Damien F. Mackey
“According to tradition, Gamaliel and Nicodemus
buried Saint Stephen outside … Jerusalem”.
According to Orthodox tradition, Nicodemus and Gamaliel were saints, and were very closely connected. Thus, for example, we read at: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2009/08/02/102182-finding-of-the-relics-of-the-righteous-st-nicodemus
Finding of the relics of the Righteous St Nicodemus
Saint Nicodemus was a prominent Pharisee who believed in Christ. The Savior explained to him how man is regenerated through Baptism, but he did not understand how a man could be born again. When the Lord reproved him for his ignorance, he accepted it with humility (John 3:1-21).
Nicodemus came back to Christ from time to time, defended Him to the Pharisees (John 7:50-52), and brought spices to anoint His body (John 19:39). After being cast out of the synagogue for his belief in Christ, Saint Nicodemus went to live with Saint Gamaliel at his country house, remaining there until his death.
The relics of Saints Stephen, Gamaliel, Abibas, and Nicodemus were transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople in 428 and placed in the church of the holy deacon Laurence (August 10). ….
“Saint Nicodemus went to live with Saint Gamaliel at his country house, remaining there until his death”.
I want to suggest now the possibility that Gamaliel was Nicodemus.
In common here was:
- a perfect contemporaneity;
- strict Pharisaïsm;
- membership of Sanhedrin;
- upholder of law and legal method;
- being a teacher in Israel;
- somewhat secretive or cautious;
- a degree of sympathy to the Way of Christ;
- a burier of the (Christian) dead.
The scripturally better-known Nicodemus emerges as a secretive follower of Jesus Christ, whose body he helps bury. Gamaliel, “an advocate of the nascent congregation of Jesus' disciples in Jerusalem and is called "a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law, held in honor by all the people"” (see below), comes across as being extremely cautious and measured, he having given the Sanhedrin an account of (i) John the Baptist (according to my):
Gamaliel's 'Theudas' as John the Baptist
an account of (ii) Judas Maccabeus (according to my):
Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Two: Gamaliel's feeble account of Judas
each of which descriptions I personally would describe as being a feeble and uninspiring understatement.
Dr Taylor Marshall has also written about Gamaliel and Nicodemus together:
In my new book The Catholic Perspective on Paul, I discuss the Catholic tradition that Gamaliel of the Jewish Sanhedrin in the book of Acts is accounted by the Catholic Church as a Catholic saint. He is listed in the Roman Martyrology as a saint to be exact. ….
Let me just say that this Catholic tradition is important when study Saint Paul since Paul studied under Gamaliel.
Related to this topic is today’s forgotten memorial of the discovery of Saint Stephen’s relics. Our wonderful parish priest Father Phil Wolfe, FSSP discussed this tradition in his homily at Holy Mass.
According to tradition, Gamaliel and Nicodemus buried Saint Stephen outside of Jerusalem. The soul of Saint Gamaliel appeared to the presbyter Lucian in AD 415 and told him where to find the relics of Stephen and those of his own body. The relics were found on 3 August AD 415. The relics of Saint Stephen were translated several months later to Jerusalem proper on 26 December AD 415 – which is why we celebrate the feast of Stephen on the day after Christmas.
Just in case you think I’m crazy, it’s even attested to by Saint Augustine, who lived at this time.
Here’s the traditional account:
THIS SECOND festival (August 3), in honour of the holy protomartyr St. Stephen, was instituted by the church on the occasion of the discovery of his precious remains.
