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.

Arks a-plenty

The Noah’s Ark theme park being built by Answers in Genesis gets lots of publicity, but it is only one of a number of Noah’s Ark projects in progress around the world. Christianity Today reports on eight such projects: A Flood of Arks.


If you were to build a Noah’s Ark attraction, what would you include?

I think I would try to build mine out of “gopher barky barky.”

Grace and Peace

Jesus is for geologists (and other scientists)

I’ve always known that Jesus is for geologists, as well as for biologists, chemists, physicists, archeologists, astronomers, and all other sorts of scientists.

There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.

Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.

The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:

Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.

As the review says, this would be a great book for

  • Professional scientists
  • Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
  • High school teachers and students
  • Members of the general public.

Buy this book at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Grace and Peace

Job 28 — Mining for gold, mining for wisdom

From the 28th chapter of Job —

1 “There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is refined.
2 Iron is taken from the earth,
and copper is smelted from ore.
3 Man puts an end to the darkness;
he searches the farthest recesses
for ore in the blackest darkness.
4 Far from where people dwell he cuts a shaft,
in places forgotten by the foot of man;
far from men he dangles and sways.
5 The earth, from which food comes,
is transformed below as by fire;
6 sapphires[a] come from its rocks,
and its dust contains nuggets of gold.
7 No bird of prey knows that hidden path,
no falcon’s eye has seen it.
8 Proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no lion prowls there.
9 Man’s hand assaults the flinty rock
and lays bare the roots of the mountains.
10 He tunnels through the rock;
his eyes see all its treasures.
11 He searches[b] the sources of the rivers
and brings hidden things to light.

12 “But where can wisdom be found?
Where does understanding dwell?
13 Man does not comprehend its worth;
it cannot be found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 It cannot be bought with the finest gold,
nor can its price be weighed in silver.
16 It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir,
with precious onyx or sapphires.
17 Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it,
nor can it be had for jewels of gold.
18 Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention;
the price of wisdom is beyond rubies.
19 The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it;
it cannot be bought with pure gold.

20 “Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds of the air.
22 Destruction[c] and Death say,
‘Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.’
23 God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
24 for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
25 When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
26 when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
27 then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
28 And he said to man,
‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.’”

[a] Job 28:6 Or lapis lazuli; also in verse 16
[b] Job 28:11 Septuagint, Aquila and Vulgate; Hebrew He dams up
[c] Job 28:22 Hebrew Abaddon

New International Version 1984

Around the web — 1/26/10

I’ve been putting in a lot of hours, which has been a very good thing following a long period of unemployment. One down side has been having very little time for The GeoChristian.

Archaeology: What an Ancient Hebrew Note Might Mean (Christianity Today) — Skeptics of the historical reliability of the Old Testament have long suggested that the Hebrews did not have a writing system until sometime late in the Kingdom period, perhaps as late as the exile of the Jews to Babylon. Archeologists have unearthed a pottery fragment from close to 1000 BC (around the time of King David’s reign) with Hebrew writing, making an early date for the writing of portions of the Old Testament easier to support. (also see Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests at Yahoo News)

Geologist tells kids how his job rocks (Billings Gazette) — “How do you hold the attention of more than 50 kids for nearly an hour? If a Friday morning presentation to the second-graders at St. Francis Primary Catholic School is any indication, the answer is simple: Just show them some rocks.”

Scientists create model of monster ‘Frankenstorm’ (Yahoo News) — Computer modeling comes up with a storm that would drop eight feet of rain on parts of California.

231-mph NH wind gust is no longer world’s fastest — Mount Washington in New Hampshire no longer holds the world record for the strongest wind gust.

Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple?

Does this carving at the Ta Prohm temple complex in Cambodia prove that dinosaurs of the genus Stegosaurus were still alive in Southeast Asian jungles only 1000 years ago?

Carving at Ta Prohm temple, near the more famous Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Image from Neurologica Blog.

Some young-Earth creationists think so. An example of a web page dedicated to this is found at Dinosaurs in ancient Cambodian temple — Amazing evidence that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. Other carvings in this temple are of local animals such as deer, monkeys, and birds, and so this carving must prove that Stegosaurus was wandering around the jungles of Southeast Asia as well.

My response is: No.

I’ve been wanting to write about this one for some time, and was prompted into action when I saw this discussed on a paleontology blog this morning (Dinosaur Tracking: Stegosaurus, Rhinoceros, or Hoax?).

