The Bible Has a Camel Problem


According to research done by two archeologists from Tel Aviv University, Bible verses that mention camels are not historically accurate. Their findings were reported by John Noble Wilford  in The New York Times:

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., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

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.”

Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of “how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another.”

For two archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, the anachronisms were motivation to dig for camel bones at an ancient copper smelting camp in the Aravah Valley in Israel and in Wadi Finan in Jordan. They sought evidence of when domesticated camels were first introduced into the land of Israel and the surrounding region.

The archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the last third of the 10th century B.C. — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible. Some bones in deeper sediments, they said, probably belonged to wild camels that people hunted for their meat. Dr. Sapir-Hen could identify a domesticated animal by signs in leg bones that it had carried heavy loads…

You can read the entire article here.

National Geographic had this to say:

…The dromedary, or one-humped camel that so many tourists picture when they think of the Middle East, is mentioned in the Bible 47 times. Stories about the Jewish patriarchs—Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob—include descriptions of camels as domesticated animals. For example, Genesis 24:11 says, “And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water.”

Historians believe these stories took place between 2000 and 1500 B.C., based on clues such as passages from Genesis, archaeological information from the site of the great Sumerian city of Ur (located in modern Iraq), and an archive of clay tablets found at the site of Mari (in modern Syria).

Using radiocarbon dating and evidence unearthed in excavations, Israeli archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen have pegged the arrival of domesticated camels in this part of the world—known to scholars as the Levant—to a much later era. They were also able to more precisely pinpoint the time span when that arrival occurred.

“By analyzing archaeological evidence from the copper production sites of the Aravah Valley, we were able to estimate the date of this event in terms of decades rather than centuries,” Ben-Yosef said in a press release put out by Tel Aviv University last week.

The study was able to “narrow down the range in which domesticated camels were introduced to 30 years,” said Sapir-Hen, an archaeozoologist who studies the role of animals in ancient human culture, in a phone interview. It’s “sometime between 930 and 900 B.C.”…

You can read the entire article here.

Comments (7)

  1. gimpi

    This reminds me of one of the problems with the Book Of Mormon (the book, not the musical). The Book of Mormon mentions horses and wheat in the Americas, yet there is no archaeological evidence of either before Europeans arrived. It’s sort of like a “Last Supper” menu featuring tomato sauce and baked spuds.

  2. De Benny

    is not always reliable as verifiable history

    Wow. Great discovery! If it was made like 200 years ago. What’s next? No flood? No exodus? Dave was a warlord?
    I mean common: Who is regarding the bible as a history book anyway? (apart from a few enlightenment-resistent biblicists?)
    By the way: Didn’t Shakespeare write about the coast of Checkia? Guess his plays weren’t geography books either…

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      The majority of Americans view the Bible as accurate history.

      1. Anne

        Yikes! I did not know that it was not only the most rabid “literalists” who embraced that fallacy. Scary.

  3. Stephanie

    Interesting. Obviously the researchers got the radiocarbon dates wrong! :P

    1. Scott

      Ken Ham would agree with you on that one.

      1. gimpi

        That’s right, Scott. Ham would most likely say that nothing can be trusted but himself. Well, he would say his interpretation of the Bible, but that amounts to the same thing.


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