|Camels as beasts of burden in the Bible|
"In its early stages, religion means certainty about many things.
But... he is most religious who is certain of but one thing,
the world-embracing love of God."
- Charles Hartshorne
Bible bashing is not an activity that can be found here at Relevancy22. The Bible is considered God's Holy Word to mankind that is authoritative and inspired but not inerrant. As such, this site does work at conveying to readers how the Bible may be read without adding the forced doctrine of inerrancy (a doctrinal creed that comes courtesy of the Evangelical Theological Society's Chicago Statement of 1980), without losing its spiritual authority in our lives when reading of God's wondrous story of redemption for creation and mankind. That this spiritual recount is inspired by His Spirit and guided by His hand placed upon the passions and burdens of His people over a very long period of time. That it began as oral history in the form of story telling, religious poems, hymns, songs, incantations, or recitals; to people who were weary, joyful, hopeful, religious, not religious, fearful, or superstitious; and conveyed by priests, prophets, community leaders, country folk, bedouins, villagers, city folk, foreigners; who may have been oppressed, humbled, persecuted, enslaved, and exiled, to name a few circumstances and instances.
So today's topic will review two kinds of reading of the Bible - one that is not-inerrant as versus one that is inerrant - by using an archaeological discovery which is acting like a fast spreading wildfire of public opinion and news. At the outset it is important to notice that we didn't say an "errant" reading of the Bible because that type of reading can be true of both groups - both for the one not holding to inerrancy as well as for the one holding to it. So what does this mean? Well, for the scientist - or archaeologist in this case - rather than to describe something in "error" the preferred term might be "anachronism," meaning something that is unique, different, or a-typical, of what you are studying. That is, one's findings, or discoveries, or calculations, have turned up a salient, singular, result that requires further investigation. And in the case of archaeology, more than in the case of physics or chemistry, those findings may still be hiding in the dirt. And so you wait. You hypothesize. You reflect on patterns and meaning to what is known and what is not known.
something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing orperson that belongs to an earlier time: The sword is an anachronism in modern warfare.
Which in this case is whether camels (both the one-hump variety and the two-hump kind) were domesticated in Abraham's day (that is, from Genesis 11 onwards). And if they weren't then why are they described in Genesis (and the Pentateuch) as being present and being used as beasts of burden? Now this isn't new news for those studying ancient biblical ruins, times, or events... but it is to us non-archaeological types that read the news and react to its discourses when it runs afoul of our thinking, prejudices, biblical systems, conventions, and philosophies. It can dissettle us. And when it does we may have one of three reactions: (i) stay calm by reading onwards while reflecting upon the meaning of the discovery; (ii) say "yeah, I suspected this all along!" and excitedly push on into the story as it reflects our pet beliefs, idiosyncrasies, or skepticisms; (iii) or, react in disgust and anger saying, "Confound it, those liberals are at it again, telling me my Bible is wrong, and I am wrong! Anathema on all science and archaeology!" Which is my poor attempt at being humorous over a very serious subject for many, which may hold very serious implications if preferred readings and traditional interpretations of the Bible are being forthrightly challenged to the degree that it requires personal, if not system-wide change and rethinking.
Which begs the question, how are we to read the Bible? Especially if what we're reading may not be true but filled with authorial largesse more concerned with great story telling than historical accuracy. Which hits at the nub of the problem as any new discovery may conflict with our own private interpretations of a very complex book we know as the Bible. A book spoken, sung, and much later written, by burdened story tellers wishing to convey how God came to them and spoke to their hearts redemptive truths. Truths that required telling - whether it was wanted or not. Perhaps at story teller's own peril or community standing. And, unlike modern day storytelling, the ancients weren't particularly worried about facts, more probably because of their mindset, and just as likely because there were no resources to verify them as there is today in our digital age of "ready online information." As such, biblical story tellers were not buttoned down by the convention of historical accuracy. Rather, they were more concerned in telling of God's great passion, burden, and heart, by using whatever conventions they could to drive home the point which the Lord had so placed upon their heart.
So when we, as modern day readers, come to this very ancient process of oral tradition that was much, much later written down and then imperfectly preserved through the long centuries of personal and national disruption created by ethos wars, cultural exiles, and civil disobedience, we should not expect a "Star Trek type of Bible" dropped out of the sky into our lap to read unmarred by the many disjointed personalities, events, past traditions, and interpretations of the ancient story tellers. To read the Bible is to try to read, and interpret, its narrative while holding in abeyance its many anachronisms, which are no threat to God or His Word. Thought they may be to us and our biblical systems and doctrines which we have built upon select readings of the Bible's "airs and atmospheres." For the scholar, as for the biblical reader in general, the trick is to read its center, and there find God's message of redemption. Of personal sacrifice and love for a creation and for mankind gone off track because of sin and desire. Its spiritual message is deep, and wide, and pregnant with meaning for the empty lives we would live without the presence of our kind Lord and almighty Saviour.
