city was razed to the ground. In its place, a Greek city called Aelia Capitolina was put in its place.

As such, when Constantine's mother, Helena visited the city in the 300s, there was nothing left, except new settlements which bore no relation to the extant city. This why Golgotha, for example - the outskirts of the town in the day - are, if you believe Helena, now inside the Church of the Holy Sepelchure, smack dab in the center of the city.

Indeed, the city itself has migrated over time. The "City of David," extends south of the current city walls. That one would now exit the "Dung Gate" to go to where David's palace was shows how fluid city layouts can be.

The Temple, which was at the northern end of the city, is now central to it. The "beautiful gate" (or the "Golden Gate", next to the Temple) was sealed off in 1541, and most of the existing walls date to the Ottomans, built in the 1500s.

Walls of Jeruslaem

As such, if there ever was an "eye of the Needle" gate, (which in my mind is highly doubtful) it certainly no longer exists today. Additionally, any understanding of where the gate was in relationship to the city would be of no use, because there is no context for it.

Update

The Damascus Gate has been the historic main entrance to the city. The actual edifice, however dates to 1547, and was built on the ruins of a 2nd Century AD gate,

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  • Your answer was really helpful to me! Thanks alot! You seems to have the knowledge to alsoanswer my follow-up issues and if you have the time I would appreciate a lot if you did (see update 1 in my question) May 2, 2012 at 11:31
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  1. Well, there is a lot of debate about whether there was such a gate, but the disciples apparently didn't think there was, as their response is one of surprise, asking "but then, who can be saved?" To which Jesus replied "with men it is impossible but with God, all things are possible."
  2. Yes. No. The walls of the Old City are still basically as they were in the time of the crusaders. I believe the crusaders did some stuff to the walls, not sure what all. I think the walls around the temple mount are the same as they were in Jesus time. Josephus says that the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed, whether he intends this to include the temple mount or not, I don't know. But probably not.
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    I believe I was a bit unclear regarding my first question. Neither do I believe Jesus spoke about a gate. But I was more specific of where this gate the pastor spoke about lays today? What is it named? Is there a sign pointing to it as the gate of the needle? I've seen the pictures of gates like the one on this page: amazinggospelinsights.blogspot.se/2011/02/… but I got the impression the "gate" he spoke about was even smaller.
    – Niclas Nilsson
    Apr 29, 2012 at 19:59
  • As of the second question, thanks for a clarifying answer.
    – Niclas Nilsson
    Apr 29, 2012 at 20:00
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There is & was such a gate & the following I found under: "Jerusalem: The eye of the needle" by Marianne Schwab.

It is a smaller door at the entrance of the city, that was used at night for security purposes only, while the large gate & others were closed. The 'Needle gate' was used for people entering the city "after hours". Enemies could not simply ride into the city on their camels and attack because of its narrowness.

A man would have to unload his camel of all that it was carrying & then carefully, lead it through, a slow & difficult task but not impossible with a now unloaded camel in a now stooped position.

We can understand Jesus' answer regarding the rich & the Kingdom of God, & when He challenged the rich young ruler to "sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow Me". Mathew 19:21 When the ruler walked away sad..vs 22, Jesus said to the disciples:"...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God "vs 24. And this is where the needle comes in..it can be very challenging for anyone threading a sewing needle..only the right thread count can go through.

The unloading of camel & its stooping down, to get through that gate is symbolic of us when coming to Christ (The Way..the Door)..give up all & come just as we are, with faith & humbly. It's not impossible, but there is a cost "because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it". Math 7:14

Oh my, It's taken me a while to let go and even so, I hesitate to say:'let go of all' as I think much still remains! I'm thinking right now that I need to be prostrate before the Lord & not move till He shows me what I am carrying that is still more precious to me than He!

These shaking times we are in have been great to look at where my heart really is. Who & what am I feeding & trusting in!

The rich young ruler was not willing to 'unload his back'..could not disentangle himself of his wealth and therefore he missed out on what his heart was looking for.

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    Not convinced, even with the photo. There is no historical evidence or anything. Anyone may write that that door is the real real gate door, but it make for an unreliable statement.
    – Ken Graham
    Oct 26, 2021 at 14:53
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    It is interesting to read about Zaccaheus in Luk 19. He “was a chief among the publicans” and “was rich”. What is noteworthy in that story is that he achieved salvation by giving away, not all his belongings and not half of his income but, “half of his goods”. What Zacchaeus said he would do seems to be similar to what the rich man in Mat 19 was told by Jesus to do, because Jesus said “sell what you have and give to the poor”, not “sell all you have and give to the poor”. Similar to John the Baptist’s words in Luke 3 “Anyone who has two tunics should share with the one who has none”. Oct 26, 2021 at 23:13
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The "eye of the needle gate" today?

