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OT Camels & Biblically Illiterate Archaeologists

OT Camels & Biblically Illiterate Archaeologists May 24, 2021

This is a follow-up to my article, “Abraham, Moses, Camels, & Archaeological Evidence” (5-22-21). As usual, the atheists at Jonathan Pearce’s Tippling Philosopher blog wouldn’t accept any correction or clarification at all from a Christian apologist like myself. I cited a ton of evidence refuting their claims that the Bible included anachronistic / “made-up” references to camels in places where they shouldn’t have been, according to archaeology (so the “argument” went).

It turns out that the supposedly oh-so-much-smarter-than-gullible-Christians “skeptical” archaeologists and the atheists who slavishly follow them made a rather basic (and hence, inexcusable) error: they assumed that the camels talked about in the Bible in the patriarchal period (2nd millennium BC) originated in Israel or were domesticated in Israel. But the Bible never states that. I cited an Orthodox rabbi, Joshua Berman, who freely admitted in a casual, ho-hum fashion that “It is true that camels were not domesticated in Israel until the time of Solomon.” This supposed bombshell, that allegedly proved the Bible guilty of gross anachronism and/or ignorance was in fact no big deal at all, and based on an elementary fallacy.

The problem with this research was that it started with this false assumption that the Bible stated that camels were domesticated in Israel or referred to them as being present there (as opposed to brought from somewhere else) before the 9th century BC. The researchers, in their rush to judgment, never seemed to stop and consider that, for example, Abraham (as is well-known), came from Ur (Gen 11:28, 31; 15:7), which is in modern-day Iraq (then close to Babylon): many hundreds of miles away, and (as we shall see below) obtained his camels in Egypt. Hence, Rabbi Berman noted:

[R]ead Genesis carefully and you see that all its camels come from outside of Israel, from Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, where there is ample evidence of domestication of the camel during the period of the patriarchs. . . .

But what about the camels that carried Joseph off to Egypt (Gen 37:25)? Here, too, Scripture tells us that the camels arrived from outside of Canaan. And just as the spices they bore surely came from the east, so, too, we may surmise, did the camels. . . . [N]owhere in Genesis does anyone ride a camel originating in Canaan. In the Joseph story, the brothers descend to Egypt exclusively on donkeys (Gen 42:26–27; 43:24; 44:3.13); that’s what people rode in Canaan. And thus when Joseph sends them to fetch Jacob, he provides them with donkeys and she-asses (Gen 45:23); . . .

Simple enough, isn’t it? But the researchers hostile to the Bible couldn’t be bothered with such trifles. I provided hard evidence from archaeology in just one article source that I provided last time, for camels in the following places and time periods:

1) Egypt: First Dynasty (3100-2850 B.C.).

2) Nippur [ancient Sumeria; present-day Iraq].

3) Ugarit [present-day Syria]: 1950-1600 BC.

4) Alalakh [present-day Turkey]: 18th century B.C.

5) Syria: c. 1800 B.C.

6) Bactria-Margiana near present-day northern Afghanistan: late 3rd to early 2nd millennium.

7) Altyn-Depe in present-day Turkmenistan: as early as c. 2200 B.C.

8) Byblos [ancient Phoenicia; present-day Lebanon]: 19th-18th century B.C.

9) Wadi Nasib, Sinai: c. 1500 B.C.

10) Mari [present-day Syria]: c. 2400-2200 B.C.

None of this was sufficient proof for our anti-theist atheist critics. They talk a big game of always consulting “evidence” for everything and anything (while claiming that Christians en masse habitually shun and disparage same); yet when it confronts them in the face they close and cover their eyes or flee in terror for the hills.

Now I’d like to actually do a short synopsis of the Old Testament references to camels, to back up the points made, and to illustrate just how dead-wrong the ballyhooed “Bible-bashing” researchers were. The word “camel” in RSV appears 55 times in the 39 Old Testament books that Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox agree are canonical:

1) Genesis 12:16: the first mention of camels in the Bible describe them as being possessed by the Pharaoh of Egypt. Translations differ a bit, but some (NASB, CEV, TEV), clearly state that Pharaoh “gave” camels and the other things mentioned to Abraham. Other versions (Confraternity, NAB) state that he “received” camels, or that Pharaoh was ‘presenting him” with them (Moffatt) or that Abraham was the “recipient” of camels and the other things (Goodspeed).

2) Genesis 24:10-11, 14, 19-20, 22, 30-32, 44, 46, 61, 63-64 (16 times): these all refer to Abraham’s camels, which (it appears) he originally received from Pharaoh. How do we know that? Apart from the above data, it’s a reasonable deduction from what one of his servants said: “The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, camels and asses” (Gen 24:35). This strongly reflects Pharaoh’s possessions: “sheep, oxen, he-asses, menservants, maidservants, she-asses, and camels” (Gen 12:16). Horses are not mentioned. Why? Well, it’s because the earliest known date for them in Egypt is “about 1700-1550 BC.” Thus, the Bible is historically accurate again, for the 2,864th time. No surprise to me at all!

3) Genesis 30:43; 31:17, 34; 32:7, 15: Jacob has camels (and “large flocks, maidservants and menservants, and . . . asses”). These obviously were in his possession as the son of Isaac, who had inherited them from his father Abraham. It would be like someone bringing koala bears and kangaroos from Australia to the United States, which then reproduce. This doesn’t prove that there is large-scale domestication of these animals in America. It proves that a select few were present in America after having been brought from somewhere else.

4) Genesis 37:25: in this instance, the camels were possessed by “Ish’maelites coming from Gilead.” Gilead is in present-day Jordan: close to Israel, but not in it. So once again, the Bible is not saying that camels were indigenous to or domesticated there (archaeological proof of that was for many hundreds of years later).

5) Exodus 9:3: refers to camels in Egypt: many proofs of which I presented in my previous article, and summarized above.

6) Leviticus 11:4; Deuteronomy 14:7: Moses mentions camels as one of the unclean animals, not to be eaten, as part of the Law that he delivered to Israel. This occurred in the Sinai Peninsula: not part of Israel or Canaan at the time. But the instructions referred to “all the beasts that are on the earth” (11:2): not just specifically in Israel. So this proves little with regard to widespread use of camels in Israel. There’s no evidence (archaeological or from the Bible) that they were until the 9th-10th centuries BC. So far, nothing proves that the Bible is dead-wrong or anachronistic about camels. It’s a big embarrassing zero for the anti-biblical “experts.”

That is the entire biblical mention of camels up through the life of Moses. As we see, it is never stated that Moses was riding a camel, etc. It simply says that Egyptians had them and that they shouldn’t be eaten as part of the dietary prohibitions in the Jewish Law.

7) Judges 6:5; 7:12: this time, the camels are described — so many that they “could not be counted” — as in the possession of “the Mid’ianites and the Amal’ekites and the people of the East” (6:3). Midian was in the northwest Arabian peninsula. The Amalekites were from the Negev: part of Israel now but “historically part of a separate region (known in Roman times as Arabia Petraea).” Thus, again, it wasn’t part of either Judah or Israel: neither prior to the 9th c. BC nor until much later (1922, in fact). When Judges 6:4 refers to these enemies killing animals of Israel, no camels are mentioned. Rather, they left “no sheep or ox or ass.”

8) Judges 8:21, 26: the camels referred to were owned by  Zebah and Zalmun’na, who were “kings of Mid’ian” (8:5).

9) 1 Samuel 15:3: the camels (to be slain) were owned by the Amalekites.

10) 1 Samuel 27:9: the camels were owned by the “Gesh’urites, the Gir’zites, and the Amal’ekites” (27:8). David took away camels and other animals. This would explain the origin of his having camels. Once again: not originating from Israel itself: even though this is almost the time that even the anti-biblical archaeologists say that the camel was domesticated in Israel. The Geshurites “dwelt in the desert between Arabia and Philistia.” The Girzites dwelt “between the south of Palestine and Egypt”.

11) 1 Samuel 30:17: refers to camels owned by the Amalekites (cf. 30:1, 13).

12) 1 Kings 10:2 (cf. 2 Chr 9:1): these were owned by the Queen of Sheba (10:1). According to Wikipedia, “There are competing theories of where this kingdom was, with some placing it in either South Arabia or modern day Sudan.” In any event, it wasn’t ancient Israel. But this is about the time, anyway, where all agree that archaeology gives evidence of camel domestication in Israel.

13) 2 Kings 8:9: the camels in this instance are from Damascus, Syria.

14) 1 Chronicles 5:21: the camels were owned by the Hagrites (5:19), who lived east of Gilead in present-day Jordan. Note that the Israelites “carried off fifty thousand of their camels.” That’s certainly enough to start widespread domestication in Israel. This was “in the days of Jerobo’am king of Israel” (5:17).  Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel (as opposed to Judah). He reigned for 22 years, sometime in the last third of the 10th century BC. In other words, this was right before the first archaeological evidence of widespread camel use in Israel, in the 9th century BC.