In the year 415, in the tenth consulship of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius the Younger, on Friday the 3d of December, about nine o’ clock at night, Lucian was sleeping in his bed, in the baptistery, where he commonly lay, in order to guard the sacred vessels of the church. Being half awake, he saw a tall comely old man of a venerable aspect, with a long white beard, clothed in a white garment, edged with small plates of gold, marked with crosses, and holding a golden wand in his hand. This person approached Lucian, and calling him thrice by his name, bid him go to Jerusalem, and tell bishop John to come and open the tombs in which his remains, and those of certain other servants of Christ lay, that through their means God might open to many the gates of his clemency. Lucian asked his name? “I am,” said he, “Gamaliel, who instructed Paul the apostle in the law; and on the east side of the monument lieth Stephen who was stoned by the Jews without the north gate. His body was left there exposed one day and one night; but was not touched by birds or beasts. I exhorted the faithful to carry it off in the night-time, which when they had done, I caused it to be carried secretly to my house in the country, where I celebrated his funeral rites forty days, and then caused his body to be laid in my own tomb to the eastward. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night, lieth there in another coffin. He was excommunicated by the Jews for following Christ, and banished out of Jerusalem. Whereupon I received him into my house in the country, and there maintained him to the end of his life; after his death I buried him honourably near Stephen. I likewise buried there my son Abibas, who died before me at the age of twenty years. His body is in the third coffin which stands higher up, where I myself was also interred after my death. My wife Ethna, and my eldest son Semelias, who were not willing to embrace the faith of Christ, were buried in another ground, called Capharsemalia.” Lucian, fearing to pass for an impostor if he was too credulous, prayed, that if the vision was from God, he might be favoured with it a second and a third time; and he continued to fast on bread and water. On the Friday following Gamaliel appeared again to him in the same form as before, and commanded him to obey. As emblems of the relics he brought and showed Lucian four baskets, three of gold and one of silver. The golden baskets were full of roses; two of white and one of red roses; the silver basket was full of saffron of a most delicious smell. Lucian asked what these were? Gamaliel said: “They are our relics. The red roses represent Stephen, who lieth at the entrance of the sepulchre; the second basket Nicodemus, who is near the door; the silver basket represents my son Abibas, who departed this life without stain; his basket is contiguous to mine.” Having said this he disappeared. Lucian then awaked, gave thanks to God, and continued his fasts. In the third week, on the same day, and at the same hour, Gamaliel appeared again to him, and with threats upbraided him with his neglect, adding, that the drought which then afflicted the world, would be removed only by his obedience, and the discovery of their relics. Lucian being now terrified, promised he would no longer defer it.
After this last vision, he repaired to Jerusalem, and laid the whole affair before bishop John, who wept for joy, and bid him go and search for the relics, which the bishop concluded would be found under a heap of small stones, which lay in a field near his church. Lucian said he imagined the same thing, and returning to his borough, summoned the inhabitants to meet the next day in the morning, in order to search under the heap of stones. As Lucian was going the morning following to see the place dug up, he was met by Migetius, a monk of a pure and holy life, who told him, that Gamaliel had appeared to him, and bade him inform Lucian that they laboured in vain in that place. “We were laid there,” said he, “at the time of our funeral obsequies, according to the ancient custom; and that heap of stones was a mark of the mourning of our friends. Search elsewhere, in a place called Debatalia. In effect,” said Migetius, continuing the relation of his vision, “I found myself on a sudden in the same field, where I saw a neglected ruinous tomb, and in it three beds adorned with gold; in one of them more elevated than the others, lay two men, an old man and a young one, and one in each of the other beds.” Lucian having heard Migetius’s report, praised God for having another witness of his revelation, and having removed to no purpose the heap of stones, went to the other place. In digging up the earth here three coffins or chests were found, as above mentioned, whereon were engraved these words in very large characters: Cheliel, Nasuam, Gamaliel, Abibas. The two first are the Syriac names of Stephen, or crowned, and Nicodemus, or victory of the people. Lucian sent immediately to acquaint bishop John with this. He was then at the council of Diospolis, and taking along with him Eutonius, bishop of Sebaste, and Eleutherius, bishop of Jericho, came to the place. Upon the opening of St. Stephen’s coffin the earth shook, and there came out of the coffin such an agreeable odour, that no one remembered to have ever smelt any thing like it. There was a vast multitude of people assembled in that place, among whom were many persons afflicted with divers distempers; of whom seventy-three recovered their health upon the spot. Some were freed from evil spirits, others cured of scrophulous tumours of various kinds, others of fevers, fistulas, the bloody flux, the falling sickness, head-aches, and pains in the bowels. They kissed the holy relics, and then shut them up. The bishop claimed those of St. Stephen for the church of Jerusalem, of which he had been deacon; the rest were left at Caphargamala. The protomartyr’s body was reduced to dust, excepting the bones, which were whole, and in their natural situation. The bishop consented to leave a small portion of them at Caphargamala; the rest were carried in the coffin with singing of psalms and hymns to the church of Sion at Jerusalem. At the time of this translation there fell a great deal of rain, which refreshed the country after a long drought. The translation was performed on the 26th of December, on which day the church hath ever since honoured the memory of St. Stephen, commemorating the discovery of his relics on the 3rd of August, probably on account of the dedication of some church in honour of St. Stephen, perhaps that of Ancona. 