Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Heroic extrapolation: The case of anachronistic domesticated camels in the Bible

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. ...

For two archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, the anachronisms were motivation to dig for camel bones at an ancient copper smelting camp in the Aravah Valley in Israel and in Wadi Finan in Jordan. ...

The archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the last third of the 10th century B.C. — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible.

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
--Genesis 12:10-16 on the source of Abraham's camels

Georg Schweinfurth, a recognized authority on petroglyphic art, described rock-carvings near Aswan and Gezireh in Upper Egypt where one of the panels contained seven hieratic characters and a figure of a man leading a dromedary by a rope (see fig. 2). Gustav Moller, working on the inscription, assigned it to the Sixth Dynasty [2345 B.C. - 2181 B.C.], whilst Schweinfurth attributed the camel and the man, on the basis of desert varnish and style, to the same period as the inscription.
--Michael Ripinsky, "The Camel in Dynastic Egypt," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, on evidence that camels were domesticated in Egypt in the time of the patriarchs