Archaeologist Walks a Mile for Camel Smoke
History should provide warnings to those who say the Bible is wrong. Did camels arrive in Israel too late for Abraham?
Give an inch and some will take a mile. Can a data point at one site justify a sweeping generalization about a region for centuries? That’s essentially what two archaeologists from Tel-Aviv University did to conclude that the Bible’s mention of camels as far back as the time of Abraham is wrong. Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen based their conclusions on radiocarbon dates of camel bones from copper mines in the Aravah Valley, between the Dead Sea and Eilat. Since the bones appear suddenly at 930-900 BC, they conclude camels were not domesticated till then. All it means, though, is that camels were not associated with copper production at that spot till that time (unless older camel bones are found elsewhere at the site some day in the future). It says nothing about the use of camels elsewhere in the Levant for other purposes. It’s basically a piece of negative evidence (i.e., blowing smoke with camels).
PhysOrg is one of many news sites echoing the theme that this constitutes “direct proof” the Bible is wrong:
Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.
Some news outlets became brash in their headlines: Yahoo News stated flatly, “Appearance of camels in Genesis called sign of authors’ distance from history.” National Geographic headlined, “Domesticated Camels Came to Israel in 930 B.C., Centuries Later Than Bible Says.” Others were patronizing in their put-downs, saying the Biblical authors were not intentionally wrong: “They weren’t trying to trick anyone,” Joel Baden (CNN) said, slaying Biblical credibility with faint praise. “They imagined, quite reasonably, that the past was, fundamentally, like their present.”
Creation Ministries International provided one response. After showing other evidence to support the existence of camels in the time of Abraham, Lita Cosner concluded:
There is a long and glorious history of archaeologists claiming that what they see out at their dig sites contradicts the Bible, only to be proved wrong as later discoveries come to light. However, the evidence to disprove this spurious claim existed long before this latest argument was put forward.
Todd Bolen, professor of Bible history and long-time resident of Israel, had a tone of “here we go again” on Bible Places Blog before providing an extensive list of evidences and references that support the Biblical account:
Yes, I have been ignoring all of the crazy media coverage on the camel story. For one thing, the popular angle here is hardly new—scholars have tried to deny the accuracy of the Bible using camels for a long time. For another, the story is wrong. The biblical account is trustworthy, and the evidence from the recent study does not support the claims being made from it. (We didn’t find any camels being used at two copper-mining sites in the early 10th century; therefore, no camels were domesticated anywhere in the ANE [ancient near east] before that time.)
One is left wondering, therefore, what motivated the two archaeologists to rush to impugn the Bible’s historicity. They should have known it’s risky: “Proving that something did not exist at some time and place in the past is every archaeologist’s nightmare because proof of its existence may, despite all claims to the contrary, be unearthed at some future date,” said Martin Heide, quoted on Bible Places Blog. Previous examples abound of discredited discredits of the Bible.
Here, though, the archaeologists seem to have made anti-Biblical opinions not justified by their meager evidence, merely by the power of suggestion. For instance, “While there are conflicting theories about when the Bible was composed, the recent research suggests it was written much later than the events it describes,” National Geographic deduced. “This supports earlier studies that have challenged the Bible’s veracity as a historic document.”
That’s not just bad science; it’s bad logic. Later compilers (even if that were assumed) could have used original sources, for one thing; and dates on a few camels in a copper mine cannot possibly be extended into generalizations about the whole ancient near east. They themselves admit, “The biblical angle wasn’t the focus of the recent research, though, just an after-the-fact observation.” It wasn’t even an observation. It was the lack of an observation: negative evidence used to promote a universal negative. That’s always risky.
Besides, evolutionists place the evolutionary “emergence” of the camel at 40-50 million years ago, and the emergence of human beings in the Levant around 400,000 years ago. Would it not seem odd if the two never got acquainted in Israel before 930 BC? The Genesis account locates the creation of humans and camels on the Sixth Day of creation, not that long ago. It seems reasonable that Abraham, within centuries of the Flood, would have been well acquainted with the animal resources available to man, given that he came from Ur, a civilization in camel-friendly habitat, and was experienced in the logistics of long-distance migration of personnel and their baggage.
Where have all the camels gone, long time passing?
Where have all the camels gone, long time ago?
Where have all the camels gone,
Stomped on skeptics, every one;
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?