With that said, here are four articles, or reference links, which you may further explore as related to this topic. The first is the finding itself. The second by Huff Post is written as sensationalism journalism... else, "who would ever want to read about the dry dusty topic of archaeology anyway!?" The third article is from Peter Enns who we regular follow for his level-headedness. And the fourth, and final article, is from an inerrant reading of the Bible as it tries to piece together its meaning for inerrancy (which, in my opinion, typically rearranges the facts to better line up with a more evangelical reading of the Bible, of which the magazine Christianity Today is a mouthpiece for).
As alway, Peace in the name of our Incarnate Lord Jesus,
As alway, Peace in the name of our Incarnate Lord Jesus,
February 21, 2014
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Introduction of Domestic Camels to the
Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley
Tel Aviv University, Vol. 40, 2013, 277–285
"It was recently suggested that the introduction of the camel to the southern Levant occurred in the early Iron Age (late 2nd–early 1st millennia BCE). Our study of faunal remains from Iron Age sites at Timna, together with previous studies of Late Bronze and Iron Age sites at Timna and Wadi Faynan, enable us to pinpoint this event more precisely. The new evidence indicates that the first significant appearance of camels in the Aravah Valley was not earlier than the last third of the 10th century BCE. This date accords with data from the Negev and the settled lands further to the north when the low chronology is applied to the early Iron IIA...."
(the article continues at the link provided)
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Archaeologists Carbon-Date Camel Bones,
Discover Major Discrepancy In Bible Story
February 6, 2014
Researchers Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef from Tel Aviv University have discovered what may be a discrepancy in the history laid out in the Bible.
Using carbon-dating to determine the age of the oldest-known camel bones, the researchers determined that camels were first introduced to Israel around the 9th century BCE.
The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament refers to camels as pack animals as early as the story of Abraham. Though there is no archaeological evidence of Abraham's life, many in the religious and scientific communities, including Chabad and the Associates For Biblical Research, cite the 20th century BCE as his time of birth. If the new evidence is correct, however, this suggests discrepancies between the Bible and human history as explained by science.
The researchers scoured ancient copper production sites in the Aravah Valley, where camel bones were only present in sites active in the last third of the 10 century and the 9th century BCE. Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef write in their report:
"[The camel bones] demonstrate a sudden appearance of camels at the site, following a major change in the organization of production in the entire region."
This suggests that camels were introduced to the region abruptly, perhaps by Egyptians along Mediterranean trade routes.
Dr. Robert Harris, an Associate Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says this shouldn't come as a shock to the theological community.
“While these findings may have been published recently, those of us on the inside have known the essential facts for a generation now," Harris conveyed to HuffPost Religion through associates at JTS. "This is just one of many anachronisms in the Bible, but these do not detract from its sanctity, because it is a spiritual source, not a historical one.”
Biblical archaeology is understandably an imperfect science. Archaeologist William Dever explained in an interview with PBS several years ago:
"We want to make the Bible history. Many people think it has to be history or nothing. But there is no word for history in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? Writing objective history? No. That's a modern discipline. They were telling stories. They wanted you to know what these purported events mean."
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everybody…put the camel bones down
and step away before someone gets hurt
by Peter Enns
February 19, 2014
Camel bones and the Bible have made the news lately, as in this online article, which is pretty sober and worth reading.
The scholarly article that started all this recent hubbub can be found here, which sports the perfectly boring scholarly title “The Introduction of Domestic Camels into the Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley.”
Some media outlets, however, have (surprise) gone for the jolt factor, claiming that this is a “new” discovery that reveals that the Bible is a pack of lies, God no longer exists, and portends various apocalyptic scenarios, like the Cubs winning the World Series this year.
Sometimes archaeological finds are unfortunately reported in an exaggerated manner because (1) news outlets are sometimes ridiculous, and (2) archaeological digs need serious funding and without showing some sort of results funding may dry up.
The jolt factor is unfortunate, not only because it can bury truly interesting finds under a blanket or hype, but also because it encourages conservative responses that likewise are geared more to responding to hype than the scholarly issues behind it.
