The mention of domesticated camels in many parts of the Bible could be the latest reason to doubt the holy book's reputation as a historical document, according to new archaeological evidence out of Tel Aviv University.
Using radiocarbon dating, archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen were able to pinpoint when domesticated camels first arrived in the Holy Land, around the last third of the 10th century B.C. The only problem? That date is too young. Domesticated camels garner frequent mention in parts of the Bible that record events that purportedly happened centuries earlier, reports the New York Times.
In other words, early biblical mention of camels provides compelling evidence that the Bible must have been written or edited long after the events it narrates take place. It's a revelation that could undermine the Bible's use as verifiable history.
Camel stories play a significant role in the tales of some of the Bible's earliest patriarchs. For instance, Genesis 24 tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac. Camels are mentioned nearly 20 times in this chapter alone. But this story is supposed to take place in the second millennium B.C., centuries before domesticated camels even existed in the region.
These camel stories "do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium," explained Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, "but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period."
Mizrahi goes on to explain that camel stories were likely inserted into early biblical tales because of how important the animals had become later in history, when the tales were first canonized and committed to writing. After being introduced to Israel and the surrounding region, camels became an essential component of the Near Eastern economic system; they made long-distance trade networks feasible in a way not possible before their arrival.
It's therefore probable that the Bible's later scribes couldn't imagine a time when domesticated camels were not in widespread use, so they mistakenly penned them into the stories after-the-fact. In this way, the Bible as we know it today is probably more akin to the conclusion of a long-running game of telephone than it is a reliable historical document.
The Tel Aviv University researchers did note that they found a few camel bones in older, deeper sediments too, but that those remains clearly belonged to wild camels, which people would have hunted for their meat. None of those earlier remains showed any of the characteristics of domesticated camel bones, such as signs that the leg bones were used to carry heavy loads.
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