Superficially, this carving looks like a Stegosaurus. It has the arched shape that Stegosaurus toys sometimes have, and a row of things that look like plates running down the back. Here are my reasons why I don’t think this carving is of a Stegosaurus:

  • The head is completely wrong for Stegosaurus. Stegosaurus had a tiny head; the carvings in Cambodia show a creature with a proportionately larger head.
Stegosaurus, ddd Museum, from Wikipedia. Note the tiny head.
Stegosaurus, Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt, Germany. From Wikipedia: Stegosaurus. Note the tiny head. Credit: Evak
  • The tail is wrong for Stegosaurus. Where are the spikes?
  • The legs are wrong for Stegosaurus. In the carving, the front and hind legs are of equal length; in a real Stegosaurus the hind legs are considerably longer than the front legs.
  • The body is wrong for Stegosaurus. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Stegosaurus, and many other dinosaurs, were depicted with arched backs. Based on further study, we now know that most dinosaurs had less curvature in their backs. Look at the picture  above for a modern interpretation, and at the picture below for the 100-year old interpretation.
From Wikipedia: Stegosaurus. Drawing from O.C. Marsh, 1896.
  • The back plates in the carving are only superficially similar to the plates found on fossil Stegosaurus, which actually had two parallel rows of plates.
  • Similar features are found on the perimeter of some other carvings (though not on the backs of the animals). For example, here is a carving interpreted by as a water buffalo, with, um… Stegosaurus plates for a decorative border:
  • If Stegosaurus lived in Cambodia only 1000 years ago when the Angkor Wat/Ta Prohm temples were built, why are there no Stegosaurus bones found in Asia, whether in archeological sites or in the fossil record?
  • There are plausible alternatives. Some have suggested a rhinoceros or boar in front of a vegetated background. I think a much better alternative is a chameleon. The head and eyes are right, the overall body shape isn’t bad, and chameleons have a serrated ridge along their back (though not as pronounced as on the carving). The tail isn’t quite right, but it isn’t right for being a Stegosaurus either. Given two possibilities—Stegosaurus or chameleon—I think we should go for the chameleon in this case.
Chameleon. From Wikipedia: Chameleon
Chameleon. From Wikipedia: Chameleon. Credit: Adrian Pingstone
  • Another alternative is that this represents a mythical Hindu creature, such as a makara.
Hindu god Varuna riding a makara. From Wikipedia: Varuna

I would hope that the above reasoning would be sufficient to convince even young-Earth creationists to not use this sort of argument. In some cases this has been true: I see this kind of stuff on the fringe YEC sites, but haven’t seen it used by Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research, both of which have people capable of sifting out the more extreme claims. [Update 3/23/09: AiG does use this as evidence. Sigh]

As a Christian who accepts an old age for the Earth, I would add one more argument against the validity of the Ta Prohm Stegosaurus carving:

  • Stegosaurus fossils are only found in rocks of the Late Jurassic period, with no examples from the Cretaceous or Cenozoic. Did they hide for 145 million years, only to show up in the jungles of Cambodia?

Another possibility is that this carving is a fraud, having been carved in the past century. This could be, but I have assumed in this post that the carving is genuine.

In conclusion, to use the Ta Prohm carving as evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived together only a short time ago is bad apologetics. This is one more thing to make us look silly in the eyes of nonbelievers. Don’t feed this to your kids, and don’t use it to try to convince anyone of the truthfulness of Scriptures. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is true and that it says exactly what God wants it to say. We don’t have to resort to pseudoarcheology to defend it.

Grace and Peace

National Geographic — irresponsible dismissal of a valid historical document

ngdec20082I have been a reader and collector of National Geographic since childhood. I am able to overlook some of their biases, which lead from time to time to sloppy journalism on the part of the magazine, such as the Gospel of Judas fiasco. Here is another NG piece of sloppy/biased journalism regarding religion: the cover story of the December 2008 issue of National Geographic on Herod the Great, the king over Judea at the time Christ was born.

The article accepts historical information from the first century Jewish historian Josephus, such as Herod killing members of his own family whom he perceived as threats, as well as other cruelties, even though Josephus is the only historical source for some of this information. I have no problem with this. Josephus is considered to be a reliable source, whose writings are consistent with what we know from archeology and other historical sources.

There are other first century writers, on the other hand, whose writings are just as consistent with history and archeology as those of Josephus. I am referring to the writers of the Gospels, whose writings fit into first century Judea every bit as well as those of Josephus. The Gospel of Matthew for example, refers to Herod sending soldiers to kill all the children in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old or younger because he felt threatened by stories of a Messiah having been born there. This is certainly consistent with Herod’s character, yet the author/editors of this article say it probably didn’t happen. Why? Not for sound historical reasons. The only reason NG rejects this source is because it is in the Bible. That is irresponsible historical research.

HT: Stand to Reason

Grace and Peace