Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rom 1 reply,45 : Dem bones, dem bonez, dem CAMEL bonez . . . answering a rash of headlines that the Bible has been "contradicted" by archaeological findings of camel bones in S. Israel dating to c. 930 BC

The less familiar Bactrian Camel, which seems to
have been the first domesticated camel, the dromedary
being apparently harder to tame; at least according
to some sources. Wikipedia reports: >> Dromedaries
may have first been domesticated by humans
in Somalia and southern Arabia, around
3,000 BC, the Bactrian in central Asia around
2,500 BC,[14][62][63][64] as at Shar-i Sokhta
(also known as the Burnt City), Iran.[65]
In accord with patriarchal traditions,
cylinder seals from Middle Bronze
Age Mesopotamia showed riders seated
upon camels.[66][67] >> [HT: Wiki]
Over the past several days, publication of findings by Israeli archaeologists Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef indicating -- per finding bones -- local domestication of camels in Israeli sites c. 900 BC, has led to almost gleeful speculation about errors in the Bible. 

As the Christian Post documents:
“Major discrepancy in the Bible” – Huffington Post

 “‘Direct Proof’ Bible Was Written Centuries After Events Described” – International Business Times

“Camel archaeology contradicts the Bible” – The Times of Israel

“Historical ERROR in Bible’s Old Testament, REVEALED” – Fashion Times

“Camels and foot-stamping denialists” – Patheos
. . . and so forth.

Should we lock up our churches as houses of deception, call in the Fraud Squad and put parsons through the third degree  in interrogations? ("Denialists," raising the spectre of neo-nazi holocaust denialism, is particularly nasty.)


This is simply a further wrinkle on a longstanding -- and, on fair comment, overblown -- accusation of anachronism in the Bible. 

In Genesis, camels are mentioned nearly two dozen times, starting with Abraham, who is c. 1800 BC, but a longstanding opinion (with Wm. F. Albright's backing) places domestication of camels to several centuries later in the second millennium BC. 

And so this made its way into the general milieu of somewhat skeptical scholarship's conventional wisdom as a main exhibit on the alleged untrustworthiness of the OT.

But in fact, there is longstanding archaeological evidence to the contrary (including a ~ 3 1/2 foot long cord made of camel hair found in Egypt and "dated around 2500 BC." The scholar Buillet -- writing in his The Camel and the Wheel, in 1975 -- believed the cord is "from the land of Punt, perhaps the possession of a slave or captive, and from a domestic camel"). 

As Glenn Miller summarises from Buillet, 1990, pp. 60 - 64:
  •  A 3.5 ft cord of camel hair from Egypt, dated around 2500 BC. Buillet believes it is "from the land of Punt, perhaps the possession of a slave or captive, and from a domestic camel"

  • The bronze figurine from the temple of Byblos in Lebanon. It is in a foundation with strong Egyptian flavoring, and is dated before the sixth Egyptian dynasty (before 2182 BC). Although the figure could be taken as a sheep, the figure is arranged with items that would strongly require it to be a camel (e.g., a camel saddle, camel muzzle, etc.)

  • Two pots of Egyptian provenance were found in Greece and Crete, both dating 1800-1400 BC, but both in area so far removed from the range of the camel as to suggest its presence in the intermediate areas (e.g., Syria or Egypt) during an earlier time. Both have camels represented, and one literally has humans riding on a camel back.
  • A final piece of strong evidence is textual from Alalakh in Syria, as opposed to archaeological: a textual ration-list. There is a entry for 'camel fodder' written in Old Babylonian. "Not only does this attest the existence of camels in norther Syria at this time, but the animal involved is clearly domestic."
There are in addition various bones and images from the ME region dating up to the period of 2500 - 3000 BC. Where, camels (though a bit ornery) are well suited as pack and riding animals for trade in desert zones.

In that context, the text of Genesis 12 suggests that Abraham acquired camels (as well as donkeys but not horses . . . which does fit well with the times), evidently as a gift of the Pharaoh of his day when he went to Egypt in a famine. And years later, from ch 24, when he wanted to make a sufficient impression to acquire a suitable  bride for his son Isaac, according to the text he sent his senior servant with a train of ten camels (probably a good slice of his stock!), back to Syria. Later on, according to Gen 37:25 - 28, Joseph was sold to camel-using Ishmaelite/Midianite spice traders heading to Egypt, probably along trade routes from Arabia.

On the face of it, such a literary reference (from a source known to generally fit into its times) points to fairly specialised use of camels, and that they were the sort of thing that a king would consider a gift likely to obtain favour.