1 The history of this miraculous discovery and translation, written by Lucian himself, and translated into Latin by Avitus, a Spanish priest, (native of Braga, then living at Jerusalem, an intimate friend of St. Jerom,) is published by the Benedictin monks in the appendix to the seventh tome of the works of St. Austin. This account is also attested by Chrysippus, an eminent and holy priest of the church of Jerusalem; (whose virtue is highly commended by the judicious author of the life of St. Euthymius;) by Idatius and Marcellinus in their chronicles; by Basil bishop of Seleucia, St. Austin, 2 Bede, &c. It is mentioned by most of the historians, and in the sermons of the principal fathers of that age. St. Stephen’s body remained in the church of Sion till the empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius the Younger, going a second time to Jerusalem in 444, built a stately church to God in his honour, about a furlong from the city, near the spot where he was stoned to death, into which she procured his body to be translated, and in which she was buried herself after her death, in 461. St. Austin 3 speaking of the miracles of St. Stephen, addresses himself to his flock as follows: “Let us so desire to obtain temporal blessings by his intercession, that we may merit in imitating him those which are eternal.”
Our corporal necessities were not the motive which drew our omnipotent Physician down from heaven, but the spiritual miseries of our souls. In his mortal life he restored many sick to their health, and delivered demoniacs, to give men a sensible proof of his divine power, and for an emblem that he came to relieve the spiritual miseries of our souls, and to put an end to the empire of the devil over them. In like manner, when through his servants he has bestowed corporal blessings on men, he excites our confidence in his mercy to ask through their intercession his invisible graces. We ought to pray for our daily bread, or all necessary supplies of our bodily necessities; but should make these petitions subordinate to the great end of our sanctification, and his divine honour, offering them under this condition, as we know not in temporal blessings what is most expedient for us. God offers us his grace, his love, himself: him we must make the great and ultimate end of all our requests to him. If some rich prince should engage himself to grant us whatever we should ask, it would be putting an affront upon him, if we confined our petition to pins or such trifles, as St. Teresa remarks.
David Flusser also links: https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/11476/
Gamaliel and Nicodemus
The Pharisee Gamaliel is mentioned twice in the New Testament (Acts 5:34; 22:3). In Acts 5:34 he appears as an advocate of the nascent congregation of Jesus' disciples in Jerusalem and is called "a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law, held in honor by all the people." Then, in Acts 22:3, Paul says that he was "brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel." Indeed, Gamaliel was an important spiritual leader of the Pharisees and a Jewish scholar. He also is well known from Jewish sources.
The Pharisees were one of the three main Jewish parties in the first century: the Pharisees (the Jewish sages); the Sadducees (a small but mighty party of high priests, rationalists who “say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit,” Acts 23:8); and the Essenes (a sect whose writings are the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered beginning in 1947).
If we want to understand Gamaliel’s defense of the Apostles, we have to know the political implications of Jesus’ trial. The Apostles were arrested by the “high priest and all who were with him, that is, the party of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17-18). The Temple guard brought the Apostles before the Sanhedrin “without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people” (Acts 5:26). Evidently the Sadducees knew that the sympathy of the Jewish people in Jerusalem was on the side of Jesus’ movement of disciples. When finally the Apostles were brought before the council, the high priest questioned them, saying: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:27-28).
The Apostles, preaching the gospel in Jerusalem, could not avoid mentioning the active role of the Sadducean high priest in the trial of Jesus, which led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Indeed, when we read the Gospels, we see that the high priests were the main instigators of Jesus’ death. One of the aims of Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem was to sound a note of warning about the future destruction of the Temple: Jesus did not accuse the Romans, but the Sadducees, whose source of power was their rule over the Temple. The Sadducean high priests were not loved by the people. They were a small, aristocratic and wealthy party of high priests. Therefore, they were very nervous about Jesus’ prophecy of doom, since the people, who did not love them, were in this point on Jesus’ side: “all the people hung upon his words” (Luke 19:48). ….
It is unlikely, I think, that there were actually two contemporary Sanhedrin teachers of Israel of such similar descriptions, and so I would look to fuse Gamaliel and Nicodemus into one.