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The Bible’s camel controversy

dromedary near the sky in oman empty quarter of desert a free

When people question the Bible, one thing that has been thrown out is the several references to camels in the Book of Genesis.

It was actually the focus of an article by New York Times reporter, John Wilford entitled, Camels Had No Business in Genesis.

Written in 2014, Wilford focussed on a study conducted by researchers at the University of Tel Aviv, who concluded that camels were not domesticated in Israel until the reign of King Solomon (971 BC-931 BC).

So obviously any mentions of domesticated camels in the Promised Land prior to this date were just wrong and this includes those owned by the Patriarch Abraham who lived around 2100 BC.

It may even suggest that the person who wrote Genesis lived during King Solomon’s time and just presumed that camels were in use during the time of Abraham.

In other words, it was not Moses who wrote the first five books of the Bible.

But one thing that strikes me about the accuracy of the Bible is its focus on the smallest details.

And this was brought out by Rabbi Joshua Berman in his article in The Times of Israel entitled, Yes, Virginia, the Patriarchs really did ride on camels.

Berman, who is a Bible professor at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, agrees that camels were not domesticated in Israel until the time of King Solomon. However, he adds that they were domesticated in other nations hundreds of years earlier.

They have found images of people riding camels dated to the 18the century BC in Syria, with evidence they were domesticated as early as 2500 BCE by a plaque showing a man riding a camel.

And Berman points out that this is duly noted in the references to camels in the Book of Genesis, where we are told they came from other countries.

In Genesis 12, we have the first camel reference, and it revolved around Abraham’s decision to visit Egypt because there was a famine in Canaan.

Abram, who was later renamed Abraham, told his wife Sarai to pretend she was his sister (fearing he may be killed), and this resulted in the Pharaoh taking Sarai as his wife.

And because of his favored position, Abram was gifted several animals, that included camels.

15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. (Genesis 12:15-16 ESV)

But God intervened and caused the Pharaoh’s house to be plagued with disease. This resulted in the Pharaoh finally realizing Sarai was Abram’s wife and ordered the patriarch kicked out of the country.

But we are provided this last important detail, that Abram left with all the wealth he had accumulated. This included the camels (Genesis 12:20).

In other words, Abram’s camels did not originate in Canaan.

Berman goes on to say that camels were the Rolls-Royce of that day and were treated as a status symbol, and this was all the more significant in Canaan, where they would not be domesticated for another thousand years.

And this shows up when Abraham decided to find a wife for his son Isaac.

Abraham did not send Eliezer out in the Chevrolet, he sent him in the Rolls to make an impression.

10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia[a] to the city of Nahor. (Genesis 24:10 ESV)

In fact, Abraham sent ten Rolls-Royces.

If a man came courting your daughter and parked ten Rolls in your driveway, it would leave only one impression, this man was rich and famous.

And Berman further noted in this story involving Eliezer acquiring Rebekah recorded in Genesis 24, that the camels are mentioned 18 times.

We are told every time they were given water and fed, and this included the vitally important information that the camels had quit drinking in verse 22.

After they had worked out the details of the arranged marriage, the crowning moment is described in verse 61, when we are told that Rebekah and her maidservants returned to Abraham riding in the Rolls-Royces.

And for their final mention, we see Rebekah gracefully dismounting the camel, when she meets Isaac for the first time (verse 64).

Berman again notes that in the other instances where Genesis mentions camels, we read that they did not originate in Canaan.

Such as the time, when Jacob’s son sold their brother Joseph to a band of passing Ishmaelite, we are told that they had camels with them carrying valuable spices and myrrh from Gilead (Genesis 37:25).

Far from contradicting archaeology’s assertion that camels were not domesticated in Canaan during Abraham’s day, the Bible actually confirms it by emphasizing their origins, rarity, and value.

READ: Yes, Virginia, the Patriarchs really did ride on camels AND Did Camels Exist in Biblical Times?

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