🔼The name Gamaliel in the Bible
There are two men named Gamaliel mentioned in the Bible:
- A son of Pedahzur and leader of the tribe of Manasseh during the wandering years of Israel in the desert (Numbers 1:10, 2:20, 7:54-59 and 10:23)
- The legendary high-ranking Rabbi who urged the Sanhedrin to be careful about condemning the apostles (Acts 5:34, spelled Γαμαλιηλ). Since Paul had been Gamaliel's pupil (Acts 22:3), it may very well be that Gamaliel was among the very first scholars to recognize the scientific justice of Jesus' theology. The Talmud tells how Gamaliel categorized his students according to their scholarly merits and applied four different kinds of fish as symbols to each category (Avot of Rabbi Natan XI). A pupil who had learned everything and also knew how to reply was deemed a "fish from the great ocean [Mediterranean Sea]". This classification may have helped establish the fish motif of the New Testament as well as secure the Ichtys as symbol for Christ and Christianity. Gamaliel was the grandson of the even more celebrated Hillel the Elder, who first summed up the Torah with the already existing Golden Rule "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary" (Shabbos 31a; adapted into the positive by Jesus; Matthew 7:12).
🔼Etymology of the name Gamaliel
The name Gamaliel consists of two elements. The first part comes from the verb גמל (gamal), which means to invest, but with a very big footnote:
The second part of our name is the familiar name אל (El), which is either the prominent Canaanite deity whose name became applied to the God of Israel, or else the common abbreviation of Elohim, the genus God:
In between these two elements sits the letter י (yod), which here probably functions as a possessive.
The name Gamaliel reflects God's habit of investing in people with the expectation of return. For a meaning of the name Gamaliel, both BDB Theological Dictionary and Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary) read Reward Of God, NOBSE Study Bible Name List proposes God Has Rewarded and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Recompense Of God.
But note that the name Gamaliel also means Camel Of God, albeit with the same big footnote.