The camel that broke the Bible’s back?
Here’s another “science proves the Bible wrong” story that has been in the news lately, in which science does not prove the Bible wrong. In this case, it has to do with archeology and the domestication of the camel.
The first mention of camels in the Old Testament is in Genesis 12, where Abram is said to own camels. Camels figure more prominently in the story of Abraham’s servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to obtain a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac in Genesis 24. Abraham lived around 2000 BC. According to many archeologists, camels were not domesticated in the land of Israel (Canaan) until a thousand years later. Therefore, according to some scholars, Genesis contains a rather blatant anachronism, placing camels into a time period where they don’t belong.
From the New York Times: Camels Had No Business in Genesis.
There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.
Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.
These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”
This accusation of biblical anachronism regarding camels has been around for a while, and so have the answers to it. A good response has been written by Gordon Govier at Christianity Today – The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy: Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels? Here are some excerpts:
While it has been difficult for archaeologists and historians to pin down the exact time and location when camels were domesticated, there is evidence to suggest that the Genesis accounts are not a biblical anachronism.
Two recent academic papers written by evangelical scholars—Konrad Martin Heide, a lecturer at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany; and Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University—both refer to earlier depictions of men riding or leading camels, some that date to the early second millenium BC.
Among other evidence, Kennedy notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating to the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 BC).
He concludes, “For those who adhere to a 12th century BC or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away.”
“[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 BC,” [Kennedy] said. “So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 BC and in Mesopotamia the same thing.” Based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian accounts, Kennedy believes domestication probably occurred as early as the third millennium BC.
Here’s a brief analysis of the situation:
- The Bible speaks of Abraham owning camels around 2000 BC.
- There is no archeological evidence that domesticated camels were used in Israel before 1000 BC
Skeptics (and journalists who just take the skeptics’ word for it) stop right there, and say that Genesis contains an anachronism. Let’s continue:
- There is archeological evidence that camels were domesticated before 2000 BC in places like Egypt and Mesopotamia.
- Abraham was from Mesopotamia (Genesis 11:31).
- Abraham visited Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20).
The only reasonable conclusion, in my mind, is that there is not even a hint of anachronism in this case. Abraham, being a wealthy Mesopotamian, and who had also been to Egypt, could easily have been the owner of camels.
Grace and Peace
My friend Brian Mattson has also written about this rather silly “refutation” of the Bible: Camel Carcasses and Scientific Stupidity. I love his link to a similar archeological investigation in The Onion.