How the camel disproved the Bible as literal truth

It’s clear to reasonable people that the Bible is not meant to be taken literally as any kind of history. It is a collection of stories, full of contradictions and things that don’t match with real world findings. There are many researchers working hard to find real world correlation with the Biblical accounts but this new finding shows that might be a misguided method.

Oldest Camel Bones Undergo Carbon Dating, ‘Direct Proof’ Bible Was Written Centuries After Events Described.

New carbon dating that determined the age of the oldest known camel bones has challenged Biblical accuracy.

Camels are described in the Old Testament stories of Abraham, Joseph and Jacob as pack animals. The latest findings, published in the journal Tel Aviv, reveal that camels were most likely domesticated around 900 BC – centuries after the biblical stories are believed to have taken place.

Researchers Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel-Aviv University used radiocarbon dating on camel bones unearthed in multiple excavations from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production. The results dated the bones to the last third of the 10th century BC or later – hundreds of years after the Hebrew patriarchs lived. The bones most likely belonged to wild camels which may have lived during the Neolithic period (about 9500 BC) or even earlier.

Photo taken from Wikipedia Commons

Dromedary (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

The Old Testament stories of Jacob, Joseph and Abraham mention camels. Scholars generally date those stories to between 1500 and 2000 BCE. There has been other research that puts the introduction of domestic camel at 1200 BC. This new result pushes that even further forward and centuries away from the Bible stories, to a gap of up to 1100 years.

The findings suggest that camels were brought in to the southern Levant (area of ancient and modern-day Israel) perhaps by Egyptian traders. As the paper notes, this introduction of the dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius), was critical to faciliatating trade in the region.

Prehistoric camels were native to North America 40-50 million years ago before they died out in that area. By 3 million years ago, population of Camelini had migrated over the Bearing land bridge to Asia. Dromedaries appear to have first been domesticated in Somalia and southern Arabia about 4,000-5,000 years ago (3000 BCE). [Source]

The radiocarbon dating indicates that domesticated camels appeared “not earlier than the last third of the 10th century BCE and most probably during this time” coincident with the rise of copper smelting in the region. You can read the paper here [PDF], it’s interesting, but it DOES NOT mention the Bible connection. That was made independently using this reference.

Archaeologists Carbon-Date Camel Bones, Discover Major Discrepancy In Bible Story.

Dr. Robert Harris, an Associate Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says this shouldn’t come as a shock to the theological community.

“While these findings may have been published recently, those of us on the inside have known the essential facts for a generation now,” Harris conveyed to HuffPost Religion through associates at JTS. “This is just one of many anachronisms in the Bible, but these do not detract from its sanctity, because it is a spiritual source, not a historical one.”

More: Study of camel bones suggests Bible may be wrong : SCIENCE : Tech Times.

Tip: Christopher Howard

  10 comments for “How the camel disproved the Bible as literal truth

  1. Jon
    February 7, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    Interesting article. In North America, camels persisted until about 10,000 YA before going extinct, likely as victims of human overhunting.

  2. jveeds
    February 7, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    At the risk of sounding like a biblical scholar, it’s my understanding that the earliest Hebrew scriptures (aka the Old Testament to Christians) date more like the 6th century, BCE, not 1500-2000 BCE, with some portions (e.g. The Song of Deborah from Judges, some Psalms, Song of Songs, etc possibly going back to the 12th or 11th BCE. And of course some [i]Google U[/i] scholars say Job goes back to 1500 BCE.)

    Perhaps you are talking about the [i]stories themselves[/i], that is, the oral traditions passed down over generations.

    • terrythecensor
      February 7, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      PS: arrow brackets on the HTML, not square brackets.

  3. terrythecensor
    February 7, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    @jveeds

    > it’s my understanding that the earliest Hebrew scriptures date more like the 6th century, BCE, not 1500-2000 BCE…Perhaps you are talking about the stories themselves…

    The article uses “stories” throughout, it uses “scriptures” not once.

  4. jveeds
    February 7, 2014 at 5:41 PM

    @terrythecensor

    Thanks for the HTML tip Terry. I realized as soon as it posted that I had the wrong characters but didn’t know the correct one for this medium :(

    That said, the concept of disembodied “stories” — that is, mythological amorphous stories that evolved over a century involving figures who lived fantastically long lives, performed fantastic deeds and underwent fantastic events like a worldwide flood, parting of the Red Sea, etc — seems to me to leave the point pretty darn moot about camels.

    I recognized that the article was talking about “stories” but if we’re going to cite an amorphous collection of unwritten legends, myths and tall tales from 1500-2000 BCE and then say “Aha…they couldn’t be true!” it’s not exactly a strong refutation of anything. To say the archaeologists are “disproving the bible” by citing the non-recorded myths and legends that may or may not have ended up in the written record a thousand years later is not much of a feat. If we’re disproving the bible, it makes sense to refer to the recorded form.

    • terrythecensor
      February 7, 2014 at 6:30 PM

      @jveeds

      I’m sorry, but I found your first comment confusing. You said, “the earliest Hebrew scriptures date more like the 6th century, BCE” then listed exceptions. Since “earliest” is an absolute, you can’t have a list of exceptions. I assumed you mixed up the earliest extant texts (which do come from around 600 BCE) with the earliest internal evidence of oral stories recorded in more recent texts (which covers your exceptions). I misunderstood what you were getting at and should have spent more time straightening out my thoughts before posting.

      You are essentially right: the radio carbon dating suggests there are anachronisms in the written texts, showing they are not inerrant in themselves, but the findings do not speak directly to the historicity of the older oral stories. The language of the article could be more precise about this in some places.

      However, you are not exactly correct. The biblical texts are the oldest (and often the only) extant ancient “witnesses” for these oral stories. If these texts are shown to be unreliable, what’s left? Nothing. Without reliable evidence, there is nothing to compel us to believe these oral stories ever happened. In short, it’s not a matter of “disproof” but the total absence of credible evidence.

      (If I have misunderstood you again, I’m sorry. My throat is fuzzy — maybe I’m getting flu.)

      • February 9, 2014 at 2:53 PM

        @terry — good point about “earliest.” I believe my point about this dating is that there may well be fragments of texts, some of which may be of dubious provenance, apocryphal or otherwise not part of the primary scripture — the Torah — and that these texts may have been written but transmogrified (sorry…I just like that word) in various ways. Outside of the Pentateuch, the Hebrew scriptures may well have been wholesale borrowings from other traditions, so if there are indeed earlier texts they could be considered incidental (or not primary) to the Hebrew scriptures (like the love poem, Song of Solomon).

        I welcome correction from Judaic experts

  5. spookyparadigm
    February 8, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    I’m an archaeologist. I’m a New World archaeologist, so I don’t know this material as well as the experts. But, there were apparently camels in Egypt, Southern Arabia, etc., over 1000 years earlier than this, perhaps substantially earlier. These are not that that from the region in question, and presumably there would have been trade etc.

    Now, not finding camel bones in the sites before 900 is interesting. At the same time, how would such a useful technology/animal not spread over that long a period of time?

    • Chris Howard
      February 9, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      Maybe the worked their asses off? Heh heh heh. ;-)

    • John Nowak
      February 10, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      I’m kind of reminded of the bit in The King and I where the King offers Abraham Lincoln some elephants.

      It’s played for laughs but elephants are like living bulldozers. It must have been baffling to King Mongkut that any advanced country could get along without them.

      The thing is that animals don’t always transplant well. I understand there was an attempt to equip US cavalry units with camels for use in the American desert areas, but it didn’t really work. I’d bet it comes down to “it gets too cold at night” or “they’re not _that_ much better than donkeys.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *