🔼The name Gamaliel: Summary
- Investment Of God, God Is My Investment
- From (1) the verb גמל (gamal), to invest, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼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", which obviously refers to the greater body of human knowledge that surpasses all local religions and cultures. 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 verb גמל (gamal) means to invest, or more precise, to willfully nurture any sort of fledgling toward productive maturity by means of continued input or infusion. And just like an infusion of money has the intended result of returning more money, an infusion of vice will return more vice, and an infusion of virtue will return more virtue.
Noun גמול (gemul) describes a single act of such an investment: a deed that is designed to give a return. Noun גמולה (gemula) means investment. In Jeremiah 51:56 occurs the title El-gemulot, literally: God Of Investments. Noun תגמול (tagmul) also means investment.
Noun גמל (gamal) is the source of our word camel, and a camel was for the ancients primarily a proverbial unit of international trade, comparable to our modern barrel of oil or a tanker — just like the horse was a unit of warfare (our Jeep) and the donkey a unit of civilian transportation (our Volkswagen). That means that when camels feature in an ancient story, that story is probably about international trade rather than about some animal.
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 names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
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 a rather weak Reward Of God, NOBSE Study Bible Name List proposes the similar 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.