15) 1 Chronicles 12:40: this describes Israelites using camels to carry food, just before David became king (c. 1000 BC). But it’s not evidence of widespread use or domestication.

16) 1 Chronicles 27:30: “Over the camels was Obil the Ish’maelite . . .” In other words, even when David had many camels, a non-Jew took care of them, because he was familiar with how to do it, whereas the Jews were not.

17) 2 Chronicles 14:15: camels were obtained after a successful battle with the Ethiopians, during the reign of King Asa of Judah (14:1) who reigned between 913–910 and 873–869 BC, which was during the time that all agree camels were present in large numbers in Israel.

18) Ezra 2:67 (cf. Neh 7:69): describes the Israelites having 435 camels at the time of their return to Israel from Babylon, which occurred in 539 BC: some 300 or more years after the time everyone agrees many camels were in domestic use in Israel.

19) Job 1:3, 17; 42:12: I explained in my previous installment how virtually no Christians scholars think the book of Job was dated earlier than Solomon’s reign (about 970 to 931 BC), and many who think it was several hundred years after that. In other words, most of the estimates are after the time the “skeptical” (and even Bible-believing) archaeologists agree about evidence for widespread camels in Israel.

20) The remaining references (Is 21:7; 30:6; 60:6; Jer 2:23; 49:29, 32; Ezek 25:5; Zech 14:15) occur after this same period, and are, therefore, utterly uncontroversial. Isaiah lived in the 8th c. BC., Jeremiah in the 7th and 6th, Ezekiel in the 6th c. BC, and Zechariah in the 6th and maybe into the 5th.

Once again, then, the Bible was absolutely right, and the archaeologists hostile to it, dead-wrong. Many might find that ironic or surprising. Not me. After forty of engaging in Christian apologetics, I’ve seen again and again how the supposedly “superior / smart” scholars who are skeptical of biblical historical claims are relentlessly and inevitably (and usually embarrassingly) wrong when they try to take a hatchet to God’s Holy Scripture. If you start with a false premise, you will arrive at an erroneous conclusion, no matter how brilliant in “book-learning” you may be or how high of an IQ you may have.

With the above crucial biblical background information in mind, let’s now see what actual claims were made by certain archaeologists (not overly enthralled by biblical accuracy) that Jonathan MS Pearce pounced upon in an effort to mock the Bible and Christianity, and how they were essentially intellectually dishonest, or at the very least, grossly incompetent. Then the nonsense was parroted triumphantly by folks who knew even less than the original purveyors of this slop.

Pearce cited the work of Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures. The Press Release about it (2-11-14) ridiculously proclaimed (and Pearce repeated it in his article):

Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.

As shown above, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that this domestication took place before the 9th or possibly late 10th century BC. “Direct proof” is ludicrously used to describe what they think they have accomplished. Talk about deluded certainty . . . The article continues:

The findings, published recently in the journal “Tel Aviv”, further emphasize the disagreements between Biblical texts and verifiable history, . . .

One notices that this article never mentions any of these Bible passages that supposedly suggest such a thing. That would be an actual substantive argument. It’s much easier to simply throw out general statements, knowing that those of a certain mindset will accept them, sans any evidence (in this case, biblical proofs) at all. Actually, I don’t blame these people for not mentioning Bible passages, seeing how manifestly ignorant they are about the Bible, and specifically about what it says about camels. The article continues:

In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible.

As I showed above, 1 Samuel 27:9 states that David took some camels as spoils, but doesn’t say how many. They may have been very few, for all we know; hence would not likely show up in archaeological digs. Many of these radical archaeologists even doubt (or have recently doubted) that David existed, or claimed that if he did, his kingdom was nothing like what the Bible describes. The big influx of camels into Israel according to the Bible is described in 1 Chronicles 5:21: where the Israelites “carried off fifty thousand . . . camels” from the Hagrites. It’s well worth repeating the most relevant thing I discovered in these biblical texts (repetition being a great teacher):

This was “in the days of Jerobo’am king of Israel” (5:17).  Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel (as opposed to Judah). He reigned for 22 years, sometime in the last third of the 10th century BC. In other words, this was right before the first archaeological evidence of widespread camel use in Israel, in the 9th century BC.

