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Camel Bones and the Bible
by Edmond Ng
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- Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. (2 Peter 3:3 NLT)
The findings of two archaeologists at Tel Aviv University (TAU) made headlines when their research called into question the Bible’s version of ancient history.
According to the study conducted by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, domesticated camel did not appear in the Eastern Mediterranean region until around the tenth century BC. If this is true, it means biblical records referencing the animal in the times of Abraham and Jacob are inaccurate.
"There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place” wrote John Noble Wilford in The New York Times on February 10, 2014. “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.”
In an interview with Christianity Today, Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University, said he noticed archaeologists who work in Israel and Jordan seem to date camel domestication later than those who work in Egypt and Mesopotamia.
“[Israel] doesn't have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 BC,” he said. “So there aren't as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 BC and in Mesopotamia the same thing.”
Based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian accounts, Kennedy believes domestication probably occurred as early as the third millennium BC. He also believes the TAU researchers not only ignored evidence from outside Israel, they also assumed too much about their own research.
“All they really tell us is that at that particular place where they were working they found some camel bones that they interpreted as in a domesticated context between the ninth and 11th centuries BC,” said Kennedy. “It doesn't tell us that camels couldn't have been used in other nearby areas earlier than that.”
Dr. K Martin Heide, an expert on Semitic languages and cultures based at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, expressed his view about the findings in his article for Tyndale House, cited by Christian Today.
“The Genesis narrator does not claim that the camel was in wide use in the second millennium BC,” wrote Dr. Heide.
“To the contrary, while Abraham and Jacob had camels (probably Bactrian, or double-humped, camels that were available in Mesopotamia), Isaac, who stayed in Canaan most of his time, seems to have used no camels. In addition, the final retreat of Jacob with his family to Egypt was all done on donkeys.”
“Neither do we have to assume that they or the few people who may have used camels at that time buried their camels or deposited their bones at some special place for them to be found in our times.”
“Only later, in the first millennium BC, when camels came to be exploited in the well-organized infrastructure of an established kingdom, can we expect to find archaeological footprints of their use.”
Dr. Heide cautioned that archaeological evidence only paints part of the picture and that future excavations may shed new light on aspects of history.
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of [the camel's] absence in Israel in the second millennium [BC].”
The Bible forewarns that in the last days there would be scoffers who would mock the truth, whose purpose in life is to satisfy their own desires. They would not listen to sound and wholesome teaching, but would look for teachers who tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3; 2 Peter 3:3; Jude 1:18).
When we hear of wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, scoffers who mock the truth and follow their own desires, do not be afraid or be in doubt, but be aware the Kingdom of God is near (Matthew 24:6-8, 33-35; Mark 13:29-31; Luke 21:31-33). For people are like grass and all their glory like the flowers in the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:24-25).
Dear Lord, forgive us for sometimes doubting the Bible is inspired by You. Your word, O God, is the lamp to guide our feet and the light for our path. Thank You, Lord, for forewarning us about the things that must take place before Your return, that while we wait we might not be swayed by unsound or unwholesome teachings but be found faithful in You to the end.
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