Secular scholars pounced on an archeological study released last week on the age of domestic camels that they claim proves the Bible is not historically accurate. But biblical scholars say researchers are ignoring historical findings and making assumptions based on incomplete archeological evidence.
The camel researchers say radiocarbon dating shows bones found in an ancient copper mine site are from camels used no earlier than about 966 B.C., a date centuries later than the time of the patriarchs whom the Bible describes as owning domesticated camels. Secular archeologists point to the fact that no bones of domesticated camels have been found in earlier archeological layers as proof the Bible is inaccurate and the presence of camels in biblical stories was inserted by authors writing long after the fact.
“Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob,” American Friends of Tel Aviv University said in a press release. “But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 B.C.E.). In addition to challenging the Bible's historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.”
But Corné J. Bekker, professor of biblical studies and Christian ministry at Regent University, said the finding is a “non-story.” The Bible does not claim widespread use of camels in the area during the time of the patriarchs, Bekker said. It states that Abraham, a visitor to the area, brought camels with him. The Bible mentions the use of camels only for Abraham and those associated with him, such as Jacob, Jacob’s sons, and the Ishmaelites.
Extra-biblical texts give clear evidence to the early domestication of camels north of Israel, possibly explaining why Abraham owned camels. A Sumerian text from the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 B.C.) mentions camel milk, wrote Biola University’s T.M. Kennedy in a recent paper. Other texts mention camels in a list of domesticated animals during the same time period and offer proof of domestication by describing food rations given to camels.
The absence of bones from domesticated camels in deeper layer excavation sites cannot be used to assume there were no domesticated camels in Israel in earlier eras, Bekker explains.
“Archeology is an imprecise science,” he said. “Archeologists could find camel bones tomorrow that would document their use during the time of the patriarchs.”
The researchers of the carbon dating study are simply ignoring a vast body of evidence that suggests a much earlier date for the domestication of camels in the region, according to the Associates of Biblical Research. Kennedy’s research of Assyrian royal annals indicates that camels were used in the Battle of Qarqar in Western Syria, which took place around 835 B.C. Camels would not have been used in war unless they had been previously trained and had proven reliable long before the battle, Kennedy said.
Evidence of early camel domestication has been found in several areas of the ancient Near East, according to Kennedy’s research. A statuette of a camel carrying two water jars is dated between 1292 and 1190 B.C. Petro glyphs depicting camels indicate humans began using them as pack animals in Egypt no later than the 16th century B.C. Another figurine of a harnessed camel is dated between the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium B.C.
The real story, Bekker said, is questioning why secular researchers would want to extrapolate from such limited information to try to discredit the Bible.