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Gamliʾel the Elder


GAMLIʾEL THE ELDER (fl. first half of the first century ce), properly Rabban ("our teacher") Gamliʾel the Elder; the first Jewish teacher with this title. Gamliʾel was a son or grandson of Hillel and likewise was regarded in rabbinic tradition as a nasiʾ (head of the court). He is designated "the Elder" in Talmudic literature apparently to distinguish him from Gamliʾel of Yavneh (Gamliʾel II) with whom he is often confused, and he is referred to as a Pharisee and "teacher of the Law" in Acts of the Apostles (5:34).

Gamliʾel appears frequently in tannaitic sources, where his various taqqanot (enactments) are recorded. The following examples from Mishnah Gitin (4.23) were considered "for the general welfare":

  1. A man who wishes to invalidate a divorce document that he has already sent to his wife must convene a court in her town rather than elsewhere. Otherwise she may mistakenly believe the document is still valid and re-marry.
  2. Both parties to a divorce are required to use all of the names by which they are known when signing the document.
  3. All witnesses to the delivery of the document must sign it.

These taanot were especially intended to benefit women. Similarly, Gamliʾel permitted a woman to remarry based on the testimony of one witness to the death of her husband, rather than the two generally required by Jewish law (Yev. 16.7). Of special interest are the letters that Gamliʾel is reported to have dictated on the steps of the Temple (Tosefta San. 2.6 and parallels). Those sent to "our brethren" in the upper and lower south (Daroma) and in the upper and lower Galilee contained reminders pertaining to tithes. Another directed to "our brethren" in Babylonia and Media and to all other exiles of Israel announced the leap year. It was said (So. 9.15) that "when Rabban Gamliʾel the Elder died, the glory of the Torah ceased and purity and abstinence perished."

In Acts (5:34ff.), Gamliʾel (Gamaliel) pleads with fellow members of the Sanhedrin to free the apostles. Elsewhere in Acts (22:3), Paul states that he was brought up "at the feet of" Gamliʾel from whom he gained knowledge of the "ancestral law." The tendency has been to view these traditions in the context of Luke's apologetic. The later, apocryphal Christian tradition transformed Gamliʾel into a secret Christian (Ps. Clement. Recog. 1:6567) and into a martyr who died in the process of trying to defend and protect Stephen (Discourse of Gregory, Priest of Antioch ). There is also an apocryphal, Gospel of Gamaliel, which relates events pertaining to Good Friday.

See Also

Jewish Religious Year; Pharisees.


The references to Rabban Gamliʾel the Elder in Talmudic literature are collected and analyzed in volumes 1 (pp. 341376) and 3 (pp. 272f., 314f.) of Jacob Neusner's The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70, 3 vols. (Leiden, 1971). Neusner questions Gamliʾel's association with Beit Hillel and regards him as more of a "public official" and leader within the Pharisees than a "sectarian authority" of that party. A discussion of Gamliʾel and some of the earlier assessments of him appears in Alexander Guttmann's Rabbinic Judaism in the Making: A Chapter in the History of the Halakhah from Ezra to Judah I (Detroit, 1970), pp. 177182. Information on Gamliʾel in the Christian tradition can be found in volume 2 (pp. 367ff.) of Emil Schürer's The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 175 b.c.a.d. 135 (19011909), a new English version revised and edited by Géza Vermès, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black (Edinburgh, 1979). Morton S. Enslin questions whether Paul actually "sat at Gamaliel's feet" and the extent of his rabbinic training, in "Paul and Gamaliel," Journal of Religion 7 (July 1927): 360375. On Gamliʾel and the apologetic of Luke, see Jeffrey A. Trumbower, "The Historical Jesus and the Speech of Gamaliel (Acts 5:3539)," New Testament Studies 39.4 (1993): 500517. For an in-depth discussion of the historical issues pertaining to Gamliʾel and Paul, see Bruce Chilton's dicussion in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, II (1992), 904906.

Stuart S. Miller (1987 and 2005)

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