For example, the quick response to the camel bone “discovery” at Christianity Today claims to lay all this camel nonsense to rest, counseling that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions and that evangelical scholars have our back on this one.
I think we just need to take a step back here and calm down.
The article itself (linked above, written by Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef), is a scholarly article that doesn’t claim to expose the heretofore unknown issue of camel domestication in the Patriarchal period, which is an almost universally understood anachronism in Genesis. The authors claim, rather, to have found further evidence for supporting this claim.
Of course, the authors’ argument can be contested, and archaeologists do that–a lot. But responses to the article should not treat this one scholarly study in isolation from what archaeologists have studied and concluded for quite some time: the presence of camels in Israel in the 2nd millennium BC is a problem, and this joins other anachronisms (like the presence of Philistines in Genesis) to suggest strongly that whatever history there is in the Patriarchal stories must also account for the clear 1st millennium BC coloring of those stories [a thousand years later].
This point is not in the least controversial and to suggest that it is–either by those reporting the findings or those wishing to contest the findings–is bad form, and misleading.
In this respect, the CT response is a bit disappointing to me, for a couple of reasons.
First, its readers will not gather from it just how well ensconced in the academic study of the Bible (including by evangelicals) the notion of anachronisms in Genesis is. It suggests that all this camel business is just the latest attempt on the part of a sensationalistic media to discredit the Bible. That is false.
Second, the article also suggests, not too subtly, that the archaeologists who did this field work aren’t very good at their job. One problem, we are told, is that they limited themselves to one small geographic area and didn’t consider the full range of evidence of camel domestication elsewhere.
But their study was intended to focus on the Levant–where the Patriarchs were–not “elsewhere.” I’m willing to bet that the authors of the article know very well what is out there beyond the patch of real-estate they were working on and how to interpret their findings in light of that larger scope.
We are also told that, “Archaeologists usually remember that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’” “Usually” subtly implies that these archaeologists have forgotten this dictum of archaeology, but I seriously doubt that is the case. I’m sure this isn’t their first rodeo, and we should assume they are weighing a lot of evidence in drawing their conclusions.
Also this slogan can become–and in fact has become, in my opinion–a clever way of evading difficult conclusions by holding things perpetually at bay. After all, sometimes absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. But the CT article subtly suggest that evangelical scholarship takes the more rigorous academic high ground of not jumping to conclusions like Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef are.
Anyway, bottom line as I see it:
- Camel domestication in the Patriarchal period (early 2nd millennium BC) in general is a problem with or without this recent article.
- It is perfectly OK to hope that perhaps more evidence will be forthcoming to support the Bible’s depiction of 2nd millennium life, but as it stands the presence of anachronisms in general in Genesis is not seriously disputed and cannot be tabled simply by “refuting” this one article.
- The presence of anachronisms does not in and of itself render Genesis historically valueless, but it does likely tell us something about the time when these stories were written and the perspective of the writers [that is, the Genesis story was written much later - res]. A helpful analogy I first heard from Daniel Fleming at NYU is that Genesis is like a Renaissance painting of Madonna and Child: Mary and Jesus look like Italian nobility.
- Any credible defense of the historical accuracy of Genesis needs to take seriously anachronisms and other indications of later authorship rather than feel the pressing need to hang historical accuracy on 2nd millennium authorship. To try to make that case in essence undoes several centuries of biblical scholarship, which I feel is highly ill-advised.
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The Latest Challenge to the Bible's Accuracy:
Abraham's Anachronistic Camels?
by Gordon Grovier
Abraham's Anachronistic Camels?
by Gordon Grovier
February 14, 2014
Despite the latest study of bones, evidence indicates the
iconic desert animals do belong in Genesis.
Like the nose of a camel under the tent, archaeological research has raised new questions about the Bible's version of ancient history.
Two researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) studied the bones of camels found in an area of ancient copper mines in the Aravah Valley, south of the Dead Sea. Using radiocarbon dating and other techniques, they determined that camels were first used in the mining operations near the end of the 10th century BC.
They state that this is the first evidence of domesticated camels in ancient Israel.
This would be almost 1,000 years later than the time of the patriarchs, when camels first appear in the Bible. The most memorable account is the story of Abraham's servant, Eliezer, in Genesis 24, who is sent by Abraham to find a wife for his son Isaac. He finds Rebecca, who not only draws water from a well to quench Eliezer's thirst, but also waters his 10 camels.
Their study was quickly used to claim that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it describes. Headlines included: