Apologetics, Archaeology, z91
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Do camel bones really disprove the Bible?


A herd of Dromedary -- , single humped camels -- in Negev, Israel. Photo Wikipedia/wilson44691

A herd of Dromedaries — single humped camels — in Negev, Israel. Photo Wikipedia/wilson44691

Claims that a study by an archaeologist from the University of Tel Aviv on camels disproves the Bible’s accuracy has certainly caught the media’s attention. Stories are appearing all over the web about the report.

Professors Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen were studying camel bones found in Israel that showed the animals had carried heavy loads indicating domestication.

Carbon dating of the bones revealed the camels were from the 10th century B.C. The Bible on the other hand records Abraham using camels eight centuries earlier dating to around 2000 B.C. as recorded in the Book of Genesis.

As a result, it is suggested someone tampered with the Genesis account adding camels at a later date believing they were used back then because camels were in common usage during that person’s time.

Dr. Andrew Steinmann says they are wrong

Dr Andrew Steinmann is a professor of theology and Hebrew at Concordia University in Chicago. In an interview with a Christian talk radio program Issues, Etc,, Dr. Steinmann said the archaeologists’ suggestion that camel usage was wide-spread in the Book of Genesis is completely wrong.

In fact, Steinmann says just the opposite is true. As we study the Biblical record, camels are only mentioned being used in Palestine by Abraham and his family and nomadic tribes such as the Midianites.

The majority of groups who lived in Palestine at that time, such as the Phoenicians and Canaanites,  did not have domesticated camels.

Camels were unique to Abraham and his family for good reason.

Abraham was from Mesopotamia

Abraham was not originally from this area. According to Genesis, he was living in Mesopotamia when God called the patriarch to leave Haran and travel to the promised land — modern-day Israel (Genesis 12:4).

Ancient Mesopotamia falls into parts of modern-day Iraq, Iran, Syria and even a bit of Turkey. Ur where Abraham was born (Genesis 11:27-31) was probably on the border of Northern Iraq and Turkey.

Steinmann said:

At least 1,000 years before Abraham, dromedary camels — single hump ones — were domesticated and Bactrian camels 500 years after that. So we know people in Iran did it and it spread into Mespotaimia. We have good evidence from Mespotaimia that there were domesticated camels then.”

As Steinmann pointed out the area of Mesopotamia had a long history of camel usage dating back to Abraham’s time. In his article, Abraham’s camels, Dewayne Bryant found many archaeological mentions of domesticated camels in Mesopotamia that fell within Abraham’s time frame. These included:

  • A Syrian cylinder seal dated 1800 B.C. pictures two people riding camels. Though the two appear to be gods, the person who created the cylinder considered camel riding a normal experience indicating domestication.
  • Ancient texts from the city of Ugarit dated to 1950 – 1600 B.C. mention camels on a list of domesticated animals.
  • Another list from Alalakh (1800 B.C.) list fodder or food for camels. Obviously a person does not purchase fodder for wild camels.

Domesticated camels were part of Mesopotamia life and on his journey to the Promised Land, Abraham undoubtedly took pack-camels with him. Despite their notorious bad temperament, camels were the best animals available for carrying loads on a long journey. Camels were the half ton truck of that day.

Secondly when Abraham’s animals are listed, camels appear towards the end (Genesis 12:16) suggesting he only had a few of them. The same happens with Jacob (Genesis 32:7).

So though the camels are mentioned in Genesis, they are limited largely to Abraham and his extended family such as the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:25). The Bible in no ways suggests camel usage was widespread in the area of ancient Israel, in fact quite opposite.

The Midianites who were also said to have camels were a nomadic tribe who had no real territory and wandered all over the Middle East. During their travels into Mesopotamia or Egypt, they would have picked up camels and used them to carry their goods as well.

Camels in Egypt

The Bible also records the Pharaoh giving Abraham camels as part of a dowry to marry Abraham’s wife Sarai, thinking she was actually Abraham’s sister (Genesis 12:6).

Archaeology shows that camels were known in Egypt centuries before Abraham showed up. The first mention of domestication is recorded on a petroglyph from Aswan in Egypt that seems to show a man leading a dromedary. This petroglyph is dated to 2300 to 2200 B.C. well before Abraham’s visit.

The ancient Egyptian city of Mari has an even earlier evidence. In one house they found a camel buried beneath the floor. It was common practice to bury domesticated animals in a person’s home. Archaeologists suggest a camel buried beneath a floor is evidence it was domesticated as it was its doubtful the family would bury a wild one in a similar fashion. This is dated even earlier to 2400 to 2200 B.C.

Though it is true camels weren’t widely used in Palestine at the time, because of Abraham’s ties to Mesopotamia and his long journey, it would have been unusual if Abraham didn’t use camels.

Abraham was from Mesopotamia  (darker green shade) which covers parts of modern Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Map Wikipedia/ Goran Tek-en

Abraham was from Mesopotamia (darker green shade) which covers parts of modern Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Camels were domesticated in Mesopotamia in Abraham’s day.  Map Wikipedia/ Goran Tek-en

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