Camels in the Bible

Seen these headlines today? A couple archaeologists revive an old claim and suddenly it’s an animal house!

  • Digg: “There shouldn’t be any camels in the Bible!”
  • Smithsonian: “Proof That The Bible’s Tales Were Tweaked” (article)
  • CNN: “Is camel discovery the straw that broke the Bible’s back?” (article)
  • Jerusalem Post: “Study: Despite biblical records, camels didn’t exist in Israel until centuries later”  (article)
  • National Geographic: “Domesticated Camels Came to Israel in 930 B.C., Centuries Later Than Bible Says” (article)
  • The New York Times: “Camels Had No Business in Genesis” (article)

The front page of Digg a few hours ago:

camels in the Bible

Apparently we have proof the Bible has been tweaked!? … oh, and Shaun White hates the Sochi halfpipe!

The Camel Claim is Sensational and Unwarranted

It’s important to understand that the argument is not over whether camels were present in the area during the time of Abraham, but whether they were domesticated or not.

First, evidence has existed for quite some time that proves camels were domesticated long before the time of Abraham.

The Journal of Near Eastern Studies published an article in 1944.  See “Abraham’s Camels,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 3 (1944), 187-193.  A PDF of this article can be found here.

A good summary is as follows (from Apologetics Press):

The earliest evidence comes from a pottery camel’s head and a terra cotta tablet with men riding on and leading camels. According to Free, these are both from predynastic Egypt (1944, pp. 189-190), which according to Clayton is roughly before 3150 B.C. Free also listed three clay camel heads and a limestone vessel in the form of camel lying down—all dated at the First Dynasty of Egypt (3050-2890 B.C.). He then mentioned several models of camels from the Fourth Dynasty (2613-2498 B.C.), and a petroglyph depicting a camel and a man dated at the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2184 B.C.). Such evidence has led one respected Egyptologist to conclude that “the extant evidence clearly indicates that the domestic camel was known [in Egypt—EL] by 3,000 B.C.”—long before Abraham’s time (Kitchen, 1980, 1:228).
Perhaps the most convincing find in support of the early domestication of camels in Egypt is a rope made of camel’s hair found in the Fayum (an oasis area southwest of modern-day Cairo). The two-strand twist of hair, measuring a little over three feet long, was found in the late 1920s, and was sent to the Natural History Museum where it was analyzed and compared to the hair of several different animals. After considerable testing, it was determined to be camel hair, dated (by analyzing the layer in which it was found) to the Third or Fourth Egyptian Dynasty (2686-2498 B.C.). In his article, Free also listed several other discoveries from around 2,000 B.C. and later, which showed camels as domestic animals (pp. 189-190).

Second, the Bible and Spade ran this article in the summer of 2000 which concluded with the following:

First the pre-Abrahamic date for domesticated camels nullifies the claim that their mention in Genesis is anachronistic. Second, ownership of camels would have greatly facilitated the Patriarchs’ frequent travels between Mesopotamia and Canaan. Third, domesticated camels in that era gave their owners an extraordinary economic advantage vis-à-vis the ruling classes of their day; this, as Drs. Gordon and Albright pointed out some time ago, is in perfect keeping with the general image of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as wealthy merchants who dealt on equal footing with the various local petty-kings they encountered. Thus, the early domestication of the camel not only eliminates a major objection to the historicity of the Patriarchal stories, but also clarifies the somewhat uncommon—but nonetheless accurate—picture of the Patriarchs as wealthy, influential caravaneers who were truly “mighty prince[s] among us.”

Third, quick internet searches reveal more material. Here’s another great research paper on the topic (complete with many nice illustrations): The Domestication of the Camel in the Ancient Near East.

Other Claims of “Anachronisms?”

“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.” (New York Times)

Lastly, I can’t but help respond to this charge with chapter 3 from my eventual new book where I list many culturally specific items which prove the Bible must have been written during or near the events it describes (click the book cover to read).

Archeology Book Preview

Click here to preview my forthcoming short book: Archaeology and the Bible.

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Author: Shawn Nelson

Shawn Nelson is the President of Geeky Christian, a ministry which seeks to use technology to evangelize the lost and provide free material for Christian growth. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from San Diego Christian College and an MDiv from Veritas International University where he is currently a Doctor of Ministry student. He is married with two children. He is also the author of several free books and others on Amazon.

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