Good question...

...was the Bible wrong about Abraham having camels that early?

Created Apr 18/98 
Someone sent in the following question: Unfortunately, this is another case of someone using 'old data' and not keeping up with the information. (A very similar situation occurs with the old JEDP "Documentary Hypothesis"--many professors learned this decades ago, and haven't updated their view as the rest of the scholarly world has increasingly abandoned the whole superstructure.)

Fortunately, in the case of the camel, there is an abundance of data in ANE studies to show that the camel had been domesticated for a millenium or two BEFORE Abraham.

But first, let's look at where the 'Genesis as anachronism' view originated and why. [Several of the below quotes are from Bulliet's definitive work on the subject The Camel and the Wheel, 1975, HI:TCAW].

The basic position of Albright (generally such a strong supporter of biblical accuracy that he is not taken seriously by the Dever/Redford camp) was that the archaeological data indicated no widespread use of camels during this period. From this data, however, he jumped to the position that camels had not been domesticated at this time. And, although his basic contention that usage was widespread is quite accurate, his inference to non-domestication is not.

This distinction is sympathetically discussed by Bulliet, while at the same time pointing out where the leap is invalid:

Bulliet is carefully skeptical of most ancient artifacts that allegedly purport to demonstrate the early usage of the camel, as a couple of quotes will show:
  So, in light of this careful approach, the pieces of strong evidence that he advances that he does consider convincing are all the more substantial. He describes the evidence on pp. 60-64 of his book.  

Other ANE/Egyptian expert's advance other/similar evidences for early domestication as well, such as Cyrus Gordon and Kenneth Kitchen:


One of the earliest pieces of data comes from Northeast Iran:

Bulliet agrees: The evidence for the early domestication of the camel is therefore strong, but sparing. The general consensus today is that domestication definitely was early.

Bulliet confronts this "strong versus sparing" issue and indicates the most probable historical scenario:


His point certainly fits the data: camels SEEMED to be a rarity (and therefore for the leadership/elite) in the day, but most certainly was present for such elite/recognition uses. Bulliet goes further and links the Semitic involvement to the overland incense trade:

What this would indicate was that the patriarchial narratives AND Albright's contention of 'low usage' were accurate descriptions. If wholesale 'production' of camel herds did not occur until the 1st millenium BC, then both the elite character of the camel's appearance in the Bible and the paucity of the remaining evidence make perfect sense. And indeed, camel breeding became an industry right about the time of Albright's observation:  
Without getting into all the details of where the camel originated, when it made its appearance in the various cultures, and when the various aspects of domestication occurred (e.g., milk production, pack carrying, use as draught animals, riding, food, textiles, etc.), it is very safe to say that the passages in Genesis are NOT anachronistic, reflect well the milieu of the period, and are supported by archaeological and textual data.

As an aside, I find it disappointing that some of the archaeological minimalists seem to avoid this evidence or be unaware of this data. For example, Bulliet's exhaustive work was published in 1976 but Redford's 1992 work doesn't even mention it when asserting the late domestication of the camel! He refers to the dated materials (would this be reverse-anachronism?) of Lambert and the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (ECIAT:271,n.63). Finkelstein, however, cites Bulliet as the 'most thorough treatment to date' in his 1995 work LOF:121, but omits any reference to early evidence (although his argument is focused on widespread use of the camel). It is perhaps understandable that normal college professors with specialties elsewhere would not necessarily be aware of this data, but the minimalists need to confront this issue if they intend to continue accusing the bible of such errors.

[One other comment: Much of the evidence that is mentioned and discussed in the above works is pictorial/graphic and since I do NOT have permission to reproduce those images, I simply cannot show you the evidence itself. Bulliet's work has the most complete set of images, for those who need to consult those.]

Glenn Miller
April 18, 1998

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