We just saw in the previous citation describing these archaeologists’ opinion that the first camel bones in Israel date from “the last third of the 10th century BCE or later” and now, lo and behold, this despised Bible states precisely the same thing (once we add in — from history — when Jeroboam reigned as king): it was in the last third of the 10th century. That’s when the fifty thousand camels were taken as plunder, and it’s not a stretch to presume that serious domestication and breeding started to occur at this time.

This is clearly a vindication of the Bible and an embarrassment for those making or parroting these spurious anti-biblical claims.

The research was trumpeted by The New York Slimes (oops, Times) in its article, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis” (John Noble Wilford, 2-10-14). I couldn’t access it for free, but fortunately I found a reprint in the Tampa Bay Times (2-17-14). Wilford pontificates (no doubt with a “knowing” smirk):

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., . . .

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.”

I have shown above how this is utterly inaccurate. It’s fairy-tales and mythology, as is the following bilge from Time Magazine:

Once upon a time, Abraham owned a camel. According to the Book of Genesis, he probably owned lots of camels. The Bible says that Abraham, along with other patriarchs of Judaism and Christianity, used domesticated camels — as well as donkeys, sheep, oxen and slaves — in his various travels and trade agreements. Or did he? . . .

Historian Richard Bulliet of Columbia University explored the topic in his 1975 book, The Camel and the Wheel, and concluded that “the occasional mention of camels in patriarchal narratives does not mean that the domestic camels were common in the Holy Land at that period.” . . .

The new study again raises the age-old question of biblical accuracy. The phantom camel is just one of many historically jumbled references in the Bible. The Book of Genesis claims the Philistines, the traditional enemy of the Israelites, lived during Abraham’s time. But historians date the Philistines’ arrival to the eastern Mediterranean at about 1200 B.C., 400 years after Abraham was supposed to have lived, according to Carol Meyers, professor of religion at Duke University. (“The Mystery of the Bible’s Phantom Camels”, Elizabeth Dias, 2-11-14)

It’s a time-honored trick of sophistry to introduce a completely different topic into a discussion of a separate thing. And so we have this example of the date of the Philistines. Apologists like myself can’t let such a potshot pass without refutation. Eric Lyons of Apologetics Press has neatly disposed of it, saving me the trouble:

The Bible declares that long before King David fought the Philistine giant named Goliath in the valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17), Abraham and Isaac had occasional contact with a people known as the Philistines. In fact, seven of the eight times that the Philistines are mentioned in Genesis, they are discussed in connection with either Abraham’s visit with Abimelech, king of the Philistines (21:32,34), or with Isaac’s visit to the same city (Gerar) a few years later (26:1,8,14-15,18). For some time now, critics of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch have considered the mention of the Philistines—so early in human history—to be anachronistic (i.e., details from a later age inappropriately inserted into the patriarchal account). Supposedly, “Philistines…did not come into Palestine until after the time of Moses” (Gottwald, 1959, p. 104), and any mention of them before that time represents “an historical inaccuracy” (Frank, 1964, p. 323). Thus, as Millar Burrows concluded, the mention of Philistines in Genesis may be considered “a convenient and harmless anachronism,” which “is undoubtedly a mistake” (1941, p. 277).

As with most allegations brought against the Scriptures, those who claim that the Philistine nation was not around in Abraham’s day are basing their conclusion on at least one unprovable assumption—namely, that the Philistines living in the days of the patriarchs were a great nation, similar to the one living during the time of the United Kingdom. The evidence suggests, however, that this assumption simply is wrong. The Bible does not present the Philistines of Abraham’s day as the same mighty Philistine nation that would arise hundreds of years later. Abimelech, the king of Gerar, is portrayed as being intimidated by Abraham (cf. Genesis 21:25). Surely, had the Philistine people been a great nation in the time of the patriarchs, they would not have been afraid of one man (Abraham) and a few hundred servants (cf. Genesis 14:14). Furthermore, of the five great Philistine city-states that were so prominent throughout the period of the Judges and the United Kingdom (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza—Joshua 13:3; 1 Samuel 6:17), none was mentioned. Rather, only a small village known as Gerar was named. To assume that the Bible presents the entire civilization of the Philistines as being present during Abraham’s day is to err. In reality, one only reads of a small Philistine kingdom.