That is consistent with known domestication and use, without requiring widespread breeding and possession, especially by settled people not living in desert areas.

Eric Lyons of Apologetics Press sums up:
Arguably, the most widely alleged anachronisms used in support of the idea that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible (a theory known as the Documentary Hypothesis) are the accounts of the early patriarchs possessing camels . . . . According to skeptics (and a growing number of liberal scholars), however, the idea that camels were domesticated in the time of Abraham directly contradicts archaeological evidence. Over one hundred years ago, T.K. Cheyne wrote: “The assertion that the ancient Egyptians knew of the camel is unfounded” (1899, 1:634) . . . . By way of summary, what the Bible believer has been told is: “[T]ame camels were simply unknown during Abraham’s time” (Tobin, 2000).

[However] . . .  skeptics and liberal theologians are unable to cite a single piece of solid archaeological evidence in support of their claims. As Randall Younker of Andrews University stated in March 2000 while delivering a speech in the Dominican Republic: “Clearly, scholars who have denied the presence of domesticated camels in the 2nd millennium B.C. have been committing the fallacy of arguing from silence. This approach should not be allowed to cast doubt upon the veracity of any historical document, let alone Scripture” (2000).
Lyons then continues:
[S]everal pieces of evidence do exist (and have existed for some time) that prove camels were domesticated during (and even before) the time of Abraham (roughly 2,000 B.C.). In an article that appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies a half-century ago, professor Joseph Free listed several instances of Egyptian archaeological finds supporting the domestication of camels [NOTE: The dates given for the Egyptian dynasties are from Clayton, 2001, pp.14-68].
The earliest evidence comes from a pottery camel’s head and a terra cotta tablet with men riding on and leading camels. According to Free, these are both from predynastic Egypt (1944, pp. 189-190), which according to Clayton is roughly before 3150 B.C. Free also listed three clay camel heads and a limestone vessel in the form of camel lying down—all dated at the First Dynasty of Egypt (3050-2890 B.C.). He then mentioned several models of camels from the Fourth Dynasty (2613-2498 B.C.), and a petroglyph depicting a camel and a man dated at the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2184 B.C.). Such evidence has led one respected Egyptologist to conclude that “the extant evidence clearly indicates that the domestic camel was known [in Egypt—EL] by 3,000 B.C.”—long before Abraham’s time (Kitchen, 1980, 1:228).

Perhaps the most convincing find in support of the early domestication of camels in Egypt is a rope made of camel’s hair found in the Fayum (an oasis area southwest of modern-day Cairo). The two-strand twist of hair, measuring a little over three feet long, was found in the late 1920s, and was sent to the Natural History Museum where it was analyzed and compared to the hair of several different animals. After considerable testing, it was determined to be camel hair, dated (by analyzing the layer in which it was found) to the Third or Fourth Egyptian Dynasty (2686-2498 B.C.).
With that backdrop, what then are we to make of say the Times of Israel report:

Camel archaeology contradicts the Bible

Carbon dating, showing animals were introduced to Israel only around the 9th century BCE, conflicts with Genesis account

February 5, 2014, 1:10 am

Camels were first introduced to Israel around the 9th century BCE, centuries after they were depicted in the Bible as Patriarch-era pack animals, new carbon dating of the earliest known domesticated camel bones found in Israel shows.

The research, conducted by Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel-Aviv University, challenges ”the Bible’s historicity.” The discrepancy “is direct proof that the [Biblical] text was compiled well after the events it describes,” according to a statement released by the university on Monday. 

The researchers examined ancient copper smelting sites in the Arava Valley, in southern Israel, and discovered that “camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later,” and that “all the sites active in the 9th century in the Arava Valley had camel bones, but none of the sites that were active earlier contained them.” . . .
First, let us ask a basic question: 
how does a discovery that domesticated camel bones were first found in archaeological layers from 930 BC or so on, contradict an account that 800 or 900 years earlier, camels were domesticated in Egypt, were given as a gift to a chieftain visiting Egypt, were used by him for a special journey, and that Midianite spice traders passing through Palestine on the way to Egypt used camels?
Patently, not at all.
Especially, where my Strongs Exhaustive Concordance shows only sporadic mention of camels between Genesis and the period of the divided monarchy. (The first mentions after Genesis & Exodus are against eating camels, viewed as not meeting the Levitical test for a ritually "clean" animal. The most significant reference is of course the one in Judges chs 6 - 7 to a large camel-based, tent-using Midianite army carrying out a devastating invasion of Israel that would probably date to about 1100+ BC. Which is consistent with the view that widespread domestication of the camel dates to about the mid 2nd millennium BC.)

