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Study: Despite biblical records, camels didn't exist in Israel until centuries later

TAU archaeologists' study on first domesticated camels in ancient Israel presents a new challenge to the Bible's veracity as a historical document.

camels

Camels [Illustrative] Photo: REUTERS
Although camels are mentioned over 20 times in the Bible, the patriarchs apparently didn't have much to do with them, according to a new archaeological study that calls the historicity of the Bible into question. 

"Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels," (Genesis 31:17) is just one of several instances where domesticated camels are used in the stories of Abraham, Joseph and Jacob. However, archeologists Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University have found that camels weren't domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the patriarchs lived, providing direct proof that the Bible was compiled well after the events it describes.

Drs. Ben-Yosef and Sapir-Hen used radiocarbon dating to identify the earliest date that domesticated camels were used in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Their findings, published recently in the journal Tel Aviv, argued that camels became commonplace at the end of the 10th century BCE - several centuries after the patriarchs lived (2000-1500 BCE) and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible. Their article also defined the appearance of camels as a turning point in ancient Israel's international trade relations.

The oldest known domesticated camel bones were found in the Arava Valley, the ancient site of copper production, in a series of digs led by Drs. Sapir-Hen and  Ben-Yosef. While camel bones were found in deeper sediments, archaeologists think they probably belonged to wild camels, who were present in the southern Levant since the Neolithic period. Researchers believe that the mass domestication of camels coincided with major changes in the copper industry, and opened Israel up to international trade and socioeconomic change.

Camels were most likely originally domesticated for use as pack animals in the Arabian Peninsula, which borders on the Arava Valley, towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. 

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How does an archaeologist determine which are the remains of domestic rather than wild camels, particularly in the early centuries of domestication. Furthermore, I think camels would have been farmed, to varying degrees, for milk and meat for a long time before the brightest and best were selected for riding training.

Wild camels can only be studied in Australia because it's the only country that has them. There was an Al Jazeera story about a middle-eastern Australian who sort of 'part farms' wild camels by penning them and exporting the milk and meat. There is a degree of domestication here and the Australian example would be interesting to know. I'll see if I can find the story.

Some archaeologists have been making this claim for at least a decade.  Finkelstein and Silberman make the point that the patriarchal narratives refer not only to domesticated camels but also to caravans from Arabia, trade that flourished under the Assyrians after 800 BCE.  Digs in Israel show a surprising increase in camel bones in that period, nearly all from mature animals; locally farmed camels would probably be indicated by the bones of young animals along with adults (The Bible Unearthed, 36).  These two authors build an interesting case for their contention that much of the OT was written or radically revised under King Josiah of Judah in the late seventh century BCE as part of his effort to establish himself as king of a once again united Israel.  The OT narratives sometimes refer to geographical features, cities, etc., as they were in the time of Josiah, not as they were in the time of the patriarchs.  The question seems to me less about when camels were domesticated, but when they became a common sight in Israel.

I haven't researched this article yet, I just put it up because it's interesting. 

The question seems to me less about when camels were domesticated, but when they became a common sight in Israel.

I'm thinking along these lines also. Napoleon is right in that camels may have been domesticated earlier, but the technology involved in domestication of camels,doesn't look like it had reached Israel in time for their inclusion in the bible.

I don't think you could use Aussie Wild camels to study in this context as they are descendents of domestic camels set free after being brought over from their native ranges.

As such they will show the genetics of domesticated camels and not wild ones.

MB

You may be right. The Australian camel is a feral animal just like the dingo. The later is still a dog having the genes of a dog. However, we aren't told how archeologists identify ancient domestic camels from wild camels. There might be no genetic difference as there is no genetic difference between a dingo and an Asian domestic dog. The archaeologist works with bones, surrounding material, and DNA science may not yet have been used to learn more about camels.

The water is getting deep.

You can challenge the bible's veracity as a historical document all you want to and win every time. That's because the bible is NOT a historical document. Christians think it is, but it's just not so. In fact, the bible's more of a hysterical document. My grandfather used to say that they did many things in the bible that people can't do today. He cited a verse where Moses tied his ass to a tree and then walked for 40 miles. Grandpa read the bible all the time.

On the serious side of this thing, we read how the ancient writings have been changed around to fit the events of the story being told. Archaeologic studies have proven this so. This is true from the Battle of Jericho to prophesies of the messiah.

My question is how did the ancients travel if they did not have camels? If would seem that the camel is well prepared for desert travel.

In addition to reading the article, I also listened to this on NPR on the way to work this morning. What the archaeologists are apparently saying is not that camels didn't exist prior to 1,000 BCE. Just from that time forward, there were much greater evidence of camel bones being found in settlements, indicating that the domestication of this animal occurred somewhere around that time.  I suspect that prior to that time, and in that region, they traveled just like the rest of humanity that spread out over the planet. They walked.

As to Moses, we all know who the meanest woman in the Bible was. The Virgin Mary. She rode Joseph's ass all the way to Bethlehem.

This isn't the "nail in the coffin (crucifix?)" argument it has been made out to be. I doubt a bible thumping theist is going to even stop to think twice about it when confronted with it.

At best it may serve when added to a host of other arguments but I think there are stronger rational arguments such as the internal inconsistencies the bible presents.

MB

National Geographic has more info.  There seems to be a relation to copper production in the area.  

So far no dinosaur bones in those diggings.   I wonder if Ken Ham is reading this?

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