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If you’re like me, I’m sure you woke up this morning to a barrage of news articles claiming that the discovery of domesticated camel bones have definitively disproved the Bible.
Alarming? Yes. True? Mmmm not exactly.
Unfortunately, the article titles are a bit misleading because they draw conclusions that the researchers, Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, do not draw. It is a bit frightening to see how irresponsibly the various media outlets have spun Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s research. Here is just a gleaming of some popular outlets and their article titles.
“Major discrepancy in the Bible” – Huffington Post
A major discrepancy in the Bible would being finding Jesus’ remains, not a camel’s.
“‘Direct Proof’ Bible Was Written Centuries After Events Described” – International Business Times
This one is especially alarming since it’s author, Zoe Mintz, puts ‘direct proof’ in quotations without actually quoting the words ‘direct proof’ anywhere in her article. This quote turns out to be from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, a self-described “worldly and intellectually sophisticated group” dedicated to and associated with the university, but not directly a part of the research(ers) nor the university – a fact that even the Christian Post seems to have missed.
“Camel archaeology contradicts the Bible” – The Times of Israel
The camel archeology contradicts the Bible? Really? The whole thing – contradicted. Maybe the Times of Israel should have gone with a little more realistic title, such as…
“Camel discovery may prove Biblical stories false” – News 3 Las Vegas
Ah, a refreshingly honest title among all the sensation. At least this title contains the qualifier may. It may prove Bible stories false. However, the title still makes an extraordinary claim that Bible stories are false based on the research. Can we assume, at least from the claim of this title, that a ‘camel discovery’ proves Jesus never resurrected? If so, there’s a baby in some bathwater that needs to be thrown out.
“Camel Bones Challenge the Bible’s Timeline” – Newser
This is the only title I’ve seen that is appropriate to the research. Indeed, domesticated camels not found until 900BCE does challenge the biblical timeline; however, it is not a “major discrepancy” that provides “direct proof” that “Biblical stories [are] false.” These titles are sensational, which is exactly their authors were going for.
“Historical ERROR in Bible’s Old Testament, REVEALED” – Fashion Times
I’ll let this one stand on its own, because of all the CAPS and the fact that the illustrious Fashion Times wrote it.
“Camels and foot-stamping denialists” – Patheos
Not a news article, but interesting nonetheless. Here we have a writer complaining about “foot-stamping denialists” (of which I suppose I now am) coming out to say nuh-uh! to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s findings. Others include Al Mohler and Ken Ham, who (as of yet) have not actually spoken on the matter as far as I am aware. Could the author of this article be a foot-stamping denialist denier?
“BREAKING: Camels Disprove God’s Existence; Bible Is False” – Dear Ephesus
See? Even I can do it.
ALRIGHT, WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH ACTUALLY SAY?
Enough with the sensational titles, what does the research actually say? Does this zooarchaeological find cast doubt on the timeline of the Bible?
First, if you actually read the report, the researchers do not make the claims that many of the media outlets are saying they have. In fact, they only mention the Old Testament once in the entire paper.
In their opening paragraph, Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef mention the “Patriarchal narrative” as having lead many researchers to speculate an earlier date for camel domestication. That’s it. The rest of the paper is simply their findings.
Basically, Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef have done what all archeologists do – present their findings and allow others to interpret for themselves what that data means. It is clear what many have said, but what is not so clear is why they would attribute a conclusion to these two researchers that they themselves never made.
Nonetheless, the findings do present a challenge to the biblical timeline. Let’s take a look at why.
The Bible starts mentioning camels beginning in Genesis 12. This means that starting from the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE) the Bible claims that camels were domesticated and in use by humans in and around Israel.
However, according to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s research, camels were not domesticated in Israel until 900BCE. Herein lies the problem – the Bible claims that camels were domesticated hundreds of years before they actually were.
(Is your faith shaken yet? I’ve already denounced mine…)
So, what are we to make of this? Here are just some points to consider.
POINTS TO CONSIDER
1.) Does this research definitively represent the total area of Israel, from its most sparsely to most highly populated areas? If not, then this research may simply suggest that domesticated camels were not in use at these sites until 900BCE.
To be fair, according to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s paper, the study encompassed quite a bit of Israel. In fact, they were confident that it did represent a good portion of Israel’s history. However, perhaps later discoveries will show that camels were not in use in some areas while they were in others at various points in Israel’s history.
2.) The word for camel gamal (גָּמָל) may be a substitute for the oral tradition’s use of a load-bearing animal. Perhaps, according to oral tradition, the load bearing animal was a donkey or mule. When it came time to consolidate and ‘canonize’ the Torah, the scribes (being people of their time) assigned the word camel to the word load-bearing animal. (This is not unlike when we hear a story of a cowboy riding into town on an animal, we automatically assume the animal was a horse.)
Old Testament scholars have long suggested that the Torah was not finished in the form we have it today until well after the events they describe. Even if we accepted Moses as the author of the Torah, we must also remember that he was not present for a major portion of it (Genesis). Oral tradition must play some type of role in its formation, which is something Christians have believed for a long time.
3.) Could Abraham have acquired camels from Egypt and brought them to Israel without them becoming widely used until much later? Most of the articles claim that Abraham (among the other patriarchs) did not have camels in Israel until Egypt introduced them abruptly, perhaps due to trade. Archeological evidence suggests that Egypt did have domesticated camels
This assumes, then, that when Abraham went to Egypt, he did not acquire a single camel. On the contrary, is it possible that Abraham, during his visit to Egypt, acquired Egyptian domesticated camels? I think so, especially since Genesis 12:16 explicitly mentions Abraham’s camels while in Egypt.
Of course, this depends on whether or not Egypt had domesticated camels during the time Abraham was in Egypt. Since Egypt was the trade center of the world at that time, it is entirely possible to see how domesticated camels were present in the first millennium BCE Egypt.
AT THE END OF THE DAY…
This is such a great example of how hungry some people are to decry the veracity of the Bible. After all, a good amount of news organizations have heralded this research as a fatal blow to scripture. (Remember, we’re talking about the domestication of camels in Israel. We’re not talking about a Jesus ossuary.)
It is interesting to see how many media outlets rushed to declare the Bible false, seemingly without considering that there might be a logical explanation. I’m not sure they would have done the same for other types of archeological finds.
For example, if an archeologist found a modern human skull in a layer with other fossils dating to the Mesozoic Era, would those same news organizations herald the discovery as a fatal blow to evolution? Probably not, because they would most likely assume there must be a logical reason. Unfortunately, they do not grant the Bible this same type of courtesy.
So, the next time you see a camel and it says “Hump Daaaaay!”, remember this – many people are always looking for excuses to push away from their loving creator, even if it’s sensationally based on scant evidence.
 Sheila Hamilton-Dyer, ‘Domestication of the Camel,’ The Oxford Companion to Archeology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ), 215