With new research questioning the Bible’s report that domesticated camels existed as early as Genesis, the efforts to knock this down appear defensive rather than empirical. But Rebekah was certainly watering something. Thoughts?
THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:
Some breathless online news headlines from recent weeks:
“Camel Bones Suggest Error in Bible” (Fox News)
“Camels Don’t Belong in Old Testament” (Forbes magazine)
“Camels Had No Business in Genesis” (The New York Times)
“The Mystery of the Bible’s Phantom Camels” (Time magazine)
“Will Camel Discovery Break the Bible’s Back?” (CNN).
“Archaeology Find: Camels in ‘Bible’ Are Literary Anachronisms” (National Public Radio).
Even weather.com joined the fray: “Error in Bible? Archaeologists Think So.”
It all started with an academic article (.pdf here) last October in the journal of the Institute of Archaeology at Israel’s Tel Aviv University. Archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen applied radiocarbon and other dating methods to an ancient copper smelting site where camel bones were present, located in the Aravah Valley south of the Dead Sea. From this and the dearth of camel evidence elsewhere they concluded that camels were not used as beasts of burden in the region till “the last third of the 10th Century” B.C. (the era of the Bible’s King Solomon, famed for Temple-building and legendary mines).
Few paid attention till a February press release declared this research is “challenging the Bible’s historicity” and provides “direct proof” that biblical narratives about the patriarchs in the Book of Genesis were “compiled well after the events.” Like all ancient matters that’s open to debate, and caution is advisable since archaeological evidence is spotty by nature. A maxim in this field reminds us that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
As those headlines demonstrate, the latest Bible ruckus involves more than how many camels can dance on the head of a copper mine. That’s because Genesis says people owned camels as far back as 1700 to 2000 B.C., including the patriarchs Abraham (earliest reference is Genesis 12) and Jacob (Genesis 30-32). The most familiar mention (yes, Kenneth) comes in Genesis 24, where Rebekah kindly offers water to Abraham’s servant and his camels, whereupon he chooses her as Isaac’s wife.
If the Tel Aviv scenario proves valid across the Mideast then the Old Testament contains a mistake.