Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University in Israel say a new discovery involving camel bones is calling the accuracy of the Bible into question.
Using radioactive-carbon dating techniques, the latest report claims camels were not domesticated until hundreds of years after the events documented in the book of Genesis.
The research was published by archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, who believe the camels came to Israel around the 9th Century B.C.E. — centuries after the Bible suggests.
The camel bones found in the Aravah Valley near the Israel-Jordan border are considered the oldest bones found thus far. In a press release the researchers said, “In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.”
The report said, “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 B.C.E. or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible.” It added, “The few camel bones found in earlier archaeological layers probably belonged to wild camels, which archaeologists think were in the southern Levant from the Neolithic period or even earlier.”
If it is true, that camels were not used in Abraham’s time, that would mean the Bible could not be trusted as a reliable historical document. But is this the case? Actually, skepticism about camels in the Bible is nothing new. The debate is over a century old.
The New International Version Archaeological Study Bible says: “Scholars have debated the historicity of these references to camels because most believe that these animals were not widely domesticated until approximately 1200 B.C., long after the time of Abraham.”
The rebuttal by Professor Joseph Free, made 70 years ago in the “Journal of Near Eastern Studies,” is as relevant today as ever. He said, “Many who have rejected this reference to Abraham’s camels seem to have assumed something which the text does not state. It should be carefully noted that the biblical reference does not necessarily indicate that the camel was common in Egypt at that time, nor does it evidence that the Egyptians had made any great progress in the breeding and domestication of camels. It merely says that Abraham had camels.”
Those “few camel bones found in earlier archaeological layers” could support the Bible’s view at Genesis 12:16: “Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her — sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.” — New Living Translation.
Carbon dating methods cannot determine how the earliest camels were domesticated and used. Supporters of the Bible point to the discovery of a Sumerian text from the time of Abraham in the ancient city of Nippur (in present-day southeastern Iraq) that clearly implies the domestication of camels by its allusions to camels’ milk, as well as the word of Israeli statesman and archaeologist Moshe Dayan in 1978, that “An 18-century B.C. relief found at Byblos in Phoenicia depicts a kneeling camel and camel riders appear on cylinder seals recently discovered in Mesopotamia belonging to the patriarchal period.”
Although the domestication of camels became a factor of importance around the end of the second millennium, does this mean camels were not used earlier? Critics offer no reason why they believe some camels were not domesticated, even if the majority ran wild.
The 1995 book “Civilizations of the Ancient Near East” states: “Recent research has suggested that the domestication of the camel took place in southeastern Arabia some time in the third millennium (B.C.E.). Originally, it was probably bred for its milk, hair, leather and meat, but it cannot have been long before its usefulness as a beast of burden became apparent.”
The same reference work added: “In Mesopotamia, cuneiform lists mention the creature (the camel) and several seals depict it, indicating that the animal may have reached Mesopotamia by the beginning of the second millennium” — that is, by Abraham’s time!
According to Genesis 24:10-20, when Abraham’s servant was sent to Mesopotamia to obtain a wife for Isaac, a train of 10 camels, with all sorts of gifts, accompanied him. Who can say whether this set a precedent in the early use of a small number of camels?
As Randall W. Younker, a professor of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology at Andrews University, stated years ago, “This is not to say that domesticated camels were abundant and widely used everywhere in the ancient Near East in the early second millennium. However, the patriarchal narratives do not necessarily require large numbers of camels.”
The words of famed archaeologist Nelson Glueck still holds true today. Glueck, who pioneered work in biblical archaeology, said, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”
If anything, many archaeologists are proving that they have not looked in all the right places for certain fossils and that they can create a false narrative that is as durable as the domesticated camel.
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