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St. Gamaliel, also Gamaliel the Elder or or Rabbi Gamaliel I (Hebrew: ל הזקן; Greek: Γαμαλιήλ ο Πρεσβύτερος) was a Pharisee who was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin, a doctor of the Law (Acts 5:34-40), and the teacher of St Paul (Acts 22:3). The translation of his relics is observed on August 2.


He was the grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder, and died twenty years before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 A.D.). He fathered a son, whom he called Simeon,[1] after his father, and a daughter, whose daughter (i.e., Gamaliel's granddaughter) married a priest named Simon ben Nathanael.[2] In the Talmud, this Gamaliel bears, like his grandfather Hillel, the surname of "the Elder", and is the first to whom the title "Rabban", "our master", was given. He appears therein, as in the book of the Acts, as a prominent member of the highest tribunal of the Jews, and is also treated as the originator of many legal ordinances.[3] The name Gamaliel is the Greek form of the Hebrew name meaning reward of God.

Influence on the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles introduces Gamaliel as a Pharisee and celebrated scholar of the Mosaic Law.[4] In this passage, Peter and the other Apostles are described as being prosecuted by the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach the Gospel, despite the Jewish authorities having previously prohibited it. The passage describes Gamaliel as presenting an argument against killing the apostles, reminding the Sanhedrin about previous revolts, which had been based on beliefs that individuals such as Theudas and Judas of Galilee were the prophesied messiah, and which had collapsed quickly after the deaths of those individuals. According to Acts, his authority with his contemporaries was so great that they accepted his advice, regardless of how unwelcome it was. Gamaliel's concluding argument to them had been:

"if it be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, ye will not be able to overthrow it; lest perhaps ye be found even to fight against God".[5]

The Book of Acts later goes on to describe Paul of Tarsus recounting that he was "educated at the feet of Gamaliel" about Jewish religious law,[6] although no details are given about which teachings Paul adopted from Gamaliel, and hence how much Gamaliel influenced aspects of Christianity.[note 1]

As a Christian

Ecclesiastical tradition maintains that Gamaliel had embraced the Christian faith and his tolerant attitude toward the Early Christians is explained by this. According to Photius the Great, he was baptized by Saint Peter and Saint John, together with his son, and Nicodemus. The Clementine Literature suggested that he maintained secrecy about the conversion and continued to be a member of the Sanhedrin for the purpose of covertly assisting his fellow Christians.[7][note 2][note 3]

Burial of Sts. Stephen, Nicodemus and Abibus

When the Jews slew St. Stephen by stoning, they left his body for the dogs to consume. However, God's Providence intended otherwise. The martyr's body lay in an open place at the foothill of the city for one night and two days. The second night Gamaliel, Paul's teacher and secretly a disciple of Christ, came and removed the body and took it to Caphargamala on his estate and there he honorably buried it in a cave. Gamaliel also buried his friend Nicodemus who died weeping over the grave of Stephen in the same cave. Gamaliel also buried his baptized son Abibus there, and according to his will, was buried there also. Since that time, many centuries passed and no one living knew where the body of St. Stephen was buried.[8]

Finding of the relics of the Righteous St. Gamaliel

In the year 415 A.D. however, during the reign of John, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Gamaliel appeared three times in a dream to Lucian, the priest at Caphargamala and, at length related everything to him concerning the burial of all four saints, showing him the exact spot of their forgotten graves. He appeared as a tall, venerable man with a long white beard; he was dressed in white clothing which was edged with gold and marked with crosses, and held a gold wand in his hand.

Gamaliel called Fr. Lucian by name three times, then told him to go to Jerusalem and inform Bishop John to open the tomb where his relics and those of other three saints were resting. The priest asked the stranger who he was. "I am Gamaliel, who instructed the Apostle Paul in the Law," he replied. Then he told the priest where to find the relics of St. Stephen. He also revealed that he had taken St Stephen's body and laid it in his own tomb after it had been lying exposed for a day and a night. St. Gamaliel also mentioned that St Nicodemus was buried at the same spot. "I received him into my house in the country," he said, "and maintained him there until the end of his life. After his death, I buried him honorably near Stephen." St. Gamaliel informed the priest that he and his twenty-year-old son Abibas were also buried there.

Fr. Lucian was afraid to believe this vision right away, lest it be a temptation from the Evil One. However, when St. Gamaliel appeared again and commanded him to obey his instructions, he did so. A monk named Migetius also had a vision of St. Gamaliel and told Fr. Lucian to search for the relics in a place called Debatalia. With the patriarch's blessing Fr. Lucian went with a group of men and exhumed the four graves. Gamaliel had already told him in the dream whose grave was which. When the relics were uncovered, a strong sweet-smelling fragrance from the relics of the saints permeated the entire cave.

The relics of St. Stephen were then solemnly translated to Zion and honorably buried there, and the relics of the remaining three were moved to a hill above the cave and were placed in a church. That day, many healings of the sick occurred by the relics of St. Stephen.

In 428 A.D. the relics of Sts. Stephen, Gamaliel, Abibas, and Nicodemus were transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople and placed in the church of the holy deacon Laurence.


  1. Helmut Koester, Professor of Divinity and of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University, is doubtful that Paul studied under this famous rabbi, arguing that there is a marked contrast in the tolerance that Gamaliel is said to have expressed about Christianity, with the "murderous rage" against Christians that Paul is described as having prior to his conversion (Acts 8:1-3).
  2. The Roman Catholic Church views him as a Saint and listed him in the Roman Martyrology for August 3. It is said that in the 5th century, by a miracle, his body had been discovered and taken to Pisa Cathedral (Catholic Encyclopedia. Gamaliel).
  3. The Jewish account maintains that he remained a Pharisee until his death. Contemporary Jewish records continue to list him first among the Sanhedrin (Cheyne and Black (1903). Encyclopedia Biblica. New York: Macmillan).


  1. Solomon Schechter and Wilhelm Bacher. Gamliel I. The Jewish Encyclopedia.
  2. 'Abodah Zarah 3:10.
  3. Gigot, Francis. "Gamaliel." The Catholic Encyclopedia (New Advent). Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.
  4. Acts 5:34-40.
  5. Acts 5:39.
  6. Acts 22:3.
  7. Recognitions of Clement 1:65-66.