The word “Philistine” was a rather generic term meaning “sea people.” No doubt, some of the Aegean Sea people made their way to Palestine long before a later migration took place—a migration that was considerably larger. In commenting on these Philistines, Larry Richards observed:

While there is general agreement that massive settlement of the coast of Canaan by sea peoples from Crete took place around 1200 B.C., there is no reason to suppose Philistine settlements did not exist long before this time. In Abram’s time as in the time of Moses a variety of peoples had settled in Canaan, including Hittites from the far north. Certainly the seagoing peoples who traded the Mediterranean had established colonies along the shores of the entire basin for centuries prior to Abraham’s time. There is no reason to suppose that Philistines, whose forefathers came from Crete, were not among them (1993, p. 40).

No archaeological evidence exists that denies various groups of “sea people” were in Canaan long before the arrival of the main body in the early twelfth century B.C. (see Unger, 1954, p. 91; Archer, 1964, p. 266; Harrison, 1963, p. 32). To assume that not a single group of Philistines lived in Palestine during the time of Abraham because archaeology has not documented them until about 1190 B.C. is to argue from negative evidence and is without substantial weight. In response to those who would deny the Philistines’ existence based upon their silence in the archeological world before this time, professor Kitchen stated: “Inscriptionally, we know so little about the Aegean peoples as compared with those of the rest of the Ancient Near East in the second millennium B.C., that it is premature to deny outright the possible existence of Philistines in the Aegean area before 1200 B.C.” (1966, p. 80n). Likely, successive waves of sea peoples from the Aegean Sea migrated to Canaan, even as early as Abraham’s time, and continued coming until the massive movement in the twelfth century B.C. (Archer, 1970, p. 18).

Although critics accuse biblical writers of revealing erroneous information, their claims continue to evaporate with the passing of time and the compilation of evidence.

REFERENCES

Archer, Gleason (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody).

Archer, Gleason L. (1970), “Old Testament History and Recent Archaeology from Abraham to Moses,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 127:3-25, January.

Bruce, F.F. (1988), The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.

Burrows, Millar (1941), What Mean These Stones? (New Haven, CT: American Schools of Oriental Research).

Frank, H.T. (1964), An Archaeological Companion to the Bible (London: SCM Press).

Gottwald, Norman (1959), A Light to the Nations (New York: Harper and Row).

Harrison, R.K. (1963), The Archaeology of the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Row).

Kitchen, Kenneth (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Inter-Varsity Press).

Richards, Larry (1993), 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell).

Unger, Merrill (1954), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

The article goes on to peddling gibberish about the Bible. I don’t have the patience to deal with it.

Then Jonathan MS Pearce comes along over seven years later and parrots anti-Bible lies, by writing:

I have in other posts mentioned a Tel Aviv University Press Release reporting research that has built on work hinted at in Israel Finkelstein’s The Bible Unearthed which claimed that camels were not domesticated in the Ancient Near East too long after they are claimed to be existent and members of a goodly number of biblical stories. In other words, these anachronisms strongly suggest that the claims of the Bible were made up.

Note that he doesn’t say “camels were not domesticated” In Israel until the late 10th century BC (a claim I and many Christians would agree with after consulting the evidences). He says they weren’t “in the Ancient Near East” (a much, much larger area). And this is what I have massively disproven. So what does Jonathan have to say after my previous article? He hasn’t seen this one yet (and I’m sure he’ll be overjoyed at the prospect: about as exciting as root canal surgery to him), but is already condescendingly blowing off the first one. Responding directly to me in the combox underneath his pathetic article, he writes with dripping disdain:

Just before I respond to your article, I just want to clarify:

Do you really, actually believe, in your heart of hearts, that you “have thoroughly refuted” my article?

You have some quite acerbic rhetorical flourishes in your piece, a number of personal attacks, and something that falls, imho, rather short of even a cursory refutation. I struggle to sign up to the idea that you truly believe what you say.

But, like your followers, I think you might subscribe to the conflation of just saying something, with actually refuting something. (5-23-21)

I replied:

To answer your question: yes; and I am working on an equally substantive follow-up right now. Thanks for actually being willing to respond. That’s a nice change.

As usual, if we Christians defend what is constantly savagely attacked (the Bible, our beliefs, and our characters, including how we view reason and evidence) then we’re always somehow the bad and unethical guys. . . .

You’ve had your fun talking about me. Now please reply point-by-point to my arguments.

We all wait with baited breath for the latter. But it’s clear that this entire line of skeptical / atheist reasoning has missed the mark completely.

***

Photo credit: dimitrisvetsikas1969 (7-8-19) [PixabayPixabay License]

***

Summary: The Bible has been accused of extreme historical inaccuracy with regard to the question of OT camels. I show how this is untrue & involves rank ignorance of the relevant passages.

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