There are camels in the biblical stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Does this disprove the truth of the Bible? Does modern archaeology prove the Scriptures to be just a bunch of ancient legends and not actual history?
Not long ago, while in a course on Genesis, a student asked me about some newspaper stories he had read about the Bible not being true or accurate because it includes camels in the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And he’s right about the newspaper stories. Just a couple of years ago, some archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, studied settlements in the Arava Valley in Israel. They claimed all the settlements before the 9th century B.C. had camel bones, but earlier ones did not. So they concluded that there were no domesticated camels before the 9th century B.C. in Israel. And since the Bible has camels mentioned in the patriarchal period with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then the Bible is anachronistic and wrong.
And if you do an internet search about this archaeological claim, you’ll find headlines raving about errors in the Bible. Here’s some samples: “Camel bones Suggest Error in the Bible;” “Camel Bones PROVE the Bible Wrong;” “Discovery Suggests the Bible is Wrong;” How the Camel Disproved the Bible;” “Will Camel Discovery Break the Bible’s Back?” Despite the headlines, this is not a new claim – William Albright, the Father of Biblical Archaeology made the same claim many years ago. And it didn’t make anyone who believed the Bible bail on their faith in the Scriptures. And this more recent study is not going to make me give up my confidence in the Bible either. Here’s why:
To start with, this is an argument from silence. The old dictum, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” certainly applies here. These archaeologists haven’t checked every ancient settlement. Who’s to say they won’t find domesticated camels yet in the future? For generations it was claimed that there was no archaeological evidence of writing during the period when Moses was to have written the Torah. Yet now we know there was writing in Egypt and Ancient Israel from that same period. In the 19th century people disbelieved the Bible because it mentioned the Hittites and everyone knew there was no such kingdom. Of course then archaeologists found out that there was a vast Hittite kingdom in Anatolia. The same is true about ancient Near Eastern kings mentioned in the Bible, like Belshazzar of Babylon and Sargon of Assyria. Then, archaeologists found those kings and like Emily Littella, the character from Saturday Night Live, they had to say, “Never Mind.” Who’s to say that further archaeological excavations won’t find domesticated camels from settlements earlier than the 9th century B.C.?
And if it’s true that there were no domesticated camels in Israel before 900 BC (and that’s a big if), there is documentary evidence that there were domesticated camels in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the patriarchal period. Abraham, of course, was a nomad who came from Ur of the Chaldees, which is in Mesopotamia. He also went and stayed in Egypt during a famine. Genesis even says he received camels from Pharoah (Gen 12:16). Then, it’s possible that he had either Mesopotamian or Egyptian camels or both. So even if camels were not in widespread use in Canaan back then, certainly Abraham and his family may have had camels in their settlements.
Hyperventilating archaeologists and blaring headlines don’t disprove the Bible. The Messiah Jesus, in His High Priestly prayer to His Father said, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). It makes a lot more sense to stick with His confident declaration over the limited knowledge and spurious charges of modern archaeologists.