In short, with all due respect, the headline is edvidently exaggerated and too quickly projects a "contradiction" instead of a point where perhaps we need to clarify and refine our understanding.

Indeed, the archaeological report says in its opening words:
The introduction of the dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius) as a pack animal to the southern Levant signifies a crucial juncture in the history of the region; it substantially facilitated trade across the vast deserts of Arabia, promoting both economic and social change (e.g., Kӧhler 1984; Borowski 1998: 112‒116; Jasmin 2005). This, together with the depiction of camels in the Patriarchal narrative, has generated extensive discussion regarding the date of the earliest domestic camel in the southern Levant (and beyond) (e.g., Albright 1949: 207; Epstein 1971: 558‒584; Bulliet 1975; Zarins 1989; Köhler-Rollefson 1993; Uerpmann and Uerpmann 2002; Jasmin 2005; 2006; Heide 2010; Rosen and Saidel 2010; Grigson 2012). Most scholars today agree that the dromedary was exploited as a pack animal sometime in the early Iron Age (not before the 12th century BCE) (Uerpmann and Uerpmann 2002; Horwitz and Rosen 2005; Heide 2010). A recent study of Timna Site 30, coupled with a new set of radiocarbon dates, supports this broad conclusion (Ben-Yosef et al. 2012; Grigson 2012) . . .
In short, the article suggests a majority view on dating of camel domestication, and then uses that to implicitly dismiss the OT narratives, which claim to be based on eyewitness observations.

But as we have already seen, there is adequate reason to hold that camel domestication should be dated to perhaps 2500 - 3000 BC or even more. And, we have seen that the Biblical narrative is consistent with relative rarity before the late 2nd Millennium BC, as the first vivid mass use of camels described fits that time frame.

It is worth the while to cite StudyLight's article on camels in ANE archaeology:
Scholars hold different views about the time when domesticated camels first appeared on the scene. In the opinion of Richard Bulliet the taming of camels was practised even before 2500 B.C..F8 According to F.E. Zeuner it started somewhere between 2900 and 1900 B.C..F9

One of the oldest traces of camel domestication was found at Umm an-Nahr, off the coast of modern Oman. 200 bones and teeth of camels were excavated together with objects dating back to about 2700 B.C..F10 Whilst some of this is disputed, for example, "[the] camels at Umm an-Nahr ... were NOT of dromedaries but were of Bactrian (2 humped) camels. Akkadian records also show that the Bactrian camels were domesticated significantly before dromedaries, which were for a long time considered wild and untameable, and were hunted as a source of meat.",F11 it is, nonetheless, a tacit admission in itself that some camels were domesticated by the 3rd millennium B.C.  . . . .  It is interesting to note that the camel is hardly ever mentioned in any Assyrian texts, even though they contain tens of thousands of letters and economic narratives dating from the 2nd millennium B.C..F13

There is a picture of a camel, with a rider on its back, found in the ruins of Tall Halaf in Iraq, which dates back to between 3000 and 2900 B.C..F14

In Byblos, in Lebanon, small Egyptian figurines of camels have been found that date back to around 2500 B.C..F15

From 1900 B.C. onwards the early Nabataeans ran camel caravans between Arabia, Syria, Edom, Mesopotamia and Egypt.F16 Whilst many historians are reluctant to date the Nabataeans due to a lack of extant writing and their secretiveness, nonetheless Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, identified the Nabataeans with Ishmael's eldest son (Genesis 25:13).

In 1912, near Aswan, in Egypt, a rock painting was discovered which showed a man pulling along a camel on a rope, plus seven hieroglyphic characters. On account of the writing Möller dated the inscription to the period of the sixth dynasty (2320-2150 B.C.), and Schweinfurth concurred. However, Croft disagrees regarding the figures as graffiti from the 19th dynasty (1300 B.C.). Even so, this is still well before the supposedly late influx of camels to Egypt in the time of either Alexander the Great, the Romans, or the later Muslim Arabs.
In short, it would be fairer to say there is a debate on the domestication of the camel, with significant evidence that points as far back as c 3000 BC, with further evidence that suggests the Egyptians may have had them as early as 2500 BC or even beyond. All of which would be compatible with the OT narrative we have in hand.

Thus, it is fair comment to hold that the "Bible contradicted" headlines and reports that seem to be cropping up in a rash just now seem to be a bit hasty and exaggeratedly skeptical; on the whole reflecting an all too common attitude nowadays that is overly eager to find fault with Scripture. END