23 And Jesus elooked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter gthe kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples hwere amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter gthe kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter gthe kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” - Mark 10:23-26

Wikipedia has this to say about the Eye of the Needle:

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."

Gate

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.

There seems to a couple of possibilities to this perplexing subject matter.

It may be a metaphor.

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." - Eye of a needle

Perhaps there was a wicket gate to get into the city of Jerusalem.

A wicket gate, or simply a wicket, is a pedestrian door or gate, particularly one built into a larger door or into a wall or fence.

Use in fortifications

Wickets are typically small, narrow doors either alongside or within a larger castle or city gate. The latter were often double gates, large and heavy, designed to allow the passage of wagons, coaches and horsemen. The purpose of wickets was to avoid the risk of having to open the main gates to the castle or city for just one or two individuals on foot. Because the wicket was only one person wide, it only allowed entry one at a time and enabled the guards to better control access. In the Middle Ages the narrow doors in the city walls also enabled late arrivals to gain entry after the main gates had been closed.1

If the small entrance in the door of a large gate has a high threshold, it may be called a manway. If it is a separate, narrow entrance next to the main gate, it may be called a pedestrian entrance. This type of double entrance is rather uncommon, however, and was only worth having at large sites where there was a lot of coming and going. It is found, for example, at the Alsatian castle of Hohlandsbourg, the Hochburg in Emmendingen, the Electoral Cologne castle of Friedestrom and at Schaunberg Castle in Austria. The narrow side entrance could be protected by its own drawbridge and sometimes even opened into a gate passage separated from the main one as, for example, at Hohenwang Castle.

The wickets in main gates that were easily visible should not be confused with the small, hidden sally ports in the walls of castles and fortifications. These small openings were used in times of siege to escape to carry out military raids. - Wicket gate

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.

Could the Eye of a Needle Gate be Herod’ Gate.

Herod’s Gate is also called the Flower Gate, and it leads to the Muslim Quarter. Identifying a close-by structure as the palace of Herod Antipas - to whom Jesus was sent by Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:7). The gate leads straight to the Western Wall. Originally it was a wicket opening through the tower to ease the flow of traffic on the northern side of the Old City walls, east of the Damascus Gate. The present gate dates from 1875, when the old entrance was closed.

When I was younger, I was told that “the needle’s eye” was the name given to a small passage that existed in Jerusalem’s wall. The gate of the city was closed ate dusk, and for anyone who came later they had to use the well-guarded “needle’s eye.” A person could walk easily through this narrow opening, but if he had his camel with him, that became a problem. Leaving his camel behind was one option; the other was unloading the camel and trying to shove it through the opening. Those who tried to get their camel through the “needle’s eye” knew what an ordeal it was—especially if the camel decided to kick and fight back.

Jesus presented this image after watching a rich man chose to keep his wealth rather than follow him. We are told that the man looked sad because he really wanted to part of Jesus’ kingdom; he didn’t have the strength to let go of his “camel.” The more “baggage” we have, the harder it is to let go of it and follow Jesus.

Was the eye of a needle really a wicket gate? Possibly, but it may seem the the Lord had a sense on humour in this subject.

The word camel in Aramaic may mean camel or rope!

It is easier for rope (camel) to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!

Makes sense in Aramaic

An alternative linguistic explanation is taken from George M Lamsa's Syriac-Aramaic Peshitta translation which has the word 'rope' in the main text but a footnote on Matthew 19:24 which states that the Aramaic word gamla means rope and camel, possibly because the ropes were made from camel hair. Evidence for this also comes from the 10th century Aramaic lexicographer Mar Bahlul who gives the meaning as a "a large rope used to bind ships". - 'The camel and the eye of the needle', Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25

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  1. There is a gate called the Eye of the Needle. It is large enough for a man to pass through by ducking and squeezing, but a camel could never fit through, much less one with a person riding on it. But the gate is named because getting through it is like putting thread through the eye of a needle. http://hethathasanear.com/Needle.html has some information on said gate.

  2. I do not think the Romans razed the whole city to the ground. If you recall, the only walls that were important were the city walls; we take them for granted nowadays, but they were the defense of the city. But you must also remember that even in Jesus' time the walls had been expanded a few times, so there are probably a couple of different tiers of walls and I do not believe the Romans leveled everything.

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    Sorry, they did. The historical evidence is clear on that point. Apr 30, 2012 at 13:04

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