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One Hump or Two?
Witnessing Tools
Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Wendy Wippel

It’s not really a new claim, but a new study (2014) resurrected an old discussion. The claim being that Abraham couldn’t have had camels because camels weren’t domesticated till thousands of years later.  That’s what is known as an anachronism in books and movies. Something out of place for the time period. In the Bible, its reason for atheists to throw a party. 

The study was done by two scientists from Tel AVIV U; Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef. The two men chose to look for signs of camel domestication in an area south of the Dead Sea that had housed ancient copper mines, on the reasonable guess that if camels were domesticated, they would have been used at the mines. The current thinking when the study was performed was that camels were not domesticated in Israel until about 900 B.C.

The scientists looked at multiple parameters—the number of camels remains in the area, the numbers of males verses females, even changes to bone that would indicate use as a beast of burden.

Their conclusion?

“Current data from copper smelting sites of the Aravah Valley enabled us to pinpoint the introduction of domestic camels to the southern Levant more precisely based on stratigraphic contexts associated with an extensive suite of radiocarbon dates. The data indicate that this event occurred not earlier than the last third of the 10th century BCE.”

Their main claim to fame was that they were the first study to use carbon dating in the area. As well as the fact that their study represented the first archaeological evidence of domesticated camels in Israel.

What set off the heathen Hoe-Down was that the date that they set for the earliest domestication of camels in Israel was 1000 years after Abraham’s family, according to Scripture, had been living there. More like the time of King David.

The authors stated, in their conclusion, that “In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.”2. They also bragged that they had now defined the point in time at which camels were domesticated in Israel down to a specific decade. 

That’s it.  Back the bus up.. 

They did do carbon dating, which is at least a fairly sophisticated scientific technique, but for this period of history carbon dating is typically calibrated to Egyptian records, which are widely recognized to be extremely jumbled, with lots of rulers all named the same things. They are considered unreliable by actual experts. And carbon dating isn’t much better.  

Lots of environmental factors (over the thousands of years that the material has existed) can influence the accuracy of carbon dating bigtime.

Like the earth’s magnetic field at the location.  Like, solar activity, stellar activity, and volcanic eruptions..

(And in this case, there’s been thousands of years of cumulative events.) 

The reality in the lab is that carbon dating of ancient materials can sometimes only be dated to a certain millennia and often to just a century.  Specifying a specific decade is a cosmic crap shoot.

So… what do we really know about ancient Israel and camels?

We do know that camels were first domesticated in Egypt, with archaeological indication that the first domesticated camels occurred near Cairo about 4000 BC. And that numerous references to animals in domestication, including camels, occur in many other ancient texts in the areas that surround Israel. And we know that camels appear 53 times in our own Bibles. All in the Old Testament.

We know that camels are mentioned in Scripture in conjuction with Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. From Genesis 12 on. Rebekah rode camels. The children of Israel were told not to eat camels. The scriptures depict a culture with domesticated camels from the beginnings of the Jewish nation on.

So… what about this study?  Dating aside, the area that the study focused on is but a very small part of what constitutes the Hebrew homeland. They didn’t find any older remains there, but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be scads in some other part of Israel.

If you were looking for Abraham’s camel, for example you wouldn’t look for his remains in a copper smelting facility.  

Would you.

And there was no reason in the ancient world that Abraham wouldn’t have had a camel. He was a wealthy landowner, he had spent time in Egypt (at least once, in a famine) and he needed some form of transportation just as much as Rachel and Isaac did. Am I right?

Of course that's right. Even in that ancient world.

What you are not told here, is that an essential part of scientific certainty, when scientific studies are done, is to include a corollary study intended to give your hypothesis an opportunity to be proven false.

Like digging other places to see if you find any camel remains there. Like maybe the west side of the Jordan River.

Just a thought.  

The New York Times carried the scientists’ story under the headline:

Camels have no Place in Genesis.”

No problem with the camels here.

Scientists who have framed their conclusions before they hit the field?  That’s another story.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Peter and a Precious, Precious Prophecy



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