Wednesday, August 3, 2011
August 3 -- Feast of Saint Gamaliel
No doubt it is odd to see the grandson of Hillel and president of the Sanhedrin as the saint of the day. I am not among those who claim that Gamaliel was a crypto-Christian whose body was miraculously discovered in the fifth century and is venerated in Pisa Cathedral. I think it is pretty offensive to hijack the leaders of others' traditions just because they were good guys.
That does not, however, mean that Gamaliel does not deserve to be hailed as a saint in the Christian tradition. He was a leading man in Jerusalem during the infancy of Christianity, at a time when other Jews were denouncing the emerging faith as blasphemous and enforcing a ban on it. Saul of Tarsus, the most famous of Christian-hunters, was a student of Gamaliel, though they diverged a couple of times on that particular issue.
In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles are busted and brought before the Sanhedrin for trial. The likely penalty seems to be death by stoning. But Gamaliel makes this very sage, very practical argument.
“Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you intend to do to these people. 36 Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and some four hundred men joined him. After he was killed, all of his followers scattered, and nothing came of that. 37 Afterward, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and got some people to follow him in a revolt. He was killed too, and all his followers scattered far and wide. 38 Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. 39 If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!”
The result is that the apostles get a good beating and then are released. Later of course, Saul of Tarsus has a conversion and becomes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the biggest thing to hit Christianity since, well, Christ. Gamaliel, on the other hand, stays his steady course and yet on no account should that disqualify him from the Canon.
Posted by Tom Major at 4:00 AM