Gamla Means “Camel” and A Whole Lot More


In Aramaic, the word “Gamla” or “Gamala” means “camel”, the “beast of burden” in ancient Biblical times.  In Hebrew, camel is “gamal”.  The mountain and city of “Gamla” was described in the first century Jewish writings of Flavius Josephus, as he was the captain of the Galilee regiment at Gamla in the 67CE Roman seige that destroyed the city once and for all.  Josephus clearly indicated that the name was “Gamla”, the Aramaic name and not the Hebrew name of Gamal.  The inhabitants of Gamla in the first century BCE and CE spoke Aramiac, as Gamla is in the Syriac region of “Aram”, a territory “beyond” or “East of” the Jordan River.  The Jordan River bisects the Sea of Galilee on its North Shore less than 10 miles west of Gamla, with Bethsaida and Capernaum on either side of the mouth of the Jordan River.  This is important for a number of reasons.  I’ve already surmised that Gamla is One of the Six Biblical Cities of Refuge, from the days of Moses and Joshua.

But there is more to this “mysterious” name of “Gamla”,  In Book 4 Chapter 1:1 of Wars, Josephus writes this:

“…insomuch that it is like a camel in figure, from whence it is so named, although the people of the country do not pronounce it accurately…”

What’s that all about?  What was the mispronunciation, and which “people of the country” mispronounced it, and why?  Clearly there is more to this mystery.  Also, Josephus records the following about the Roman invasion in Wars Book 4 Chapter 1:5:

“But there was a centurion whose name was Gallus, who, during this disorder, being encompassed about, he and ten other soldiers privately crept into the house of a certain person, where he heard them talking at supper, what the people intended to do against the Romans, or about themselves (for both the man himself and those with him were Syrians). So he got up in the night time, and cut all their throats, and escaped, together with his soldiers, to the Romans.”
So, the Roman soldiers who snuck into a private residence at Gamla during the siege were “Syrian”, as was the “inhabitants” of the residence.  In other words, they both spoke the same language, “Aramaic”!  Syrian is another name for the Aramaic region.  See: Gamla is in the Ancient Region of “Aram” – Jesus Spoke “Aramaic”
Because Josephus mentions that the rightful name of the place is “Gamla”, based on the description of its promontory that resembles the camel’s hump, I assume that the “people of the country” did not call it “Gamla” but mispronounced it, which means they thought the name had a different meaning (not the simple “camel hump mountain” explanation).
The word “Gamla” is from the Semitic/Hebrew root “gamal” (גָּמַל), Strongs H1580, which in the Niphal conjugation, would be pronounced something like “geemla” or even “neegmla”.  We don’t have any indication that this was the mispronunciation, but let me add some context.  The root “gamal” in the Niphal means “weaned” and is used in the Hebrew Bible 10 times, usually to define when a child is “self-sufficient”, and not needing his mother’s nursing, in other words, able to provide self-sufficiency rather than dependence.
Gamla was a “self-sufficient” fortress.  According to Josephus it was unpenetrable except from a ridge on the East, which they had fortified, and they had a bountiful supply of olive oil, and other crops. The inhabitants of Gamla demonstrated their “self-sufficency” in life, customs, and in revolution.  We have covered this in another article, Judas of Gamla and the “Fourth Sect” of Judaism – The “Zealots” and in The Case of the Missing Red-Slipped Dishes in Gamla.
Now lets take a look at Jesus statement about the “camel” and the “rich man”.  The quote is both in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  Let’s take a look at Mark 10:25:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Okay, so here we have Jesus making an allegory of a “camel” and a “rich man”.  But lets look at the context.  Mark 10:23 and 10:24 says this:
And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!  And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!

It seems clear that what he is saying, is that one who trust in his “riches”, or his “self-sufficiency”, or his “Gamla”, if you will, cannot enter the kingdom of God!   What makes this even more interesting, is that a case can be made that this “teaching” was done right in the shadow of Gamla, on the “other side of the Jordan”, as indicated in the first verse of Mark 10:

“And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again. “

This place is familiar to Jesus, as is described in Mark 6:45-46:

“And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.   And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. “

I’ve made the case in other articles that this “prayer” mountain, was Gamla, adjacent to Bethsaida and a short 5 mile walk to the Sea of Galilee. See: John the Baptist, the Wedding at “Cana” and Jesus’ First Five Disciples